How I Get So Much Done (personal info)

My day begins between 3:30 and 4 a.m. I slip stealthily from under the covers and drape my feet over the edge of the bed.

Bally the Dog, alert to my slightest of movements, takes this as his cue to get up from his mat. He wanders over from the corner of the bedroom to my side for a early morning pet. I vigorously rub his back so that his tail wags at ludicrous speed. This goes on for about a minute before he turns around, plenty satisfied. Time to return to his homemade bed for another three hours of doggy dreaming.

With this, I make my way to the bathroom to get dressed and cleaned up. I put on my workout clothes for later and head down to the kitchen table. A jug of cold water from the fridge and a few daily supplements (vitamin C, a probiotic, and glucosamine chondroitin) are the only nourishment I need for the next few hours.

I grab my writing sweatshirt and put on my headphones. There’s no music. Just silence. It helps me get locked in and laser-focused for the next sixty to ninety minutes.

John Carlton, the famous copywriter, recommends that all writers have rituals that signify the start and end of their work time. Wearing my big headphones and blocking all extraneous noise gets me in writing mode. It’s as though I’m separated from the world by some soundless barrier. My kitchen table is my fortress. My keyboard my weapon. An eight hundred word article my prey.

Time flies by. I pause only when my throat gets dry to quench my thirst. It’s still pitch black outside the 32nd story windows of my apartment in downtown Toronto. Only the lights from Toronto’s CN Tower landmark break the stillness of the night, but they don’t break my concentration.

By five thirty or six o’clock I’m satisfied with my first draft. It’s time for my daily inspirational quotes to be shared with our rapidly growing Turbulence Training and Early to Rise Facebook readership of over 93,000 and 15,000 members, respectively. These are not automated. I prefer to share what is fresh on my mind each morning. I tweet it. I post it for my Turbulence Training readers. I update it to our Transformation Contest entrants as well.

After this few minutes break I return to my writing. This time, it’s email drafts. It could be the weekly Wednesday Early to Rise team email, or the Thursday Turbulence Training team email. Or it could be one of my many Turbulence Training email articles to be sent to my list of over 90,000 fitness fanatics.

These emails come faster and much easier than the eight hundred word articles. I slay the biggest dragon first when my subconscious mind is bubbling over with ideas and my mind is clear and fresh. Then I move to the emails. Having written over three thousand fitness emails in the last twelve years, the Power of Habit has helped me achieve outlier status. There are few people in the world that have written as much on fitness as I have. I can dash off one thousand words for a fitness article almost as quickly as you could recap your dinner from last night.

My next habit is one of my favorite parts of the morning. It is my daily document review and reading time. Thirty minutes are allotted to this important thinking session. First, I read the daily entry from Dr. Gay Hendricks’, “A Year of Living Consciously.” I might copy down a quote to be shared later on Facebook or in an ETR essay. Next, two pages from “The Art of Living,” Sharon Lebell’s new translation of the works of Epictetus, are given reflection.

I move to my gratitude and achievement journal next. Split lengthwise down the page, the left hand side is for the people, activities, and the future for which I am grateful. I often record my thanks for the easy life that I live, and for the opportunity I have to coach, connect, create, and share my gifts with the world. I never forget how lucky I am to have been born in this day and age. There could be no better life for me, for my life is what I make it.

My gratitude journaling ends with the long list of people that I have connected with or been helped by in the last twenty-four hours. Many people have unknowingly made this list over and over and over again. I remind myself to send them a personal thank you email, text or card. No one gets enough appreciation these days, and it’s easy to deliver.

Time to move over to the achievement side. I list the five biggest accomplishments of the past day, and reflect on ways to achieve the same or better results today. Some days it’s hard to find five achievements, but even the small things, such as a good workout, a quick phone call to a friend, or getting an essay out the door belong on the list. I thank Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, for introducing the power of this habit to my day.

On I go to the many documents I’ve gathered over the years. There are the Kekich Credos, Yanik Silver’s Maverick Business Rules, and many others. Each day I review one from the list. Like a horoscope speaks to its readers, I find the points salient to my day’s activities. Sometimes one triggers a breakthrough in an essay or business strategy. Such is the power of this habit.

By now my throat is dry and water jug empty. I return to the fridge for another cold one. The dog is getting restless. I’ve been at this for over three hours and his belly, though always empty – at least according to him – is emptier than ever. We’re almost done, there are just two more habits to go, and both of them are new.

The first new habit is reading a chapter of a book each day. With all of the other reading in my day-to-day schedule, I’d found my book reading diminished in the last year. What better way to fix this problem than with making this a daily habit. Each morning, before the dog gets walked, a chapter must be read. These days I’m reading, How Will You Measure Your Life, by Clayton Christensen.

Finally, this brings us to my last habit, one that I had struggled to implement for years. Yet it is the simplest of activities. It is doing nothing, absolutely nothing. That’s right, mediation. Several times I had tried to make it a habit, but if you read here, I finally made it stick thanks to coaching from ETR’s Publisher, Matt Smith, and accountability from ETR readers. I haven’t missed a day in over a year, and yes, I believe it has made a difference.

It’s now broaching 7 a.m. The spring morning sun is starting to peek above the gleaming bank and condo towers of downtown Toronto. It’s time for Bally the Dog to make his grand entrance to the world. But first, a quick belly rub, and then we’ll go out for his morning duties and socialization at the off-leash park. He’ll also try and sneak in a swim, no matter how cold the water.

And I watch, satisfied. I’m satisfied that my heaviest lifting of the day is done, though the city is just waking up. You can almost hear the creaks in its bones as it rolls out of bed. The CN Tower yawns and stretches high above the cityscape at the end of the street.

My satisfaction comes from the Power of Habit, the strength of repetition, the backbone of success.

But the writing, the reading, the meditating, none of those come easy, save for the Facebook update. My monkey mind wants to wander and chatter. It wants to read when I’m writing, and write when I’m reading. It wants to be on Facebook or in email all of the time. It wants to do anything else but the nothing that I want it to do during meditation. No matter what though, the chattering monkey mind, or The Resistance, as Steven Pressfield calls it, can be defeated over time, with your super human Power of Habit.

Habits are something we can all build over time. It starts with simple planning and preparation. You identify bad habits, find solutions, and implement them. You work on creating new habits, supporting them through planning and preparation.

Success is simple once you have the Power of Habit on your side.

The keys to your future are your daily habits. Start implementing new positive behaviors. Make them a habit, and take control of your future, today.

[Ed Note: Craig Ballantyne is the editor of Early to Rise (Join him on Facebook here) and the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a complete blueprint to helping you take control of your financial future with research of proven methods in your career, in your business and in your personal life. He has created a unique system to show gratitude and appreciation to stay on track for these goals each and every day. Click here to follow the exact 5-minute system you can use to improve your life.]
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  • Cynthia

    Today’s essay spoke to me particularly. (They all do, in some way.) I have a new job that requires I rise at 3:30-4:00 at least 3 days of the week. I have found it much easier on my body to get up at that time everyday, whether I am scheduled or not. Wow! Power of habit at work! I get so much more accomplished than I used to. I appreciate how you have shown us how you structure your early hours, and it has helped nudge me into thinking how I might do something similar. Thanks for another thoughtful & useful post. Right on target – again.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you Cynthia!

  • priyabrat

    nice article..thanks a lot for sharing this valuable inspirational words..

  • Mike Bryan

    Craig, I love this article, especially the part about meditation. I have always considered mindset as the missing component for success in weight loss and fitness. Everyone talks about diet and exercise, but they tend to skim over anything related to the mind. I personally use meditation to help me keep focused on my goals. It helped me to go from 210 lbs back down to my high school weight of 165. Keep up the good work. I always recommend you to my friends when they talk about losing weight and getting into shape.

    Thanks for all that you do,
    Mike Bryan

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks for the referrals, Mike, and congrats on your success!

  • Hi Craig!
    Thanks for sharing these personal details. You have blessed me greatly!

    Reminds me of the saying:
    “Sow a thought, reap an action.
    Sow an action, reap a habit.
    Sow a habit, reap a character.
    Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

    I too have found that taking the quiet time to stay still in God’s Presence is one of the most powerful times of my day.

    Blessings.
    Jeeva

  • I liked this article so much I posted it on my Facebook fanpage.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thank you so much, Judy.

  • Rachel

    Craig,
    Thank you so much for todays article. You inspire me, I am curently looking for work, and trying to stay motivated and inspired. NOt always an easy task while searching for work. i love your morning routine thanks for sharing!!
    I am going to implement an earlier arisal time with tasks that I haven’t been finding the time to do.
    THANK YOU so much

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Stay strong, Rachel!

  • Paul McFadden

    Thanks for your thoughts today. I am impressed with your discipline. I can see why you get so much done! Thanks again for sharing. You have inspired me!

    Paul

  • Tom

    It would be great if you wrote an article about how you perform your meditation.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      I just sit on the floor, cross-legged, and close my eyes and breathe slowly. Hope that helps!

  • OK. Wake up time is at 3:30-4:00 am. What time to you retire at night and do you have any conditions under which you take speaking engagements that tend to have you up past the 11:00-12:00 hour?

    Thoroughly enjoyed the article. Looking to change some old habits but wondering how to attack a long, too well established schedule that keeps me up late into the evening. Thanks so much.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Yes, at least once a week I do not get to sleep on time – and much more often when I’m at seminars. But I stick very closely to the wake up time.

  • Arline

    another great article. Thank you very much!

  • Goran

    Craig,

    if your mornings are so productive, what are you doing rest of the day? 🙂

    To be honest, I have similar morning habits (2 kids instead of dog) and where I struggle is rest of the day when my mornings are to productive. I become somehow lost for rest of the day…

    • Craig Ballantyne

      The lunch time gets away from me a bit, but 2-4 are good, and then I have to be careful not to waste time online between 4-6. Future articles coming soon.

  • Hi Craig, I’ve only just made it here and what a great first article to read. Loved it.

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Thanks!

  • Craig Ballantyne

    ***Update***

    Sure enough, the old saying is true. “You plan, and God laughs”. Ironically, the same day that I shared my daily habit ritual, the one where I describe my monk like, workman’s approach to the morning hours and my writing craft, a time management and sleep schedule disaster struck.

    A flight was delayed 4 hours, and then after 2 hours of socializing, I finally got to bed just before midnight. But I was still up at 4:30 am – sticking to the power of habit.

    It didn’t break my stride. I stuck to my plan, supported by my vision and mission, and had one of my most productive mornings of the week the next day.

    I will have a nap later and get back on a regular schedule tomorrow night…as tonight will also keep me up late.

    Keep working on your habits!

  • George

    Resistance via habit is the best thing ever I learned today. Craig thanks for the update comment that’s makes your articles realistic for me so I know I’m just not listening to a preacher…LOL

  • Dave

    Craig,
    Great article and advice I will implement. How much sleep do you generally get and how long do you meditate?

    • Craig Ballantyne

      7-8 hours and 10 minutes, respectively. THank you Dave.

  • Donna

    Hey Craig. I think this is the BEST article you have ever written and I have been reading your stuff for at least 6-7 years now. Being ADDish, I accidentally found that when I put ear plugs in my ears, I got alot done. Keep the info coming. You come across as a real person, some of your articles are very positive and then you also share the trials and tribulations to getting to where you are now. 🙂

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Happy to help, Donna!

  • ejayne

    Loved reading this article, very much relates to what I’m in the processing of doing with my own life (maybe not at 3am, but even to be up and productive by 6am would be great!). Also I’m glad to hear you sleep 7-8 hours, I do too. I dont think sleeping less for prolonged periods than that is that healthy. One question, does this schedule extend to weekends or public holidays?

    • Craig Ballantyne

      7 days a week, thanks!

  • Hi Craig

    I have a quick question – do you mind telling me what time you go to sleep at? I am just wondering, what time to sleep in order to be able to wake up earlier. I currently wake up around 5.30am and go to sleep around 10pm.

    Great article – thanks!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      8, thanks!

  • Bodeen

    Craig, this is one of the best posts you’ve had. Thanks for the continued inspiration for our personal process system.

    • ttcert

      Thanks so much!

  • Marion Lynn Connell

    Had a routine that started with waking up at 4:30am with a 30 minute yoga session, then prayer and meditation. That early an hour was so that I would be out the way of everyone else who got up at 6:00am to start their day. While they were rising and fighting over the bathroom, I was dressing and getting my breakfast. In the beginning I ha dto leave the house to go to the library to do anything on the internet. I didn’t leave ’til all were gone and i had cleaned the kitchen, because I wasn’t returning ’til close to dinner time. All that I was to do or plan was for business was done or thought of out of the house, but it wasn’t getting me anywhere. Now I have my own laptop. I can access the internet by using the “hot spot” on my phone, but there is a monthly limit on how much of it I can use so I still need to go out to places with free WiFi, mostly the library, less distractions. The trouble is setting a new routine. Tried getting up later, because I am staying up later finishing off what I didn’t get to during the day. Often I don’t get to everything because I am getting out later. So it’s b ack to the 4:30 rising, and trying to get things done in smaller bites. 2 hours in the am, texting and email clearing on the bus using my phone and 1 to 2 hours in the evening after dinner and bathing the young ones. Why the bus ride? I have 2 granddaughters I have to pick up after school (2 different schools). By leaving midmorning I ccan go to the library near their schools. Its 1 1/2 hour riding 2 buses. Their schools are 20 minutes, at a semi swift walking pace, apart. Then there is the 1 1/2 hour ride home, although I can’t anything done on that ride. yes I have a gratitude journal which I write in twice daily, at least 3 in the am and at least 5 in the evening to frame my day.. I also meditate in the evening before I go to bed. Morning meditation has 5 components, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, visioning, and intent, Mevening meditation is more of a calming listening meditation. One day I’ll get my during the day routine set.

  • Chris Janzen

    Love this Craig. Very inspirational in your commitment to your morning rituals.

    • ttcert

      Greatly appreciated, Chris, thank you.

  • Anthony

    “The power of habit has helped me achieve outlier status”. Awesome quote CB. To be healthy, wealthy and wise, one must be not live a “normal” life. Cheers to the “Outliers”!

    • ttcert

      Yes, thank you Anthony!

  • Hi Craig, great article! Finishing the toughest task the first thing in the morning is a breakthrough idea. Will implement it!

    I have a suggestion for u. In the grocery list article, u mentioned that u have a constipation problem. Try replacing the cold water with luke warm water. You’ll see the difference in a couple of days. It is tough for a person who is used to drinking cold water. But just try 🙂

  • Such an inspirational post!

    I’ll never get tired of reading about other people’s (preferably productive writers) routines. There’s something unique in everyone’s schedule even if they’re using a template or copying from others.

    And mornings are definitely the most magic time of the day. It’s our only chance to have some time for ourselves, to stay still, do some reading and writing without distractions.

    Lately, I’ve been reading and writing a lot about morning routines, and I’ll keep working on mine. I just shared how it looks these days in a post two days ago, as it’s always changing.
    I’m still trying to stay consistent, add new elements and replace others that aren’t working so well.

    So thank you so much for sharing that.
    I know the feeling of having done a lot while others are still sleeping.
    It’s a little accomplishment only you know about, as no one else can actually understand how long it took you to get there and how much willpower is needed in order to do all the things from making yourself go to bed early (in order to get insanely early too) to letting go of all thoughts in order to write for a certain period of time.

    You’ve done a great job. Keep doing what you do and keep inspiring people 🙂

    PS, I’ve collected many morning rituals from productive people all over the Internet, and will be turning them into a free eBook.
    I think people will find it absolutely helpful as it’s full of examples of great morning routines, some short, some long, but all of them I can call successful.
    So I’ll allow myself to include yours too, with a link to this post, of course. Hope you don’t mind.

    Best wishes,
    Lidiya