Nearly 20 years ago to the day I was a broke, struggling, binge drinking, socially anxious personal trainer who was lost in life. 

Don’t get me wrong…I loved going to the gym, but hated being a professional rep counter and towel holder.

I was tired of taking the bus downtown at 5:30 am to open the gym, train clients back-to-back for 12 hours, and get home at 8 pm only to collapse into bed an hour later.

Like you, I knew there was something more. There had to be another level of achievement and fulfillment…and I was determined to reach it.   

I knew that my job as a personal trainer was not for me. I wanted the freedom and fortune that came from entrepreneurship and I knew that my best chance at achieving it was to start an online fitness business and sell my expertise (in the form of neatly packaged info products) to clients all over the world.  

I knew what I had to do. But there was one big obstacle stopping me–I had “no time” to do it. 

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find more time. I looked all over my room, under the bed, in the closet, even in the trunk of my car. But more time was nowhere to be found. 

That’s when I had an epiphany that still serves me – and my clients – to this day.

You can’t find time for what matters. You can only make time. 

There’s a huge difference between passively trying to find time for important work – like creating a second income stream, writing your book, or crafting a million dollar sales letter – and proactively making time–by carving out deep work blocks and protecting your magic time so you can achieve your big goals and dreams. 

And in 18 months, this epiphany helped me go from a broke 25-year old personal trainer, living in a tiny 2nd floor apartment (that I shared with two of my buddies from high school) to a 6-figure entrepreneur–in a much nicer apartment–running the business of his dreams. 

The craziest part? I earned my freedom working only 20 minutes a day. 

By following the 7 principles I’ll be sharing with you, I more than doubled my income while working less and getting to do work that I love…all while working a fulltime job. 

The principles you’re about to learn completely transformed my life (and the lives of my top clients) and, after receiving the following email from one of my readers, Frank from the Netherlands, I knew I had to make time to write this “manifesto”.

“Craig, I’m a freelance IT consultant in desperate need of a second income. Right now I fix problems from 8am to 6pm. My time belongs entirely to clients. I’m 35 and after doing this for a decade, I’m tired. That’s why I want to create a set of online courses that teach technical skills.

I want to have income not tied to the hours I work, so that I can take a step back from the consulting work. The problem is that while I have the knowledge to create the courses, I can’t find enough uninterrupted quiet time to be able to put it all together. 

My partner and I have a 10-month old daughter, and between looking after her, renovating our home, and working for my clients, there’s just not enough time. Most nights I fall into bed exhausted, only to do it again the next day.

How can I break free from this cycle? My business does not generate enough income to be able to hire people that could help me. I should control my mornings, but once I start work, I already seem to be behind. I’ve tried to implement some of your strategies, but haven’t been consistent. I’m looking forward to reading your book, and hopefully getting this all under control.

Thanks, 
Frank” 

Frank, I understand how you feel. I’ve experienced your dilemma first hand and developed proven strategies that will help you overcome it. 

In fact, just by coincidence, I taught these strategies to another “Frank from the Netherlands” last summer and he used them to increase him income 10X from $12,000/month to $120,000/month–all while having more date nights, free time, and several amazing vacations.

So let’s give you the same strategies right now…

1. Ruthlessly Eliminate Your Distractions and Temptations  

As a boy I watched my alcoholic father try to quit drinking time after time. 

But every time he managed to string together two days of sobriety, the basement fridge, full of beer, proved a temptation too powerful for him to resist. 

If he only he had the willpower to pour them down the drain and cut out the temptation at its root, his sobriety might have lasted. 

Likewise, we all have time (and life) wasting vices. Our phone – and its plethora of addictive apps – is always in reach. We have Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, and–despite our disdain for the platform and its practices–Facebook, all vying for our attention every second of the day. 

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that anyone gets anything done at all – let alone makes the time to launch a successful side hustle.

But there is a solution that will allow you to control your schedule and make time for what matters most.

Destroy every distraction, deliver yourself from every temptation, recruit accountability, and set hard deadlines with significant consequences. 

When I first started my online business, I made promises that felt almost impossible to keep–like sending two weekly newsletters to my 3,000 email subscribers each week. But, I gave my word and knew I would do whatever it took to keep it. 

I also pre-sold a program before it was done, collected the money, and knew I had to deliver or face the wrath of unhappy customers. 

To fulfill my promises, I cut my cable (years before it became de rigueur), stopped drinking (as my father should have done), and gave up on gossiping with clients at the Starbucks across the street from the gym. 

To make time for the things that really matter, you must ruthlessly destroy your distractions. It won’t be comfortable or easy. But it will be worth it. 

Frank, I don’t know how you spend every second of his day, but I’m sure there is fluff to cut, and some distractions that disturb your day. If you’re willing to undergo some ruthless self-reflection and cut it out, you’ll make more time for what matters.

2.  Work in the Slivers of (Magic) Time 

Alice Munro, short story author and winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature, began her writing career as a single mom of three young girls in the 1950’s. Living above the bookshop where she worked in Victoria, B.C., Alice would write in any free moment she could find (calling them the “slivers of time”), often when her oldest daughter was at school and the youngest was taking a nap. 

Despite the her hurried and hectic life, she proved that you can always make time for what really matters. 

Munro’s message inspired me to become “The always typing on his Blackberry while standing in a crowded subway train on his way home from the gym” guy (try saying that three times fast). 

I became so skilled at writing in these little chunks of time that I could finish a 500-word email to my list in the 20-minute journey from the downtown gym back to my home in the West end of Toronto. 

 While other commuters listened to iPods and stared blankly out the window (this was 2003 after all, before the ability to “kill time” watching video on their phone), I created content that would make me a few hundred dollars – turning travel time into profitable time. 

I did the same in the 5 minutes between clients, writing down ideas for future content or even writing articles one paragraph at a time over the course of a day.

Maximizing your commute is mandatory. Today I “Uber” everywhere, using the time saved to write on my laptop in the backseat. Aside from a few isolated incidents of car sickness (which I’m willing to risk!), I’ve dramatically improved my already prodigious output by taking an unconventional approach to life – all thanks to the influence of Alice Munro’s little phrase.  

How can Frank use this approach? It’s simple. Right now he probably thinks that he needs a $1,000 camera and complex lighting system to film videos for his online course. But that’s not the case. 

Content is king, not style. Frank can whip out his iPhone and record videos on his work breaks while in front of the equipment he is fixing. He can film screen capture videos on his laptop at lunch. He can record audio notes if he continues to drive from home to work and back.

You only get paid for done, as the old saying goes, so you better start doing now, even if it’s just a few minutes at a time.

3. Develop Singularity of Focus and Go All in on Your “One Thing”

A new client of mine, Chris, was torn between three big projects. He had promised to code a custom online shopping cart for a client, but he also wanted to build an app for real estate agents and invest in residential property.

He was overwhelmed and stressed out from trying to do all three – and doing all three poorly.

“Chris,” I said on our first coaching call, “you’re going to stop everything but the coding. Go all in. Get it done. When you do the weight of the world will be off your shoulders, and you’ll be able to give full attention to your new business so that you can earn more capital to invest in your real estate projects in the future. You need to focus for now and forget the rest.”

Reluctantly, he did. But sure enough, after three days of five hour blocks of focused work, he could see the light at the end of the tunnel for the coding project. He already felt lighter. Each day he would text me the number of hours he finished. The accountability was key because he did not want to disappoint me. Soon he was done and on to more profitable and enjoyable work. 

Eating that frog, and eating the biggest frog first, as Mark Twain said, is the best way to tackle important projects that you just don’t want to do. 

Last year at this time, unhappy with the final version of my Unstoppable book from my ghostwriter, I set about on a nearly inhuman task of rewriting every sentence in four weeks time – so that I could have it done for my Perfect Life Retreat (as I had promised all attendees).

If would have been easy if that’s all I had to do in the month of September. But I also had a full time job running Early To Rise, I had to criss-cross America twice to coach at separate Mastermind meetings, and I had to deal with nearly daily vet visits for my poor old dying dog (rest in peace, Bally!). 

Up at 4am every day I sat in a recliner and wrote for 3.5 hours straight. My butt hurt and back ached, and my old dog whined a little because his breakfast was late, but I had no choice.

The printer gave me a hard deadline of October 1st if I wanted to have copies for my November event, and so singularity of focus was key. With one day to spare I turned in the manuscript, and in January the book became a Wall Street Journal best-seller. 

My lesson to Frank is this. Once you have your plan in place, go all in.

Give up your hobbies for a few months. Let the home renovations wait. Cut out everything in life except for your wife and daughter, work, and your side hustle. Cut back your exercise sessions to three quick bouts of fifteen minutes each week. Go all-in on your dreams and it will all pay off for you.

4. Get Up 15 Minutes Earlier

You knew this was coming.

There’s no denying the power of getting up before everyone else (even a 10-month old) and sneaking down to your kitchen table and working on your number one priority in life (even if you have to do it in near darkness so as not to wake the baby – or in my case, the puppy).

As I write this in the dark at 5:12 am, my 9-month old yellow lab is sleeping just 20 feet away. One clumsy move and I risk waking her and commencing all-out chaos, but for now I type silently because I have a deadline to hit.

Twenty years ago I tried the “cool” night owl approach. “I’ll just get home from training and work till midnight on my fitness business”, I thought.

Alas, each night at 8 o’clock when I sat down to my giant desktop computer (remember those?) the light from the screen drove into my eyes like daggers. I lasted all of 5 minutes before giving up in vain and crashing on the couch. 

That’s when I recognized that getting up earlier actually takes less discipline than being a night owl. Today it’s truer than ever. 

Imagine Frank’s life. He leaves his client’s office at 6pm, fights traffic, and gets home exhausted to his family at 6:30 (or later). Seeing his partner and daughter re-energizes him and while they eat and play he loses track of time. Finally, they get the little one bathed and to bed, and somehow it’s become 8:30pm. Exhaustion has returned, and he hasn’t yet started on his course. 

“Frank, laten we Netflix kijken,” his partner says (according to Google translate!). Soon they’ve said, “just one more episode of Billions” twice – and maybe also “nog een glas wijn” (one more glass of wine), and now it’s half past ten.

Frank submits to fatigue and crawls into bed, knowing that the baby will likely wake them soon. The course can wait till tomorrow night. This scenario repeats itself night-after-night for the next… 12 years. 

The only solution is to switch his mindset to being a Ben Franklin and Mark Ford (the founder of Early To Rise).

Making a plan to get to bed earlier, communicating that to his partner and getting her on board (at least for three nights per week), so that Frank can get up earlier and use 15 minutes of Magic Time (the time of day when he’s likely to be more energetic, creative, and productive) is the only way that Frank will get ahead working on his project at home. 

Now I know what you’re thinking. What can possibly be accomplished in 15 minutes? Doesn’t Frank need to get up ridiculously early and join the #5amclub? No, I’ve written about that before. While some folks have turned their wake-up time into a perverse competition, I’ve always said, “It’s not about the hour you get up, it’s about what you do with the hours that you are up.”

Fifteen minutes, for any expert in a field, allows you enough time to write 500 words, film a couple of videos, or strategically plot out a sales message. Done six days a week, that adds up to 72 hours in a year of focused work time. 

I recognized the power of morning “Magic Time” work when I was 25 and hating my job as a personal trainer.

It wasn’t cool to get up at 4:30am at that age to work on a business, but I did it because it was my only way out. Eighteen months later, when my online fitness information product business was generating over $10,000 a month, I was free.

This Morning Magic Time is the key to unlock you freedom.

5. Plan Your NUI Work the Night Before

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success,” goes a quote attributed to Alexander Graham Bell. 

I agree. The more entrepreneurs I work with in my coaching program, the more I see a trend beginning to appear. The business owners with the fattest pockets often have this one thing in common – extreme preparation at night for the next morning. 

The great news is that it doesn’t take that long to get ahead. In my upcoming book, The Perfect Week Formula, I describe the 3-steps every busy person needs to take to make the morning more productive than ever. 

They’re dead simple and only take 15 minutes at the end of your workday to do.

First, you’re going to take a few minutes to write down your “Three by Three”. That is: Three things you’re grateful for, three things that went well that day, and three things you can improve on the next day.

This will help you “bookend” your day and give you a feeling of closure. More importantly, it will ensure that you are actively learning and improving each day and identifying problematic patterns and behaviors before they spiral out of control–for example, drinking 16 cups of coffee and suffering from anti-productive jitters.

Next, you’re going to complete a quick “brain dump”, writing down all of your upcoming appointments, projects, and to-dos in one place so that you can sift through them and figure out exactly how to sequence the rest of your week for maximum productivity.

Then, with your brain dump complete, take a few minutes to plan the following day by identifying the #1 thing you’re going to accomplish during your 15-minute “magic time” session the following morning and your three most important priorities for the following day.

Once you know exactly what needs to be done and when you’re going to do it, take a few minutes to “grease the chute” and prepare for your work the next day. Outline the article you plan to write, jot down a few notes for the video you’re going to record, make a few notes about the sales copy you need to write.

Do something to make your life easier the next day and I promise, you will be amazed by what you can accomplish.

Frank, our dear ETR reader, admitted that he is lacking consistency in his important habits. So let me give a warning. This action must become one of the most reliable and consistent habits in your life if you want more success and less stress. 

6. Say NO Like a MoFo

Please excuse my French, but I know this turn of phrase will stick in your mind. 

Right now you are letting a few things steal your time. First, saying yes to unnecessary obligations. For example, accepting social invitations out of guilt. 

“Well Sarah and Tom came to our wedding seven years ago, so if we don’t spend four days driving 500 miles to attend their dog’s graduation party from training school, we’re obviously bad people. So let’s put our future on hold for another year and show up to save face.”

Yes, this is a ridiculous example. But it’s not that far off from some of the actions you’ve taken that are delaying your dreams. Boy’s weekends (at the age of 35!), weddings of people you haven’t spoken to in 17 years, etc. At some point you have to draw the line to protect your time.

This is an uncommon approach to life, and you will face resistance. It’s up to you to go all-in on what matters. And it’s fine if you decide that being social and attending events out of obligation is more important than earning a second income.

It’s your life. Just be honest with yourself that you’re not willing to do the hard work and make the difficult decisions to succeed. That will save you a ton of stress when you resign yourself to your current life and decide to live it as happily as possible.  On the other hand, if you truly want change, then realize it only comes with sacrifice.

The second time-stealer we must address is what I call “the doing of the $10 an hour tasks”. This includes running errands, mowing the lawn, building websites, etc. In this day and age of the gig economy, it’s never been easier to outsource these to someone else at a reasonable rate.

For Frank, it’s likely that with his technical background that he’s diving in and doing so much dirty work that he doesn’t need to do. He’s coding, designing, and spending hours creating complex digital rabbit holes that suck away his time. It’s unnecessary. 

You might think his background in computer knowledge would be of service to Frank. But what I’ve found is just the opposite. The less you know about computers, website design, etc., the greater you’re chance of building a successful online business. The same goes with building an offline business.

At the gyms I own, we get other people to build and manage the client management software programs. That’s not my job. My job is to attract leads and sell memberships so that the business has lots of revenue on which it can survive and thrive.

One of my killer time ownership techniques goes like this:

“Know less tech stuff. If I don’t know how to do it, then I can’t do it, therefore I get more important work done because someone else has to do it.”

Frank, take a look at where you’re spending your precious time as you work on your side income. If you’ve done the hard work of making more minutes, but then you spend those on the wrong activities, you’ll be just as frustrated as ever. 

Which brings me to our last strategy…

7. Course Correction Through Ruthless Self Reflection

Every day you must watch the movie of your life. Sit back for a few minutes after the baby has gone to bed, and look at how your day went compared to how you designed your day. 

Did you hit snooze instead of getting up and tackling the day?

Did your coffee break turn into a 20-minute gossip session with a co-worker?

Did you nap at lunch or make the most of every free minute to move ahead on your course?

Daily course correction through ruthless self-reflection was a vital component in my journey to becoming the “World’s Most Disciplined Man” as my friends and clients call me. 

This is what destroyed my bad habits and helped me build a pillar of skills that allowed me to buy the business of my dreams (Early to Rise), write two best selling books, build multiple seven-figure businesses, and transition from personal training to online business owner to coach that helps people who were in my position twenty years ago to live the life of their dreams.

Frank, I want you to become like my other Dutch friend Frank. He was once stuck in a paycheck prison, just like you.

But he decided to come to my workshop, get my coaching and weekly accountability, and commit to constant and never-ending improvement. His weekly check-ins allow us to course-correct his every move, and as a result he’s seen massive growth in his business – and in his freedom.

If he can do it, if I can do it, then you can do it too.

One last thing…

Frank, I was once told by my friend Frank McKinney (who lives right down the road from my mentor Mark Ford), that in order to achieve extraordinary results, you must resist an ordinary approach. 

Your colleagues at work will question you.

They’ll tease you for running back to your car at lunchtime to film a video or work on your course. Your family and friends won’t understand you, so don’t even bother explaining it to them (except for your partner, of course).

What matters now is getting out of your paycheck prison. If you want to escape, you can do it – 15 minutes at a time, in the slivers of time, and while the rest of the world sleeps, just like Andy Dufresne broke out of chipping away at his prison wall bit-by-bit, day-by-day. 

Good luck and I look forward to hearing about your success.

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Want to achieve your 12-month goals in the next 12 weeks?

Then click here to get access to my 90-dayreality maker blueprint. The same tool I give to my $25k/day 1-on-1 coaching clients (a tool that has made many of those clients millionaires).

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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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