In “What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast,” Laura Vanderkam asks the questions to help you reevaluate your own level of efficiency. By establishing the right habits and taking better stock of your time, you may be amazed at how seamlessly your goals can be achieved. Here’s an excerpt.
5 steps to making over your morning — and life
Mornings are a great time for getting things done. You’re less likely to be interrupted than you are later in the day. Your supply of willpower is fresh after a good night’s sleep. That makes it possible to turn personal desires like exercise or strategic thinking time into reality.
But if you’ve got big goals — and a chaotic a.m. schedule — how can you make over your mornings to make these goals happen?
Because I write about time management frequently, I’ve gotten to see hundreds of calendars and schedules over the years. From studying people’s morning habits, I’ve learned that getting the most out of this time is a five-part process. Follow these steps, though, and you’re on your way to building morning habits that stick.
1. Track Your Time
Part of spending your time better is knowing how you’re spending it now. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that nutritionists tell you to keep a food journal because it keeps you from eating mindlessly. It’s the same with time. Write down what you’re doing as often as you can. There’s a spreadsheet you can download from http://lauravanderkam.com/books/168-hours or you can use a notebook or Word document.
While you may be thinking about your mornings, try tracking a whole week. The reason? The solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day. You may be too tired because you’re staying up late. But if you look at how you’re spending your nights, you’ll notice that you’re not doing anything urgent. The Daily Show can be recorded and watched earlier—possibly while you’re on the treadmill at 6:30 a.m.
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As for the mornings themselves, you can be organized but still not be spending them well. Question your assumptions. You may believe that “a man who wants to keep his job gets into the office before his boss” because that’s what your father did, but your boss may be disappointed that he doesn’t get the place to himself for an hour first! If you decide that something is a top priority, do it, but understand that we “have” to do few things in life.
2. Picture the Perfect Morning
After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself what a great morning would look like. For me, it would start with a run, followed by a hearty family breakfast. After getting people out the door, I’d focus on long-term projects like my books. Here are some other ideas for morning habits:
painting, photography, scrapbooking, practicing a musical instrument, reading through a religious text, yoga, walking, biking, swimming, weight lifting, prayer, making a gratitude list, writing one thousand words in a novel, writing in a journal, writing thank-you letters, reading articles in professional journals, attending a networking breakfast, having family breakfast, running a family book club, reading through the plays of Shakespeare, reading through the best novels of the twentieth century, listening to challenging music like Wagner’s Ring Cycle, doing art projects with your kids, gardening, exercising with your spouse, trying a new recipe every morning, strategic career thinking, coming up with new projects, taking an online class
3. Think Through the Logistics
How could this vision mesh with the life you have? Don’t assume you have to add it on top of the hours you already spend getting ready or that you’ll have to get to work earlier. If you fill the morning hours with important activities you’ll crowd out things that are more time intensive than they need to be. Map out a morning schedule. What time would you have to get up and what time do you need to go to bed to get enough sleep? As for the mornings themselves, what would make your ritual easier? Do you need to set your easel next to your bed? Can you find a more cheerful alarm clock, or one you can’t turn off so easily?
Come up with a plan and assemble what you need, but whatever you do, don’t label this vision as impossible. It’s easy to believe our own excuses, particularly if they’re good ones. For instance, maybe you believe you can’t use your mornings to exercise because you’re a single parent of small children. But, for a moment, forget financial constraints. Pretend you had all the money in the world and list as many options as you can think of. You’ll soon see this involves everything from hiring a live-in nanny to getting a housemate to finding an early-morning sitter or trading off with a friend to joining a gym with childcare, buying a new or used treadmill or a double jog stroller that would let you take the kids with you. Looking at the list, the used treadmill seems logistically easiest to me, but maybe you’ll decide another option sounds appealing instead.
4. Build the Habit
This is the most important step. Turning a desire into a ritual requires willpower. How do you make it happen?
One answer is to start slowly. Go to bed and wake up fifteen minutes earlier for a few days until this new schedule seems doable.
Monitor your energy. Building a new habit takes effort, so take care of yourself while you’re trying. Eat right and eat enough, and surround yourself with supportive people who want to see you succeed.
Choose one new habit at a time to introduce. If you want to run, pray, and write in a journal, choose one of these and make it a habit before trying something else.
Chart your progress. Habits take weeks to establish, so keep track of how you’re doing for at least thirty days. Once skipping a session feels like you forgot something—like forgetting to brush your teeth—you can take your ritual up a notch.
Also, feel free to use bribery. Eventually habits produce their own motivation, but until then, external motivations like promising yourself concert tickets can keep you moving forward. And keep in mind that your morning rituals shouldn’t be of the self-flagellation variety. Choose things you enjoy-- so your before breakfast ritual has the potential to become your favorite part of the day.
5. Tune Up as Necessary
Life changes. Sometimes we have to regroup, but the goal is to replace any rituals that no longer work with new ones that make you feel like every day is full of possibility.
Because that is ultimately the amazing thing about mornings—they always feel like a new chance to do things right. A win scored then creates a cascade of success. Believing that your actions matter is how the human mind learns optimism or, to use a better word, hope.
The hopeful hours before most people eat breakfast are too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities. You can do a lot with those hours. Whenever I’m tempted to say I don’t have time for something, I remind myself that if I wanted to get up early, I could. These hours are available to all of us if we choose to use them.
So how would you like to use your mornings? This important question requires careful thinking. But once you decide, small rituals can accomplish great things. When you make over your mornings, you can make over your life. That is what the most successful people know.
Excerpted from What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam by arrangement with Portfolio Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Laura Vanderkam.
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