It’s the first week of January—time for BIG ambitions! Whether it’s a new business, diet or fitness regime, most of us start out the new year with the solid dedication and aim to make this year better than the last. But we all know that by the end of January, most of us will go back to old habits and continue on as usual. That’s life.
I know that this is different for each person, but for me, the first of January is the most exciting day of the whole year! I really do get motivated by this fresh start. I have already created a huge list of things I want to do this year, as well as set out my personal and business goals. And a big part of my overall plan for 2020 is to stabilise my personal lifestyle issues and improve my productivity.
In today’s post, I want to talk more about my personal strategy, my daily routine and the health hacks I have been using to improve my productivity and overall happiness.
I have been working on my own for more than 15 years now, and even though I do have a warehouse and some employees, I still have a separate office where I spend most of my days all alone.
It’s not always easy. People who work from home will totally relate to this as you have to find motivation every day to get up and do the work you have to do! There’s no one else who will work in your place and there’s no boss who will pinpoint exactly what you have to do. Everything is in your own hands and is your responsibility. If you win, it’s your win, but if you lose, it’s completely your loss, no one else’s.
Over the years, I have tried out various approaches. Luckily, at the age of 35, I finally feel that I have found that perfect formula that works for me. That is, if I stick to it! As with all routines, it only works when you follow it. In 2020, my main goal is to STICK with my formula for as many days of the year as possible. Ideally, I’d like to achieve a 90%+ success rate as I know it will directly affect my ability to work and reach my business goals.
In today’s blog post, I want to share that magical formula with you. It is my hope that at least some of you will learn something new from it and adapt your lifestyle accordingly. There are five main elements of the formula. In my opinion, these cover the most important aspects of creating a good daily routine that leads to overall “happiness” and improvement in productivity:
- Time management
- Fresh air
Let’s go into more detail on each of these!
1. Time Management
I believe that time management is your best friend and worst enemy at the same time! When you do it right, everything goes smoothly, but when you get lazy and stop managing your time, all of your carefully made plans go out the window. So, it’s crucial to get this correct, and it’s actually very simple to do. Here’s how.
By time management, I’m not referring to fancy software, task lists or reminders. My own system for this is very simple: I use a pen and paper to create my long-term, short-term and daily plans. Then I simply stick to them.
First of all, I use monthly calendars. I print out these monthly planners from a website called CalendarsThatWork.com (you can use any other website/tool for this), add them to my glass board on the wall, and then I simply plan out my most important tasks for the month. I like doing this on calendars instead of simple lists because it allows me to set dates and basically schedule everything I plan on doing in that particular month.
As you start doing this and gain experience, you will be able to schedule tasks several months ahead and even begin to structure the whole year. But in the beginning, it’s enough to do this for just one month. Heck, in the beginning, you can even skip this step and go to my most important time management trick: daily schedules!
The way it works is, at the end of each day, I write down the following day’s tasks, hour by hour. The sheet looks like this:
I will fill up the whole sheet, including any personal tasks, lunch break, exercise break, etc.
You must fill in the whole day BEFORE the actual day. This is very important. DON’T do this on the morning of the current day; it simply won’t work. You need to do this as the last task of the day before you finish work so you’re mentally prepared for what will happen the following day and you free up your mind for other (family/personal) things in the evening.
If you are also working a full-time job, I would still recommend you do this. You can plan the day, including evenings and days off, and how you will spend every hour.
For people who can only spend a few hours each day on their business, it’s even more crucial to maximise the outcome of those hours by being at the highest productivity level possible.
I keep this daily schedule on my desk, right next to my keyboard so I see it all the time and know exactly what task I should be working on right now, what comes next, etc. Of course, there are times when things don’t go to plan, and that’s perfectly normal. But the longer you stick with this method, the more accurately you will be able to plan your days and tasks.
The biggest benefit of doing this is that you know exactly what task you should be working on at any given time. If you don’t have such a clear schedule and start your day with a blank page, you will struggle a lot because your brain will look for all kinds of excuses not to do something and just watch YouTube videos.
Also, nothing beats that feeling at the end of the day when you see that you have successfully completed all of your tasks. That sense of satisfaction when everything is done and you’re ready to go home (or downstairs). This feeling of accomplishment (on a daily basis) will motivate you to do even more the following day. It’s a small victory every single day after you finish your work—the completion of a planned day.
I know that all of this might sound very simple and boring, but trust me, you have to try this for at least a few weeks. Then you’ll see for yourself how much it changes your behaviour and productivity. I do think that most people can benefit from this approach, and if you’re some sort of exception, find your own way to plan your day so that you know exactly what tasks you need to be working on at any given time.
Once the day is over, all your tasks are complete, and the following day’s tasks are written down, you can enjoy time with your family knowing that you did your best and achieved your daily goal. The next thing I want to talk about is sleep.
Sleep is important, everyone knows that, but very few people have actually “mastered it”. Believe it or not, a good sleep regime can make or break your day, and if you’re having issues with productivity, energy or motivation throughout the day, chances are your sleep habits need to change.
Personally, for me, healthy eating and good sleep are super important. If I don’t sleep well, don’t get enough sleep, or wake up at the wrong time, I feel very tired and unmotivated throughout the day, which often leads to other bad choices (food being number one).
What I have found over the years is that it’s not so much about the hours you sleep, since this number varies from person to person and also highly depends on your daily activity level and eating habits.
The key to success with sleep is to follow these two rules:
- Go to bed at the same time every night;
- Wake up naturally without an alarm.
Now, the first part is super simple. Just go to bed at the same time every night. For me, personally, that’s 10PM, but your situation may be different. For example, it could be that you start your day later and go to bed at 11PM or even midnight. That’s fine; as long as you stick with the same time every single night, you will find it easy to fall asleep and, most importantly, wake up in the morning without an alarm!
What about weekends? Ideally, you want to stick with the same regime throughout the week, but life is life. Often times, on Fridays or Saturdays, there’s some partying going on so you won’t stick with your usual bedtime. That is perfectly fine, as long as you get enough sleep hours that night, wake up without an alarm the next morning and go back to your usual bedtime the following day.
What’s the story with the waking up without an alarm? This is something I finally understood last year, and it has made a massive difference to my overall mood when I wake up in the morning.
You don’t want to use an alarm and you don’t want to wake up every day at the same time!
Why is using an alarm so bad for you? The sleep process is a rather complex topic, but to put it simply, during the night, we go through various sleep phases. You transition from deep sleep to light sleep several times throughout the night. Now, if your alarm goes off when you’re in a deep sleep, the wake-up process is like a SHOCK to your body! You wake up feeling tired and sleepy because you broke your sleep during its most intense period.
If you don’t use an alarm and opt to wake up naturally, you will usually wake during a light sleep phase. As a result, you will find it so much easier to wake up and you will feel so much better!
Yes, this means that in the beginning, you will wake up at different times as your body is not used to this “system”. However, within a week or two, you will naturally adjust to it and, if you follow my advice, you will naturally wake up after seven to nine hours of sleep every day. Then, you can simply adjust your bedtime so you wake up at the time that is most suitable for you.
I say seven to nine hours because each person is different. Your physical activity throughout the day also impacts this number. For example, I usually sleep for seven to eight hours. But on a day when I have been doing physical work for several hours, I may sleep up to nine hours that night. This is because our bodies need more time to recover after extensive physical activity.
It’s important that you listen to your body and discover your own rhythm here. Some people like to work late at night, while others prefer the morning. But it doesn’t really matter what time you go to bed as long as you stick with the same time every night and wake up naturally without an alarm in the morning.
There are smart alarms out there and phone apps that will slowly increase the volume of the alarm to “ease” the wake-up process, but what I have found is that if it happens during a deep sleep phase, you still wake up tired and sleepy. You don’t need any fancy gadgets to sleep well!
A few more tips that will help improve your sleep:
1) Sleep in a cool room, ideally with some fresh-air circulation. The temperature in our bedroom is set to 18 degrees and we try to leave the window on the ventilation throughout the year. Yes, this costs some extra in heating expenses, but your sleep quality is way more important than that!
2) Do not eat for at least two to three hours (ideally four hours) before bedtime. You don’t want to go to bed with a full stomach. In our family, we eat dinner at 6PM or 7PM at the latest, which means that I always have a full three or four hours without eating before bedtime.
3) Pick a comfortable bed. This is purely individual, and that’s why it’s so important! You have to find a mattress that is perfect for your body/weight—not too soft and not too stiff—to enjoy a good night’s sleep! Usually, if you share a bed with someone else, it means that you have to use a different mattress on each side as your weight and your partner’s weight will often be significantly different.
So, these are my own tried-and-tested tips that have improved my sleep quality tremendously. As with anything new, you have to give yourself some time to adjust to the new routine, so don’t give up on this if you don’t perfect it on the first day! Usually, it takes seven to ten days to adjust your sleep patterns, so stick with it!
A year ago, I published a post on this blog about my 4AM wake-up routine! Many people have contacted me throughout the year and asked if I’m still doing it, and the answer is no. I’m not waking up at 4AM anymore, and here’s why…
Even though I loved the concept, enjoyed those super-early mornings and my productivity was awesome, what happened was that I “drifted” away from my family, especially my wife. My day started at 4AM and ended at 8PM. I went to bed alone, woke up alone, and don’t get me started on weekend parties. Basically, the very latest I could stay awake each night was 10PM and the tiredness really held me back from enjoying my evenings.
There were some other factors, but to sum it up, I would most likely continue that routine if I was living alone, but as I have a wife and two kids, I simply can’t be selfish and live a separate life from those I love.
And let me tell you, the new routine where I go to bed at 10PM (with my wife) and wake up at 5AM or 6AM (depending on the day) works just as good as the 4AM wake-up concept. It all comes down to the sleep regime AND waking up without an alarm.
While sleep is super important, it’s only one part of my five-step process. The next thing I want to talk about is food, which also directly affects your sleep quality.
This is a HUGE topic! I could probably write a book about this one alone as I have personally struggled with bodyweight issues my whole life and have spent thousands of hours researching the topic of nutrition, various diets and eating habits, and I’ve tested them all out on myself! I don’t have any formal education on this topic, but I feel that I know more than your typical nutritionist with a diploma!
To keep things simple, in general, the biggest enemies of your body, energy levels and wellbeing are sugar and carbohydrates. If you want to live a healthy, productive life, then you need to exclude sugar from your diet and minimise carbohydrates as much as possible.
Once you “clean” your body and switch from a high-carbohydrate to a high-fat diet with moderate protein and low-carbohydrate foods, you will basically be reborn as a new human. Trust me, you will feel so much better!
You will have steady energy levels throughout the day, won’t need a nap after lunch and will, in general, feel much better. And if you have any weight issues, they will go away over time, especially if you introduce an exercise regime to your daily life, which we’ll cover later on.
I’m also a firm believer in eating as naturally as possible by minimising processed foods or excluding them from your diet completely. This means eating whole foods, ideally from organic sources (if you can afford it).
As I said, this is a huge topic and I don’t want to spend too much time on it here, but if you want to learn more about the eating style I’m following, check out the Primal Blueprint book on Amazon. This book is an excellent source of information for anyone looking to start eating in a clean and natural way.
Just to give you an example, my typical daily meals during the workweek look like this:
1) Breakfast at around 9AM. Two slices of keto bread (made from psyllium husk, almond flour and eggs. Yes, we make this bread ourselves) with butter and few slices of hard cheese on top. In addition, I will drink a cup of decaf black tea with 30 grams of collagen powder and a pinch of salt in it.
2) Lunch at around 12AM. Very simple lunch. I switch between egg days and salad days. On egg days, I will make an omelette or boil four to five eggs. On salad days, it’s a salad, lol! Just some greens with some protein (chicken or tuna), olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You know the drill. So, I switch these two types of meals every day, just so I don’t get bored with eating eggs or salad day after day.
3) Dinner at around 6PM. Usually, it’s some greens (cooked broccoli, spinach) and some vegetables (sweet potato, pumpkin, green beans) with a piece of meat, like fish, chicken or beef.
For cooking, we mostly use lard, butter or coconut oil. Obviously, we don’t use any industrial vegetable oils or similar nonsense. It’s all clean, natural products that we source from local farms (eggs, meat, vegetables) or from the organic lines at our grocery store.
What about snacks? Throughout the day, I don’t snack at all. I don’t need to. When you eat in this way, you’re not hungry during the day at all. As long as you take in enough healthy fats and protein at each mealtime, there’s no need to snack on anything.
But, of course, there are parties, movie nights and days off! At these times, I try to stick with low-carb options, such as cheese, frozen berries, high-fat yoghurt with berries or erythritol/stevia blend for sweetness. Or just nuts!
And that’s basically it. Simply eat healthy fats, high-quality protein and some greens, and your productivity levels will stay strong throughout the day. I could also talk about the importance of drinking water, how to use intermittent fasting for maximum weight loss and more, but then, as I said, this post would turn into a book!
If you’re currently unsatisfied with your own eating habits and want to make a change, I highly recommend you get the Primal Blueprint book from Amazon, read it and implement everything Mark teaches. It could literally change your life.
Ok, so far, we have covered time management, sleep and food. In my opinion, these three elements alone can be a great success formula and definitely improve your productivity. For those of you who want to take this whole thing to the next level, here are two bonus ideas/strategies you can explore!
It just makes you happy. The feeling after some great exercise and an ice-cold shower is the best drug ever! I won’t go into the scientific reasoning behind this, but it’s a proven fact that exercising should be a part of every human being’s daily routine. If you’re looking for ultimate happiness, get some exercise every single day!
Again, the approach here will be highly individual, but I have found that, for me, the best way to structure it is:
Three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), I do heavy-lifting exercises in my super-simple home gym. I usually do this at around 10AM to 12PM. After that, I take a cold shower, take a quick walk with the dog outside, and prepare my lunch for 1PM.
It’s very important NOT to overdo heavy-lifting exercises. I limit my time in the gym to 40 to 45 minutes. If you do more than that, you may feel tired after the session, which ruins the whole purpose of working out.
I do very simple exercises, like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, etc. If you get The Primal Blueprint book, it explains the science behind it all in detail, including why you don’t want to overdo cardio, why lifting heavy things is so important, etc.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I will do stretching exercises and inner core exercises, nothing that requires heavy lifting. And then, of course, based on the weather and the time of year, I take a walk in the evening or go cycling or swimming with the family. Summer is obviously the most active time for doing such activities.
There was a time when I was exercising first thing in the morning when I woke up at 5AM or 6AM. But I quickly realised that it was not the smartest way to do it. Right after waking, the body is still in “sleep mode”, so I don’t think it’s ideal to start lifting heavy things right away. Right now, I’m doing this at 10AM or 11AM, once I have finished my first part of the day in the office. After lunch, I take a walk back to the office and get some….
5. Fresh air
This is my biggest recent discovery. Looking back now, I always sort of knew that I felt best outdoors and not in the office, but we all know how the modern world works. Most of us spend our days in a busy building, sitting in front of a computer.
I truly believe that most people, especially office workers, don’t spend enough time outside in the fresh air. We can debate how fresh the air outside is and, depending on your location, it actually may be safer to stay inside (lol), but in most cases, we all can benefit from spending more time outdoors breathing fresh air.
The way I have fixed this problem in my own life is by walking to the office and back once a day. In the morning, I go to the office and back by car, but after lunch, I simply walk. This means I’m getting a minimum of 50 minutes of fresh air every single day, even in the wintertime. Yes, even in the rain, I do the same thing. Remember, there’s a clever invention to protect you from falling water—it’s called an umbrella.
In the summer, it will obviously be much more than 50 minutes a day as we like to spend our evenings and weekends outside doing various activities. But I think it’s super important to maintain at least some level of outdoor activity throughout the year as it’s so easy to say, “Ah, the weather is bad outside” and take the car. Everyone drives everywhere, even if it’s just a ten-minute walk away. I won’t even start on that!
And there’s another benefit: added exercise minutes and steps on your watch or device! This office walk alone gives me 7,000 steps, which helps a lot! I always try to strive for 10,000 steps a day. Previously, it was quite difficult to achieve this, but I’m now getting 12,000 steps or more per day, which should help my overall wellbeing.
But I don’t do this for the steps or because someone told me to do it. No, I do it because spending those 50 minutes a day in the fresh air greatly helps my mental clarity, motivation and productivity levels. I just feel much better after taking the walk! My mind is clear and ready for work.
Also, as I’m taking that first walk right after lunch, so by the time I arrive at the office, my food has already nicely settled, and I don’t get that sluggish feeling of tiredness in the afternoon. Obviously, food choice plays a huge role in this, but it should help you feel better, no matter what your food choices are.
As an added bonus, I’ve always subscribed to various podcasts, but I could never find a good time in the day to listen to them (I don’t spend much time in the car). Now that problem is solved! Each day, I get 50 minutes of free time to listen to my favourite podcasts during my walk.
Lastly, I know that some of you will say, “I don’t have an hour a day to just walk around”. Well, my belief is that you can always find time if you want to do it. I’m also very busy, but, somehow, I manage it all. I don’t believe that you can’t find 30 minutes a day for a walk! In 99% of cases, it’s simply a question of priorities. If your priority is Netflix, then it will be hard for me to convince you to exchange that time for a walk. And this comes from someone who watches Netflix quite a lot! 🙂
And that’s basically it. Those are five important things in life you CAN control and use to unleash your maximum potential, productivity and happiness levels!
For most people, including me, the weekends are the worst in terms of sticking with the “perfect plan”. We all know how it goes. During the week, it’s quite easy to follow the rules, but then comes the weekend, a party, some booze, and everything goes out of the window. I know the feeling, trust me. I’m also a human being with weaknesses and bad days.
What I have found over the years is that we have to learn to celebrate, too, but do it in a way that minimises the damage. For example, I try to limit alcohol use to two to three days a month max. I know it’s still bad for me, but this way, I at least keep it under control and don’t destroy all the progress I’m making on workdays.
Also, if it’s party season, I try to stick with low-carb foods as much as possible. It’s so easy to slip back into that “sugar-craving” state, which completely changes your mindset, eating habits and overall health. Usually, before going to a party, I will eat five or six eggs, as I have found that this minimises my appetite for sugary foods and snacks. If you do consume alcohol, stick with low-carb options, such as dry wine or hard liquor. If you want a soft drink, choose Stevia-sweetened drinks or Coke Zero as a last resort.
Then there’s the whole “switching off” topic, which I won’t go into in detail in this post, but in my opinion, it’s equally important for sustaining a healthy lifestyle and your mental clarity.
Simply put: when you finish your work for the day, you finish it! Do not check emails or sales before you go to bed or at other times when you’re supposed to be enjoying your free time. Checking emails 24/7 can ruin your life, and you will never be completely relaxed if you continue doing it.
Personally, I don’t have emails set-up on my phone at all. I have also disabled all the business app notifications. I just want to be free and stay out of any bad news/stress when I’m not at work. And yes, this includes weekends. In 99.99% of cases, nothing bad will happen if you wait to open that email on Monday morning. Trust me.
You have to maintain that balance between your personal life and business. Otherwise, in the long term, you will suffer from stress-related issues. I can guarantee that.
Obviously, everything I talk about in this post is highly individual, and there are always exceptions! For example, many people who have a full-time job will have to work on the weekends or work late nights, etc. But you can still take ideas from this post and implement them in your daily routine. Just add your own twist and customise the plan so it fits your circumstances.
What matters most is that you have a daily routine set up. Most people don’t. They just sail through life without a clear plan of action, without knowing what they need to do, without knowing why they feel tired or why they crave sweets all day long.
Don’t be that person! Take control of your life, establish good habits and work on them! This all takes time, patience and hard work. You will slip many times. I know this because I still do it from time to time, but what matters is that you wake up the following day and continue with your plan.
I really hope that you reach your goals this year. Hopefully, some of the tips I have shared in this post will help you do that. If you have any further questions or want to clarify something, please leave your comments below the post. I will happily answer them within 24 hours, Monday to Friday.