How to Save Two Hours a Day

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Ernest Hemingway was known to awaken between 5:30 and 6 o’clock in the morning, without fail, no matter how much he drank the night before. Perhaps old Hem was immune to hangovers. He also knew he had to do the first things first.

In a 1958 interview with the The Paris Review, Hemingway said, “When I am working on a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool and you come to your work and warm as you write…you may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until that next day that is hard to get through.”

Hemingway knew what counted. He knew what to control.

He knew the secret of winning his day.

And it wasn’t hitting the snooze button.

Sleep late and you will lose the day, for the day is won in the morning.

If you don’t get off to a good start, you’ll never get ahead. You’ll spend the rest of the day simply trying to catch up, and come 5pm, you won’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything. It’s this lack of accomplishment and sense of progress that causes so much frustration.

Right now you’re getting buried in minutiae, aren’t you? Or at least that’s how you feel. Too many emails to read, phone calls to make, text messages to send, errands to run, books to read, and television shows to watch.

Something’s got to give. In most cases, unfortunately, it’s your big goals and dreams that are sacrificed. You despair that your book will never get written, you fear you’ll never find time to exercise and lose weight, you pout that you’ll never be able to start your own business, and you worry that you’ll never, ever be able to spend enough time with your kids.

Life doesn’t have to be this way. You can change your relationship with time and control your day. You can gain at least two hours for more important work. And it can start right now.
As my friend Bedros Keuilian says, “You have the same 24 hours in a day that were given to Einstein, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, and all other masters from history. So what are you doing with yours?”

You must make more time for important projects begins with two changes to your current plan.

First, you must emphasize your priorities (after first setting your priorities straight).

Each night you must sit down and plan out your next workday. You must list the priority tasks that you need to tackle first thing in the morning.

The next day, before doing anything else such as checking email or replying to phone messages, you must spend at least 60 minutes working on your number one priority. The only exceptions to this rule are a visit from one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Literally. Otherwise, you cannot miss out on this opportunity. And you must do it first thing in the morning.

The first hour of the morning can and will dictate whether you ultimately feel like a success or a failure at the end of the day. It’s that important.

Getting up early allows you to get everything done faster. Your commute will be faster, adding precious minutes of productivity to your workday. Being an early bird will also give you a period of uninterrupted, near magical time where you can work on your major goals in isolation, shielded from the screaming demands of the external world.

If you commit to getting up even just fifteen minutes earlier per day, you’ll feel like you’ve added an hour to your day. Eventually, you might even come to appreciate the solitude in a near spiritual manner, as I do. This is where I get my best work done, the fastest. It literally has been one of the biggest secrets to my success in life.

It works for everyone. New York Times best-selling author Neil Strauss, a man that has lived the rock’n’roll lifestyle writing books about heavy metal bands and the seduction sub-culture. Recently Neil tried an experiment. Instead of pulling all-nighters with his writing, he spent a month getting up at 5:30am.

“I discovered that I was much more productive this way,” Neil said, “By the time most of my friends were waking up, I’d already finished much of my work for the day.”

If he can do it, so can you.

There are so many reasons why we believe the key to your success is getting up early, which isn’t surprising. After all, our website isn’t called GetUpAt2pm.com.

In the morning, your distractions will be fewer. You’ll have more mental energy, focus, and willpower to finish your priority projects. “Research shows that willpower decreases over the course of the day, as your energy gets ‘spent’ on stress and self-control,” says Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigle, Ph.D, from Stanford University. That is why you must attack your priorities first thing in the morning.

But getting up early and doing more work is just one half of the time saving equation. The second change you’ll need to make is to cut out the amount of time you waste each day.

You must eliminate the unessential. “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential,” advised the legendary Bruce Lee. For most of us, that means cutting back on email and eliminating what marketing guru Eben Pagan calls, “our OCD loops of surfing the Internet”.

One of the biggest time wasters in your day is what you’re doing right now. Checking your email frequently sucks up time like a Dyson vacuum sucks up dirt. And most important, I insist that you fight the urge to open your email inbox until as last as possible each day. Fight for every minute, because once you open this Pandora’s box, it will continue to suck you back in over and over and over all day long, stealing time like a thief in the night. Minimize the number of messages that you send and receive. In fact, I give you permission to unsubscribe from the majority of email newsletters you receive.

Tackling your email addiction can add multiple ten to fifteen minute chunks of productivity to your day. This alone could add up to two hours. But there’s still one more way you can save time and that is through the elimination of the online OCD loops that we have engrained in our habits. I know because I once suffered from this issue. The first stop was email, followed by checking my website sales stats, and then it deteriorated into visiting ESPN, my fitness forum, and other websites. Once I felt like I had reached the end of the Internet, I would start back with my inbox and circle through again. I solved this problem by designating a 15 minute block at lunchtime for these sites. Certainly it would be better to eliminate them completely, but this has saved me at least 45 minutes each day. It will do the same for you.

Hacking away at the unessential can apply to many other components of your day. You can run more efficient meetings and even spend less time exercising if you know how to plan your workouts properly, avoiding those long, boring sessions on the treadmill.

The way to gain mastery over your time is through planning and preparation of your day. This all starts the night before when you put together your list of priority projects and a scripted schedule for the next workday.

Yes, I understand that like a boxer’s fight plan, everything changes once you take that first punch to the face (although hopefully your day doesn’t literally begin with that). At some point, your best-laid plans will encounter an emergency that you must deal with, whether it is a sick child, a hacked website, or a fire at the office.

Fortunately, if you have committed to starting earlier and hacking away at the unessential, you’ll remain ahead of the game. That’s how powerful these two strategies are for saving you time. And on good days, where the world works with you instead of against you, you’ll be more productive than ever and still get home in time for dinner.

Having saved you those two hours each day, your biggest problem now becomes figuring out what to do with them. Whether you spend more time with family, friends, or hobbies, or decide to turn these extra 10-14 hours per week into 500 hours of study in a year, make sure you enjoy them.

“Cherish time, your most valuable resource,” says Kekich Credo #2, for “You can never make up the time you lose. It’s the most important value for any productive happy individual and is the only limitation to all accomplishment. To waste time is to waste your life. The most important choices you’ll ever make are how you use your time.”

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  • Corrie Ann Gray

    Great article Craig. I have recently started getting up each morning at 6 am (7 was normal) and that extra hour does wonders. My goal is to get it to 5 am.