How do some people seem to be able to get so much more done in a day than you ever can? Is it some genetic potential you don’t have that these more successful people do? Turns out, not really; it’s just the routines and habits they meticulously follow each day.
I spent a month interviewing 15 Silicon Valley startup founders to dive into the habits and hacks they use to keep them productive and motivated every day. Some have sold companies for more than eight figures, and many have had their products and services featured in top-tier publications.
Here are the three biggest commonalities in how successful people create a powerfully productive day:
1. They are not fans of “grinding it out.”
Contrary to popular opinion, almost everyone I interviewed was not a fan of the 24/7 grind. This false perception of being “switched on” every day can be damaging. In the short term, you can push yourself a little bit further, and a little bit further. In the long run, however, it can be devastating to your overall productivity and effectiveness.
Josh Waitzkin, author of The Art of Learning, talks about creating stress and relax thresholds: “Teaching people to turn it off is a huge part of teaching them to turn it on much more intensely.” That means you have to create planned times of intense work followed by times of rest. When you are mentally fatigued, it’s not possible to perform at your best and be your most productive; being tired can cause you to become distracted and unfocused much easier.
More than two-thirds of those I interviewed do exactly this: Plan times of high focus on one task for 45 to 60 minutes straight, followed by 10 to 30 minutes of rest and recovery.
“I use conscious focus and then relaxation. I do a block of 30 to 90 minutes of heads-down work, and then I take a break of roughly 30 minutes,” says Sol Orwell, Founder of Examine.com. “Real focused work is incredibly powerful and most people just never do that. I’m not a big fan of grinding, as your throughput and quality just suffer greatly.”
This contrasts the usual way people approach their day of trying to work on three to four things at once for seven hours straight.
Will Bunker, co-founder of Match.com, says, “Regularly going for walks helps clear my mind and push out noise.” He makes these walks nonnegotiable. From my own experience, this is a powerful way to accomplish more; the breaks recharge your body and mind for the next round.
2. They create a mind and body capable of being more productive.
I asked the following question to each of the entrepreneurs: Do you find your daily fitness and nutrition routine impacts your performance and energy each day? Although I expected a good amount would say yes, I didn’t expect that answer from everyone. If you think about it, though, it truly makes sense.
So many people immediately search for some tool or app to be more productive. But taking on more isn’t really the best way to get more done. I personally feel upgrading your mind and body to be able to perform better is a starting point. Turns out each of these high powered startup founders agree.
Think about it: If your energy, health and mind aren’t operating at their best, how can you possibly be the most productive and best-performing version of yourself? Your fitness, nutrition, sleeping and lifestyle habits have a massive influence on your daily energy.
“A proper sleep pattern is critical to me,” says Ameer Rosic, founder of BlockGeeks. “Everything you do is impacted by the quality of your sleep; why would you mess around with this?”
Sam Parr, founder of The Hustle, one of the fastest-growing media publications, broke down his eating habits: “I optimize my nutrition intake each day to avoid the energy crash that can happen. For me, this means I avoid carbs most of the time; serotonin is a hormone secreted by carbs and generally you want to avoid that when you are trying to get things done. I also avoid alcohol. In my younger days, I abused this a little too much. However, I’ve since given up alcohol (about three years ago) because the hangover and side effects impacted my entire week.”
Nearly half the entrepreneurs incorporate meditation into their daily routines. So it should come as no surprise that reading was also high on their priority list.
A high-performing body and mind is essential to creating more energy for your day. More energy equals more focus, more productivity and getting more things done.
3. They have a daily power-on and power-off routine.
How you start your morning will set the tone for the rest of your day. Start it in a rushed and chaotic state and this will carry forward all day and impact your performance. Almost everyone I interviewed has a morning routine they follow.
“I approach the day with massive organization, knowing what myself and my assistant need to get accomplished,” says Neil Patel, an online marketer and founder of Quick Sprout. “I work out every single morning before starting my day and then spend some time getting dressed up. We all feel more confident when we look good and it’s noticeable in how you approach the day.”
For years I would wake up, scramble to the shower, scrape together a breakfast and rush to work. I felt as if I was constantly chasing the day and could never catch up. That all changed when I started waking up earlier and created a morning routine.
My personal morning routine consists of the following:
- 1 liter of water with a little lemon juice
- A series of dynamic stretches for 10 minutes to activate my muscles and get my blood flowing
- Listening to or reading something positive to get my mind in a peak mental state for the day—anything from podcasts, books or anything inspirational; not news or Facebook, which usually contains a lot of negativity
- Eating a breakfast consisting of proteins and fats with almost no carbs to optimize my hormones to output the energy-stimulating ones instead of ones that put me in a relaxed and mellow mood
Although morning routines have become increasingly popular, I find a lot of people forget to switch themselves back off. It’s very challenging to fall asleep when we are still amped up from our day (and we know poor sleep is not good for anything).
A lot of the successful entrepreneurs I interviewed also have a power-off routine to finish their days. For many, this includes expressing gratitude and writing a journal of everything that went well, as well as what could have gone better, to keep everything in perspective.
Cutting out screens and bright lights, then actively doing 30 minutes of light reading before you turn off the lights for the evening, can be one of the best ways to ensure you drift into dreamland with ease.
Photo by Criene/Twenty20