Tag Archives: 6am

How to create a successful morning routine

Why set up a morning routine?

These are a few benefits I’ve found from my own routine over the years.

For many years, a corporate job took most of my time and energy. I would come home from work and have nothing left to give for things that were important to me. I wanted to be a writer, but I never actually wrote anything. This all changed when I dedicated just an hour every morning to my writing. Having a morning routine allows you to dedicate time to the things that matter to you most.

Precious alone time. In today’s world, we are constantly bombarded with interruptions, whether in real life, social media or any other online input. A successful morning routine, one that was clearly defined, gave me a definite course of action, so I always knew what to do next. That removed ‘check twitter’ from my list of options. That space gave me time to think about what was important and also sheltered me from negative bombardment from the moment I woke up.

There are many other benefits, but those two give the biggest returns for a happier and more fulfilling life.

So how do you set up a morning routine?

It’s easier than you think.

Firstly, ask yourself what you hope to achieve from doing this. Everyone will have different objectives. Is it to make time for your creative projects? Is it to make sure you get in a good workout each day? Or perhaps it is to read or work on personal development. What matters most to you will make up the core of the routine.

Secondly, decide how much time you want to devote to this activity. Be realistic. If you want to do a thirty minute workout but have to go to the gym, then include the travel time and showering afterwards. No one will thank you if you run out of time for that. The amount of time required will impact on how early you need to get up in order to complete the routine before beginning your existing obligations.

Thirdly, don’t start too big. Habits take time to become routines and the more you add in, the more likely you are to become overwhelmed and give up. My morning routine started out with a simple, single task: write 1000 words before breakfast. Over time, that has developed into a multi-step routine, but I needed to get used to doing that single but significant task first.

Be in it for the long haul

So what does my routine look like now? It combines several elements that I have seen successful authors, businesspeople and entrepreneurs confirm as being instrumental for them.

1) Begin with a pint of water. I used to go straight to coffee, but never underestimate the power of rehydrating after 7 hours of sleeping.

2) Write 1000 words. That’s still my big goal after 6 years of doing this.

3) Morning Pages – adapted from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. You’re really supposed to do them before anything else, but for me they have actually always been more effective after my half-asleep writing session. The last page always contains three things I am grateful for that morning.

4) 20 Pushups. Really not many, but it makes me feel like I’ve at least done something physical and makes me more likely to do other activity throughout the day.

5) Affirmations and visualisations. Yes, I still feel like an idiot sometimes saying these things out loud, but they do work. I’m shy and introverted by nature, so this gives me the confidence to step outside my comfort zone when I need to.

6) Goals review. Don’t work hard to climb that ladder just to discover it’s up against the wrong tree. Work out what you want and remind yourself every day to stay focused on what matters, rather than what simply feels urgent.

7) Calendar review. It doesn’t matter what grand goals you have for that day if your calendar says you have back-to-back meetings. Again, be realistic.

8) Task list review. By the time I’ve reviewed what matters (goals) and what’s immovable (calendar), it makes it much easier to delete, delegate or defer tasks on my list. What remains still needs to get done, but this way I don’t waste my energy on unnecessary tasks before I get to them.

The power of a morning routine means that these tasks take less time as you repeat them. The whole process above now takes somewhere between 90 minutes and 2 hours. That’s from 6-8am at the latest. That gives me a whole hour to have breakfast, get showered and be at my desk by 9am.

I’ve already achieved things that matter to me and mentally prepared for my day by the point most people are just thinking about booting up the laptop.

None of this will work unless…

A meticulously planned morning routine with all the best intentions and activities will still fail unless you actively set yourself up for success the night before. Unless you have the luxury of being beholden to no-one, you’re going to have to sacrifice some morning sleep to get this done.

A successful morning routine means ensuring you go to bed early enough to get the quality sleep you need. If there are any objects/spaces that are essential to your routine, then these should be found or made clear the night before to remove as much friction as possible and ensure you can make every minute of your morning routine count.

Hopefully this has given you some ideas about how to set up a morning routine and how to grow it into something that makes a huge difference in the level of success and satisfaction you get from your day. If you have any questions or thoughts then drop them in the comments section below, or you can get in touch with me by email at realist@sherrinicholds.com.

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Not The 4-Hour Workweek: lessons in scheduling, time tracking and an abundance of hours

This is the first full work week completely under my own control. I set the tasks, the hours, the goals and overall strategy. Anyone who knows me will agree I love to have that kind of control. It has been a steep learning curve, but years of practicing in my free time outside of the 9-5, as well as the lessons in project management I’ve learned over the years working in companies, has made it much easier than it could have been.

Towards the end of 2016, I listened to The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. For anyone who has ever considered location independent living or being a digital nomad, then this is often the springboard book. Besides, with a title like that, who wouldn’t want to work just four hours?

Of course, is that really what the book is saying? ‘Do nothing and get rich’ is the answer a lot of people hope to get from it. But at it’s heart, it’s about doing the things that matter in the most effective way possible. It is a bible for lifestyle design. People who can automate their business to the point that they only spend four hours on them are the kinds of people who don’t then retire. They start another business. The ‘be effective’ and commitment to living big is the message they take away, not do as little as you can.

Four hours sounds nice on the surface. But if you work doing the things you enjoy, which I suspect most of Ferris’ disciples do, then four hours is never the goal.

Time tracking

As you can guess from the title, this has not been a four hour work week. My life hasn’t been fully automated with a bunch of virtual assistants running businesses for me while I sip cocktails in Bali. How do I know this? For the first time in years, I did proper time tracking.

I didn’t spend hours looking at all the different options for doing this. Instead I picked toggl, as Mike and Grey were talking about it so much on the recent episodes of Cortex. Have I gone all in? Nope, I won’t be taking advantage of that extensive API to play with. I just want to know how much time I am spending on the key areas that now constitute my day.

The results? I might not be working a four hour week, but I’m not doing a forty hour one either:

This is actual work. This is not ‘killing time’ work. This is not timesheet submission busy-work. When the tasks for the day are done, then I am done. I focus on them completely and make them as efficient as they can be. This is just the first week of data, but it is fascinating. I’ve always believed that quality of work is more important than hours spent and this is re-enforcing that in a big way.

Time scheduling – a combination of digital and analogue

In a less time efficient move, I have lost countless hours since January looking at digital project and time management tools. None of them seem to be just what I was looking for. Many were far too time intensive to set up projects and tasks for my small, single-person projects. Secondly, I’m still reliant on the GTD way of thinking, meaning that many have critical pieces missing. Thirdly, none would emphasise calendaring in a way that works for me. I’m a deadline driven person, so without a ‘real’ due date, my default action will be to happily defer.

Rather than continuing this frustration, right now I am managing things in an analog and digital combo. The first is a paper planner (the Moleskine Weekly Planner that I reviewed here) and a separate ‘work’ calendar that chunks times of the day into very high level categories (for example, editing time vs ‘line edit of x book’).

Putting the two together has allowed me to focus on the bigger picture, whilst still getting into the detail of the day. Whether it will continue to work in the long term remains to be seen, but for this first focused week, just about everything went according to plan, with enough flexibility to allow for one or two unscheduled events.

Free time and the sensation of guilt (‘I should be doing…’)

I’ve been sticking to my usual routine of starting my workday at 6am. Doing around 4 hours means I have a lot of day left at the end of my day. Whilst this sounds like a dream – and it is – the thing that I have noticed at times is an overwhelming sense of guilt. Even on the day I used all my brainpower writing 7,500 words, it was an obvious nagging sensation at the back of my brain. The quest for something ‘productive’ to do. It has made me realise how much we are compelled to fill our hours with work, when sometimes the thing to do is just relax.

I hope this is something that disappears quickly. It feels like a hangover from the 9-5 life and it serves no purpose as far as I can tell.

Walking and thinking is a valid use of time

Conclusion – scary, at times overwhelming, but eye-opening and utterly rewarding

Would I class this first proper full time writing week as a success? Yes, I would. I’ve eaten well, I’ve rested well and I’ve spent time creating new products and learning new things.

Has it been difficult and crazy ass scary at times? Of course it has. Any big change always does (and anyone who tells you otherwise has got caught up in their own lies and bravado). But I’ve also loved the freedom and the self-reliance. I’ve loved a semi-traditional work week, with all of the benefits and very few downsides.

I already can’t wait to see what next week brings when reality sets in.

It’s quitting time: How Jon Acuff’s Quitter changed my life

I first read Jon Acuff’s Quitter 3 years ago on vacation. I even wrote a review on it.

I loved the book. It had many useful insights. So, did I come home from that sunny beachside view, walk into the office and hand in my notice?

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No, I did not.

Why? Not because I didn’t want to. At the end of the book, when you feel the glimmering possibility of quitting your day job for your dream job, there is a pop quiz. One that gives you an idea of whether or not you’d make it in the real world.

I answered the questions and, despite knowing doing so wouldn’t give me the answer I wanted, I answered them honestly. The result? I was putting in some work, but not in enough areas to enable me to quit. I was annoyed with the outcome, but only because it was telling me what I already knew. It wasn’t giving me a quick out. It wasn’t giving me any kind of false hope.

The false hope is a common flaw of many business / self-help books. Their purpose is to sell you a concept. The promise that the book will change your life forever if you just follow their new approach or idea. Life isn’t that simple. Especially when it comes to quitting a stable, good job in a tough economy.

So I went back to work, but I also looked seriously at my side projects. My passion projects. Instead of keeping them as hobbies, I made them into real, practical things. Hobbies are great, but they don’t come with obligations and deadlines. You don’t hustle on a hobby. Writing for fun is the best thing ever, but I had to understand the difference between that and writing things that would allow me to follow my dreams.

pexels-photo-62471

Every year since that first experience, during my two weeks looking out over the ocean, I read the book and took the quiz again. Each year, my score got a little higher. It was slow, but it was progress.

Then one day, without that sunny view, I could feel the change in the air. It was a normal Tuesday morning, but something tickled the back of my mind. I grabbed the book and before work, I took the survey. I got a score of 65. That seemed pretty good. Higher than ever before. I flicked to the scorecard to double check.

The answer: it’s quitting time.

Still, felt like I had some work commitments and loose ends to tie up. It seemed like the decent thing to do. I also see there was a little bit of fear involved with quitting. A reason to put it off for a little while longer.

Now, after so many years of wishing it was time to quit, I finally have.

In four weeks, it will be my last day with my present company before going it alone for a while. It will be tough, but it is the most exciting thing I have ever done. Persistence has paid off and Quitter gave me the framework to create my best chance of success, rather than an impulsive leap into the unknown.

Thanks Jon!

You can find my original Jon Acuff’s Quitter review here.

2017: New Year, New Goals, New Dreams

I’m not going to lie. During November and December I fell off so many wagons I couldn’t work out which one I wanted to get back on first. So I drank another glass of wine, enough cheese and crackers to sink a small boat and opened a box of chocolates instead.

But now that has all changed! By the mystical power of the calendar year flicking over, my willpower has returned and I am wholesome and virtuous again!

I wish.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been wholesome and virtuous. But I have begun to steadily correct course this week to get back on track. But where did it all go wrong in the first place?

I suspect much of it came down to illness and exhaustion. I failed to achieve a lot of things in 2016 because I felt worn out or ill most of the time. Listening to the Creative Penn podcast, it was great to hear another writer making health a priority in 2017. It is very easy to set ‘business’ type goals only. We’re taught how to focus on finance and career, but not necessarily spiritual or health goals. Last year was a harsh reminder of how if I don’t sleep and maintain a healthy lifestyle, eventually I’ll fail in other areas as well. I had two (because I’m a slow learner) fairly serious burnouts last year. I’m determined not to make the same mistakes again.

I’m tracking my sleep on my Fitbit and have once again begun the process of detoxing from sugar. I got a huge morale boost from seeing my book, The Realist’s Guide To Sugar Free at #2 in the kindle personal health charts in the first days of January. Hopefully I’ve been able to help a few people on their journey towards making the change too. Throw in a daily journaling and gratitudes practice and I can keep moving towards a physically and emotionally better me.

I’ve also challenged myself to read a book a week in 2017. With an English degree, I find it easy to read quickly, so the only excuse I have for not doing it is that I simply haven’t made it a priority. I have to hold myself accountable for that.

Mainly, I want to work on more exciting and challenging writing projects in 2017. I won’t give the numbers, but I have set myself a pretty hardcore stretch goal for increasing my writing income compared to 2016. Like health and reading, it will come down to prioritising and commitment. I’m good with that. When the 6am alarm sounded each day this week, I got up, got coffee and did the work. That’s how you achieve anything, right?

So those are some of my goals and plans for 2017. I want to get into a more consistent blogging schedule as well, to hold myself accountable to these things as much as anything. It also means I’ll get to share some tips and tricks I find along the way.

2016 was a terrible year generally, but with some major personal highs. I want 2017 to be the year to give back. To use my voice to make a change in the world when I can. That sounds lofty and ambitious. But if you haven’t been happy with the way things went politically in 2016 then you have to raise your voice. You have to do something. As Shonda Rhimes said, a hashtag is not a movement. Do something.

Game Changer: Scrivener for iOS

I am actually drafting this blogpost in the waiting room of a mechanic shop while they fit two new tyres. Why? Well, because they needed changing. And because I now have Scrivener for iOS. Yes, finally, there is a Scrivener app. I’m not going to lie; I did a little squee when it was released.

ios-feature-get_writing

I have done all my outlining and drafting in Scrivener for years now. I only use MS Word for final formatting to submit to the rest of the world, who seem to enjoy the sweet misery that it brings.  What writer doesn’t die a little inside when they see that (not responding) banner?

Anyway, my main problem with Scrivener – in fact, my only problem with it – was portability. I am often travelling for work and do not want the additional hassle of taking my MacBook with me. One laptop is enough for anyone. I have, at times, come up with an almost alternative workflow whereby I email myself the next part of the story. Clunky at best. It is also reliant on having written down the details of the next writing point, rather than just flicking to the handy outliner view. feature-corkboard

It also doesn’t take into account that some of the things I write really should not be jotted down onto a work laptop. Ever.

EVER.

So whilst the difficulty was never enough to make me stop using Scrivener, it did hamper my ability to get work done consistently each week. I am a creature of routine. I like to be able to write each weekday morning and if I lose two of those mornings because of a massive commute, my writing productivity gets slashed almost in half.

For the sake of complete transparency, I will confess that I have really struggled with this for two years now, since moving to my current employer. I have questioned many times whether this inability to bring balance to the one area of my life that I love so much could actually be a deal breaker. Perhaps that is a level of honesty that some would label career-limiting, but it is the truth.

Enter Scrivener for iOS. In my daily life, that means I can now write away from home using only the iPad. This is considerably more convenient than having a MacBook with me. It also means at times like this, when I have unexpected time on my hands, I can pick up my phone and do short bursts of bonus work.

It is a game changer. I don’t say that lightly.

So far, I managed to write every day last week, despite being away from home at 6am two out of the five mornings. This week is turning out much the same. After some really simple setup, I tested the sync option with caution. I’ve tested software that syncs across devices before and if it is not implemented correctly, it is nothing short of a nightmare.

Not a single issue. Mind blown.

The functionality was my next test. Apps seldom have the full functionality of a desktop product. Yet everything I need is here. Despite bemoaning the fact it hasn’t existed for years, I am really happy that Literature and Latte apparently took the time because they were getting it right. I’ve yet to encounter a single feature where I’ve been frustrated because my mobile experience does not reflect the desktop one. That is a fantastic place to be in.

A very unusual place to be in.

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I frequently mix with other writers, both aspiring and best-selling. It doesn’t matter who they are or what level of experience, I’ve never hesitated in recommending Scrivener as my writing tool of choice. Especially if they are a planner rather than a pantser, there is nothing better for collating all your research material into a single place.

So, now my tyres are changed and I am going to wrap this up. I’m sure I’ll do some minor edits on my main machine before posting, but the bulk of it has been completed on my phone with ease.

So thank you Scrivener, for changing the way I can integrate the dream of writing into the much more harsh reality of a daily life, with its travel and to do lists and not enough hours.

 

images courtesy of Literature & Latte

Life hacking my year

I set myself some pretty big goals in 2015 and intend to make 2016 my most successful year ever. Of course, we’re still in January, so making bold statements like that before the grudging reality of the daily grind kicks in is still possible. Even so, I picked up a few life hacks last year that I’m going to carry over into this year. They apply to daily life, so they cover off all my goal types: writing, financial, spiritual, physical etc.

Top tip number 1 – the standing desk.

Several personal development pros I follow have recommended this, but the biggest influencers for me were Jeff Sanders and Michael Hyatt’s blogpost and podcasts on the topic:

7 Amazing Benefits of a Standing Desk

4 Reasons you should buy a standup desk – right now

Previously I would spend 6-8am sitting writing, 9-6 sitting for my job, then often 7-9 sitting doing more writing. That is a lot of sitting. Now I still do the writing stints sitting down, but the day is spent standing, unless I physically need to be at head office. That persistent twinge in my left shoulder has gone, along with general back pain. I’ve recently added a balance plate to keep myself moving too, rather than just standing still.

Top tip number 2 – a really good morning routine.

I’ve had a morning writing routine for at least 5 years now. Time flies, so I can’t really be sure. Over 2015 I really upped my game on this. My morning routine now includes more than just knocking out 1000 words on my latest writing project each day. It includes affirmations and journalling (my form of meditative practice). It all felt very American at first, but once I got over being all British and reserved, it’s had huge benefits. It’s a real mental health compliment to the physical health tip above. For an idea of how to start setting it up, Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning is a great place to start (he has a pretty full on personal story to check out too).

Top tip number 3 – carry a notebook and pen EVERYWHERE

The more I did the above top tips, the more my brain seemed to become able to throw out ideas and see potential everywhere. As I wrote in my last post, I made a habit of capturing them straight away, rather than lose them or have to waste a ton of mental energy trying to remember them for later. It could be that sudden strategic insight that you needed to get a result on that big project, or it could be that you need to add cheese to the weekly shopping list – it doesn’t matter. Getting it down on paper means that your brain can then carry on being the awesome beast that it was designed to be. Field Notes have become my pocket notebook of choice, but it’s all personal preference.

Top tip number 4 – track it

Digital or analogue, tracking what you’re doing is the easiest way of making sure you’re doing what you need to do. I use coach.me and have a few habits that I’ve done so many days in a row that I will now go out of my way to complete them so that I don’t break my streak. I’ve done 10 pushups (upgraded to 20 nearly a year ago) each morning now for over 500 consecutive days. There is no way I’d do that without the app.

These all work for me, but if anyone else has any suggestions then feel free to comment. I’m always looking for ways to up my game…

Throwback Thursday – Fraser Island

Last night I had a dreams with three apparently memorable components. One was about bunking off work to go to a sixth form reunion, another was something very messy involving mashed potatoes and gravy and the last one was being back on Fraser Island.

I suspect it is in part a hankering for the sunshine as the autumn begins to encroach. I don’t feel like we had a particularly amazing summer weather-wise and as much as I find the changing of the leaves a beautiful sight, I don’t like that damp chill in the air when I get up to write at 6am. I want blue skies and warm sunshine and white sand. And peace. So it’s no wonder really that in my dreams I would go back to a place like this:

Lake Mackenzie Fraser Island

Now forgive the picture quality, because this was taken with my first ever digital camera, given to me as a parting gift from a dear friend before I set off to adventure around the world. This was back when 2megapixels didn’t mean anything to anyone but it was about the best you could get for under five hundred quid. Now you can get a burner phone with better. How quickly the world has changed in a decade.

I’m so lucky to have travelled to so many places and god willing I hope to travel to many, many more. For these are the places that are the source of my inspiration and the memories that I can keep returning to on the mundane, cold days to remind me of just how privileged I really am.

So this is a Throwback Thursday to sunshine, but a present day moment of gratitude.