There are many good articles on this subject. Here are some links for articles on Entrepreneur, Inc., and Lifehack.
This is meant to be a guide with additional resources and helpful tips from people who I think are doing it better.
Included are ways I am trying (and often failing) to implement these tips.
Routines vs. Habits
While the two are very different things, both are important for entrepreneurs. They add structure into an otherwise chaotic schedule.
The main difference between a habit and a routine is that a habit is a continual set of behaviors whereas a routine is a set of habits.
Whether you are transitioning from a structured day job, graduating from higher education, or have been in the startup world for a while, this post is for you.
A habit is something you do in a regular and repeated way. It is a process that can occur subconsciously.
According to the American Journal of Psychology (1903) a habit is “a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.”
Forming and breaking habits
It’s hard to break old habits—drinking, smoking, overspending, and stress eating—as hard as it is to form new ones.
You may have heard the myth that when you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit
This is based on a quote by plastic surgeon Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Who published it in his book Psycho-Cybernetics. The book sold more than 30 million copies.
“These, and many other commonly observed phenomena tend to show that it requires a minimum of about 21 days for an old mental image to dissolve and a new one to jell.”
The Huffington Post reexamined that assumption. It discussed a new study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology that examined the habits of 96 people over a 12-week period.
The study found it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for a new behavior to become automatic. With the average being 66 days.
However, the number of days varies widely based on factors such as behavior, person, and circumstances. See here for the full article.
To be fair Dr. Maltz did say a minimum of 21 days.
A new routine is something that requires thought. It is made up of many habits. So, if you feel stuck in your habits, change your routine.
It requires a lot of energy, especially in the beginning, to create a new routine. But, don’t get disheartened, once you build a routine, it quickly becomes an unconscious set of actions that you can rely on.
BUT WAIT . . . Don’t get stuck in your routines.
I know this sounds like a contradiction, and it is. But le us remember the quote "everything in moderation, including moderation."
With that, it is important to put yourself outside of your comfort zone at least once a day.
If you want to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you will need to do it on a regular basis.
What is your comfort zone
Your comfort zone is a combination of all your routines and habits that minimize risk.
It gives your mind the allusion of security. The short-term benefits are low anxiety, and reduced stress. However, over the long term this can kill productivity and creativity. Here a link to an article in Lifehack.
Why do I need to leave my comfort zone you ask?
There are a few benefits of stepping outside:
First comfort kills productivity.
Second you'll have an easier time adapting to new situations and pushing your own boundaries
Why You Need to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone - Entrepreneur
Most importantly it increase your creativity
Creativity and innovation happen when we step outside our comfort zone.
Being stagnant and going through the unconscious routines discussed above for too long results in plummeting creativity.
Any new skill always feels awkward and stressful at first, but the more you do it, the more comfortable it will be.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is crucial to overcoming it. The key - do something that makes you uncomfortable at least once a day.
How to step outside of it
Each of our comfort zones are unique, so breaking out of it is a highly individualized process
Here are a couple tips
Take baby steps - It takes a lot of courage to step out.
If you start slow you will get almost the same rush as if you jumped off the cliff (proverbially).
Identify your fears, and then face them step by step.
Force yourself to do it a certain number of times (6 to 7)
When Tim Ferris started his famous podcast he forced himself to do at least 6 episodes.
“I was burned out after The 4-Hour Chef, . . . I wanted a casual but creative break from big projects. I decided to try long-form audio for six episodes. If I didn’t enjoy it, I would throw in the towel and walk.”
So whether it is journaling or going for a morning run, force yourself to do it a least 7 times.
Find your rhythm
If you are a solo entrepreneur or designing your own schedule make a the rhythm of your routine. Make it work for you.
Below are a few I have found helpful. But, be wary, this is an always changing list. I like to try new things and eliminate the ones that aren't working.
There is no magic formula.
You have to find something that is right for you and moves the needle a little bit each day.
Now that we have gone through some major themes. How do you start putting some of these into practice.
The wake up
A critical first step. I have a piece of paper that I pin to a board that says “Good Morning!” right when I wake up.
The time you wake up is less important than the quality sleep. We all know this and yet it is difficult to do. If you fall out of the habit of good sleep, the important part is not being too hard on yourself and trying again the next night.
Whatever you do in the morning - be kind to your mind.
If your idea of zen is a good workout or a walk with your dog then do it.
I like meditation, but I find it difficult to do a guided mediation right after I wake up (I use Headspace), so I do a short workout before so I can get through a 10-minute mediation. It helps me maintain a calm throughout the day.
Transcendental meditation may have even more benefits. Active participants report a reduction in chronic stress and anxiety, insomnia, hypertension, and other stress-related disorders.
Here is a Huffington Post article on reducing stress and improving concentration and happiness with meditation
There are many schools of thought on this one.
From intermittent fasting to monster 30 grams of protein, and everything in between.
Here is a quote from James Clear on the Beginners Guide to Intermittent Fasting
“I skip breakfast each day and eat two meals, the first around 1pm and the second around 8pm. Then, I fast for 16 hours until I start eating again the next day at 1pm.
Surprisingly, since I've started intermittent fasting I've increased muscle mass (up 10 pounds from 205 to 215), decreased body fat (down 3% from 14% to 11%) . . . and decreased the amount of time I've spent training (down from 7.5 hours per week to 2.5 hours per week).”
According to Tim Ferris:
“I occasionally experiment with intermittent fasting. If hypertrophy (adding muscle) is my main objective, I still default to Slow-Carb and 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking.”
I usually shoot for something in the middle. A solid smoothie in the morning with oats and peanut butter or a scoop of protein gives me enough energy for the day. Pro tip you can add as much spinach as you like to a morning shake and you will never taste it.
This is one I am currently struggling with.
I heard William Barnes, the West Coast General Manager of UBER give his perspective on journaling recently. He said the first thing he does in the morning is to:
3 things he is grateful for,
500 words on what he learned from the day before, and
3 things that he wants to accomplish that day.
This has a few positive benefits
Showing gratitude . . .
There are many benefits on expressing gratitude. See this article in Psychology Today - 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude. You can improve your physical and psychological health. It will improve your relationships, your resiliency, and even help you sleep better
Writing what you learned
According to a recent study in the journal Psychological Science, writing notes using pen and paper boosts memory and the ability to retain and understand concepts.
The study was performed by a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles.
The findings revealed “students using laptops were in fact more likely to take copious notes, which can be beneficial to learning,” the Association for Psychological Science (APS) reported. “But they were also more likely to take verbatim notes, and this 'mindless transcription' appeared to cancel out the benefits.”
The students who took notes in longhand were found to do significantly better than the other students in the experiment.
So if you don't want to have to relearn those lessons that you learned yesterday - Write Them Down.
Three things you want to focus on for the day
Unless you are a super person getting everything done on your to-do list in one day is likely near impossible.
By distilling your to-do list down the three things you want to focus on, you force yourself to focus in a world full of distractions.
If you are a normal person, let alone an entrepreneur, there is a good chance there will be 50 things pulling your attention every moment.
For example, I'm sure while you’re reading this article there is has been a score of pings, buzzes, and subconscious blips that have tried to throw off your focus.
Read How Multitasking Hurts Your Brain (and Your Effectiveness at Work)
It has been scientifically demonstrated that the brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks, so you lose time.
Multitasking actually costs time. You also lose time because you often make mistakes.
In addition, we have a much lower retention rate when multitasking. You are not at your peak when you forgot information and have to relearn it.
The memory issues of today are symptoms of this multitasking epidemic.
Which brings me to my last point . . .
Control your alerts and minimize distractions
The first is obviously the smartphone.
It is impossible to unplug. But it is absolutely critical to minimize interruptions and distractions in today's world.
I have never understood the ability to study or work out of a coffee shop. It is the equivalent of trying to study in a Las Vegas casino.
I understand if this is the only option or if you are doing high level work or research that this can be fun. But, when you need to dial your focus down find strategies that work for you and is still healthy for your relationships and the people around you.
I use ear plugs. I know I am a dork. But, it helps when I really need to focus.
Here are a couple tips on working smarter:
1) Build time into your schedule where you don’t look at any screen. Shoot for 1-3 hours and see if you don’t feel a benefit after the first time.
2) Regarding sleep, try to avoid all screens for the first and last hour of the day. This is because being in front of a computer screen stimulates rather than relaxes. Note though, this one is much easier to say than to do.
3.) The most important thing you can do is to control email use. This means scheduling when and how often you check your email. Start off easy checking only four or five times a day and not after 6:00 PM. Then slowly try to whittle it down to one or two times a day.
Bring down your focus and nail it down so that you can focus on the important aspects of growing your business. Thank you for reading this article and if you have any tips or comments please let me know. I am always happy to try a new strategy!
This article was written by Curtis Roberts, an attorney at The Founder's Attorney.
If you have any questions or suggestions he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can check out his LinkedIn page here.
This article is for general information and entertainment purposes only. The information presented should not be construed to be formal legal or financial advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship or any fiduciary duty.