My Favourite Productivity Hack For Getting Things Done

When 15-year-old Tom was in secondary school, I lived a 3-minute walk from school. I used to pride myself on the fact that I could be in bed at 8:30 and be sat at my desk at 8:35. Why did I lie-in so late? Several reasons. One being I was a teenage boy and so at my peak laziness. Two being I loathed school and saw it as a waste of time (in hindsight, there were aspects of school I really enjoyed). And three, I had no other priorities other than to go and “waste” 7.5 hours of my day.

But that was then.

30-year-old Tom is different. In fact, if the 15-year-old me saw me now, he’d be pretty shocked at what I had turned into. Nowadays my alarm goes off—every day—at 4:25 am. I rarely snooze it, unless I’ve had an unusually late night the night before (late for me is anything after about 9 pm) and even then I have backup alarms at 4:30 and 4:35.

Now you might be thinking “Why on earth would anyone get up that early?!”. I can almost guarantee you’re thinking that actually,  as that’s the response I get from 99% of people who hear I wake up so early.

Waking up early is the meta-skill that allows everything else to happen. When I was fifteen, I used to pride myself on the ability to get through a day of school with the minimum level of preparation. Now I pride myself on the fact that I’m up before dawn and get a start on everything I want to do done before the day has begun.

My typical morning routine is below. I tend to stick with it for a few months at a time and then deviate from it slightly. But after 5+ years I always seem to come back to it.

  • I wake up at 4:25 am, have a quick stretch and brush my teeth.
  • Then, I drink a glass of water which is essential for waking up your bodily organs.
  • After that is meditating, I use Headspace and listen to that for 10 minutes. (I’ve been awful for following this recently and am making a concerted effort now to do it at least once, if not twice per day)
  • Immediately after that, I write in a journal. I use the app Day One. In it, I write anything I’m worried about or seem to be dwelling on. It’s also for any ideas for this blog. I started journalling regularly this year to get used to the habit of writing for this blog.
  • Then I take a little A6 notebook I carry with me everywhere and write down all the things I want to get done that day. Any meetings or work stuff, or reminders to do laundry or buy groceries.
  • Then, I exercise. Either I do yoga or go for a run in Bushy Park. Exercise is another activity I’ve been slacking on recently. I exercise less in the winter than I would like, mainly because I don’t like the dark and I don’t like gyms. So now it’s Spring again I’m slowly getting out more regularly.
  • Then I take a shower and finally, breakfast. Breakfast used to be bacon, eggs and salsa almost every day. Now it’s more likely whatever I’m chucking in my blender that week. (This week it's a scoop of chocolate protein powder, one frozen banana, a pinch of salt, a 1/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract, a tablespoon of cocoa powder, one cup of almond milk, and some ice.)

While eating breakfast, I’ll either read on my Kindle (currently re-reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius) or write notes for the blog post for the week.

After breakfast I’ll get changed into my bike gear and then leave for work, getting to the office between 7:30 and 8:00 am.

At the weekends when I’m not working I still wake up at 4:25 am, but don’t always do everything else with as much urgency. I like to laze in bed as much as the next person (sometimes). Staying consistent with the alarm makes it easier to get up early, your body clock soon falls into a rhythm. In the summer when it’s light early in the mornings I can wake up without an alarm every day.

The best bit about following this routine is I’ll get all that stuff done first thing in the morning and then even if I have a lazy day I know I still achieved these few bits.

The hardest bit about this routine is it can take its toll on relationships. I was dating someone recently who is a total night owl. She and I would often text first thing in the morning when I woke up as she was going to bed. She was adamant that falling asleep before midnight was absurd, while I thought that sleeping in late was equally crazy. The truth is neither of us was wrong; it’s just what fit our individual schedules.

Tom ShermanComment