In 1851, Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, was living on the island of Guernsey. His daily routine could only be described as cartoonishly virile. He rose at dawn, drank his morning coffee, ate two raw eggs, and wrote until 11:00 AM while standing at a small desk overlooking the English Channel.
After writing, Hugo moved into a unique routine of a cold-water bath on the roof. At noon he had a light lunch, and welcomed visitors. He then went for a two-hour walk and exercise session on the beach, followed by a trip to the barber, and a visit with his mistress (even though he lived with his wife).
Hugo once wrote, “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.” For us, that idea is getting up early to work on our number one priority in life. Doing ‘first things first’, as my mentor Mark Ford says, allows you to get more done and get closer to creating a lasting legacy in your life.
I have taken Mark and Hugo’s approach to life, sans cold-water baths, raw eggs, and mistress. Let’s walk through my daily routine to see how I stay productive and so can you.
I wake up between 3:30 and 4:00 AM, without an alarm. I roll over, grab my phone, and spend three minutes sending motivational text messages to coaching clients. Fully awake, I sneak out of bed, put on my writing clothes, and head downstairs. What comes next might surprise you.
Waiting at the foot of the stairs in the front foyer of the house, with tail wagging, is the infamous Bally the Dog, my 9-year old Chocolate Lab. I sit on the ground, put his paws on my shoulders and lie back so we are chest-to-chest. He rests his head on my shoulders and let’s out a big sigh. I rub the sleep out of his eyes and playfully pull on his floppy brown ears.
We started this morning ritual when he was a puppy. I was looking for a dog to help me overcome my struggles with anxiety and purchased him from a breeder just north of Toronto in April of 2006. Each morning, in my tiny Toronto apartment, he’d jump up on my bed and I’d let him climb on my chest. Petting his head and rubbing under his chin and behind his ears would help me relax. I loved our morning routine, but then he got too big and I got ‘too busy.’ Eventually I smartened up. You have to make time for the little things in life, even when things that used to be little, like puppies, are now forty pounds heavier. It is the little joys in life that matter.
After a couple of minutes, one of us is ready to move on, although sometimes he tricks me into giving him a belly rub. Then I get up, he goes back to his mat to sleep, and I get something to drink.
I open the fridge, pour a cup of cold-filtered water, and mix in one gram of vitamin C powder. I drink it down and head to the kitchen table to begin typing. Over the next two hours while writing ETR essays and fitness magazine articles, I’ll consume nothing more than plain ice water and the occasional cup of Green Tea. I eat nothing until after 7:00 AM, when I finish my daily 12-hour fast lasting from dinner to breakfast.
The hours before seven o’clock are my Magic Time, where I can create more quality content in two hours than I could in six hours at any other time of the day. For example, I finished a 2400 word first draft of this article was in less than an hour.
Everyone has a Magic Time in the day. Beethoven, Ben Franklin, and B.F. Skinner were early risers and found their best work was done as the sun was rising. For night owls, like my friend Joel Marion and Presidents Barack Obama and JFK, Magic Time might be after 10:00 PM. But for most people, your Magic Time will be found in the morning, either before you go to work or in the first few hours at your job when interruptions are limited.
Identifying your Magic Time is essential for success. “Magic Time has changed my life,” reports ETR reader, Jon Laffoon, a High School Principal in Pea Ridge, Arkansas. You must make time in your day for two to four hours of concentrated effort on your number one priority in life. First thing in the morning is the most practical approach.
You must take advantage of your Magic Time every day and ruthlessly protect those hours from other people and interruptions. If you don’t, if you let your Magic Time go to waste, you will find yourself struggling, spinning your wheels, and finding the work building up around you. You will not experience a sense of progress, and without progress you will lose momentum and motivation. It is this lack of progress that kills our confidence and leads to frustration, even spite, towards our jobs.
Do not underestimate the importance of your Magic Time. It helped me go from a broke, struggling personal trainer, to the owner of the business of my dreams (Early to Rise). Great opportunity exists in your Magic Time. Don’t let it slip away. Identify your best work schedule and be willing to sacrifice for success. It’s one of the biggest secrets to getting ahead.
After writing, I meditate for twenty minutes, often pairing this with the sunrise. I meditate on an empty stomach and without caffeine, as even small amounts can leave me ‘wired’ (I have never had a coffee in my life!). Drinking only water and decaf tea ensures the meditation session is calm, but focused, serene, and not stressful.
After meditation I go back downstairs, and repeat the ‘dog on chest’ routine. This time there is more vigorous tail wagging, as Bally knows it is time for his morning walk. I let him outside to bark at the moon while I get dressed for the rain, snow, sleet, or sunshine, whatever the Canadian climate brings. Then it’s off for our 20-minute mile loop of the neighborhood.
Our first stop is the mailbox. I drop off the Thank You card I’ve written for a friend, a reader, or a business partner. Picturing the recipient’s surprise puts a smile on my face. Again, it is the small joys in life that mean so much.
Then it is time for Bally to do his ‘business’. He picks out the same spot every morning, always under the flickering streetlight that goes out when it’s time for me to stoop and scoop in the dark. Emptied, he’s ready to return home for breakfast and a nap.
At 9 years old (and 65 in human years), Bally the Dog is looking good and moving well. He sleeps a little more and a little deeper these days, but his energy belies his age. He’s not a pound overweight and he still has the stamina to chase varmints and deer out on the farm. Only his grey beard exposes his maturity. If I’m as healthy and energetic as him at 65, I’ll count myself fortunate.
With Bally back sleeping, it’s now time for me to do a short bodyweight circuit in the garage before my breakfast. Or, if I’m planning a heavy weightlifting session, I’ll eat first, write for two hours, and then head to the local YMCA.
Breakfast is simple. I’m not much of a cook, but I can make a mean plate of scrambled eggs with a side of spinach and mushrooms, that I top with olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes. I finish with a big chunk of pineapple to satisfy my sweet tooth.
My mid-morning writing begins with a review of my Daily Guiding Documents. These include marketing tips from Ted Nicholas, Mark Ford, Dan Kennedy and Yanik Silver, philosophy from Seneca and Epictetus, motivational quotes from Bedros Keuilian and Frank McKinney, and a page filled with my big goals and dreams.
Inspired with ideas, I spend the rest of the morning writing for Early to Rise (ETR), Turbulence Training (TT), and my Internet Marketing Coaching program. If the day is going well, I might do a 30-minute Question and Answer session on our Facebook pages. I love being able to interact with our readers and get ideas on how to turn common problems into the topics of future ETR essays. That brings me to a short lunch break.