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Why this top resolution for 2018 is not SMART

In 2018, Americans are aiming to “become a better person” and to “lose weight,” equally, according to a recent Marist poll.

But according to research on successful goal-setting and goal-achieving, only one of these resolutions is achievable.

The difference? One can more easily be a SMART goal. And the other? Well, not so much.

What makes a resolution a SMART goal? To answer that, let’s look at an excerpt from the Healthy Habits System™ Workbook.

Making a SMART Goal

Setting goals and creating healthy habits go together. Having a goal, a purpose to work toward, is great incentive to build habits and rituals. These things make you more likely to achieve what you’ve set out to do. Before you set out on a journey, you need to know where you are going. How will you know how far you’ve traveled if you don’t mark the start and end?

A SMART goal is one that is

  • Specific,
  • Measurable,
  • Achievable,
  • Relevant, and
  • Time-bound.

Here are two examples of goals, one SMART, and the other not:

Not SMART: Be a better swimmer. (This is a nice thing to want, but the goal isn’t SMART.)

SMART: Improve 100m backstroke time by 5 seconds by the end of 4 weeks through attention to stroke consistency, breathing and body position.

Can you see how the second goal is better? It would be impossible to fail the first goal because there isn’t an objective measure. According to the SMART model, a goal you can’t fail is a goal you can’t succeed at either.

Which of 2018’s top New Year’s Resolutions is SMART and achievable?

The above example answers our original question: which of 2018’s top New Year’s Resolutions is SMART and achievable?

“Become a Better Person” is definitely a noble desire and lofty aspiration. But it is NOT

  • Specific – it is subjective, and means something different to everyone.
  • Measurable — how will you know when you have achieved it?
  • Attainable – as the case with many moral pursuits, it is a guiding compass, a life-long journey, not a milestone that can be achieved.
  • Relevant – One could argue that if it can’t be specifically defined, it cannot fully resonate with you.
  • Time-bound – If it can’t be measured, or ever be fully attained, it certainly can’t be achieved by a deadline.

In other words, if you set “Become a Better Person” as your 2018 New Year’s Resolution, you set yourself up for #resolutionfail.

The purpose of this article is not to dissuade you from becoming a better person, but to help you make goals that you can actually achieve. Harnessing the power of SMART goals and habits can help you live an efficient and effective life, so that you have time and resources left to turn your focus outward and offer the helping hand of altruism more readily. And it’ll make your resolutions your reality.

SMART Goals require Action Plans

When setting SMART goals and your New Year’s resolutions (because you know now that your resolutions should be SMART), take time to consider the daily actions required to make them happen. Not doing so sets you up for failure, just as sure as setting undefined goals does. Achieving SMART goals requires key actions (from yourself and others in your life), a defined time commitment, appropriate environmental cues, and financial commitments. Let’s look at an example from the Healthy Habits System™ Workbook to see what that looks like:

SMART Goal: Lose 10 lbs. by the end of 28 days

by focusing on consistent exercise, and eating on-plan each day, using an intended 400 calorie/day deficit for the four weeks.

Key actions/habits: To accomplish this, I will need to be in the gym every morning except Sundays, every week, and will need to consistently grocery shop, precook and package planned meals so that I can eat only what I have determined to eat for 28 days.

Time commitment: I will work out one hour per day (six hours/week). This will need to be at 5:30 am, as I must be ready and on the road by 7:00 to make it to work on time. Bedtime will need to be earlier than normal. I will need to set aside 3 to 4 hours on the weekends for meal planning, shopping and pre-cooking. (I cook anyway, so this should help alleviate some time elsewhere in the week.)

Self: I will need to start winding down earlier at night, and will have to give up my 9 pm glass of wine and 10 pm TV show for the 28 days.

People: I will need to enlist the help of my family, particularly my spouse who is used to watching TV and drinking a glass of wine with me in the evenings. This will need to be a team effort. I don’t expect my boss to be okay with me being late, so I will need to go to bed at 9:30 each night so I can get up at 5:00 every morning.

Surroundings: I have some space on my cube wall I can hang up my meal plan, and will probably get some motivational quotes or photos to keep there to help me stay the course on tough days when I want to raid the snack machine.

Financial Cost: I’m expecting my grocery bill to go up a little, especially the first week. However, we’ve agreed to not buy wine for the four weeks, and decided to cancel one of our streaming TV subscriptions for the month to offset the cost. (We won’t be watching the shows anyway.)

Milestones: Every day, I will put a star on my meal plan at work if I end the day having eaten on-plan. I will set workout goals each week to keep me motivated to Move. I will weigh and measure at the beginning of the program, and at the end of each week to see if I’m making progress. If I’m going to do this, I need to lose 2.5lbs per week, so I’ll need to see how I’m doing along the way. I won’t make big changes unless I get to the end of two weeks and haven’t lost any weight.

You can create a virtuous cycle in your life by setting SMART goals this year. Happy, fulfilled people are more able to be altruistic and, by nature, better people. Nothing makes us more happy and fulfilled than achieving goals we set for ourselves. Using SMART goals for your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions will multiply your odds for success, and in the process, make you a better person. Win-win!

The Healthy Habits System Workbook + Four-Week Planner puts together the latest psychology of goal-setting and achieving and cutting-edge science in wellness to help you successfully reach all of your goals. Order yours for 2018 today!

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2018 is HERE – are you planning to reach your goals?

Win in 2018
Here we are, at the end of another year. Do you find yourself, as many do, wondering where 2017 went? Did days evaporate into weeks and months leaving you feeling perpetually behind? At the beginning of the year, did you picture yourself closer to your life goals by now than you actually are?

If that’s you, you’re not alone, but look. Here’s the big question:

What are you doing to make sure you start – and finish – 2018 strong and in charge, crushing one goal after another?

What do you want to do this coming year? Are you ready to start your own business? Buy a home? Go for that big promotion? Change careers? Lose 50 pounds? Run a marathon?

Whatever your goal, the best way to make sure you make it happen is to adopt a routine-driven lifestyle.

Having and achieving a big goal requires several things. Courage to step out of your comfort zone. Consistent effort and willingness to work. A careful focus on your goal that refuses to be distracted. A commitment to solid organization and systems.

And all these things are fueled and enabled by carefully constructed routines. Daily routines empower you by systematizing your day, ensuring progress toward your big goal without neglecting anything else.

In 2018, what routines will help you stay on top of everything instead of wasting precious time digging out from under it?

We caught up with three women who are making their big goals happen, and asked them how they are doing it. Several themes emerged to create a powerful message about systems and routines. When that kind of pattern emerges among successful people, take notice. Steal their strategies to make 2018 your best year yet!

Every morning I journal. I write my goals down, my affirmations, a number of things I am thankful for and the key actions I need to take on that day.

Charelle Griffith

Founder and Success Coach, PropelHer

They start their day with intentional thought and meditation.

“Every morning I journal,” says Charelle Griffith, founder of PropelHer, describing her morning routine. Combining journaling with meditation and visualization is a crucial facet of Griffith’s daily opener. She and others have discovered that spending several moments first thing every day thinking about and visualizing their goals helps to ensure that their actions during the day lead them progressively toward it.

Routines are foundational to the daily life and success of Reese Evans, the brains behind the entrepreneurial coaching powerhouse for women, YES Supply. Evans has learned first-hand how intentional thought can build your spirit and shape your life. “My morning routine consists of reading a positive quote to get me motivated for the day, saying a positive affirmation, and setting a goal that I want to complete that day, to help me get closer to my [longterm] goals.” And she helps other women around the globe do the same.

My morning routine includes setting a goal to help me get closer to my longterm goals. Reese Evans

Founder, Yes Supply Collective

They use a journal.

“I write my goals down, my affirmations, a number of things I am thankful for and the key actions I need to take on that day,” says Griffith, who founded PropelHer to help others break through the inertia that keeps them from their goals. Journaling is such a part of her life and success that she developed her GAGA formula to keep her focus flowing.

Reese Evans also uses her morning routine to capture the benefits of journaling. “I’ll do a daily journaling exercise which can include anything from writing a gratitude list, an accomplishment list, writing out my vision for my life, or doing a visualization or meditation.”

But journaling can be beneficial at any time, day or night, as Sara Graham of Fresh Presse has discovered. “It gets whatever I am OCD thinking about out of my head. I have woken up a few times in the middle of the night – maybe frustrated or upset about something – and when I get up and journal there is a very real relief. I go back to sleep and wake up without the crap on my mind.”

I love using Asana and Google with clients and my own business coach. I also have a sweet Kate Spade planner that I use to keep myself on track. Sara Graham

Brand Development + Communications Bossbabe, Fresh Presse

They use planning systems to keep them on track toward their goals.

If you are juggling a day job and a side hustle, you know how easy it can be to drop a ball or two. Launching a business while maintaining other commitments can be overwhelming, but those that are successful have discovered the power of planning systems to make sure the work of one doesn’t crowd out the other.

There are a number of tools available, and all of the successful women we spoke with use a combination of digital planners and good old pen and paper. “I’m a very tactile personal so I love using pen + paper,” says Evans. “For my day, I’ll write down things physically, but when I’m planning meetings, interviews, or client meetings, I’ll pop it into my Google calendar so I get a reminder at the time.” Evans also uses her digital calendar to remind others of their appointments. “As soon as I make an appointment with someone I book it into my calendar and invite them to make sure that we’re on the same page.”

Griffith also combines digital and physical planning. “I have a physical diary. It is pretty small so I can keep it in my bag. It has a week per page and on the other side I can write notes. For business I mainly use Asana to run PropelHer and keep track of what I am reading and blogging about on and other guest blogs I might be doing. I also have a whiteboard. I love the flexibility of being able to move things, wipe things off and to get an overview …of projects I am working on and upcoming launches.”

Graham has discovered the power of digital planners like Asana for business as well. “I love using Asana and Google Drive/Docs/Sheets with clients (and my own business coach).” But, just like the others, Graham has learned that a combination of digital and written planning – and a great style sense – works beautifully to balance business and personal goals. “I have a sweet Kate Spade planner that I use to keep myself on track.”

They don’t neglect their physical or mental health.

Smart entrepreneurs and productive people know that their effectiveness is hampered when their health suffers. But, like us mere mortals, they know how easy it can be to let the activity of self care take a back seat to all the other tasks of the day. So they deliberately prioritize physical activity, proper nutrition, and adequate self care, which maximizes productivity by increasing energy, clarity, and focus.

Graham starts her day with “absolutely a morning run, followed by a 20-minute combo yoga/meditation practice. Then I either make a green juice or a smoothie. Then coffee. Always.” (A girl has to have her priorities.) Griffith also adds yoga to her morning moments, and Evans makes sure she joins a yoga or barre class daily, occasionally combined with a midday nail appointment, she says, “because self-care is key.”

The best time of day for physical exercise is the time that you will consistently do it, as our experts show. What matters most is consistent attention to your physical and mental health, both of which are benefited by consistent exercise.

They write things down.

Of writing with pen on paper, Evans observes, “It helps you remember better.” Psychological studies have also shown that people are more likely to fulfill their goals successfully if they write them down.

Of course, the tools help to make the process of writing down your goals even more appealing, notes Graham. “The main things for me are to have a neat notebook, a nice pen that writes smoothly (nothing fancy or expensive) and highlighters. I love highlighters!”

Griffith observes how important a written record is to tracking your progress toward your goals as well as to remember your exact process that made it happen. “I have found sharing my inner thoughts particularly beneficial and it is great to have something to reflect back on. It has been great to be able to look back when I have achieved the goal and see when I originally set it and track the actions I took to make it come true.”

They guard their time and save it to use on what’s important to them.

Griffith capitalizes on her morning commute to read, recapturing more than two hours each week for what she enjoys. Evans uses her planning system to guard against “busy-work,” which, she says, explains why many of us “feel like you’re working really hard, but getting nothing done. Always take it back to the processes that really move the needle …and help you prioritize what’s important.”

Our experts agree that you must protect your time, not just from daily necessities – like commute time – and little thieves – like busy work – but also from distractions like social media. Social media can be beneficial, but it can also suck time from your life, and life from your time. It also has a devious way of making you subconsciously accept someone else’s priorities and standards over your own. “We often spend way too much time on social media which has a huge negative impact on productivity, and creates increased isolation and depression,” observes Evans. “My mission is to help women start their day in a positive mindset, getting more done, and focusing on where they can take their lives, rather than spending so much time peering into the lives of others.”

Prioritize with The Big 3

We at Pretty Good Planners couldn’t agree more. Which is why we’ve included our Big 3 Prioritization System in our daily spreads. Draw from your Master Task List and add to your daily list what needs to be done in every area – business, health, side hustle. Then rank their Importance and their Urgency on a scale of 1-3. Finally, multiply the Importance and Urgency scores; those that produce a 1 go on your list. Usually, that’s about three items. That’s your Big 3.

If you are still searching for the best tool to keep you on track to crushing your goals in 2018, look no further. The Healthy Habits System™ is a unique planner that helps you put all the pieces together for your health, your business, your family, and your life. If the frameworks for making your goals reality have stayed just slightly out of your reach, the Healthy Habits System™ brings them into range in an accessible, science-based system. It’s not too late to make your goals and dreams your daily reality in 2018. Click here to order your Pretty Good Planner today.

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9 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays Without Gaining Weight

pot luck meals on a buffet

Next week – a week from the day of this writing – marks the beginning of the holidays in the United States. In just a short week, many will be gathering with family and/or friends to partake with gratitude a Thanksgiving feast. Then it’s off to the races, as cocktail parties follow shopping and cookie swaps take the place of our Saturday workout.

Normally a single feast day does not cause lasting damage to your waistline or your health, and, in fact, can be good for your mental health. Where the holidays tend to get us in trouble, however, are the numerous social festivities. Each occasion is as warm and as welcoming as a fire in the hearth, but too many can force us to pull out our stretchy pants way more often than we care for.

I live in athleisure – I’m a personal trainer and get paid to work in workout clothes. I love my stretchy pants as much as the next girl. But to be forced out of my favorite jeans during my off hours by overindulgence is something I can’t abide by – and neither should you. Why should we erase months of hard work in the gym with a month of festivities?

I’ve compiled these 9 strategies to help you celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and every party in between, without succumbing to the Yuletide Bulge.


  • Eat light, small balanced meals throughout the day. Don’t save all your calories for the party! That’s setting yourself up for disaster. But do avoid temptations during the day; save your treats for the main event by eating planned meals and snacks made up of vegetables, lean proteins, and fresh fruits.
  • Hydrate well throughout the day. Add a bottle or two to your usual water intake, to help combat sodium and sugar in the holiday treats that will be at the party.
  • If there’s more than one cocktail party on your social card in a week, decide in advance at which party you will imbibe. The added sugar in most mixed drinks packs a big caloric wallop that you shouldn’t try to absorb more than once in a week. Instead, stick with soda water and perhaps a glass of red wine at one, and enjoy your cocktail of choice at the other.
  • The same goes with baked goods, fried appetizers, and holiday sweets. An occasional treat is encouraged; daily treats are sabotage. We know this in our daily lives, but the holidays? Somehow, somewhere, a mental switch flips and with all the frivolity and festivity, caution flies out the window. Don’t let that happen to you. If in doubt, bring a dish or an appetizer to add to the buffet that you know you can eat without sabotaging your health. Other partygoers will also benefit.
  • Punctuate cocktails with a glass of water. You’ll have something in your hand, you’ll hydrate (which will help mitigate your chances of a hangover) and you’ll slow yourself down (which will likely eliminate a hangover). You’ll cut your calorie and sugar intake as well – bonus!


Family Feast Gatherings:

All of the above apply, as well as:

  • You don’t owe an explanation to anyone concerning what is on your plate. You owe them love and joy. And you’ll be asked many other questions that may make you uncomfortable, like “How’s that job going?” “How’s your love life?” “When will you give me grandbabies?” oy. No need to stress yourself further with trying to explain why you’re not taking seconds of Grandma’s pull-apart bread. Instead just smile graciously and change the subject.
  • Rouse the crowd with a post-meal walk, or sledding, or other physical activity. Bundle up and sing to the neighbors on a caroling stroll. Take the kids out on a wintery scavenger hunt. Initiate an energetic game of Holiday-Edition Charades.
  • Finally, if you’re still tempted to overdo it, even with all of these strategies in place, think ahead before you forge ahead. Think about the consequences of eating more than you should: the furry mouth from the sugary treats, the discomfort of a distended belly, the carb coma. So. Not. WORTH IT. Feeling the future discomfort slows you down enough to talk you out of a second trip through the buffet. Believe me, your future self will thank you.

Most of all, enjoy! Food is meant to be celebrated, and so are friends and loved ones. Don’t deprive yourself or punish yourself with guilt. Just use a bit of moderation. Feel free to sample small tastes of it all, guilt-free and with a smile.

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Do YOU Drink Enough Water? 6 Simple yet Effective Hydration Strategies

It’s common knowledge that water is required for survival.

But high achievers like you don’t want to merely survive; you want to thrive! And that requires your body to be functioning in optimal health. How much water, then, is necessary for optimal health? The typical recommendation of 8, 8-oz glasses per day has no real scientific basis, but the need for adequate hydration does. In the course of this article, I plan to show you how that typical recommendation is inadequate for optimal health, how much water is enough for your unique needs, and six strategies to help you build a optimal hydration habit.

The Healthy Habits System recommends this simple equation

to determine how much you should drink:

Your body weight/2 = base hydration need.

Meaning, if you did absolutely nothing during the day – no sweating, no moving, no eating, no, medications, no drinking anything else, no caffeine… You get the picture. These things can have a dehydrating effect. You should add 8 ounces for every caffeinated beverage, sugar-sweetened beverage, and alcoholic beverage. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, drink 3 cups of coffee each day, and enjoy a glass of wine at dinner, you should drink:

150/2 = 75 ounces + 3(8 ounces) + 8 ounces = 107 ounces

Add more if you live in a hot climate and you exercise.

For exercise

Exercise, particularly outdoor in hot climates, can speed dehydration as the work requires water, and dehydration can noticeably impair physical performance. Drink at least 8 ounces before a workout, 16 ounces during, and at least 8 ounces after. In the scenario above, that brings the total to about 140 ounces. Which is equivalent to 17.5 8-ounce glasses, or 1 gallon and some change.

Add 8 ounces of water before, at least 16 ounces during, and 8 ounces after workouts for improved performance and stamina.

Bottom line: you should likely be drinking more water than you are.

Most of us get that general sense. But many, even those that are diligent about getting enough exercise and eating well, don’t have a strategy to ensure they stay sufficiently hydrated. Which is why I’ve compiled a list of my six favorite hydration strategies.

1. Buy an Insulated cup or water bottle to keep your water cold and nearby.

As Page V. of Simply Heaven Design recently pointed out, “Sometimes it’s not you – it’s the tools you have – that need an upgrade.” When she started using a 32-ounce insulated tumbler, she went from an average of 30 ounces a day to over a gallon without really trying. If you have a cup or bottle you enjoy drinking from that keeps your water at a palatable temperature, you will drink more water. Keep it with you wherever you go. There are many brands with wide-ranging prices. You don’t have to spring for the high-dollar Yeti if you don’t want to; in fact, this review placed the Yeti second in staying power.  

2. Flavor your water with various fruits and herbs.

Many find plain water – well, plain. If your palate gets bored with the non-taste of crisp, clear, pure  water, try infusing it with a fruits, herbs, and spices. Fitness personality Chalene Johnson has a special concoction with lemon, ginger, and cayenne that is pretty tasty. If you are stationary through the day, you can use Johnson’s dead-easy trick to make sure you drink enough. She makes a one-gallon recipe and fills 4 32-oz bottles in the morning that she keeps in fridge. You just make sure you drink them all before bed. (This works with a gallon-sized pitcher too – so long as nobody else helps themselves to it.) That’s all well and good, but how do you remember to drink, and track how much you have drank at the end of the day? The final four are cues to help you remember to refill and keep drinking.

Choose your bottle! A variety of colors and sizes are available. Make sure it’s something you love to use and carry with you regularly.

3. Clock method

If you keep a smaller water bottle, say 16 ounces, be sure to drain and refill it every hour throughout the day. That’ll give you over a gallon by the end of your typical work day.

4. Visual method

If your bottle is bigger, it might help to wrap rubber bands around the bottom of the bottle. For a 20-ounce bottle, for example, use six rubber bands (bonus for a rainbow of color!) When you’ve emptied it, shift a rubber band to the top and refill it. When all the rubber bands are at the top, you’ve hydrated with 120 ounces! (More is okay, just so you know.)  

Wrap six rubber bands around the base of your bottle in the morning, and move one up every time you empty it. Repeat until they are all at the top of your bottle.

5. Movement method

Make sure your bottle is empty every time you get up from your desk to visit the restroom, and refill it on your way back. This one is self-perpetuating; the more you empty it, the more times you’ll visit the restroom, the more you’ll be drinking.

6. Fitness tracker method

If you have a fitness tracker, such as the Leaf by Bellabeat, you can set it to buzz, which serves as a reminder to get up periodically through your workday to move. You can also use this to cue you to drink water. Best practice to combat inflammation is to walk around every hour on the hour. You can use that for your hydration advantage as well. Set your tracker to cue you to get up every hour, and to drain and refill your water bottle.


Still not convinced? Take the Water Challenge! Drink the Healthy Habits System recommendation for a week, and see if you notice a difference in how you feel! Use the hydration equation above to find out how much water you should be drinking. Then, choose two or three of these strategies to make sure you hit that amount every day for one week. Let us know in the comments if you took the challenge, what you learned, and which strategy worked best for you.

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The Meal-Planning System that Helped me Graduate, and Will Help YOU Crush it in Life, Too.

The raw materials of a pre-cooking system

“I just can’t do it all anymore!

My thesis advisor is riding me to get the research done faster, my reading backlog is a mile long, and I might fail medical microbiology.”

That was me, talking to my husband on my way home from an especially long, stressful day of graduate school.

“What can I take off your plate?” are the words I heard come back.

Mind you, he was a director of a global IT team at the time. Yes, it’s as busy and stressful as it sounds. Yes, he is a saint. My saint.

We both knew we needed to stay on top of our game with all we had going on, so pizza delivery wasn’t a viable option for regular dinners. Nor was skipping gym time in favor of extra study time. There’s just too much research supporting the mental performance benefits of good nutrition and physical exercise. Not to mention we were still on the hook for our youngest son’s nutrition. He was a junior in high school at the time, and the boy can EAT.

“Well,” I said, “you can help me set up a kitchen system to make sure we have what we need to keep us fed all week every week, especially on my long days.”

“Long days? Which days are short?” he teased. He knew it was rare that I left the house after 7:30 am and returned before 9 pm, and that the only difference between weekDAYS and weekENDS was that I didn’t go to class on weekends.

(He is a funny saint.)

So we put together a system for shopping and cooking that helped me pull a tense semester from the near-failing toilet up to a 4.0, without gaining the stress weight I tend to pack on. In fact, I lost 12 pounds, he lost 20 pounds, and earned a raise.

The meal planning is helping me immensely. I really think it has been my missing ingredient. I know what to eat and I even like all the healthy foods, but without enough planning, those good intentions easily slide downhill.

Teri M.


I talk to people every day like Teri M. that want to lose weight. They tell me they know what foods are good for them, and even like them, but their lives are so hectic that they just don’t have time to cook. So they rely on packaged foods and take-out more often than they’d like.

I know that most people instinctively know that they need to eat fruits and vegetables, limit unhealthy fats and sugars, and drink more water – because they tell me. I also know that there’s a huge difference between knowing and doing, and the difference can be incredibly intimidating.

That’s why I’m sharing our kitchen system with you, because the right system makes hard things easy and tames the intimidating.

1. Rotating meal plans with coordinating grocery lists.

Plan enough meals and snacks for one week. Do this is with your day planner, so you can make sure your meal schedule coincides with your work and activity schedule.

Next week, you’ll make another, and the following week another. Bank up 3-4 plans with meals and snacks you enjoy and rotate those.


We put together a meal calendar in Microsoft Word. We linked the meals with their recipes if they were online. Finally, we’d print the menu and recipes, and put them in sheet protectors in a binder that served as our go-to cookbook. Obvi, you don’t have to print them; you can do this on your phone or tablet. I just find it easier to work from paper recipes than a device. Nobody wants chicken fingers on their iPhone!

Plan meals that have ingredients in common with each other. It’s much more efficient and economical to cook one chicken that you use in three or more meals than it is to cook the same three meals with different main ingredients.


We plan dinners that double as lunches: The best BOGO ever! We also use the same breakfast every work day, or a rotation of two simple meals. This trick saves will-power and mental energy for the rest of the day’s bigger, more important decisions. It also saves time in the kitchen.

Once you have your meals planned and the recipes gathered, make a list of the ingredients you will need.


It’s helpful to organize your list according to your store’s layout. Being able to follow the list one item at a time as you zig-zag through your market’s aisles is much easier than trying to remember that thing you wrote at the end of the list. Doubling back is a waste of time. Don’t do it.

Now that you have a complete list, you’re ready to head to the store, right?

2. But first, inventory.

Check your kitchen for items you already have. If you have something that needs to be used that’s not in your meal plan, change a meal out for one that uses the ingredients you have on hand.


We call this “Shopping the Pantry” and it has saved us from TONS of wasted food, which of course, equates to wasted money. Tweak your list and meal plan based on your inventory. NOW you’re ready to shop.

3. Shop the Perimeter

Most stores are organized with produce, meats, and dairy along the outside walls, and the shelved aisles and freezer sections full of processed food products in the middle. Most of your time and grocery budget will be spent along the perimeter of the store, but you will dip into the aisles for some things – ie, grains, broths, canned tomato products, vinegars, to name a few.


We don’t buy a product if we can make a simple recipe from ingredients that we would have anyway. I haven’t bought balsamic vinaigrette in years; instead I shake up olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and some dried herbs and spices in a mason jar. That way I know exactly what’s in the dressing that I’m eating, and I’ve saved money and space in the fridge.

Buy only what’s on your list – unless you find a great deal. If so, stock up and tweak your plan again. It’s okay. Be flexible.

Another thing: Don’t Shop Hungry! A growling stomach makes it harder to stick to your list.

4. Wash, chop, package

Plan to start your meal prep process as soon as you get home with your bounty.

Wash all produce (except berries; we’ll get to why next). Tear lettuces and store in a large zippered bag with a paper towel to absorb the moisture. Chop hard veggies and pack them in airtight containers until you’re ready to use them. Cut dipping vegetables (crudites if you’re fancy) and pack in individual servings for snacks and lunches during the week. That includes bell pepper strips, celery sticks, carrots, zucchini, etc.

Wash hard fruits. Wash berries right before consuming, because washing reduces their shelf life considerably.

Store everything at eye level, or in a bowl on your counter – where you can see it and will be more likely to grab it when foraging for a snack.


Even if this is as far as you get right now, it’ll save you time. Having all our vegetables chopped before we started cooking made such a big difference and has become a household habit.

5. Slow cookers, stackable containers, and sealable bags

Those are a few supplies that we found crucial. (In fact, we have three slow cookers. Yeah, that is a little embarrassing now that I’ve written it.)

Amass a collection of stackable airtight storage containers. You’ll need them for holding individual and family meals, in the freezer and the refrigerator. You might find a form of basket-style containers for pantry produce storage helpful as well.


Meals last 2-3 months in the freezer, and up to 4 days in the fridge.

6. What to plan and how to prep it

Again, you’ll need enough breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week.

You’ll also need snacks.

Many of them can be prepped and packed along with your meal prep for the week.

We have found prepping snacks VITAL to consistent healthy eating during the week. If a snack is already prepared and individually packed, we won’t automatically grab something “quick” out of a vending machine. If it’s already packed when we head out, we can slip it in our bag and have healthy snacks on the go. Oh, and those late-night study or work sessions? Life. Saver.

  • Boil eggs, cool, and pack. Package nuts into snack-sized bags. Pack low-fat string cheeses with grape tomatoes, baby carrots, or an apple.
  • Pack grape tomatoes with a handful of nuts in snack sized zippered bags for a quick grab and go snack.
  • Pack hummus or guacamole and “crudites” in sectioned airtight containers.
  • Pack Greek yogurt and fruit in individual serving containers.

BIG Tip:

Don’t neglect protein at snack time! Protein foods will hold you for longer so you can keep working without those distracting sensations in your stomach. The above list is far from exhaustive; the possibilities are literally legion.

As for meals,

  • You can cook meats, vegetables, and starches separately, or as casseroles, soups or stews. Roasting, grilling, or sautéing meats makes them available to repurpose into fresh meals in a fraction of the time.
  • Find a few favorite slow-cooker recipes. Put the ingredients together in a large zippered bag, then put them on to cook in the morning on low to come home to a fragrant home-cooked meal.
  • You can even store these in the freezer to go in the slow cooker at a later date.
  • Make double, even triple recipes at a time. It takes no more time to brown 3 pounds of ground beef than 1 pound.


See the following table for more.

7. Your freezer, your friend.

Since you’ll be making double and triple recipes at a time, you’ll be stocking it full and you’ll have home-cooked meals at your fingertips, even on weeks that don’t slow down enough to breathe.

Plain frozen vegetables and fruits are good to keep on hand as well. The bigger the bag, the cheaper per serving. So plan to store fruits for your morning smoothie in the freezer.


In addition to the supplies listed above, Hubby bought a label-maker. He’d label every meal before it went in the freezer with what it was and the date it was made. Super important, because it’s hard to tell frozen chili apart from frozen chicken and rice.

Ah, Systems.

They come naturally to my husband, with his pension for spreadsheets, automation, and Gantt charts. I’ve learned over the years that they really are a busy person’s best friend. Systems enable routines, which you know, if you’ve read any of my writings thus far, I love. They are foundational to a healthy, productive life. They help you crush your goals and win at life, whether you’re a desperate grad student, a solopreneur, an up-and-coming professional, or — well, anybody.

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What’s Missing from Your Workouts? The answer might surprise you. (HINT: It’s not motivation)

Running through sand.

If you’re struggling to make real progress in your fitness goals, or if you find yourself falling off the wagon over and over again, you’re missing something.

Your fitness routine is missing a foundational element, one that keeps your workouts humming along and you at the top of your game, even when life threatens to run you over. It’s not an exercise or a schedule or a rep pattern. Nor is it a new supplement or a new app. It’s not even motivation. Think deeper than that. Bigger.


What’s missing from your workouts is Purpose.


Everyone knows someone who is all-in with their fitness. They are always prepared with their gym bag (I know a woman who keeps a backup in her car*, just in case). They get up early and run five miles. They are regular gym-goers. They spend their weekends doing obstacle course runs, or Fit Games, or marathons. They build their vacations around races or strenuous activities like rock-climbing. They self-identify as active, as workout-nuts, as athletes. They know their purpose.

Then there’s the rest of us.

Many struggle to stick with a well-rounded fitness routine. In a report released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 21.7% of Americans met physical activity guidelines for cardio and strength-training in 2016, while 51.7% were able to meet the cardio recommendations.

Then there’s the #resolutionfail effect. If “lose weight and get in shape” was your New Year’s resolution (again) this year, odds are stacked high that you gave that up a few months back, just like 54% of others sharing that goal.

The sad fact is, only 8% of people that set out to lose weight with a workout program finish successfully.

So what’s the difference? What separates Gung-Ho Grace from Ho-Hum Hannah?

We know it’s not desire; when 173 students were asked if they wanted to exercise more, only two indicated they had no interest. Most of us want it. Indeed, most of us want it bad enough. But when it comes to exercise outcomes, our “it” simply isn’t compelling enough to motivate us to stick with our workouts when the rest of life makes it difficult.


“It” is your Purpose.

 *an excellent strategy, by the way.


P is for Purpose.

What is YOUR Purpose?

Your purpose needs to be deeply meaningful to you, because it’s what your goals will be based on. Even if you have a clear goal for your program – lose “x” pounds in “y” days – it can get tough to continue, especially if your goal looms like a carrot dangling just out of reach. Your purpose is not your goal, but the reason you have set the goal.

Your purpose is your “why.” Why do you want to lose weight/get fit/improve your health?  You need an extremely clear, precise reason to undertake the lifestyle change necessary to sustain your results. This reason – your purpose – will be your guiding light through your journey, especially when the path seems less clear.  It needs to be something personally motivating, something intrinsic to your authentic experience.

Do you need to be your best self for your family, your business, your career?  Do you want to look sleek and sexy for a special event, and then for the rest of your life afterwards?  Do you need to lower your fasting blood glucose, tame your blood lipid profile, and escape the cage of overweight?  Do you want to feel truly at peace with your body, and at home in your own skin?

Whatever your purpose is, it is YOURS.  It motivates you from within and can continue motivating you daily to live your healthiest life possible.


My purpose

My deepest motivator – my purpose – has always been to make my outside appearance reflect my inner strength, and to ensure that my body is as strong and agile as my spirit.  This purpose motivates me, because I know that when my body is strong and healthy, my spirit is unhindered and strengthened by my physical strength, and my mind is clear and able to process information at a rapid pace. 

I recognize that I am a multifaceted being, and that all my parts work together to make the whole Me.  That means that making one part healthier strengthens the other parts by making me want to nourish each facet separately, and all facets holistically.  In other words, nourishing my body with whole foods, efficient sleep, and energizing movement makes me also want to learn more and spend time in reflection and meditation.

I have other motivators — such as my genetic profile and family history, and my desire to stay active and vibrant for a long time to come. But knowing how regular exercise sets off a virtuous cycle of holistic self-care that comes naturally has always been the strongest driver for this right-now, results-driven girl.

THAT is true, whole-person health. And my purpose.

That is the only way to build a lifestyle of healthy rituals.  It all starts with a solid, guiding purpose. Any weight loss plan is easy to stick to at first.  It’s exhilarating to watch the scale tick down, to start feeling better as your body begins working better without the excess calories and added sugars bogging down your systems.  As people start noticing your efforts – complimenting your healthy glow, your energy levels and good mood, asking if you’ve lost weight – they add external motivation to stay the course.  But as you get closer to your goals, or enter maintenance, as all the excitement has waned and the New You becomes the Normal You, your purpose will keep you on track.


Clarify your purpose

Write it down.  Memorize it.  Speak it over yourself every day and every night.  Use it to prioritize your daily tasks. Above all, make sure your purpose – your guiding light – resonates so deeply with you that it will not let you go.

Use these questions to help you dig in to your purpose.  (And by “dig in,” I mean, really go deep, so you can find the vein of gold that’ll center your efforts.)


  • Why have I attempted to lose weight or get fit previously?
  • What event(s) or situation(s) caused me to lose focus?  Why?
  • How important is my physical fitness to me?  What priority does it take in my life?
  • Is my health suffering because of my level of fitness?  How?
  • How will getting fit impact my mental and emotional health?
  • How will getting fit affect my work?  My relationships?  My self-image?
  • What has kept me from committing to a healthy lifestyle change?
  • What makes this time different?
  • Do I deserve to be healthy?  Do I deserve to eat well, regardless of expense or effort?
  • Do I deserve time to exercise my body?
  • Do I deserve to spend quality time focusing on restorative sleep?
  • Do my loved ones deserve to have me at my best in their lives?

My objective with this thought experiment is that you will truly discover how worthy you are.  You are so precious, so valuable, and it’s time for you to live like it!  You take care of everyone else in your life because they deserve it, because you love them.  You deserve the same nurturing attention from yourself.

L’oreal had it right all along.  And now I want to hear you say it, too:

“Because I’m worth it.”

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6 Things to do Today to Sleep Better Tonight


Sleep is an important part of the Healthy Habits System™.

That may surprise you if you think (like I used to), that sleep seems to be such a time-suck since a major goal of the system is to increase the amount of time available to spend on important things. If you’re like me, you’ve expressed frustration for the need to commit so much time – about 1/3 of your entire life! – to a seemingly unproductive activity. You’ve also tried to cheat by cutting into sleep time to get more done (hello, grad school!), if you’re like me. And you’ve said things like, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” and, “no rest for the weary,” and, “always be hustlin’!”

Problem is – science is saying that we will have much less hustle now, and will likely be dead a lot sooner, if we don’t sleep.


Science is also saying that less time in bed could be why we’re struggling with our weight.

Whoa, what?! (If you want someone’s attention, hit ‘em in the waistline.)

But seriously, your waistline is impacted by sleep deprivation, which disrupts your hormones, diminishes metabolic throughput, and throws your energy balance off-kilter. All things that add to the muffin top. Those same impacts increase your risk for type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, endocrine malfunction, cognitive decline, and immune deficiency.

Yeah, it is serious, and not just a vanity issue.

In decades’ past, Americans reported that they slept, on average, up to two hours per night more than we do now. Of course, the reasons we aren’t sleeping as much as we used to are varied and complex. But researchers differentiate between actual sleep disorders and “behavioral sleep restriction,” or choosing to slash your horizontal time.

At Pretty Good Planners, we believe that Habits Lead, and Results Follow. You can habitually sleep-deprive yourself into a vicious health-cycle that results in more sleep deprivation. Alternatively, you can establish healthy habits that encourage consistently adequate restorative sleep, resulting in vibrant health.

So instead of continuing to focus on how bad sleep deprivation is for you (I could write a complete article just on that) I want to turn now to creating 6 healthy bedtime rituals to encourage restorative sleep, which will help you reclaim your health, and yeah – whittle your waist.


1. Catch some rays to catch some zzz’s.

Sleep is promoted by melatonin production in the brain, which is triggered when the sun goes down and less light enters the retinas. But it starts long before that. In fact, studies indicate that melatonin production is optimized by sunlight exposure during the day, which reinforces your diurnal circadian rhythm. The best time for exposure is between 6:30 and 8:30 am, which makes the case for early-morning workouts even stronger.

There are some indications that sunlight promotes healthy melatonin cycles due to its link to vitamin D production. Sunlight hits your skin, and cholesterol in the skin is converted to the vitamin D hormone. With lower serum levels of vitamin D come various health challenges, including bone density loss, depression and anxiety disorders, and – you guessed it – fat storage.

The challenging thing about vitamin D.

According to functional medicine nutritionist Angela Pifer, optimal vitamin D levels are 40-50 ng/DL, but that only happens if you get ample sunlight on a daily basis. Residents of northern regions only get the chance for adequate sun exposure 2.5 months out of the year. They and the rest of us are working more indoors than ever before, limiting our sun exposure even more. So unless you’re a farmer or a surfer, chances are you aren’t getting enough sun on the regular to have optimal vitamin D running around in your blood. While you are considered deficient with vitamin D levels at or below 20 ng/dL, you may want to consider supplementing with vitamin D. But do it strategically.

As mentioned, vitamin D functions in the body as a hormone. Hormone production and absorption are optimal at night. Because it’s fat-soluble, take your vitamin D with fat, preferably in a liquid emulsion. According to Pifer, optimal vitamin D serum levels are 45-65 ng/dL, and it may take supplementing with 2000-4000 IU for six months to achieve that if you are deficient.


2. Exercise regularly, but not too late in the day.

Exercise increases circulation and your internal body temperature, as well as endorphin and cortisol secretion, all of which result in added energy. Further, your metabolism will be in overdrive for a couple of hours after a vigorous workout. So even if you feel physically exhausted from an intense workout, the chemical environment of your body and brain are more conducive to a party than to pillow time. Yes, those things all make challenging exercise a definite benefit that you should be availing yourself to regularly. Just make sure it’s earlier in the day – or at least 3-4 hours before you heed your bed’s call.

According to research cited in Shawn Stevenson’s book, Sleep Smarter, exercise has a 3 Little Bears effect on your sleep. Due to reasons cited above, late night exercise impedes your rest (Papa Bear), a mid-day workout offers no benefit or impact (Mama Bear), but early morning exercise actually benefits you with deeper sleep (Baby Bear), making it just right.


3. Change your nightcap.

In 2005, approximately 10 million Americans complained to their doctor about sleep disturbances. In the same year, 10% of American adults reported that they consumed alcohol daily. While alcohol has historically been considered a sedative, and used as a “nightcap” by many, the recently-learned complexity of the human sleep cycle reacts in equally complex ways to alcohol. While a drink may help you relax and fall off to sleep after a particularly intense day, its continued use as a sleep aid is problematic; in as little as three days, alcohol’s ability to promote sleep is diminished. Additionally, while it allows you to nod off more easily, alcohol exercises its effects on your brain in two waves – the first of which ends with an actual stimulating effect. In other words, alcohol prevents you from entering the important, deeper non-REM stages during which your body and brain conduct repairs and detoxification from activity of the day.

Alcohol has been linked to sleep disorders and frequent insomnia in such a way that researchers recommend that a full evaluation of a patient’s use should be conducted any time they are seen for insomnia.

This point got my attention. I have a sort of complicated, on-again-off-again relationship with good sleep, that goes back almost two decades.

My first dance with insomnia

occurred when my second child was about three months old. I would go weeks with a cumulative sleep total of 6-8 hours. Fortunately this torrid affair with insomnia was relatively short-lived, and I was able to reconcile with sleep with the use of antidepressant therapy and occasional use of a sleep aid. Sleep and I got more serious again when I introduced regular exercise and balanced nutrition, which thankfully took the place of the meds.

But it was still rocky, and sleep and I had several rough patches over the years, during which I discovered a foodie’s love for red wine. When sleep neglected to come to my bed, Cabernet paid a visit and coaxed sleep back to my covers. While insomnia never moved back in, Cabernet had taken its place; whatever the case, sleep and I were still on the rocks and I had gone to another for comfort.

It was obvious to me that good habits that foster consistent restorative sleep needed to be an equal facet of the Healthy Habits System™. All the research pointing to sleep deprivation as a metabolic bad guy made that crystal clear. Also clear was the need for me to ditch my sometimes-lover: the nightcap.

If you have trouble falling off to sleep (as I tend to), instead of popping a cork, boil a kettle. Chamomile tea, particularly in a Sleepy-Time blend, is equally effective in promoting sleepiness, without the impacts of alcohol on the deep, restorative non-REM sleep. In order to encourage 7-9 hours of uninterrupted horizontal time, shift the glass of wine to an early dinner, and cozy up with a cup of tea an hour before bed.


4. Turn down lights before you turn down the sheets.

Melatonin secretion is directly linked to the light-dark cycle. As soon as your brain detects less light entering through your retinas, a cascade triggering melatonin production and release is initiated. However, the invention of the electric lightbulb, followed by the television and personal computer, managed to trick millennia of neurodevelopment and evolution into thinking it was still daytime when it, in fact, was not.

Many researchers link recent declines in reported sleep durations to our tendency to keep late nights watching television, or working late on computers or other screened devices. Additionally, artificial light from any source can dampen the release of melatonin that promotes good sleep at a normal hour.

How do you combat that? I’m not suggesting we move back to log cabins and kerosene lamps. Time marches on, and hello, I run a blog here. I <3 the Internet!

But there are some hacks that can help you get ahold of your runaway bedtime while remaining in touch with this century. One of which is something I’ve practiced for over a decade:

Mood lighting.

Turn the lights down a few hours before you go to bed. Even if you’re still working or studying or relaxing with television, lowering the ambient light in the room will encourage sleepiness in time to get in the all-important stage 3 non-REM sleep in which the restorative work occurs metabolically.

About those screens. Most screened devices – including your television – emit blue-spectrum light, which has been shown to affect the retina the same as sunlight. Thus, if you regularly feel tired but wired at night, pay attention to your late-night screen time; it may be that your web searches and Jimmy Kimmel Live are tricking your brain into thinking it’s afternoon.

Another hack for recent-iteration iPhone users: turn on your Night Shift setting.

This nifty feature, found in the Settings menu under “Display & Brightness,” will turn down the blue-spectrum light, replacing it with warm light which is more conducive to sleep. Sorry – no such hack for your tv. *shrug*

To best prepare for restorative sleep, turn off screened devices an hour before you go to bed. Not only does this habit allow a nice, relaxing melatonin bath for your neurons, it soothes your psyche by lessening distractions and interrupters.


5. Don’t just fall into bed – get ready for bed!

Turning down lights and setting a screen curfew sound a bit like the beginning of a bedtime routine, don’t they? That’s deliberate. After all, this is the Healthy HABITS System™ after all.

Hearing the phrase, “Get ready for bed,” probably evokes memories of childhood. According to health coach and author Shawn Stevenson, a bedtime routine helps prepare children and adults alike for restorative sleep. It cues you mentally and psychologically to begin anticipating shut-eye. Yet once we grow up and move out, and no longer have a parent-figure to remind us to “get ready for bed,” we move away from bedtime rituals and toward working in bed on laptops and until we collapse into fitful sleep, with visions of board meetings and deadlines dancing in our heads.

Create a bedtime ritual to prepare yourself for good sleep. Incorporate the lighting tips discussed previously. Wash your face and change into loose-fitting lounge wear or pajamas. Make a to-do list of tasks you anticipate the following morning. Doing so will get what you need to do out of your head and onto paper, so you don’t have to dwell on it; this is especially helpful if you find yourself struggling with shutting off your brain adequately for sleep onset. Writing your task list down frees your mind to relax, because you know even subconsciously that you won’t forget anything. While you’re at it, feel free to write a nightly affirmation, or journal about the day that just passed.

Have in-real-life (IRL) conversations with your partner and/or children. If you live alone, use the time to read (a real PAPER book) or meditate. The only thing you should bring to bed with you (aside from your bedmate) is a paper book. No computers, no digital notepads, no cell phones. Believe me, you’ll sleep better for it.


6. Create the ideal sleep environment.

Along with not working in bed, there are other steps you can take to encourage ideal sleep by creating the ideal environment for sleep. Researchers have compiled a list of environmental factors that contribute to consistent restorative sleep. They are


The temperature range for ideal sleep is on the chilly side, but not too cold. Set your thermostat for an overnight temperature between 62 and 68 degrees F. Obviously, if you share your home with others, you should find a comfortable temperature for everyone – hence, the range. Temperature and pressure combine for good restorative sleep; the pressure is provided by blankets, which you’ll only kick off if you’re too hot. If you find that you are cold, even with blankets, at the top end of the range, wear socks to bed.


Ideally, remove all light from your sleeping space, especially light in the blue spectrum. If you need a clock, buy one with a red display. If you live near outdoor street lights, buy blackout drapes. Think hibernation, caves, bears… yes, you want your room that dark. Light entering even closed eyes can cause disruption in melatonin and thus sleep disturbance. Before you turn to a sleep mask for the solution, note this finding: Researchers have observed that street lights emitting even narrow rays into your room while sleeping can raise the external temperature of any skin it touches enough to disturb sleep.


This refers mainly to media. If you find a silent room to be distractingly deafening, use a white noise machine or a fan. Don’t rely on music while you sleep. Remove televisions, computers, and other media from your sleeping space. Create a sanctuary for yourself in your bedroom, in which the only permitted activities are sleep and sex; anything else in this space during this time will cue your brain to remain alert.


Electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are thought by some to contribute to sleep disturbances. Removing other electric media from your sleeping space, as discussed in the last point, will help limit your exposure to EMFs. If you use your cell phone as an alarm clock, leave it across the room from you instead of on your nightstand, where it emits potentially disruptive EMFs inches from your head. *I have to note that this tip is somewhat controversial, but it’s included here to leave no stone unturned. If applying the other tips produces a significant positive effect, you can skip this one in the interest of modern convenience; but if there’s still room for improvement, come here. Even if your devices don’t emit enough EMFs to impact your sleep, they do provide a distraction, tempting you to continue scrolling instead of snoozing. That’s enough reason to leave them out of the bedroom.*

We as humans tend to think our diet contributes to just about every negative symptom we experience. Well, at least I do – I’m a nutritionist, after all. But in the case of behavioral sleep restriction, behavior should be addressed first.

However, there are genuine physical sleep disorders. If these 6 behavioral tips don’t work, we’ll look to 4 aspects of your diet that could potentially and positively influence physical factors in a future post.

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6 Routines of Top Performers You Should Use: part 2, afternoon and evening

Top Performers have routines

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.

  1. Have a Morning Ritual, and guard it fiercely.
  2. Have a Start-up Routine when you arrive for the day’s work.
  3. Practice a mini-ritual when your energy flow begins to slow.
  4. Schedule Interactive Time for the afternoon.
  5. Have a Shut-Down Routine to act as a hard stop to work and a signal to relax and recharge.
  6. 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.

Meeting tip:

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.


Minimize distractions.

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.

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6 Routines of Top Performers You Should Use, part 1: morning

Top Performers have routines

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 looks at 6 of the routines used by top performers to organize their day, and how you can adopt them for yourself. This is the first of a two-part article; once you finish it, you’ll want to check out part two.


Part one: mornings

1. Have a Morning Ritual.

Top performers have a morning ritual. No matter what the day is, they start it in the same basic way as they started the previous day, generally before the rest of the world wakes and starts demanding their attention and energy.

You already have a morning routine, whether or not you consider it a ritual. We all have habits, even if we are not consciously aware of them. When we’re not aware of how we spend our time, we are in a habit that doesn’t benefit. Instead, top performers intentionally take control of those habits by creating routines that serve them.

Instead of scrolling Instagram or hitting snooze for the first 30 minutes after your alarm, allow yourself 30 minutes of personal time before the day’s responsibilities come calling. This habit will give you time to take charge of your day, and may even grow to allow time to work on passion projects before you clock in for your day job.

Waking as late as possible to get to work or school on time causes you to raise your head off your pillow and right into the chaos of everyone else’s demands. Tim Ferriss sets the first 80-90 minutes of his day in stone, with little variation in the way they play out, to feel “in control and non-reactive” the rest of the day. This means he wakes early enough to have quiet time before the phone starts ringing. The next time you reach to turn off your alarm, consider what you’ll be giving up the rest of the day for those extra minutes of sleep.

The morning ritual generally includes activities that energize spirit, soul, and body.

Include time to reflect quietly, without trying to solve problems or fulfill requests.

Reflection and meditation allow your thoughts to settle into a pattern of calm and clarity of focus, allowing for more mental space for the tasks of the day. Many, like Warren Buffett and Richard Branson have found journaling, or writing in a notebook, to be an excellent meditation tool. Top performers use their notebook or journal to help flesh out ideas instead of letting them run around without form in their heads.

Another good journaling practice is gratitude; recording a few things you have now for which you are thankful allows you to function from a positive mental place for the rest of the day. As a result, your activities flow from positive energy and take you toward your goals.  

Make time for quiet reflection during your morning routine, before the rest of the world wakes and sets your agenda for the day.

Fuel your body with water, exercise, and healthy breakfast.

Top performers optimize their physical energy by adding self-care to their morning routine. They drink water to hydrate after a good night’s sleep. They perform at least light exercise (or more if your schedule and biorhythm have room for it), and they eat a healthy breakfast. These things get the blood flowing and set your physical energy to high.

Where applicable, these activities flow into family time when the rest of the house begins to rouse. Imagine how much more relaxing the carpool line would be if all you had to focus on was the precious moments spent in conversation with your children at the beginning of their day. Or your morning commute if there was nothing on your mind distracting you from your friends’ or loved one’s voice.

Breakfast tip:

Eating the same basic breakfast on the daily allows you to save your valuable decision-making power for the things that really count. Will power and mental energy are exhaustible resources, and should be reserved for bigger decisions, so relegating regular activities (such as breakfast) to habit frees up mental energy for the important stuff.

Some good choices:

  • Greek yogurt with fruit and almonds
  • Smoothie balanced with protein, greens, healthy fats, and fruit
  • Oatmeal with berries and walnuts
  • Boiled eggs and sprouted grain toast spread with almond butter

Find a simple breakfast that is simple to prepare that you enjoy enough to eat most days of the week, and set that activity to auto-pilot.

Your mind is sharpest 2.5-4 hours after you wake. Optimize this “golden hour” by scheduling solitary projects during the first two hours of your day. That way, you can dig deep without interruption.

2. Have a Start-Up Routine.

Whether you work from home or commute to an office, what you do when you arrive at the beginning of your work day determines the course of your day’s events. If you are following the same practice as wildly successful professionals and entrepreneurs (from Fritz Van Paaschen to Pat Flynn) your first tasks of the day will be determined the day before; more on that later.

Top performers start their work day by reviewing their goals.

The more concrete your attachment is to your goals, the more likely you will be to achieve them. Top performers use their goals and to guide all of their activity. If it is not important to achieving their mission, they will either delegate the activity or delete it from their agenda. Writing your goals in a notebook and reviewing them regularly allows you to develop a solid connection to them, which will direct your daily actions and intentions on your goals. Making sure you only spend time doing what’s important will bring your goals closer into reach.

Begin with the most difficult or creative tasks.

Science writer Jennifer Ackerman writes of neuroscience and productivity research that indicates most of us are sharpest mentally 2.5 – 4 hours after waking. This “golden hour” for creative productivity typically lands just as most of us are arriving at the office for the day. What should you do with it?

Many dive straight into email, allowing it to dictate the direction of their daily tasks, but the most successful, including Tim Ferriss, advise you to avoid getting stuck in email first thing in the morning. (see this article for more on how the wildly successful handle the email conundrum)

In fact, Eric Barker of The Week writes, it may be wise to sequester yourself when you first arrive at the office. Instead of wasting that mental energy on email or sidebar conversations, close your door (even if figuratively) and allow yourself to focus on your most mentally-demanding tasks for the first 2 to 4 hours of your day.



Mini-Rituals are necessary to recharge your focus when your mental energy slows. A helpful strategy here may be to schedule your workout for mid-day, when your flow wanes.

3. Use a Mini-Ritual to Refocus.

Just as it’s impossible to sprint a marathon, you can’t maintain the same level of work intensity for the entire day. The most successful honor their energy levels by not bulling through their slumps; they don’t neglect breaks, meals, and necessary diversions. What they do is allow for resets when energy and focus wanes. Enter the mid-day mini-ritual.

Create a lighter version of your morning ritual for when your energy flow slows.

When you feel your focus slip or your energy for a task lag, it may be time to stand up and walk away. Focus on something other than a screen, particularly on something in the middle-distance, to protect from eyestrain headaches.

Incorporate some physical activity, hydration, and reflection. Stretch. Do a brief yoga practice, or take a walk around the block. Maybe make time for the gym mid-day, as Evan Williams, founder of Twitter, Blogger, and Medium, does. Drink some water; research indicates that adequate hydration supports mental energy. Take a light snack or healthy lunch.

When the body is refreshed, refresh your mind and focus by reviewing your goals again. Read motivational quotes and review the things you’ve already accomplished for the day. According to David Niven, nothing motivates more than your own productivity and accomplishments. Listen to inspiring music. Take steps to renewing your mental energy.

Apply the 80/20 rule.

Recognize, as top performers do, that 80% of your results come from 20% of your effort. If you focused deeply and the work flowed from your energy for two hours of an 8-hour day, then you have already maximized your day’s work with this principle. If, when you return to your creative tasks, the flow fizzles, you can confidently take this as your cue to turn your attention to email and the lighter tasks on your daily list. If this comes at a predictable time in your day, begin scheduling interactive time to coincide with your energy levels.

Here is the rundown of the 6 routines used by top performers of our age.


  1. Have a Morning Ritual, and guard it fiercely.
  2. Have a Start-up Routine when you arrive for the day’s work.
  3. Practice a mini-ritual when your energy flow begins to slow.
  4. Schedule Interactive Time for the afternoon.
  5. Have a Shut-Down Routine to act as a hard stop to work and a signal to relax and recharge.
  6. Have an Evening Routine, including a bedtime ritual.

Find out what routines the second half of your day should hold in the next post.

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Success is a journey? That’s a lie. It’s really a cycle.

real success is cyclical

“Success is a Journey,” they say. But that’s a lie.

Well, maybe not a lie. That’s pretty harsh. But “Success is a journey” can be, at the very least, a misleading statement. Because it implies a straight path, a way to get from point A to point B.

In geometry, two points are connected with a line. So if we are trying to get from where we are now (point A) to where we want to be (point B), we should plan a straight trajectory, right?

Well, no.

Track with me here. I promise I’m going somewhere.

Success is cyclical

In movie journeys the characters realize they’re lost when they find themselves walking around in circles.  You know, the point when the heroes throw up their hands in the middle of the jungle because one of them realizes they just passed *that tree* for the fifth time? Because they expect to travel straight, from point A to point B.

Circles feel like a waste of time. I’m telling you this now so you can save yourself some frustration.

Because successful habit change is not a straight arrow, but a virtuous cycle. Yep, a circle.

If you want to lose weight and get fit without becoming ragingly obsessed, you need to build a wellness lifestyle along the framework of healthy habits. You don’t want to create an extreme and overly-consuming diet and exercise routine that you can only stand to work for 12 weeks to get you to body Nirvana, at which point you can gladly abandon the plan and live happily ever after.

That would seem to be a straight path.

And it doesn’t work. Because once you stop doing what you did to get your results, you will lose your results. So even that isn’t a straight path; it’s also a circle, dumping you right back where you started.

Instead of the false straight path of a diet plan, what you want to build is a cycle. In a sense, you’ll be walking in circles instead of traveling a straight trajectory. But you won’t feel frustrated. Because what you have created is a virtuous cycle.

Vicious vs Virtuous

There are two types of cycles in life: vicious cycles and virtuous cycles. Let’s explore the difference through a case study of (we’ll call her) Anne O. Nymous.

  • Anne has a taxing job with many responsibilities. During busy seasons she work late to stay on top of everything.
  • She’s tired, mentally and physically, when she gets home. Because this has been a particularly busy month, she chose rest and recreation over grocery shopping the past weekend. As a result, her refrigerator has very little aside from some expired deli meat and white wine left from last Saturday’s girls’ movie night. So she serves herself a generous pour as she calls for take-out from the Indian joint she has on speed dial.
  • Forty-five minutes later, Anne is holding two large bags of curry and biriyani (which she plans will be dinner tonight and lunch for the next three days) and is heading back to the fridge for another glass of wine. She worked hard, and deserves the break, so she curls up with her curry, her cup, naan, and Netflix. Somewhere midway through the jasmine rice she dozes off.
  • When Anne awakes with a crick in her neck to the glaring blue light of her television, she packs the leftovers away and stumbles to bed. But her sleep is fitful and she wakes several times to pee, when she realizes she’s also bloated and experiencing heartburn. Additionally, there’s so much on her mind she doesn’t want to forget for work tomorrow that she lays awake for a while thinking about it.
  • Because of the poor sleep, Anne misses her gym-time alarm in the morning and wakes with barely enough time to shower and dress before rushing out to another busy day at the office. But first, she must stop for coffee, when she realizes she left her lunch at home…

*record scratch*

Each unplanned decision results in a consequence that feeds the next event, all of which contribute to a scenario of frazzle and hurry that is complicated with poor self-care.

That is a vicious cycle: A feedback loop in which each problem leads to and compounds the next one, in a seemingly endless spiral toward burnout, fatigue, and poor health.

The antidote for a vicious cycle is its corollary, the virtuous cycle.

Again, Anne will be our case study to explore the virtuous cycle:

  • Anne has a taxing job with many responsibilities. She recognizes that good nutrition and adequate exercise are vital to keeping her mind sharp and her energy up, so she can stay on top of everything during especially busy seasons. Even though she left the office a little late this evening, she stopped at the gym for a quick workout while waiting for rush hour to pass.
  • Because she knew the week would be crazy, over the weekend Anne planned and shopped for meals she could make quickly in the evenings from foods she prepared in advance; it only took two hours on Sunday to grill enough chicken and vegetables for several days, to get past the most grueling part of her week. When she got home from the gym, she put some quinoa on to cook, and had a deliciously nourishing meal within twenty minutes. She enjoyed her favorite music with her meal, washed the few dishes, and showered from her workout.
  • After her shower, Anne turns down most of the ambient light in the apartment to relax her mind and body for a good night’s sleep. She packed her lunch and some snacks to take the next day, and laid out clothes for a quick run in the morning. Finally, before retiring for the night, she spends five minutes journaling about the day and listing tasks she wants to make sure she doesn’t forget for the next day. As a result of this simple routine, Anne slept deeply and undisturbed until her alarm sounded the next morning.
  • Anne’s morning run stimulated her neuromuscular system, flooded her mind and body with endorphins, dopamine, and adrenaline, and raised her body’s internal temperature and metabolic rate, all of which contributed to mental energy for the day. She mixes a breakfast smoothie with greens, berries, and protein – the same breakfast she has every day – showered, and headed out for the day, prepared with the supplies she packed the night before. On her way to the office, she stopped for coffee for herself and the team she’d be meeting first thing…

Charles Duhigg refers to keystone habits as those that “encourage change by creating structures that help other habits to flourish.” He was referring to journaling when he discussed this in The Power of Habit; I was referring to meal prepping when I discussed it on In both cases, keystone habits are vital components of a virtuous cycle.

Vicious is Virtuous’ evil twin

John Spacey of Simplicable defined the virtuous cycle as, “a loop of actions or events whereby results allow the loop to be repeated with ever-increasing results. It is associated with self-reinforcing practices and processes that gain strength from their outputs.”

And here’s what I want you to notice: this is essentially the same definition of a vicious cycle.

The main difference between Anne’s vicious and virtuous cycles is she let the vicious cycle, more or less, happen to her, while she set the virtuous cycle into motion by proactively planning for it. The circumstances are the same: her job is taxing. But from there the events feed each other in distinctive ways, yielding wildly different results that were perfectly predictable because of the specific loop her actions set in motion.

Vicious cycles result from no goal, no plan, and no framework. Virtuous cycles result from clearly defined goals and a plan to execute toward the goal.

As the cycle is established, in either case, the habits that result feed the results in either negative or positive ways, thus contributing to the result.

Vicious cycles make things harder by feeding and compounding problems. But virtuous cycles make your progress toward your goal simpler, as each action boosts the chances of success for other actions.

You eat well, which makes you feel better and have more energy for exercise, which helps you sleep better at night and allows for effective energy, focus, and productivity at work. That energizes you in new ways, which makes you want to keep doing the good things you’re doing for your health. Yay, virtuous cycle!

The reason that old thinking of a one-time journey to success – the straight arrow from point A to point B – is actually a vicious cycle? Because of what you do when you get to point B.

Do you jump off the wagon and revert to your old lifestyle? If so, you’ll end up right back at point A, in the circling spiral of the vicious cycle.

The good news is you can break a vicious cycle and establish a virtuous one at any time. If you set up a virtuous cycle of effective habit change, each new habit will feed the next, making it easier and easier to continue your new lifestyle in a satisfying success cycle.