Finding Time for What’s Important and Building Good Habits

Posted on April 20, 2019 · 10 minute read

When I decided that I was going to pursue financial freedom, I got hooked on reading books and listening to podcasts focussing on wealth generation, early retirement and entrepreneurship. There were so many great strategies discussed in these books, but they all required some amount of capital that I knew would take me months or years of savings to begin implementing. I felt stuck and I felt like life was moving too slow.

Even though I had upped my savings rate to 50%, I was still living a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, eagerly awaiting the 15th or the 30th of the month to get my paycheck and shove half of it into savings just to see my net worth grow. I wanted more control, some sort of instant gratification, and to see my life improve holistically outside my bank account. I had no idea where to begin or where I would even find the time to work on myself. Like many people, I’m working 9-5, sitting and staring a computer for 8 hours a day, only with the occasional meeting to get me out of my chair.

My morning routine (if you can call it that) was pretty bare and looked something like this:

  1. 6:30 am Wake up, lay in bed for an hour scrolling through Instagram
  2. 7:30 am Get out of bed and leave it a mess
  3. 7:35 am Take the dog for a walk
  4. 7:55 am Get ready: Shower, get dressed, etc
  5. 8:30 am Drive to work

I was barely awake until I got into work and had done very little thinking about the day ahead. I would then work the typical 9-5, often working through lunch because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough done just to come home completely drained of all energy.

I often found myself saying: “there isn’t enough time in the day to [insert important thing here]” Worse of all I found myself filled with guilt and self-pity for having such a boring unhealthy lifestyle. It wasn’t until I wrote down what I was doing before and after work that I realized how little I was actually doing and how much time I was wasting. There was so much time in the day that I could devote to doing the things I want to do. I just didn’t know where to begin.

Like many people, I every couple of months I would tell myself, “OK, I’m going to start working out!” I would hit the gym pretty hard for a day, two days or maybe a week, and then just as easily I had started, I would stop. Or I would go to the grocery store and buy some healthy breakfast foods and prepare them ahead of time for the week. But the next week I would make some excuse and be back where I was before. I was setting the bar too high, pushing myself too hard and then giving up. I had no chance to form any kind of life-changing habits or behaviors and I was worse off for it, feeling guilty for breaking my promises to myself.

The book that helped me shape up my morning routine was The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life. It opened my eyes to the amazing things you can accomplish before the sunrises, while most everyone else is sleeping. One of my favorite quotes from the book is:

Take excellent care of the front end of your day, and the rest of your day will pretty much take care of itself.

I can’t tell you how true this is. By taking care of and focusing on myself (instead of just zombie-walking through the morning all the way to work) has had such a positive impact on my attitude, energy and stress levels.

Now my morning routine (an actual routine, with defined time blocks) is as follows:

  1. 5:00 am Wake up (and make my bed)
  2. 5:05 am Write down whatever I’m thinking in my journal (this could be anything, usually I write about my dreams, just because that’s what I’m thinking about right after I wake up
  3. 5:15 am Reflect on the previous day and write down 3 things I am grateful for
  4. 5:25 am Read something (or listen to a podcast or audiobook, if I’m listening to an audiobook I usually take this time to do some chores like dishes or laundry)
  5. 5:45 am Get moving (I hesitate to say “work out” because it’s not that intense, just enough pushups, crunches and squats to get my heartbeat up and maybe break a sweat)
  6. 6:00 am Shower and get dressed
  7. 6:20 am Make and eat breakfast (Usually something high protein, with an egg and turkey sausage)
  8. 6:40 am Take my dog out for a nice mindful, 1.5-mile walk (taking time to work on her loose leash walking and some of her tricks)
  9. 7:20 am Brush teeth
  10. 7:30 am Head out for work and catch the 7:40 am Express bus downtown
  11. 8:05 am Arrive at work

As you can see I have my schedule mostly timeboxed off into small 5, 10, and 15-minute blocks, and I love it that way. Obviously, there are some things I can’t skip like showering and brushing my teeth, but if for some reason I’m having an off morning, I can always skip 10 minutes of reading or go on a slightly shorter walk with my dog and make it up in the afternoon. This routine isn’t by any means prescribed by the 5 AM Club, but you can see how much more I am getting accomplished in a single morning while still focusing on myself, setting myself up for an awesome day.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy, and I can’t give any credit to the 5 AM Club as to how I developed this routine, only the philosophy behind it. Perfecting this schedule and routine has been a lot of trial and error with different schedules and reordering different tasks to different times in the morning. All the credit for developing the habits that led to this routine goes to the book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

This book taught me how habits are formed and provided me with excellent methods for setting goals.

I mentioned earlier that every couple of months I would start working out and give up after only a few days. That’s because I was burning myself out with intense workouts I wasn’t ready for. By the next day, I was too sore or fatigued to complete the same workout and I would eventually skip a day and then give up entirely.

Atomic Habits changed the way I formulated goals and actions around achieving those goals. So instead of setting a goal of “Working out every day,” I started much, much smaller. The first “Atomic” goal I set was to get up out of bed, put on my sweats and tennis shoes and do 5 push ups. That’s it. There is nothing hard about putting on sweatpants and shoes and doing 5 pushups. Almost everyone can do this. If you can’t do push-ups think of something else like planking for 5 seconds. Something that is hardly any work at all.

The reason this is so effective is because the goal you have set isn’t something big and vague like “workout every day,” “lose 20 pounds”, or “get a six-pack.” The goal is to develop a habit that will enable you to take daily action that you can then apply towards a larger goal once you develop the habit. Now that I have developed a habit of getting out of bed right at 5 am, I’ve been able to “stack” other habits on top of them to the point where I am doing some decent exercise for 20 minutes a day, making a healthy breakfast and many more things that put me more and more in a positive, winning mindset with every box I check on my morning to-do list.

If you are struggling with your daily routines, coming home from work too exhausted to do anything but watch Netflix on the couch for a few hours before bed, I highly recommend you check out both The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning. Elevate Your Life and Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Learn how you can take control of your morning, dedicate time to your mental and physical wellbeing and set your self up for a day of winning.