A good friend of mine with a beautiful young wife, loads of energy, and plenty of ambition, makes the mistake of working too much, too late at night. You can probably relate. And like him, you also have better things to do with your free time.

He recently wrote, “I like to plan my next work day each evening, but this often turns into me trying to finish up bigger projects. Once I start these projects, I can’t quit before they are complete, because I know they’ll be running around in my head keeping me up at night. The next thing you know my 5-minute planning session has turned into 45 minutes of work. How can I overcome this problem so I can get to bed on time?”

Our friend is on the right track. We encourage you to be crystal clear on what you want to accomplish tomorrow. Write it out. Plan your days. Outline your work. Get up tomorrow. Attack the day.

Easier said than done.

Getting to bed on time is a common problem amongst our readers. You know that getting up early is the key to winning the day, and having your best day ever starts with controlling your time. “Every great kingdom needs a ruler with an iron fist,” says time management guru, Dan Kennedy.

You also know that there is magic in them there early morning hours before a wave of worldly distractions overwhelms your best laid plans. But the problem is getting up and out of bed on time to tackle the world before the fires start raging and everyone else wants a piece of you.

You fix this by getting up on time, preferably fifteen minutes earlier than you do now. But that brings up another problem, that of getting to bed on time. Most people have a hard time stopping their work at night. Even if they manage that, there’s the slippery slope of the endless recreational activities that can keep you busy, from reading to watching the latest addictive show on HBO or Netflix.

Here’s how you can fix this nightly problem that will simultaneously make your next day more productive and better than ever.

You will start by setting a deadline. That’s obvious, but right now you’re probably too wishy-washy about bedtime. You must set a firm, no exceptions bedtime. Institute a punishment, perhaps monetary, for each night that you don’t meet it.

Your next step is to use a system known as Reverse Goal Setting. This works for everything, from planning a 12-week body transformation to getting out of debt in six months to getting to sleep on time.

Let’s say our ambitious young friend wants to get to sleep by 10pm. That means, if he, ahem, wants to spend some magic time with his lovely wife, that he and his wife need to be in bed, lights out, at 9pm (remember, they are young and in love, so we’ll spot them a full hour!).

For those readers that need a little less time to, ahem, get settled into bed for the evening, that might mean having a strict 9:30pm lights out. Ahead of that, provided you want a good nights sleep, this will require you to shut down all electronic screens by 9pm.

Next, let’s say that you and your spouse simply want a good half-an-hour each night to connect and talk about your children, weekend plans, or that trip to Disney which is rapidly approaching. You’ll need to clearly communicate with your partner that you need to start the discussion by 8:30pm.

Prior to talk time, you still need to make sure all the little things are done, such as making lunches, paying bills, sending personal emails, and reading your daily Early To Rise newsletter in case you somehow missed doing that over the course of your busy day.

That means you have to be finished with dinner and the dishes by 7:30pm so that you can get through all of your homework – and probably help the kids with theirs as well.

This reverse goal setting can be applied all the way back through to the very minute when you get home from work.

Some of these cut-offs are much more important than others. For most people, the lights off at 9:30pm need be practically set in stone to be asleep by 10pm. For lucky folks like myself, I can turn the lights out at 9:55pm and be asleep by 10pm with minutes to spare.

(I attribute this near magical ability to fall asleep instantly to minimal caffeine, proper nutrition, and regular exercise, as well as getting up on time in the morning, of course. When you get up early and avoid sleeping in you also avoid the curse of being wide-awake at the worst time of the day – bedtime. Oh, the painful irony of being fully alert at bedtime. I know that feeling all too well from the wasted weekends of my youth.)

Eventually you’ll find yourself extending this system of reverse goal setting all the way back to the start of your day. The better you stay on time with all of your daily tasks, the better chance you have of getting to bed on time. Of course, almost no day goes by without its emergencies, so you have to be flexible and willing to cut out some other activities, particularly the evening’s recreation, if you are determined to stick to the hard cut-off of 9:30pm lights out.

It might be difficult to believe that what you do on the weekends determines when you get to bed on a Wednesday, but it does. The more you are able to plan your schedule, including your meals, the better prepared you will be for sticking to your Wednesday night rush.

In the fitness world, we encourage our clients to plan, shop, and prepare for their meals for the upcoming week. This means an hour at the local market and grocery store, and then an hour or two spent in the kitchen on the weekend cooking and batch prepping meals for the week ahead. Not only will this help you make healthy choices during the week, but it also cuts prep time from your kitchen duty each night. Saving ten minutes here and there is what allows you to stick to that all-important cut-off of 9:30pm so that you can be in dreamland by 10pm (and subsequently up and attacking the day at your desired hour).

Planning your meals on the weekend also allows you to synergize your dinners with each day’s activities. For example, if on Tuesday you need a quick and early (yet still healthy) dinner because Tommy has baseball at 6:15pm, you can have that prepared in advance. At the very least, identify at least two take-out solutions that still provide a healthy family meal. By planning in advance, this allows you to get home by 8pm and still have time to tidy up, do any essential ‘homework’, spend 30 minutes with your spouse, shut off the electronics, and hit that 9:30pm deadline.

Having two solutions for every obstacle in life is one of my little life hacks that allows me to get more done in less time than even the most productive people that you know. When you plan for your priorities, prepare your work, and know your options, you’ll be ahead of the calendar and on the road to success.

Don’t forget to apply this system to any deadline that you have in life. But start tonight. Combined with the quick and easy Reverse Goal Setting system, there are no more excuses for you – or my young, ambitious friend – to be in bed on time.

And who knows, with this planning and his energy, my friend should be able to convince his beautiful young wife to join him for an extra fifteen minutes – or more! – of personal attention time under the covers.

What you do with your extra time each night is up to you, but if you use this system, I can assure you that you’ll find it.

[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 a web-based business that you can operate from anywhere in the world – including a coffee shop, your kitchen table, or anywhere around the world where there is Internet access. Discover how you can achieve the American Dream and your financial independence here. You’ve never seen anything like this before.]

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 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