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    Ask the Coach

    What is your morning routine?

    I’ve become an increasingly early riser, currently waking up at 5:00am without an alarm. After waking, I meditate for ten minutes, then prepare a cup of coffee.  While the coffee is brewing I drink twenty ounces of water and make something light to carry me into my workout. As I sip my coffee, I write whatever comes to mind for ten or fifteen minutes. When writing, I use pen and paper (no laptop – yep old school).

    I tend to work out first thing in the morning. This involves going to the gym in my building (mostly cardio) or walking about 5 kilometers around my neighborhood here in Toronto. I probably should give more time to this but I am usually back before 7:00am and at my desk.

    With coffee in hand, I give myself 60-90 minutes of uninterrupted time to focus on deep work. This might include reading or researching something for a client, following up on client connect documents I sent from the day before, it might be writing script for a webinar, Mancave session or blog post, preparing for a meeting or interview, or just something for one of the other projects I am involved with. I then take a break, grab breakfast, listen to the news, review messages from clients, make note of ideas that came to mind that I want to revisit or research.

    Focusing on deep work first thing in the morning won’t work for everyone, especially if they commute or have conflicting priorities; however, I’ve realized that I’m most productive and focused first thing in the morning. Having a few more hours in the morning to do my work is a huge benefit. I feel more accomplished than I used to feel!

    This takes me to about 8:30am, when I begin my workday. I take a look at emails, moving quickly through them. I then begin my coaching work promptly at 9:00am with client meetings.

    I schedule them in blocks, two in the morning, one in the afternoon and the two in the evening. I try to be done by 8:00pm and a busy day would have 4-5 client calls. Most of client calls are Tuesday thru Thursday. These are usually one hour each, and they are pretty intense focus events. On the other weekdays, I have other appointments or respond to inquiries, or take a day to do a creative project like a podcast or prepare for a presentation. Weekends tends to be more “fun” time (if you call laundry, shopping and house cleaning fun).

    How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

    I don’t check email first thing. This was a habit that I consciously had to break. I do send a morning text to some family once I get my phone, usually a bit before 8:00am  If we got up in the morning and the first thing we did was check email, we’d be allowing others to dictate our priorities for the day. The important projects I want to focus on would get pushed back to later in the day, and I would be spending my most valuable mental energy time answering emails that could easily wait for a few hours.

    What time do you go to sleep?

    The key to waking up early in the morning is going to bed early in the evening! I tend to be asleep by 10:00pm. My morning is easiest when I have a good night’s sleep and don’t stare at any screens the hour before bedtime. I really try to powerdown the TV and my laptop an hour before bed (in honesty I don't always succeed but I try).

    Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

    Before bed I identify the 2-3 projects that are most important for me to focus on the following day. Essentially, I write out my schedule for the next day. Scheduling keeps me on track and allows me to be conscious of how I spend my time rather than being reactive.

    Meditation has become part of my evening routine, besides my ten minutes in the morning. Having mediation in the evening helps me calm my mind after a busy day and get a better sleep. It also includes journal time which leads me to reflect on my wins, woes and wants from the day. I find when I invest here, I sleep well.

    Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

    I wake up naturally. If I sleep past 5:00am, it’s because I didn’t go to bed on time, I did strenuous exercise, or I ate a poor diet the day prior. Most days I wake up without trouble.

    How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

    I eat breakfast around 7:00am, a few hours after waking up and my workout is done. It’s a predictable bowl of bran, sometimes a piece of toast, and some fruit.  It keeps me satiated until lunch.

    Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

    Meditation is the greatest life hack that most people don’t use. I meditate for ten minutes each morning and again at night, I guess in total I give about an hour of my day to this. I also live near a place of worship and sometimes in my morning walk, or during an afternoon outing,  I will drop in.

    My meditation practice started when I was a young child. I stopped meditating regularly when I was in my late teens but then started up again in my twenties. I begin by focusing on my breathing, eventually transitioning to some traditional prayers that have deep meaning to me. I then ponder events and people I have experienced. This practice has been with me for a long time! It’s a profoundly important practice to me.

    Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

    I go through a round of emails in the morning, responding to client emails first. Then, later in the day, I do the same thing. I get about a hundred emails a day. So there are two types to me. First are messages from clients that I coach. They have a unique “ring” on my phone so they get my attention right away. One of my clients got me onto responding to clients email with a voice memo as a reply; it’s a lot more personable. I like that now a lot more.

    The others, well, to be honest I do make a point to read all of them eventually but those don’t get read or answered until late afternoon. I schedule in time for emails during my day, it’s an actual 30 minute “appointment” in my calendar.

    Checking email constantly throughout the day breaks concentration and throws off any possible state of flow.

    Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

    No. I’m not really a fan of trying to solve common life problems with apps and software programs. Some basic, old-school planning and discipline do the job fine. And if you don’t have discipline, an app won’t help.

    That’s just my take. I’m sure some people find value in the apps and stuff. There’s a certain amount of technology fetish-ism that creeps in. How the heck did John Grisham write 37+ novels, 7 Children’s books, 3 non fictions books and 4 short stories without an app? He created a routine and stuck to it. Your habits become comfortable and customary and they lead to productivity.

    How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

    I try not to. If anything I’m working on or doing is high priority or if there is an emergency, people will know how to get hold of me. Again my clients, close family and friends, have a unique ring tone. Otherwise, I try to keep it aside and not let it distract me.

    What are your most important tasks in the morning?

    Definitely shower. That’s an absolute must. Meditating, writing, reading/studying, and drinking a cup of coffee!

    What and when is your first drink in the morning?

    I enjoy a cup of coffee (I keep it at two – use to be a lot more!). I drink my coffee black.

    Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

    Absolutely! I do the exact same thing! Sometimes, I wake up a little later (5:30am-6:00am), but that would be the only difference between a weekend and a weekday. During the weekend I do not have client appointments, but I do a lot more writing and recording of our Podcast “You Can Make it So” for example happens on the weekend.

    On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

    Yes, it’s not an issue. My breakfast might change, but the overall routine will stay the same!

    What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

    I try again tomorrow. Don’t get into the habit of thinking it’s “all or nothing” - just get back on track immediately. I tell my clients often "successful people don't shame, they strive." So if you "fall" on something - get back up and try again. 

    When I wake up early, I end up having a lot of time to take care of myself and think about things (which ends up being a fun exercise for me!). So if my routine is disrupted, I miss out on that. The good news is that I get to start again the next day and pick up my routine again. That’s the cool thing about designing a morning routine - you get to practice it daily!

    Anything else you would like to add?

    Remember that it’s a good day if you go to bed smarter than when you woke up.

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