This is the second part of a two-part article; read part one here.
The secrets of extreme success are hard to nail down. Even those that have interviewed hundreds of business people populating the 1% – our Top Performers – find it hard to condense and synthesize a formula. Why? There isn’t a set formula.
The “secrets” are as unique as the people that practice them, and can’t be plugged into an equation. However, it is evident from a large body of writing that top performers share one thing in common: they organize their day around routines. They have a system.
Ask any of the world’s top performers how they got where they are, and I guarantee you, not a single one will say, “I have no idea; I was just going with the flow when I stumbled into this thing and it grew organically without my effort.” No, top performers know where they want to go, and they set up systems to help them get there. Those systems are routines that help minimize variability, by controlling what can be controlled.
Your days flow into weeks, months, and years to complete your journey through life. It makes sense that controlling your day as much as possible will result in an intentional journey. The most successful people among us have learned and applied this lesson by practicing routines and systems that help them stay on track. And here’s the thing: you can tap these practices to help you reach your own goals.
While top perfomers in every field – including yours – are ensuring that they control the tone of their day with a set personal system, even when events roll unpredictably, the rest of the world finds itself rolling out of control along with the happenings of the day.
This article series looks at 6 of the routines used by top performers to organize their day, and how you can adopt them for yourself. You are now reading part two, about what to do in the second part of your day. Find part one here. And for quick reference, here’s the full routine run-down.
- Have a Morning Ritual, and guard it fiercely.
- Have a Start-up Routine when you arrive for the day’s work.
- Practice a mini-ritual when your energy flow begins to slow.
- Schedule Interactive Time for the afternoon.
- Have a Shut-Down Routine to act as a hard stop to work and a signal to relax and recharge.
- Have an Evening Routine, including a bedtime ritual.
Part two: afternoons and evenings
Meetings, conference calls, and other interactive activities are best scheduled in the afternoon, after the morning is spent with solitary projects that require intense focus.
4. Schedule Interactive time for the afternoons.
As mentioned in part one: am, you may see a pattern of an average time of day your energy for difficult tasks wanes, and if you are fortunate enough to have control of your schedule, use this to your advantage. Turn your attention to more interactive tasks at that time. For most, the ability to focus deeply and create runs out after lunch, or in the afternoon. Most find it easier, and even energizing, to collaborate during that phase of the day. If you are responsible for scheduling, put all conference calls and meetings in the second half of the day for optimal results. In fact, research indicates that the optimal time of day for meetings is around 3 pm.
Do you take notes in meetings? You should! Note-taking ensures you don’t forget anything, and also helps you stay engaged during the meeting. Thorough and consistent notes make certain that responsibilities and action items don’t get missed, even if you’re not the one responsible for the action. Michael Hyatt has a note-taking system he swears by, as do other successful professionals. Find the system that works for you and use it regularly.
Share space with others in the afternoon.
If you’ve saved independent repetitive tasks for the afternoon as we advised in the first half, you may find it difficult to stay motivated to complete these. Even if you’re not working with someone, you’ll get more done during this time if you are with others. According to clinical neuropsychologist David Nowell, PhD, the presence of even a silent partner helps the distracted mind focus enough to plow through repetitive tasks. If you can, work in solitude in the mornings and in a group space in the afternoons.
Follow the one-touch method.
Top performers make sure they touch each item on the agenda only once. They don’t allow the same task to keep coming up in their email or calendar. Letting an item linger, thinking you’ll get back to it, not only takes ups space in your in-box, it also occupies mental space and energy you can give to advancing your goals.
Instead, deal with items right away, with one of the 3 D’s. If a task will take 5-10 minutes or less, do it as soon as it comes into your email, then delete the message. If it’s something you cannot take care of in that amount of time, delegate it. If that doesn’t suffice, consider deleting it. Spend less thought on making an activity more efficient than on determining if it’s even important enough to do.
Someone else’s keyboard clacking. The buzz from your neighbor’s earbuds. The hum of sidebar conversations. These things may blend into background noise and help sharpen your focus. Or they may actually distract you.
Tim Ferriss defines focus as the absence of distractions. What works for your energy at various times of the day may differ from anyone else. After all, you are unique. If the shared space of your office or remote co-working location only serves up distractions, find your way to a place where you regularly get things done. Environment can trigger your subconscious mind to habitual behavior, says Dr. Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Behavioral Psychology and habit researcher at USC. So pay attention to where you are most productive; it may be the key to getting through your tasks.
Shut-down activities that trigger your mind to fully relax for your evening routine will ensure you’re refreshed and ready to conquer tomorrow.
5. Have a Shut-Down Routine.
Top performers use a work wind-down ritual to set themselves up for productivity tomorrow. The more you are able to completely shut down in the evenings, the more relaxed you will be and ready to take on the day the next morning. Having a hard stop to your work day will make that more doable psychologically. Choose deliberate activities that trigger your mind to fully relax with your evening routine.
Decide tomorrow’s tasks.
Understanding that there will always be more work to do, and it’s okay to leave some for tomorrow is an important principle to successful people like the late Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel. As part of your shut-down routine, write the two to three most important tasks to achieve on tomorrow’s calendar. (BONUS: Find out here why top performers don’t use to-do lists, and what they do instead.)
If you start your day with a plan in hand, you’re 1.5 to 2.5 hours ahead of most of the population. (Learn more about that in The Healthy Habits System Workbook.) Tim Ferriss, Pat Flynn, Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg, and so many other wildly successful business people decide their most important tasks before dinner the night before. In that way, they get a jump on the rest of the world that waits to determine their tasks until they arrive for the day.
Create a clean slate.
Shut down your computer. Straighten your desk. Turn to a fresh page in your notepad, which is essentially creating a clean slate for tomorrow. (props to Business Stylist Gina Lambert for that delicious tip.) Then turn off the lights and don’t look back until you return in the morning, fresh-faced and ready to kick ass.
Physical activities like walking, or interactivities such as dinner with friends, are good components of your evening routine.
6. Have an Evening Routine.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but top performers don’t work into the late hours of the evening. Instead, they value the mental edge that only comes from completely shutting down work to fully relax. They make it home for dinner. They read to their kids and do something physical to relax and completely disengage from work.
Choose activities that relax you and engage your mind and senses with something other than work, so you can reset your mind for the next day.
Don’t trust your instincts.
If your instinct tells you to Netflix and vegetate with a glass (or three) of wine, ignore it. Kelly McGonigal, PhD, writes about research that indicates engaging activities relax more fully than passive ones such as television. And as for that nightcap? It’s actually making your sleep much less efficient at restoring your mental energy.
Have a Bedtime Ritual.
Children have a bedtime routine to cue their brains for sleep, and so should adults. Many of the most successful understand that and have a bedtime ritual. Arianna Huffington is known for preaching the necessity of good sleep. She and others, such as Sheryl Sandberg, leave devices off and out of their bedroom to eliminate any distractions that can turn into sleep disruptors.
If it’s on your mind, write it down.
Just as in the morning ritual, top performers turn to journaling here as well. Track your progress on projects. Record what went well this day, and what didn’t. Jot ideas and reflections. Always wrap it up with positivity to set your head at ease before laying it down on your pillow.
Routines create a success cycle.
Interestingly, an effective evening routine is similar to a good morning ritual, and that’s not accidental. A good evening routine sets you up for a positive morning and productive day, because these routines work together to create a virtuous cycle. Conversely, if you don’t take control of your habits, they will direct you into a vicious cycle that leaves you always reacting and feeling two steps behind where you think you should be. It’s no surprise that the most successful among us have discovered this truth and have harnessed its power to help them build their empires.
What routines do you find work for you? Or do your routines need revamping? Tell us in the comments what works for you, or what you plan to adopt for your own practice.