Your daily routine is great for many things, including reducing cognitive load, managing stress, and laying the foundations for creativity or a productive frame of mind for the rest of the day.
I doubt any GamePlan A-ers are unaware of the components of a good morning routine that keep you healthy, happy and therefore ready to perform at work. So, I won’t be waxing lyrical about waking early, exercise, mindfulness or nutrition.
Instead, I want to think differently about the elements not just of morning routines but for the rest of the day and night. In that spirit, I went in search of daily routine ideas I hadn’t come across before, in the hope a little novelty would spur me to make a small change.
Ideally, a new addition to the daily routine should become a habit, so we get some juice without having to squeeze that hard. But beware, not all hacks are created equal.
“Some routines can become habits but only if it’s a behavior that can be done with little conscious thought” says Nir Eyal, author of ‘Hooked: How to build habit-forming products.’ “Trying to turn a behavior that requires a lot of effort (like writing or breaking a physical fitness record) into a habit will backfire if you expect it to become effortless.” So, to be useful, I’m looking for something that requires minimal effort yet still packs a performance punch.
They are hardly the bleeding edge of hackology, but the following ideas are sufficiently different to most of our daily routines, and I reckon all four pass the easy-yet-effective test. Have a read, try one on for size and tell me what you think.
1. Take a cold shower
It’s a rare day that I read or watch something that triggers immediate and lasting behavior change, especially when it involves physical discomfort. But that’s exactly what happened when I watched legendary cold endurance athlete Wim Hof put UK celebrities through mental and physical challenges in sub-zero conditions on the show Freeze The Fear. Participants including former France and Manchester Utd footballer Patrice Evra took long ice baths, swam under frozen lakes and embraced daily cold showers. For pretty much all of them, the results were life changing.
Now I’m not about to jump into the North Sea in winter, but cold showers seem doable. On day 1, you crank the shower temp to minimum during the last 15 seconds of your morning shower. After a couple of days of that, it’s 30 seconds, then 45 and so on until you’re literally chilling for 2 minutes at the end of your shower. No extra time or effort required. All it takes is the power of your mind.
According to the Iceman and some fairly robust science, exposure to the cold is seriously beneficial for our physical and mental health. As well as stimulating our immune response, the cold builds our tolerance and resilience, and helps us cope better with stress. It’s good daily exercise routine for our willpower muscle, because it shows us what we’re capable of. It also makes us both more alert and more at peace, because that freezing jolt temporarily shuts down the part of our brain responsible for conscious thought, helping us to live in the moment.
I can say from experience that it certainly makes me feel alive and clears away the cobwebs. I’ve no idea if the bold cardiovascular claims are true, but it’s by far the easiest and best daily routine I’ve found yet.
2. Embrace the tomato timer
Time management meets movement in this hybrid hack from German consultancy Francesco Cirillo. The Pomodoro Technique® could be your answer to enhanced and sustained performance, and as Run DMC said, it goes a little something like this. Break your day up into 25-minute chunks during which you work on just one task. You get a 5-minute break in between and after four cycles, you’ve earned yourself a longer break.
By following this productive routine, you stay focused on one task, reduce interruptions, eliminate long meetings or calls, and ultimately improve the quality of your work and your productivity. Those 5 minutes in between may not seem like much, but to me they’re almost as important as the 25 minutes themselves, because they tackle what might be the most dangerous part of our day – sitting down.
Unless you’ve been grooving away at your stand-up desk, you’ve just been sat down for 25 minutes, and according to Yale Medicine, sitting is linked to a whole host of serious medical conditions. Your 25-minute timer is the perfect reminder to stand up, get some movement into your day, cut the risk of conditions like back pain and give your mind a boost too.
3. Slay that slump
For the typical worker, even night owls like me, the morning tends to be the most productive time of the day, though some recent studies have shown that straight after lunch might run close. But most would agree that propping up the league table is the afternoon. One study pinpointed 14:17 as the slumpiest part of the day. Circadian rhythms, accumulated stress, lack of sleep, disappearing willpower – any of these usual suspects is probably to blame.
A 20-minute walk is a sure-fire way to light up those neurons and regain peak performance, but scheduling in a pit stop to get the right type of fuel on board is another way too.
High protein snacks, slow-release carbs and particularly foods with a low glycaemic index will give you a steady hit of energy without causing another slump somewhere down the road. Nuts and seeds, muesli, yoghurt, bananas, peanut butter, they should all do the trick. It sounds like brekkie time, but it’s actually brain time.
4. Plan tomorrow, tonight
The start of the day is an obvious candidate for routines that enhance our performance, but here’s one for the end of the day, borrowed from the routines of successful people, that can help you leave the blocks and keep running all the way to the line.
If you read enough about night-time routines, you’ll encounter the same inversion yoga poses, hot tea and blue-blocker glasses. But there’s one particular bedtime ritual – writing down three goals you want to achieve – that seems to be a recurring part of successful people’s daily habits, from sports stars to business leaders and leaders of the free world.
“When you rewrite and review your goals in the evening, you program them into your subconscious mind. Your subconscious mind then has an opportunity to work on your goals all night long, while you are sleeping. You will often arise with wonderful ideas for things to do or people to call to help you achieve your goals.”Brian Tracy, Author and Training Expert
It’s astonishing how powerful such a simple thing can be. A study by Dominican University found that we’re 42% more likely to achieve our goals if they’re written down. When we write something down, first we carefully consider our goals, then we encode them in our brains, making them easier to recall. It also helps to transfer thoughts that may keep a restless mind awake onto the page, clearing the way for a good night’s sleep safe.
Obama does it. American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault does it. The Shark Tank’s Daymond John writes down for seven goals, not three. Qylur founder Dr. Lisa Dolev goes for three goals each for tomorrow, for the week and for the month. And we’re not talking about typing out a phone note. It has to be graphite on paper, please.