This curated column is authored by Tom Bilyeu, Co-Founder, Impact Theory
Admittedly I’m a naturally lazy person, but this routine has helped me become unstoppable.
Left to my own devices, I’m lazy as hell.
During one period of my life, I would stay in bed for hours in the morning because I was too cold and lazy to get up and put a sweatshirt on.
As a child, I showed no early signs of promise whatsoever. My own mother, who was always my biggest champion, just quietly assumed I was going to fail in life.
And yet today I’m a successful entrepreneur who co-founded the company Quest Nutrition, which was valued at over a billion dollars, and I’ve since gone on to found Impact Theory, a company whose content, when combined with my past show Inside Quest, has been viewed more than 165 million times.
So how did a lazy kid who showed no early promise defy the odds and go on to be successful?
The first step was rebuilding my identity by moving from a fixed to a growth mindset. Once I stopped caring about being right and started caring only about finding the correct answer faster than anyone else, I was able to build a foundation for unlimited growth. With that foundation, another key component to my success became how I used my time, particularly the morning hours.
Here are the habits I practiced then — and still practice today — to get my mind right every day for the full-contact sport of entrepreneurship:
My morning routine actually starts the evening before.
I haven’t used an alarm to wake up (with the occasional exception) in more than a decade. You need a certain amount of sleep, and if you don’t get it, your performance begins to decline — so much so that you can actually measure the decline on a test of cognitive ability.
So, step number one is to treat sleep as one of the most important things you’re going to do all day. If you need to go to bed at 8 p.m. to get all the sleep you need, then go to bed at 8 p.m. I get up naturally anywhere from 3 to 4 a.m., so getting to bed early is absolutely imperative.
2. Work out the body.
Once I wake up, I use the very act of waking up as the trigger that reminds me to work out. I work out five days a week, but I’m not one of those guys who loves going to the gym.
But I get up, roll out of bed and go straight to the gym anyway. I’m fortunate to have a gym in my house, so the lapsed time from wake-up to workout is only about 10 minutes.
Developing discipline is one of the most critical things you need to be successful. Being successful comes with a litany of things that you’re not going to want to do, but you’re going to have to do them anyway.
You’re going to have to push yourself, even when every fiber of your being is telling you to quit. You’re going to have to get out of bed when you’d rather just lie there. You’re going to have to work on that Saturday when your friends are out partying. You’re going to have to grind when you’d rather be playing video games or watching Netflix.
Discipline is going to be the thing that allows you to do that, but you need an area that allows you to train that discipline. For me, that’s the gym, and that’s a big part of the reason that I work out — to strengthen my discipline and gain credibility with myself by showing up and putting in the work on something that offers me no intrinsic pleasure.
3. Exercise the mind.
It’s not enough to exercise the body, you also have to exercise the mind.
In fact, to me, the body is but a reflection of the mind. Right after I finish working out, I meditate. The reason I meditate is to strengthen my ability to focus and to learn how to rapidly calm my mind.
We live in a fast-paced world with tons of anxiety and distractions. We celebrate the ability to speed up our minds and our lives, but it is absolutely essential to learn to consciously slow them down as well. It’s equally important to learn how to calm yourself. And you need to cultivate that ability.
How long I meditate depends on how stressed or anxious I am, but it’s usually about 20 or 30 minutes. I use a “just breathe” technique, where I try to quiet my mind and simply breathe.
When I first started meditating, I had to coax myself into doing five or 10 minutes. Now I love the feeling so much I usually go until my legs start to fall asleep from sitting cross-legged.
One of the most beautiful things about meditating is that it puts your brain into an alpha wave state. This is considered to be the most creative of brain states, and that’s certainly how it feels for me.
So, once I’ve finished meditating, before the alpha wave state wears off and I return to normal life, I stop trying to quiet my mind and instead set it to dealing with one of my most challenging problems.
I call this process “Thinkitating.” I find this to be a powerful strategy because when I’m in this state of mind, I notice I make more unique and novel connections, allowing me to identify some pretty creative solutions to problems that otherwise seemed intractable.
I try to read every day. I believe the most important math equation is II = IO (Ideas In = Ideas Out). Pretty much all of my time is accounted for every day. So I’ve had to find ways to ensure that I get time to read.
One of those ways is to read in what I call the “transitional moments” — brushing my teeth, getting dressed, cooking food, etc. One of the most opportune moments for me is when I walk my dogs. It’s a solid 30 minutes of time that I usually follow by my first meal of the day. That gives me a good 45 to 60 minutes of uninterrupted daily reading time.
That’s in addition to all of the sneaky little moments that I catch whenever possible. Because I like to set aside time to really sink in and read, too.
6. Create a “most important things” list.
I keep a list of the most important things that my business needs to thrive. Once I sit down to work, the first thing I do is go through that list. I take immediate action on anything and everything on that list that I can, and if I skip something three days in a row, I delete it from the list as my actions indicate that it’s not truly important.
As a rule, I keep the highest-impact stuff at the top of the page to ensure that I don’t fall into the trap of addressing something lower on the priority list just because it’s listed first.
7. Ignore email.
Checking email is a critical mismanagement of time. It is, in my opinion, a dereliction of your duties as an entrepreneur.
If you check email before addressing the most pressing needs of your company, you’re admitting that other people know better about what you should be doing than you do.
I’ve trained myself to ignore email until everything else that needs to be done is done. I’ve usually put in between 5 and 7 hours’ worth of work before I check my email for the first time. And I try to spend less than an hour on email per day.
I have found the habits embedded in my morning routine to be instrumental in getting things done and keeping myself on track. Habits in general are, in my opinion, the very foundation of success.
I highly recommend that everyone adopt a morning routine that addresses both mental and physical well-being, while ensuring that you’re taking the necessary steps to be successful in whatever it is that you’re doing. May your morning routine serve you as well as mine has served me.
For more empowering ideas and actionable tips that will help you unlock your potential, check out my interview show Impact Theory.