I take 20 minutes to sit quietly first thing in the morning. Trevor Blake talks about the practice of taking quiet time in his book Three Simple Steps. Twenty minutes is the magic amount of time it takes for the brain to form new neurons. These neurons have no memory of what has happened before so I tackle my day with a whole new arsenal of decision making power. This daily practice has made me less reactive and less emotional. I see situations for what they are. I don’t take things personally. At the end of my work day, I walk. This allows me to clear my head and may be make new connections between ideas that I had not thought of while sitting at my desk.
For years, I rose between 2:30 and 3:45am to get to the television studio for work. There wasn’t ’90 minutes’ to dedicate. I hurtled straight into my work day. When I became a full time entrepreneur running LadyDrinks, I thought to myself, if I can get up at 2:30, I can get up at 5:30am and workout. It took me a year to establish this habit. I started by going to Pure Barre classes. Sadly, I could go, even if I was hungover. Then I added one HIIT training class. Then another. Then another. Today, my first 90 minutes of the day follow the menu featured in Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning. Silence. Affirmations. Visualization with my vision board. Exercise. Reading either a book about a famous business person (Bob Iger or Marc Randolph) or the New York Times. Scribing or writing in my Morning Pages to build self awareness.
Anxiety wells up on Sundays as I think about all the things I have to do. Writing it all down on paper and getting it out of my head is the biggest favor I can do for myself. David Allen calls it the “The Brain Dump Exercise. ” I use 9″ x 12″ artist’s sketchpad to scribble all my personal and professional tasks, down to the grocery list of tofu, garlic shrimp and chickpeas. This bumps me to my next step.
I look out on the week‘s worth of commitments. Where are the pockets of time to get this errand done? What do I need to get before that meeting on Friday? I schedule in the important phone calls, emails, reminders. If it doesn’t get scheduled, it usually doesn’t get done.
Each night, before I go to bed, I plan out my day. I use Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Planner to list my top three goals and priorities for the day. I list what tasks must be done. I look where the blocks of time are to do the deep work. I love that the planner forces me to think about who I want ‘to be’ the next day. I never did that before. Not intentionally anyway. It forces me to list at least one person I will reach out to and surprise with a note or gift the next day. Sometimes, I’m stumped by the question: What is the one thing you can get excited about. It forces me to take inventory of what I’m doing.
My women’s empowerment teacher Jennifer Macaluso Gilmore taught my women’s co-hort a valuable piece of advice in 2010: we can only have 2 priorities at a time. We can have five total. But we can truly only focus on 2 priorities at a time. When those are finished, we bump down to the next two. I keep mine listed in my planner. It becomes the filter by which I decide what I say ‘yes’ to and what I say ‘no’ to.
Depending on which technique you subscribe to, either time increment works in getting deep work done. I set the timer on my phone for 25 minutes. I also set my computer notifications to ‘do not disturb’ and put my phone away. For twenty five minutes, also known as the Pomodoro technique, I work in a focused way on a task, such as this article. Brendon Burchard asks folks to find 3 50-minute blocks in the day instead, and do a sprint of work.
I don’t know that my younger self took this seriously. It’s incredibly important to your productivity to take breaks. As the day progresses, it’s important to take longer breaks to allow the brain to hit the re-set button. Former LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner wrote in this well-read blog post, it’s not only important to take breaks, but to plan rewards for those breaks as incentive to finish the work. Make a list of those rewards and post it somewhere you can see it: “Walk around the block. Pedicure. Read Netflix book” so you aren’t scrambling to figure out how to reward yourself when the break comes.
If all of this sounds overwhelming, take it down to basics. For one week, write down what you do each hour throughout the day. Author and time management expert Laura Vanderkam created her own trademark spreadsheet to log this kind of activity. Looking it all down on paper is an eye opener. You see where you are wasting time. She created this exercise to debunk the common phrase, “I don’t have time to ______ (fill in the blank.) You do. You just don’t know how long it takes you to do something, like create that end of week report. You also don’t know that you spend 2 hours scrolling through social media each day. Vanderkam is all about the ‘found’ hours in the 168 hour work week.
She’s actually one of my favorite authors of all time. I will be interviewing her next Thursday as she launches her new e-book THE NEW CORNER OFFICE: HOW THE MOST SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE WORK FROM HOME. I would love for you to join me to learn how she counsels folks who are challenged with how to manage time. Sign up here