Have you ever wondered what separates those who just get by from those who are truly successful?
Luck may play a small role, but until someone figures out how to package and sell good fortune, there must be other secrets to success.
Ask any successful person how they did it, and chances are you’ll hear a combination of luck, network connections, and hard work.
But nearly all successful people also rely on specific routines and rituals. These routines and rituals may hold an important clue to why some people succeed while others fail.
A great example is famed investor Warren Buffett, who has shown himself to be a creature of habit and routine.
In addition to his daily morning breakfast (which he always picks up from a McDonald’s on the way to his office and buys with exact change), Buffett has one other routine to which he credits much of his success. Here’s how Buffet explains it:
“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.
Another example of a highly successful person using routines to their advantage is dance choreographer Twyla Tharp. She talked about the power of routines in her book The Creative Habit:
I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.
It’s a simple act, but doing it the same way each morning habitualizes it — makes it repeatable, easy to do. It reduces the chance that I would skip it or do it differently. It is one more item in my arsenal of routines, and one less thing to think about.
Are you asking yourself:
- What are the habits of success?
- What should your morning routine be?
- How should you start your day?
- How do you become a successful person?
- Why is it important to have habits?
If you’re wondering about these questions, you’re on the right track and we can help.
Let’s look at tips and strategies to help you integrate daily routines into your life. After all, if you’re chasing success, you want to do everything reasonably possible to achieve it, don’t you?
How to establish routines
Creating a routine and doing it every day turns it into a habit.
Once your routine becomes a habit, it’s more effortless to maintain. An established routine is so ingrained that you end up doing it on autopilot; the effort to remember to do it falls away.
One essential step is to think about what you want to add to your daily routine. Each day can be roughly divided up into three distinct phases: morning, daytime, and night. Certain routines work best at specific phases.
For example, if you want to exercise more, you may want to do this at a specific time of day where it gives you the most effect. You’ll need to carve out time to exercise, and make sure you’re prepared in the time leading up to then: drinking water, for example, or making sure your gym clothes are clean and packed.
Twitter and Medium founder Evan Williams exercises every day, but he does it closer to noon instead of in the morning like most people. Williams elaborated on why he chose this time:
I used to go to the gym first thing in the morning. Exercise is, of course, great for energy levels and I believe it makes me more productive no matter what. But energy and focus naturally ebb and flow throughout the day.
My focus is usually great first thing in the morning, so going to the gym first is a trade off of very productive time. Instead, I’ve started going mid-morning or late afternoon (especially on days I work late). It feels weird (at first) to leave the office in the middle of the day, but total time spent is nearly the same with higher energy and focus across the board.
Here are some ideas for how you could split up your day and schedule your routines.
We won't ask for secrets or specifics.
The morning is the start of a new day, and how you kick off the day can affect the rest of your day.
Many famous entrepreneurs and business owners swear by an early start.
Apple CEO Tim Cook famously starts his day at the ungodly hour of 3:45 am. Many others get going around 4 am.
That many people start their day at 4 am is no coincidence. A report in the Wall Street Journal said that 4 am may be the most productive time of the day.
“When you have peace and quiet and you’re not concerned with people trying to get your attention, you’re dramatically more effective and can get important work done, so they have that part right,” says psychologist Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute. “By waking up at 4 a.m., they’ve essentially wiped a lot of those distractions off their plate. No one is expecting you to email or answer the phone at 4 a.m. No one will be posting on Facebook. You’ve removed the internal temptation and the external temptation.”
As mentioned earlier, many people exercise in the morning.
Here are a few other things you should consider adding to your morning routine include:
- Make your bed (Here are six reasons why),
- Meditate (here’s why),
- Drink a glass of water,
- Write in your journal (we’ll discuss why below), and
- Organize your day’s to-dos.
The daytime is when most of us get the bulk of our work done.
Staying productive throughout the day (especially close to the dreaded 3pm slump) can be a challenge.
Here’s what you can add to your daytime routine to help maintain your workflow:
- Take regular breaks (consider adopting a time management method like the pomodoro technique) ,
- Start tracking how you use your time. Apps like RescueTime can help you figure out where you spend most of your time,
- Corral distractions: block off time every day where you do nothing but work. Turn off notifications and don’t take meetings during this time,
- Go for a walk to clear your head, and
- Stay hydrated: use apps like Plant Nanny or WaterMinder to make sure you’re drinking enough water.
The end of the day for some people is just another time to get work done.
While this may work for you, it’s worth considering a change to your evening routine.
Famed composer Beethoven understood the power of a quiet, work-free evening. He rarely wrote music in the evenings, choosing instead to take long walks and reading or visiting with friends.
Psychiatrist Carl Jung sought out the company of his family at dinner time. “I’ve realized that somebody who’s tired and needs a rest, and goes on working all the same, is a fool,” he said.
The evening is also an excellent time to reflect on the day and think about what went right, wrong, or just plain weird. Use the evening to wind down from work and carve out self-care time for you to pursue other interests or company.
Whatever you end up choosing, think about how it will help (or hinder) you the next day. Some people may love exercising at night, but if it ends up keeping you awake afterward, you may need to reevaluate.
Theming and Singletasking
Jack Dorsey is possibly one of the busiest founders today, working as CEO for Twitter and Square, two prominent companies.
How does Dorsey juggle the responsibilities of two companies? He gives each day of the week a theme.
The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.
While most of us aren’t in Dorsey’s position running two large companies, the idea of breaking up your time into themes can still work for us, too.
One way of implementing this is to think about single-tasking.
Many studies, including this famous one from Stanford, have shown that attempting to do more than one task at the same time is not only inefficient, it can adversely affect your ability to make right decisions.
The example to the right shows how one company manages time. Email is only checked three times a day, with each day dedicated to completing a maximum of one to three tasks. “Maximize single-tasking,” it says, and “minimize chat.”
Theming your days, and incorporating single-tasking into your routine can help you turn a disorganized, hectic day into a much more streamlined and effective one.
Another powerful tool you can add to your daily routine is journaling.
Many successful entrepreneurs have discovered the power of the journal, and use it to write down their experiences, reflections, and ideas before they get lost in the bustle of a busy week.
Writing about your day is an excellent way to clear your head, reduce stress, track your progress toward goals, and incorporate gratitude as a way of improving your mood.
Journaling can be as simple as keeping a daily log, but there are also many different ways you can structure your journals to get the most out of them.
One very popular method is the five-minute journal.
It has a simple structure: at the beginning of the day you write for roughly five minutes about what you’re grateful for, what would make the day great, and an affirmation to start things off on a positive note.
That evening you write down three awesome things that happened that day, and one thing you could have improved, and how you could have done it.
Another popular system is the Bullet Journal. It’s different than the five-minute journal in that it’s less about capturing what happened in the day and more about organizing what’s to come.
No matter which system you adopt, the act of writing is a compelling thing to add to your daily rituals. Make journaling a part of your routine and chances are you’ll notice benefits that spread throughout the day.
If there’s one word that goes hand-in-hand with routines, it’s habits. After all, a routine is nothing more than a habit you repeat on a daily basis.
What’s the best way to establish a habit? We wrote about this in our look at productivity apps:
One of the best techniques for establishing a good habit came from an unexpected place: comedian Jerry Seinfeld. His process works like this
- Choose the thing you want to do.
- Get a big calendar.
- Every day you do that thing, mark a big X on the calendar.
- Your goal is to keep filling days. As Seinfeld said, “don’t break the chain.”
There are a number of apps that help you track your habit-building progress and we mention some of those in that article. A couple of others worth looking into include:
Momentum Habit Tracker
Available for iOS
Free, with in-app purchases
In 1892 William James gave a lecture about the power of personal automation, routines, and habits.
The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.
The word “routine” is funny in a way because it tends to bring to mind something dull and repetitive.
Routine may be repetitive. However, it can also be a potent agent of change for people looking to improve their productivity, mental agility, and creativity.
Adding something to your daily routine doesn’t need to be a massive shift in how you approach your day. It can be a small, seemingly insignificant act that, repeatedly done over time, can create substantial positive change.
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