Craig Ballantyne, Editor at Early to Rise and Creator of The Perfect Day Formula, shares his personal routine for world domination.
Everyone has a “magic time” during the day when they are three-to-five times more productive, efficient, creative, and energetic than they are at any other point in the day. For me, it’s between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. That’s when I can write 1,500 words per hour for my books and ETR articles.
Yes, you read that correctly. I start work at 4 a.m. each day, including Saturdays. Writing is the number one priority in my career, and I’ve long found the early morning hours to be my most creative and productive.
In order to find your magic time, you should use a time journal. It’ll help you identify when you are most creative and productive. Once identified, it’s up to you to ruthlessly protect it from others and leverage those hours so that you can get ahead in life.
Once I’m done writing, I meditate, exercise, and have breakfast. Then I head to the EarlyToRise.com office in downtown Denver for meetings. If I’m back on my farm in Canada, I write for another two hours of writing before the ETR team gets to the office.If I’m at home (near Toronto), I get in two extra hours of writing before the team gets to the office for our first meeting.
I’ve been getting up very early since 2010…
In the early 2000s I was a personal trainer, starting at 6 a.m. each morning. When my online business grew to the point that I no longer needed to be a trainer, I started sleeping in until 7:30 a.m.
Early mornings might not be for you, but during my struggles I realized that sleeping in left me feeling “behind” and anxious, so I started experimenting with getting up five to ten minutes earlier each day until I settled into my optimal schedule.
At the same time I started checking email later and later in the morning. These two small changes, getting up earlier and avoiding my inbox, led to massive breakthroughs in my personal and professional life.
Another habit that has helped my productivity and patience has been meditation. I tried-and-failed many times to make meditation a daily practice, but finally in 2013 I fully committed to the process, and I haven’t missed a day since.
I’ve put in place systems that result in far less email being sent and received (that’s one important tip to fight email addiction: the less you send, the less you receive!) and today I find it is much better to have a face-to-face discussion or phone call than an email trail. Over the years I have added more rituals and routines to support my new habits of steel in order to make huge progress on my top priorities.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “What time does this boring old man go to bed?”
The answer is 8 p.m. It’s simple for me to stick to this plan, and I even have a few coaching clients (as young as 26!) that go to bed even earlier than me because they also recognize the power of the morning.
Sticking to an early bedtime has made a dramatic improvement in my well-being and productivity, and no, my social life has not disappeared. There is still plenty of time during the week and on the weekends that I can spend with friends and family.
If you know, as Ben Franklin did, that being early to bed and early to rise will make you healthy, wealthy, and wise, then don’t fight it. Staying up late might seem ‘cool,’ but if the late-night life is not working for your goals, you have to draw a line, hunker down, and make an important lifestyle change.
If you’re a writer or an artist and worry that you won’t be as creative, that’s unfounded. You can still be creative early in the day.
There are just as many great authors, artists, and even architects that worked early in the morning (Beethoven, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.) as there were famous night owls. Two authors who switched from a night owl schedule to writing in the morning are Toni Morrison and Neil Strauss.
If Stephen King can get up and write horror novels in the morning (he works from 9am to 1pm), then we can get up early and write every morning too.
Now here’s one of the biggest productivity secrets for you.
My magic morning time actually begins at 4:30 p.m. the day before.That is when I do a “brain dump,” writing down all of the work-related thoughts running through my head.
This allows me to leave those thoughts behind and separates work time from personal/family time. I encourage everyone to use this exercise. It allows you to be present with your family while not worrying about something from work. It allows you to be the father who is focused on playing catch with his son, not the father looking at his phone while he throws the ball in the general direction of his child.
After the brain dump, I script my next workday, filling in blocks of time with important tasks to finish. Then I unplug, eat dinner, spend time with family and friends, and read a book or magazine before bed.
Other things you can do to make your morning easier include preparing your lunch the night before, laying out your work clothes, packing your work bag, and even sleeping in your (clean!) exercise clothes if you want to do that in the morning.
With this little extra planning, you’ll be ready to dominate your days when morning hits.
For me, I do set an alarm, but it’s not always needed, thanks to the habitual wake-up time I’ve had for years. My body often gets up five minutes before the alarm. I don’t hit the snooze button. I leave the alarm (my phone) fifteen feet away from my bed. That means I must get up and walk across the room to turn it off.
By that time I’m awake and am no longer tempted to hit snooze.
After waking, I wait three hours before breakfast. I’m not into the sixteen-hour daily fasting, but I make sure there is a twelve-hour break between dinner and my morning meal.
For breakfast, I have my unique “Bulletproof Cereal” (nicknamed after the Bulletproof Coffee phenomenon).
Here’s the strange recipe that I follow due to my love for cereal but requirement to avoid gluten.
Craig’s Bulletproof Cereal:
- 1 teaspoon coconut oil
- 3 ounces walnuts
- 1 banana
- 1 tablespoon almond butter (crunchy, of course!)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Optional: 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
It’s high fat and high calorie, but it keeps me full for hours (usually 5-6 hours, from 7 a.m. to lunchtime).
If I’m at a restaurant for a business meeting, I’ll have four over-medium eggs with a side of sautéed spinach, a bowl of pineapple, and a caffeine-free mint tea.
Along with a routine for food, I have one for exercise… although the time varies.
On my non-lifting days (three per week), I’ll meditate and then take my dog for a long walk (or go for a solo outdoor walk if I’m traveling for work) and do fifteen minutes of stretching. Then I have breakfast. On the one day per week when I do intervals, I’ll do those immediately after walking the dog (using kettlebells or bodyweight exercises in my garage).
On my heavy lifting days (three per week), I meditate, walk the dog, eat breakfast, work for two more hours, and then lift either in my garage gym or at a local club.
I consider meditation another part of ‘working out.’
I started meditating on January 28, 2013, and haven’t missed a day since.
My average session lasts 20 minutes, and if possible, I time it with the sunrise and meditate on a few pillows in front of an east-facing window.
On days where I have an early flight, I’ll meditate for at least five minutes during takeoff. It’s a perfect opportunity to lean back, relax, and breathe deeply. And if I’m lucky, I’ll fall asleep in that position for a quick snooze.
A lot of people ask if I use any apps to facilitate my personal routine, and the answer’s no. I have never used an app in my life. My phone is a 2010 Blackberry Bold. That’s right, according to my Facebook timeline, my phone turned seven years old (in human years) on January 20th. I believe that makes it eighty-four years old in phone years. Haha.
I’ve never downloaded an app, and I’m not even sure if my phone can do that! My phone is only for texting and talking, and there are only a handful of very close friends, coaching clients, and family members who have my number.
I do, however, check my phone immediately after waking up, but I don’t receive emails to it so there’s not much to check.
Each day, before 5 a.m., I send out my important morning messages and a “PEXT” to my coaching clients.
What’s a PEXT? It’s a nickname for “Pester Texting,” since the coaching message is designed to pester them into action, to motivate them, to help them overcome procrastination, and to focus on what really matters in life.
I send the PEXT while drinking my morning “immunity” drink (you’ll get the recipe below).
To drink first thing in the morning, I have a cup of water first, then within thirty minutes of waking I have my “immunity” drink of vitamin C, glutamine, and a greens powder. It helps me avoid illness while traveling… although I did just recently suffer from my first cold in three years, so it’s not perfect.
After that I consume almost exclusively water for the rest of the day, although I have peppermint tea at breakfast, and a green tea prior to a workout.
But my most important task in the morning doesn’t come until I sit down and write. I produce several articles each day, including personal development content for EarlyToRise.com, fitness and nutrition content for TTFatLoss.com, and online business building for InternetIndependence.com. I’m also writing two new books (one on personal development and habit transformation, and the other on my codes for living).
In a good day I’ll write about 5,000 words. Later in the morning, I have several meetings with team members in our Denver office.
I follow this regiment seven days a week.
By now I know you’re thinking, “Wow, this guy is the opposite of the Dos Equis guy. He is the most boring man in the world. He’s like the Chuck Norris of lame.”
But I’m proud of that!
Of course, there are usually two nights per week when I get wild and crazy and stay out to 10 or 11pm: for date night, a basketball game, or a work dinner.
However, the secret to staying high energy is to get up at the same time as normal the next day. That means having a nap and going to bed early the next night. You might be tired the next afternoon, but you will be back to normal the day after.
It’s much better than what I did back in my 20s when I would stay out until 3am on weekends and sleep till 11am. That would leave me tired and dragging from Sunday through Wednesday. I’d just get back on track when it was time to ruin it all again.
I much prefer my virtuous, boring, and consistent life these days!
I’ve also prepared my daily routine to take account for the immense traveling I do; I spend more than 100 days away from home (Toronto) every year, speaking at events, coaching Mastermind groups, and working in our Denver office. But it’s easy to adapt a routine when traveling. All you have to do is plan ahead. There are no excuses.
I’ve stuck to this schedule on trips to dozens of countries, including while on holiday in Tuscany, Russia, Nicaragua, New York, and Las Vegas. You wouldn’t believe some of the elevator rides I’ve had in Vegas when I was going to the gym at 5am and others were just going back to their rooms. Ha!
What do I do if I fail my routine? Well, I never fail. My morning is spiritual to me, and missing my other routines would be like the Pope missing morning mass. It does not go neglected, period.
It all comes down to planning and preparation. That is how you control your days, own your life, and live perfect days without regret every day.
Now I understand this can be really, really difficult to master. That’s why I’m here to help! My Perfect Life Workshops mean we sit down one-on-one and plot your personal roadmap to success. It’s an intimate, highly-focused setting for individuals that really want to make waves in their industry or personal lives.
I made a video here explaining more about the Workshop. Apply, email questions, and we’ll see if you qualify.