If there’s one thing to be learned from the explosion of self-help books and internet articles in recent decades, it’s that people are itching to find the secrets to success. There is no shortage of websites seeking to teach you the habits of highly productive people. There is, obviously, no perfect schedule and behavioral set that precludes accomplishment. But there do appear to be certain trends that motivate and help inspire creativity.
1. Wake Up Early and Have a Morning Routine
It’s one of the worst feelings in the world: you wake up late, hustle out of bed into your clothes, make a quick breakfast or skip it all together, and shuffle off to work. There wasn’t any time to prepare for the day, either physically or mentally, and you’re left feeling exhausted and anxious.
Taking the time to eat a healthy breakfast, exercise, meditate, take a walk outside, or frankly just relax without stress pays incredible dividends. A lot of CEOs, entrepreneurs, and investors that are very candid about the necessity of their morning schedules, often attributing some of their success to the clear and focused mind it gives them.
2. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
This, naturally, is the other side of having a good morning routine. If the frantic hustle of getting up late is one of the worst feelings you can have, dragging yourself groggy and grumpy out of bed after inadequate sleep is close behind.
There are plenty of ways to improve your sleeping habits. The most recommended, much like for your morning, is to practice a routine. Get to bed at about the same time every night. Avoid strenuous mental activity before bed. Do something relaxing in the hour before sleep, like reading a book. Avoid alcohol. Avoid looking at a screen.
3. Do the Hard and Important Things First
The hours after you wake up (provided, of course, that you got enough sleep) are potentially your most productive. You’re at your most focused and energized. It makes sense to use this time to work through the most difficult parts of your schedule. You meet your biggest challenges with the most prepared mind.
Plus, this early emphasis on tough projects has an added bonus. Even after getting plenty of sleep and plenty of energy from an excellent morning routine that doesn’t mean that nothing on your schedule will worry or intimidate you. For this it’s best if we remember the immortal words of Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” If you front-load your difficult tasks and deal with them at your most emotionally and mentally prepared, the rest of your day will feel like a relieving breeze.
4. Have a Hobby
One of the most important theoretical physicists of the 20th century was Richard Feynmann. He worked on the Manhattan Project, shares a Nobel Prize, taught for many years at Cal Tech, and made immense contributions to physics. A lesser known fact about him, however, is that he had a number of unusual hobbies: he was an amateur hand drummer, did cryptography, and practiced picking locks and cracking safes around the places he worked.
Hey, I understand that you may make exceptions for eccentric physicists. But keep looking: it seems like every productive person makes time in their schedule to pursue passions outside of their work. Warren Buffet plays bridge and the ukulele. Steve Jobs played the guitar. George W. Bush makes oil paintings. Meryl Streep knits. Vin Diesel plays Dungeons & Dragons. It makes sense: a hobby is stress release, a way to build a diverse skill-set, and a way to inspire passion all together. No wonder it seems to go hand-in-hand with success.
5. Reflect on Today, Plan for Tomorrow
A great many self-help doctrines preach about visualizing success, seeing the end product before it even happens. This visualization, however, can be a double edged sword. Imagining being finished, imagining the emotions associated with success before it even happens can take the wind out of your sails for actually following through. A much better idea is to plan. Plan what to do carefully. Leave today knowing what you are going to do tomorrow.
But preparing for the future isn’t all you should do; you should also take time to consider the successes and failures of the present. It’s recommended that you keep a journal for this: even a single sentence is enough to memorialize and catalog your day. Even better, this feeds back into your plans for the future. Spending a little time on the weekend revisiting the previous week prepares you for the upcoming one!
Ultimately what really seems to matter is cultivating a schedule that maximizes your productive time and takes advantage of your unique self. Tips and tricks are only ways to build on and maintain fluidity and continuity in that schedule. After that it’s all just traditional advice: exercising, eating right, and keeping a healthy body and a healthy mind!