In my last essay, I gave you an exclusive look inside my daily routine. Let’s pick up where we left off and look at how I schedule my afternoons.

After a morning filled with writing, exercise, and time with the dog, I break at 12:30 PM. Lunch is a spartan affair, usually smoked salmon on a large spinach salad, or a few eggs and side of greens. It is best to avoid sugar and processed carbohydrates so you do not suffer from a mid-afternoon energy slump. As I eat, I reward myself for a good day of work by scrolling through the New York Times and Bill Bonner’s Diary.

By early afternoon, I’ve exhausted my ability to write quality content. I spend the next few hours taking care of business correspondence, either by email or phone. Here’s my typical schedule…

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons I schedule phone calls and interviews with team members, coaching clients, magazine editors, authors, and podcasters. Batching your calls back-to-back on scheduled phone days is another timesaving technique.

I finish working at mid-afternoon. The last task is to prepare the next day’s to-do list, starting with proper planning for the next morning is priority. Articles are outlined, and deadlines are set, allowing me to focus on my number one priority first in the morning. The key to a successful tomorrow is preparing the plan tonight.

“He, who plans the transactions of the day, and follows that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through a labyrinth of the most busy life,” said Victor Hugo. Script your day as much as possible so you can leave work on time, without phone calls, meetings, or repetitively email checking keeping you working late into the night.

Around 3:30 PM it’s time for another dog walk. We often go a little further during our relaxed afternoon walk. Walking is proven to fuel your creativity. According to Mason Currey’s book Daily Rituals, afternoon walks were a habit of many of the greatest composers, architects, and authors in history, such as Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Dickens and Darwin. I often think of article ideas or solutions to writer’s block when on these walks, just as those famous authors and composers thought of new plots and stanzas. After our productive stroll through the neighborhood, it’s back home to pick up the paper from the mailbox, and head inside to wind down for the day.

Sometimes I relax with a drink, provided I hit my daily writing goal of three thousand words. I limit myself to just one drink. One is just the right amount to take the edge off and to celebrate a good honest day’s work while two or more lead to overeating and interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Dinner is good old-fashioned meat and potatoes. I rotate through grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, pork chops, and chicken. My father suffered from colon cancer, a disease with a strong genetic component, so I limit meat intake and eat a lot of green, leafy vegetables. (I also had a colonoscopy at age 38. It was a nearly painless procedure. If you, or a family member, are due, please go. It’s nothing to be scared of.)

My after dinner activities depend on my travels. When away from home on a work trip or vacation, evenings are filled with social outings, and dinners go later into the night than normal. Bedtime is pushed back and sleep is sacrificed, but I stick to my morning wake-up time as closely as possible.

At home, evenings are quiet, with the exception of one or two date nights each week. After dinner and clearing the dishes I open my ETR Gratitude Journal and write down who and what I’m thankful for, and five accomplishments from the day. It’s the little things in life that always make the list. I appreciate how easy life is, and it brings a smile to my face.

Next, I open another journal and write down 10 big ideas that could improve my business, health, or social life. This includes trips I can take, people to interview, articles to write, or friends to contact. Finally, if any work related thoughts remain in my head, I spill them out on a to-do list for the next morning. This brain dump gets rid of any thoughts that might interfere with my ability to fall asleep. These items can wait until morning.

Satisfied I’ve emptied my mind of everything work related, I’ll read for an hour before bed. Lately I’ve been fascinated with books from the cooking world, such as Kitchen Confidential from Anthony Bourdain, and The Chef’s Repetoire by my friend, Gui Alinat. I also re-read Hemingway, enjoy humor books from Dave Barry, BJ Novak, and David Sedaris, and explore the world through travel books like Cockpit Confidential. I rarely watch television or movies. Reading books is one of the best pre-bed activities if you want a good night’s sleep.

When at home, bedtime is 8:00 PM. I doze off almost instantly and get nearly eight hours of sleep each night. I sleep best when I follow a 3-2-1 rule. Three hours before bed I stop drinking alcohol. Two hours before bed I stop eating. One hour before bed I stop thinking about work and I turn off all electronic screens. Travel, work, and social outings sometimes interfere with this system, but the closer you and I can stick to that plan, the better we will sleep.

That is my daily routine. These are the habits and plans of successful people. Structured, purposeful, and productive, this system allows me to make progress every day, experiencing personal growth and getting closer to my big goals and dreams. It has made me a free man.

The more structure you put in your routine, the more freedom you will have in your life. You will win your mornings and control your days when you concentrate on what counts. Cut the junk, avoid television and gossip, get to bed sooner, wake up earlier, and you will dramatically increase your productivity and accomplishment. “Short as life is,” Victor Hugo warned, “we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.”

It’s up to you to take personal responsibility for your schedule, your health, your bedtime, your energy levels, and your Magic Time. It might not be easy, but as Hugo also wrote, “Perseverance is the secret of all triumphs.” This is your one and only life on earth, so stay strong and make the right decisions, right now, to build the right routines.

The sun is about to rise. It’s time for my meditation and then a walk with ol’ Bally the Dog. It’s been another perfect start to another Perfect Day thanks to taking advantage of my Magic Time. I hope you have one, too. Win your mornings, own your days, and concentrate on what counts. And never forget, no matter what you do, it is the little things in life that will make you smile at the end of the day.

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

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