I was a night owl. All through school and into my early career I did my best work late into the evening. Of course, I paid for it the next day. When I was younger, I could get away with less sleep. Not anymore: sleep is crucial for energy and focus in my work.
We live in an on-demand world. Everything comes at you full speed. Everyone I talk to feels challenged in managing their time. This is natural since technology provides so much stimuli, our mind often feels fragmented as we try and take it all in. In the past I have focused on maximizing my time by multi tasking in order to get as much done as possible. Its taken me years to wrap my head around this topic and improve my output.
Here are four ways I use to drastically improve my output.
1. Focus on your body
My experience is the quality of my health is 60% food, 20% workouts, and 20% sleep. I should know, I have run five multi-day, 160-mile Ultra Marathons in harsh desert conditions in the last five years. I have pushed my body to the max.
In order to improve the quality of my energy, I work closely with a nutritionist. We started by recording a 7 day food journal on what kind of gas I was currently putting in the engine. I do this often, and it always surprises me the wasted calories I sneak in that aren’t serving me. Nachos being some of my favorite!
If time is the most important thing we have, and energy is what fuels your body to output great work, wouldn’t it make sense to focus on eating what gives you the most energy and focusing on the tasks that give you the highest return?
I run or workout five times a week. It keeps me mentally sharp. A hard workout revs me in advance of a challenging day. A great run also helps me unwind. I can’t think of anything else that both energizes and restores like working out.
You can really burn the candle at both ends if you work out hard and don’t get the proper amount of sleep. I find I need even to eight hours a night. It’s tempting to try and cheat, but it will catch up to you.
Like conducting a seven-day food journal, I encourage you for the next seven days to record how you spend your time. Are you spending an appropriate amount of hours on your highest priority projects? You are likely to be surprised.
2. Morning Meditation
I have dabbled in meditation over the last few years. At first, I took a class and then decided it was too much effort to do it everyday. It took a little gamification and competitiveness for me to take it on full time. I also started hearing results from high performing colleagues and entrepreneurs who swear by it.
I started using an app and head band called Muse. I started five minutes a day, three times a week and worked my way up from there. The app gamifies my meditation practice and had me hooked on trying to improve daily and weekly. I am now firmly entrenched in a morning routine of 20 minutes a day, first thing when I get up. I used to hit the alarm at least once or twice for ten minutes. Now, I am honestly excited to get up and start meditating. I am getting time back by not hitting snooze.
Meditation helps me:
- Be much more thoughtful about obstacles I encounter.
- Focus how I approach the day
- Build momentum for the rest of the day by starting my morning off right, like army recruits making their bed properly.
- Reduce stress, anxiety and gives me clarity
3. Spend more time planning and thinking
I have always liked to maximize my time. I try and get five things done in a 60-minute window when I should only do one or two. I have worked hard at shifting from getting things done, to better planning and prioritizing. If you spend more time up front, thinking through where you should actually spend your time and how it relates to your top priorities, you will get your most important work done. I don’t prescribe to over analyzing, but prioritizing, planning, and partnering.
- Prioritize what you need to get done each day, and work on your toughest task first when you have the most energy or resistance to procrastination.
- Plan each week ahead, matching where you are spending your time against your priorities. Review the obstacles for the week, visualize your way through them and modify the schedule to overcome.
- Partner with a strong extended team will take you farther than going it alone. Who could be a better skill match for a task? Who can you trade with or delegate to on a project? Who can provide inspiration for getting you unstuck?
One tactic I use is to book at least two 30 minute meetings per week to connect with people who inspire me. I know when I leave that meeting, I will be better than when I began.
4. Recharge / Restore
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world schedule at least one full week of holidays per quarter and many set a number of days off per month to disconnect, recharge and restore. If you are like me, I rarely get my best ideas in the office. I get them when I am running, working out, in yoga, massage, taking a walk at sunset, on vacation or in the shower!
Two of the highest-producing years I had as a sales professional were total opposites: the first I only took 3 days of holidays and I almost burnt out. The next year I took every single day I had available, including a trip to Africa, and had an equally incredible performance. If you don’t change the oil in your sports car, it will eventually break down.
Here is a good exercise to help you recharge and restore. Write down ten simple things that give you joy. Then schedule at least one per week for the next 10 weeks.
For me a few things are:
- Eating pizza
- Kicking a soccer ball
- Taking a walk at sunset
- Thanking a friend for the positive influence on me
- Enjoying a delicious glass of red wine
- Listening to classical music and taking time to breathe
I’ll close out with this.
The next time you get the urge to maximize your time or you hear yourself say, I need to better manage my time, do the following:
- Conduct a seven-day time audit to see if your priorities truly match where you are putting your effort.
- Like good nutrition, evaluate are you putting the right fuel in your body, bringing flow through moving (walking, running, yoga) and getting enough sleep.
- Start your day with a small win, that builds momentum for the rest of your day.
- Make sure in the next three months, you scheduled time off to recharge and restore.