What is your regimen for dealing with life? Do you power through, or do you prefer to go with the flow?
When I was keen to prove myself to the world, I would get up at six, three times a week, and go for a three mile run.
Until a doctor asked me: “Why are you doing that? After you wake up your body takes a couple of hours to log in and you are stressing it from the off.”
There are times in life when you hear something and know it’s right and this was one of them. The day, like the lunar month, the seasons, and the year, is a natural unit of time, unlike the minute, hour, week, and calendar month, which are made up.
As creatures of the planet who took thousands of years to evolve, it is not too much of a stretch to consider that our bodily rhythms may be more attuned to the rising and the setting of the sun, than the six am news.
You can get your results in life by being determined (and exhausted) but if you prefer managing your energy and being productive yet peaceful, I have found that there is a daily regimen that tallies with natural wisdom and works.
The arc of the day
I call it the ‘arc of the day’ as it follows a natural rising and falling of activity - actually paralleling the arc of the sun, with the two halves of the day being each a mirror image of the other.
Below is the ideal. You will find it inconvenient at first to follow it as prescribed as life will butt in, but I have found that over time you can get close to it.
Ripples over alarums
First, if you use some sort of alarm to wake up to, do not use the old style alarm bell (literally, an alarm) which jolts you up and slams your body into fight or flight mode on waking. Use a gentler tone to encourage you to the waking state. My wife and I use either iPhone’s ‘Ripples’ or BBC Radio 3’s classical music to ease us gently into the world.
Next, meditate. Immediately upon waking is an ideal time. Find a secluded spot where you will not be disturbed. Ultimately, as an experienced meditator many situations during the day can be utilised for meditation, but, until you get to that level, meditate upon waking.
I will explore the benefits of regular meditation in more depth on another occasion, but regular meditation enables you to ‘know thyself’ experientially; become aware of your thoughts and thinking, and actively manage them.
Meditation grounds you and strengthens your base. Worldly events and situations that, hitherto, would depress you or at least throw you off balance, lose their power to do so, so that the consequence of regular meditation practice is that you know who you are and who you are not, and are less troubled by the events of the world (like clouds they come and go). You are also far less beholden to your thoughts and thinking, freeing you to live the life that you want.
After meditation, some sort of spiritual reading. By spiritual, I do not mean religious texts necessarily or anything about ghosts and goblins. And I haven’t seen the light and need you to see it too.
Rather, spiritual texts tend to discuss who you really are and your place in the cosmos. They address the question of not “What do I want from life” (more the domain of self-help) but “What does life want from me?” Such texts can be very uplifting around your purpose in life. I tend to devote about twenty minutes each morning to this material and it builds my confidence in how I relate to myself and others.
As Dr Wayne Dyer said in his book of the same name, “There is a spiritual solution to every problem”, so that you are likely to find this sort of content highly applicable to your day-to-day life and longer term purpose.
Self-help; personal development
Next, read some self-help/personal development material.
I find this useful in two ways: first, I can deal more effectively with the specific situations and skills they talk about and, second, it tends to identify to me how my mind will think in situations, unless I step in to manage it.
This is invaluable for self-mastery. Often, when we are unaware of mind patterns they have the ability to run us whereas as soon as we can identify them, we can use, run, or transcend them. Awareness is the antidote to your unconscious conditioning.
Traps for the unwary
Two activities have yet to be included in the morning routine: your ablutions and checking your phone.
Ablutions: when it suits you, though the later in your morning routine the better. I would avoid jumping straight into the shower after waking as this is prime meditation/contemplation time.
I also recommend that you don’t pollute your meditation/contemplation time with any sort of calls/texts/emails/social media or screen activity, either sending or receiving. You ruin this golden time for yourself and any recipients of your messages by bumping your and their minds into transaction mode. The last thing that you or they want when focusing on what really matters is a relentless sequence of pings calling on your attention. There will be time after your bliss station (see below) for your phone but it is not quite yet.
Create your Bliss Station
You are now nearing that time of day when you begin to work/take action on your projects but there’s one more thing to do and it’s what Austin Kleon in his ‘Keep going: 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad.’ quotes from Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Power of Myth’, and it is to include a Bliss Station in your morning routine.
A bliss station is a time and place when and where you sit and do nothing for 20-30 minutes, except realign yourself with your purpose (what you are here for), your mission (how you do what you came here to do), your vision (what will be possible if you fulfil on your purpose and mission), and your principles - personal rules of conduct which are aspects of love that you choose to abide by in any situation.
Do not do any mindless side activity like emptying the dishwasher. You must be completely present and available to observe your deeper, subtler thoughts - the ones that will actually make a big difference in your life.
Unless you regularly anchor yourself in your life’s purpose and mission, you will be pulled off course by the daily ‘urgents’ that turn up in your life - things you just ‘have’ to deal with.
By focusing on and re-aligning with your purpose each morning, you achieve two things:
When adverse situations do arise in the day, you will be much more likely to respond rather than react, and better able to utilise these adverse situations to further your purpose.
You change the nature of the issues that do turn up and afflict you as you align more and more with your purpose. You adopt, more and more, the vibration and demeanour of your vision and purpose and attract issues relevant to that.
If you haven’t got a specific place for your bliss station, no matter, just identify a specific time when you can sit at the kitchen table undisturbed and contemplate, and remember why you are here and what you want to achieve with your life.
Again, NO screen activity in the morning prior to entering or during your bliss station. Once you have grounded yourself and know what you’re about, then you can see what the world wants.
I read about the bliss station only recently but have been following the practice for years and am a real believer.
Now you are into planning your day and you must check your phone for blindsides and opportunities.
Management by walking around
If you are leading your team or organisation at your workplace, this is a good time to walk the floor asking your people: a) How they/their families are, and b) whether they have any concerns (of any type). Once they are trusting of their leader visiting their personal workspace, they will provide you with invaluable intelligence as to the state of the business at the coalface, enabling you to nip potential problems in the bud. MBWA at this time also signals to your people, subconsciously, that they are your priority over checking your emails and your morning coffee.
Incidentally, these conversations tend to fire the brain at least as much as a caffeine fix without depleting your reserves of energy.
Dealing with your Eisenhower Matrix
Now that you are grounded, centred, know what you’re about and why, it’s time to start on your projects and work. But should you deal with your urgents first or your importants?
These terms refer to the Important vs Urgent quadrants in the Eisenhower Matrix. ‘Importants’ refer to what’s of value to you, particularly in relation to your purpose and mission in life, while ‘urgents’ typically relate to other people and have a deadline attached to them.
Many creative icons stress the importance of doing your ‘Important’ thing first and continuing until you’ve finished. In fact, Gary Keller, in his book The ONE Thing recommends doing your thing first and getting used to the chaos that then ensues. Others adopt a similar approach - perhaps Steven Pressfield who is very concerned that you just do the work.
Be there for them (and they will be there for you)
I’m not fully convinced. There’s a sort of karma in relationships and we rely on our relationships to be effective in life. If you look out for others, they will look out for you but if you treat them poorly by not respecting their deadlines you cannot be surprised when they do the same with you.
Personally, while I will kick-off with a pet creative project first, and will then devote an early 60 minutes’ work time to dealing with the urgents and responding to requests and admin etc so that I can help others to help me. I then begin my work relatively free from administrative worries.
And physical exercise? The prime time for exercise (though not necessarily the most convenient) is late morning through to late afternoon. But this is an ideal. The key is to exercise. A little and often is really beneficial for your personal energy management, breaking up long periods at your desk.
The second half of the day
The second half of the day mirrors the first half in that, if the first half is about winding up, the second half is about winding down so that as you approach bedtime the sequence might be evening relaxation (not work; the day is for work); spiritual reading, meditation, bed.
But here are a couple of additions to make to your pm regimen that really set you up for the next day:
Don’t leave your work desk without having planned your next day;
Don’t go to bed without having written down at least three wins from your day.
This second idea comes from Dan Sullivan’s and Dr Ben Hardy’s book: ‘The Gap and the Gain’. Typically, you get to the end of your day regretting all that you haven’t achieved rather than celebrating all that you have. You then go to sleep bearing that negativity.
So sit and identify three wins from your day and write them down. Keep looking, for even on a ‘bad’ day you will find them. Then identify three wins that you would like to have tomorrow so that your mind can go to work overnight and create them.
This is also a good time to add to your gratitude journal if you are keeping one. Mentally trawl your day for those little things for which you are grateful. Again you will find them and will go to sleep experiencing that the universe is not working against you - whatever your mind has to say about it.
Following the arc of the day will enable you to deal with the important things in your life while respecting your body's natural rhythms. In this way you will manage your energy, achieve longer term productivity, and a measure of inner peace.