My perfect day begins when I wake up late and hit snooze. I stayed up late the night before, drinking a glass of wine or a whiskey and looking at maps, and I just don’t feel like rolling out of bed yet.
When I finally do wake up, I’m a bit behind, so I grab a coffee and go to my desk.
I own an online fitness business. I live in Europe, but most of my team is in North America. I start by checking my email, because it’s already late in the morning and they will just be coming online.
There’s a bit of a backlog, as usual, but I’m not discouraged. I start at the bottom and work my way up. By the time my inbox is clear, it’s… holy crap! It’s late and I still have to go to the gym!
I throw my bag in the car and drive over. I check emails on my phone as I walk to the locker room — I’m already getting responses to the stuff I sent this morning. But hey, that’s all part of the rush of running a fast paced online business. No wonder I need a glass of wine at the end of the night to unwind.
Stop right there. That’s not my perfect day at all. In fact, it’s an unproductive mess.
Unfortunately, most of my work weeks used to go like that. I was always rushing around, frantic and tired and more than a little short-tempered. But lucky for me, I subscribe to Early to Rise. And I had articles — and a couple blunt emails — from your very own publisher Craig Ballantyne to help me get back on track.
When it comes to engineering the perfect day, Craig is a specialist. In fact, he’s just written a book called The Perfect Day Formula that you’ll want to read as soon as you finish this article.
There’s so much wishful thinking in the self development genre, and far too much “believe in yourself and everything else will work out.” Anyone who makes progress knows there’s an awful lot of discipline and hard work involved.
The Perfect Day Formula reveals that the trick is in the structure. It’s helpful and understanding while being uncompromising about the need to focus, prioritize, and dedicate yourself to following your higher purpose.
This book also happened to be the perfect kick in the ass that I needed to regain control of my work and my life.
So let’s start over. I’ll describe what my perfect day looks like now that my life and my business are running in a way that ensures peak productivity.
I wake up refreshed, and early enough to spend the morning working on my highest priorities, before my online business team in North America come online to start their workday.
I make myself a black coffee and go straight to my desk — but I don’t look at email at all. Instead, I open Mac Pages and write. Besides the business, I also write books, and I do assignments for travel magazines. And so I spend the first two or three hours each day on my writing, which is my highest personal priority.
The words flow easily, because I plugged the current problem, topic or challenge into my head the night before, just as I was going to bed. My subconscious was already forming sentences as I slept. And the words and images are there in the morning, just as they are every day.
But what if they aren’t…?
If I’m having a bit of trouble settling in, then I’ll grab my phone and open up my Pomodoro app. Working with a timer really helps me establish quick focus, especially when it comes to a new routine.
When the writing is done, I make another coffee and have a quick look at my email. If my business team is waiting for a reply on something, I’ll fire that off so they’ll have it when they log on that morning.
And then it’s time to go to the gym to lift some weights and give my brain a break. I drive over there 3 or 4 times each week for a strength training session. And on the other days, I get up and do some sort of physical movement at home.
I eat breakfast with my wife when we get back. That’s usually a couple scrambled eggs and some veggies, but always protein and veg, no carbs. That helps keep my focus sharp for the rest of the afternoon.
Afternoons are for working on my online business, as well as for any scheduled conference calls (I loathe the phone!).
I try to set aside 30 to 45 minutes in there to take a break with a coffee and study a business book. It’s always a book that directly relates to something I’m currently working on in the business, something to spark fresh ideas.
I work until suppertime, which in the Mediterranean is between 7 or 8pm. Dinner is protein and veggies again, with rice or root vegetables like potatoes or yams. That portion of carbs helps my body recover from the afternoon workout. And by timing it in the evening, it also helps my mind settle and relax.
The evenings are my time to read. I make a cup of strong Irish tea, just like my grandmother used to brew, and I curl up on the sofa and read at least 50 pages. This is my favourite time of the day, and my greatest reward.
I usually end the day by having a glass of wine with my wife. And right before I fall asleep, I plug my current writing problem into my brain so I’ll have the answer when I go to my desk first thing the next morning.
And that’s about it. I follow that same routine 6 days a week. I try to stay off the computer on Sundays, but if I do log in, I’ll just research a trip or a new writing idea. My favourite Sundays involve long undistracted obligation-free afternoons with a book.
Working like this hasn’t just made me more productive, it’s also improved my mood. Frustration comes from a feeling of helplessness, of not being in control of your life.
By following my perfect day formula, I accomplish more focused work in the first couple hours of my day than I used to do in a week. And that means even if I do nothing else all day, I can still cruise through my afternoon with a self-satisfied feeling of accomplishment, rather than the constantly harried stress of not getting anything done.
Are you ready to give this a try? Here are some takeaway secrets from my story that you can apply to your own routine…
Guard your magic time — do your most important work first thing in your day. That’s when you’ll have the most mental energy and clarity. Don’t waste it by doing routine tasks for someone else.
And a close corollary to this rule is to never check email until you’ve completed that work. It will derail your focus and your energy, and you’ll spend your entire day on someone else’s priorities rather than your own.
Take time out for exercise every day. A fit, healthy, energetic body is the platform of a clear, focused brain.
Find the optimal diet to fuel your work, and stick to it. As Greg McKeown writes in Essentialism, “Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise.”
Feed your brain with good books.
And finally, take one day off each week. not “half off”, but completely off. Do something with a loved one. Go to a gallery or a museum. Get outside in nature. But whatever you do, stay away from the computer and smart phone, and from all thoughts of work.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and take notes. You’ll find your own perfect day cues that may differ slightly from mine. But I’m willing to bet there’s a great deal of overlap with the list I presented here.
It sounds simple, and it is. But it isn’t easy, and it will take some discipline to change your work habits. The results you produce during that first week will give you the desire to continue.