It was only 7 a.m. and my coaching client was already stressed out.

“Craig,” she wrote in her email, “I’ve been up since 5 a.m. doing yoga, meditation, gratitude journaling, and watching motivational videos on YouTube. But now it’s time to get ready for work and I feel like I’m already behind in my day.”

Such is the curse of the ambitious person who has read too many articles with silly titles like, “8 Things Successful People Do Before Breakfast.” In fact, I wrote a bit about this recently on ETR.com.

But there’s more to be said. I’m not sure when the first of these articles began appearing on the internet, but they are, without a doubt, some of the most inane pieces of drivel you can find.

First of all, I know a lot of successful people, and they don’t do eight different things before breakfast. They do one. (I’ll explain what that is in a moment.)

Second, if you added up the time it takes to do these eight things, it would total over four hours. That might be fine for people who get up at 3 a.m.—or who don’t eat breakfast until 3 p.m.—but these ridiculous morning routines aren’t going to work for you.

Here’s the insidious truth about most of the morning routine articles out there:

They’re full of false promises.

In many cases, they serve as nothing more than a perverse form of procrastination.

Instead of encouraging you to start meaningful activities that set you up for success, excessive morning routines merely create a sense of busy-ness that masquerades as productivity—while also exhausting you. Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. They are not the same, and do not deliver equivalent results in the game of life.

But don’t worry; I’m here to liberate you from the shackles of mediocrity brought on by misguided morning routines.

Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked with thousands of entrepreneurs and executives, both as a fitness expert and as a business coach. I have found that what most of them need in their mornings is not another “to-do” list, but a list of what NOT to do. And you know what? They credit that not-doing for their daily success.

Here, then, are eight things that you do NOT have to do before 8 a.m. Most of these are common sense, but are nonetheless a healthy guide for any busy person.

1. DO NOT Make Your Bed

There is a popular notion these days that the key to having a great day is making your bed.

Fact: I’ve never made my bed once in my life. And yet here I am, the author of multiple books, a coach with thousands of clients, and the owner of ETR, the business of my dreams.

If you like to make your bed, fine. But know that it makes no difference to how well you sell, market, or manage.

2. DO NOT Check Email

This is one of the ultimate faux pas in a morning routine gone wrong. What good can come of checking your inbox first thing in the morning? Very little. Negative emails can you put you in a rotten mood when you need to have intense focus on deep work, while newsletter emails can send you off to surf the web or over to Amazon for unnecessary purchases. Either way, email wastes your time away.

If—as you might argue—that you’ll miss out on “important updates,” then I encourage you to reconsider your email behavior based on these two perspectives:

First, realize that your emails have been sitting in your inbox for hours. Why can’t they wait another hour while you work on a personal goal or daily priority?

Second, if you think you have emergency email messages waiting for you in the morning, then you need to build a better communication system. Email is not for emergencies. If you truly have emergencies to deal with, then these notifications should arrive via text or phone call. Email can—and must—wait until you spend some time on your priorities.

3. DO NOT Respond to Email

If you’ve made the mistake of looking at your email, you can still save your morning—and your colleagues’ mornings—by not replying before 8 a.m. Every email you send early in the morning loads up inboxes and overwhelms the mornings of countless others. Save your emails for later.

Oh—and when it comes to email, think of the children! Sounds strange, I know, but when I started telling entrepreneurs and executives that every minute spent absorbed in email robs them of a minute with their children, suddenly their eyes lit up. Ruthless email management became meaningful, and they started cutting back on newsletter subscriptions and the number of times they checked their inbox each day.

I have found that what most of them need in their mornings is not another “to-do” list, but a list of what NOT to do.

4. DO NOT Check Social Media

When it comes to Facebook and its ilk, here’s the cold, hard truth: You and I are up against a formidable enemy. Every day, thousands of America’s brightest young people set to work in Silicon Valley with one objective: To make their websites more addictive. And if you make the mistake of rolling over in bed and checking your social media feed before you’ve even said hello to your spouse, then you’ve played right into their hands.

Keep your phone away from the bed. Better yet, keep it out of the room, turned off, in airplane mode, and with a post-it note stuck to it that says, “Keep Off!”

Again, my advice is to get something done that matters before you check the inconsequential updates of your countless social feeds. Think about your legacy and forget about your “likes.”

5. DO NOT Engage in Excessive Exercise

In the world of exercise, there are two types of people—those who don’t exercise at all and should, and those who exercise too much. That’s right—if you’re a regular exerciser, you are probably doing too much.

Before you hop on that treadmill, ask yourself, “Why do I need to run for an hour? Wouldn’t 45 minutes do just as well? Wouldn’t 30 minutes at a faster pace be even better?”

Almost everyone can exercise less and still get the same benefits—with less risk of overuse injury.

How do I know? Because I’m an expert. I’ve contributed to Men’s Health magazine for over 17 years, created the groundbreaking Turbulence Training program, and authored the book, “The Great Cardio Myth.”

I don’t say any of this to impress you. Instead, I want you to understand that if you cut back on your workout by half, you’ll likely get the same results. This saves you a lot of time that can be spent enjoying life or getting ahead in your career.

6. DO NOT Hit the Snooze Button

There are two reasons why you should never hit the snooze button. The first, as I describe in my 10-3-2-1-0 Formula, is that getting a meager five or 10 minutes of bad sleep after your alarm goes off actually leaves you worse off than getting up right away.

The second reason is more about motivation: When you hit snooze, you’re telling your hopes and dreams that they can wait. Successful people do not do this.

Set your alarm and stick to it.

7. DO NOT Force Gratitude

Gratitude is a beautiful thing. This habit literally changed my life. However, it is not mandatory for it to be done before breakfast, nor do you need an elaborate 30-minute gratitude routine. If you like to give gratitude (and you probably should), and if it fits your early morning schedule, that’s fine. But if adding this habit causes you to rush through it or feel stressed before you get to work, then simply do it another time of the day. There is never a bad moment to be thankful, but there are better ways to practice gratitude than as an afterthought or hurried “to-do.”

8. DO NOT Meditate

Meditation is a powerful tool. It can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, increase your patience, and improve your focus. I began meditating in January 2013 and haven’t missed a day since.

However, it’s only done as part of my morning routine when it doesn’t add to the stress of an already busy day. When I have a 6 a.m. flight, I don’t force myself to do it before leaving home. Instead, I wait until I’m on the airplane.

Likewise, if you’re a busy entrepreneur or executive that needs to deal with more important matters at home (like feeding a two-year) or getting into the office for a 7 a.m. conference call with your team, then you have permission to put off this practice until later in the day.

Practicing meditation is not necessary for success. It’s a good habit—and I definitely encourage it—but don’t let it overwhelm your morning.

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After all of these “do-nots,” you’re probably wondering: What SHOULD I do before breakfast to be successful?

Just one thing.

Get up and spend at least 15 minutes—preferably an hour—working without distractions on your number-one priority in life.

How you define that priority is up to you. It might be writing a book, figuring out how to get out of debt, engaging in spiritual study, or finally diving into an exercise regime. WHAT it is doesn’t matter—as long as you’ve earnestly acknowledged it as your number-one priority.

This “one-priority-only” Morning Routine is the common habit of high-performers. They focus on what matters and avoid frivolous distractions. And without a doubt, it makes them healthy, wealth, and wise.

The bottom line: Dump your massive morning to-do list and simply carve out 15 minutes to focus on what matters to you.

That’s it. You’ll soon find, as my client did when she returned to the simplicity of my Perfect Day Formula, that success comes faster—and with less stress—in every area of life.


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Craig Ballantyne

Craig Ballantyne is the author of The Perfect Day Formula: How to Own the Day and Control Your Life. Craig has been a contributor to Men's Health magazine for over 17 years. Today he teaches his gift to high-performing entrepreneurs how to squeeze more out of their days, increase their income, and make more quality time for their families in his Perfect Life Workshop and Work-Life Mastery programs. Craig used his own advice to overcome crippling anxiety attacks in 2006, and he'll teach you his 5 Pillars of Success so you can increase your income, decrease your work time, and live the life of your dreams. Learn more about Craig at craigballantyne.com

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