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Life Changing Lesson at the Grand Del Mar

Rumor had it that Mr. Big was being paid $88,000 per month as part of his buyout package from the big sale of his company. That explains the brand new cherry red Ferrarri that he drove.

The year was 2000 and I was meeting with the co-founder of what was once the world’s biggest sport supplement company (before he sold it). Mr. Big and I sat down to breakfast on the patio at the beautiful Grand Del Mar hotel on Coronado Island, just outside of downtown San Diego. We were both attending a sports nutrition symposium at the hotel, and met to talk about a crook that was giving the industry a bad name.

After devising our strategy to deal with the crook’s false claims, he and I relaxed over the rest of our breakfast and casual conversation. Eventually our discussion turned to our workdays. I figured that he lived a life of leisure, doing whatever he pleased whenever he pleased. But I was shocked to find out his days were as regimented as ever.

He arrived at his new office early, before anyone else. He focused on his priority tasks. He was getting more done now, as an extremely wealthy man, than he did as a young and hungry nutrition researcher climbing the ranks of the company.

I felt like I was working hard and putting my youthful energy to work, but here was my mentor, almost 20 years older than me, outworking me every day. But it wasn’t until he asked me a simple question that I realized my approach to work had to change if I ever wanted to achieve the breakthroughs that he had experienced.

“Craig,” he asked me after he finished his fresh fruit and swallowed a couple of his secret life extension supplements, “Do you check your email first thing in the morning?”

“Of course,” I replied with enthusiasm, thinking to myself that jumping into my email inbox was the best way to start the day.

“That’s a mistake, you know,” he said with sympathy. “You shouldn’t check your email until you’ve gone through your priority list. Email should be limited, and even then, you should only check it once or twice per day.”

That was my first wake-up call to my email addiction. At the time, no one was giving this advice. Over the years you’ve heard this from every time management guru, from Michael Masterson to Tim Ferriss, but be honest, what’s your email protocol? Seriously, what was the last time you waited until 5pm to check your email?

The good news is that you can change. You can get more done. You can hold off on email. You can overcome your addiction to email.

I’m living proof. I left that meeting in San Diego with clarity and purpose. I immediately began delaying my email review by a few minutes each day. Today, I do not check my inbox until 11am or later. Considering I start my workday at 4am and, with a few hours break for exercise and lunch, finish around 4pm, that means I have a significant amount of my day devoted to working on priority tasks, such as writing this article (I’m putting the finishing touches on it at 4:36am).

By delaying my inbox inquisition to lunchtime, I’ve become legendary in my productivity. This habit allowed me to escape the grind of the typical personal trainer lifestyle that I lived in 2003, start my own business, and become financially independent.

Personal trainers operate much like waiters, working a split-shift existence. Trainers are busy in the morning, from 6am to 11am, and then have dead hours to fill until the gym picks up again from 4pm to 8pm. This lifestyle is not conducive to personal productivity, particularly if you have to travel from client to client.

I knew that I had to do something about my schedule and take control of my future. The answer was not in checking email, but in getting more done during my “Magic Time”, the time of day where I was three to four times more creative and productive than at any other time of day. For me, that was first thing in the morning.

Starting in 2003, when I was a full-time personal trainer working on my web business “on the side”, I would get up at 4:30am to work for 20 minute before heading to my first 6am client.

In those focused 20 minutes, I was able to get 2 hours of work done, but that did not include checking email. Instead, I would spend those 20 minutes working without interruption on articles, products, or sales copy. There’s no way I could have produced the same volume and quality of content had I tried to do so at 8pm after a long day of work.

Getting that work done first thing in the morning was crucial to my progress. After all, you can have amazing ideas, but if you don’t implement, take action, and get the work done, you’ll struggle.

When building your business, you need to be strict about creating blocks of creative time when you can work on projects. Answering every phone call or email disturbs your work and flow, and doubles the length of time to get stuff done.

Answer all of your emails at the end of the day. This prevents unnecessary email conversations from growing. Most emails – even the ones that seem to be emergencies – are not emergencies. Don’t train people to expect immediate responses from you. In fact, train them to expect a response at a given time every day.

Be ruthless. Set rules. Have a block of time for communication and make it known to those who contact you on a regular basis. Do not allow people to “drop by” and disturb you.

What important person drops everything to receive unexpected visitors? Is Donald Trump going to see you when you pop by the Trump Tower to check out his boardroom? Of course not. And while neither of us are Trump, we have projects that are just as important (to us) as he does to him.

Set your rules. Block your time. Bar the door.

The more structure you put in your work day, the more freedom you will have in your life. Block time for your creativity, and fight the email urge every day. Establish routines and rituals that help you do the work and avoid getting sucked into the lost world of email.

The more productive you can be during your workday means you’ll have more quality time to spend with your family and friends. Some folks might be offended that you won’t drop everything to answer their emails, hear their tales of woe, or commiserate with them about life’s injustices, but remember, it’s your time, it’s your life, and it’s your dreams you are after. Never, ever, ever give up on what is important to you.

Click here for my Time Management system

[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.]