There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self. - Hemingway
I have always been a proponent of a fully optimized day. Some people have recently advocated for days filled with “slack” or time to contemplate. This may work for some people who are artists or purely knowledge workers, but for most designing a day that is optimized to accomplish important tasks systematically will yield the best results. This can be done through tools like a highly effective schedule, weekly planning, or simply writing down tomorrow's goals and tasks the night before.
When asked what I do for a living and how I structure my days I typically give a long winded response that begins with “I wake up at 4am”… and then I proceed to explain what I do and how I fit it all in each day, week, month, year. Its no secret that if you want to get things done or do more than the next person that you need to continually work on things that matter. The law of compounding spans many domains, not just finance. I simply prioritize what I would like to accomplish and systematically check off the boxes as I go.
If you are reading this essay then you are probably someone who also strives to maximize each day, so it may come as no surprise to you that my days are loaded from 4am to 8pm. I go to sleep and wake up at the same times 7 days a week. I work out in some capacity at the same time every day. I eat my meals at the same times each day. For me, this rigid discipline allows me to have freedom in other areas of my life. I have made these things apart of my default settings.
Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise. - Benjamin Franklin
Most people struggle with my answer of awakening so early, or for that matter going to bed so early. But for me it is simply what needs to be done to accomplish all I have set out for myself to achieve. I have a growing family and I take my responsibility as a husband and father seriously. This means that I need to be able to not only provide the essentials of shelter, safety, and sustenance but also time and support to ensure love and harmony is cultivated. Hence, the reason I awake at 4am, my family is usually awake around 7am. Early awakening allows me to have “my” time - time to write, time to read, time to exercise, and time to cultivate ideas for the future.
Ones daily life is inundated by a multitude of variables vying for ones attention. These distractions lead one away from exercise and health towards laziness and consumption. Awareness of these pernicious factors allows one to be successful in whatever pursuit one wishes to engage in. Addressing known distractions in advance will allow one to plan each day in a way that is optimized for accomplishment. One way to do this is by maintaining standards when encountering distractions, for instance, if one wants to sleep 8 hours a night because it improves overall performance, one needs to limit nightly entertainment and substitute it with activities like reading or meditation, two activities that will allow one to fall asleep quickly. This is a simple example, but can be applied to many things that occur each day. Distractions will not stop, they will only continue to mount if one allows them. Each decision one makes is essentially a tradeoff of time and attention, both of which are ones most valuable resources.
The life of a modern worker is not easy and requires a different type of work ethic and stamina than workers of the past. Due to the structure of many developed nations people have the ability to work in several capacities to earn capital. Most workers are involved in many different projects and probably have to keep a day job in order to stay afloat. A person may work their “day Job”, write blog posts, do gig work, and rent out a spare home. All of this can seem impossible to manage mentally and physically.
We all want to start a company, right? Starting a company and building it up to be a successful endeavor is not for the faint of heart. It takes a tremendous amount of time, dedication, and moxy to see it through. Creating a start-up requires a staggering amount of effort and probably a steady schedule of 16-18-hour days minimum for the first 12-18 months. This can be absolutely exhausting, but if you have trained your body to have a high work capacity (the amount of physical stress you can handle) physical exhaustion is the least of your problems.
A healthy mind in a healthy body is something that has been espoused since the days of the pagan philosophers, even the ancients knew that if one wanted to push themselves to new heights that it required strength and vitality to do so.
The mental benefits of staying strong and devoid of overwhelming stress will payoff not only in your work but in the exercise realm. The struggles of exercise are often described as positive stress, the principle is called hormesis, short bouts of stress that are needed to promote growth and resilience.
Daily exercise has played a major role in my achievements and the achievements of many other high performing individuals I have met. For me, it was my passion for exercise that I then transmuted to others aspects of my life. The payoff from pushing ones self physically and mentally leads to one pushing in other areas. One starts to read more, one writes more, one takes on extra projects. It’s a positive feedback loop. The strength and confidence that I have built up over the years of challenging myself allows me to operate optimally as a professional, husband, and father.
Robert Pozen, Author of Extreme Productivity and senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, reviewed several studies that showed a significant increase in happiness and productivity in those that exercised daily vs. those that didn’t. The most obvious benefit of exercise is having more energy. Sacrificing one hour a day to complete high intensity exercise will make the other 23 hours of your day more productive. You can take less breaks, you can complete work with more enthusiasm and you will sleep better each night. The old excuse “I don’t have time” is invalid because exercise will make you more efficient and save you time overall. Neural imaging has shown that after exercise the activity in the amygdala slows down while activity in the frontal lobe is ramped up. This means that the emotional center of the brain is muted while the center for executive function is turned on high. Exercise will increase your critical thinking skills and allow you to make more logical decisions the rest of the day.
Intense exercise is uncomfortable. It makes you feel like giving up, it makes you question why you are working so hard in the first place. Most people do whatever they can to avoid discomfort. Why take the stairs when the elevator is right here? In reality our bodies need discomfort to thrive. To become successful in anything requires one to step outside ones comfort zone: pulling an all nighter, waking up early, learning new concepts, presenting your ideas to strangers, sacrificing immediate gratification for a better future. All of these things are extremely uncomfortable and do not come naturally. These traits need to be learned and applied. The more time one spends doing uncomfortable things the more one will quickly adapt and want to take on more.
The more times you overcome adversity, the easier it is to take on another challenge. Whenever I am faced with a daunting task or am overwhelmed by a massive to-do list, I take a break and go exercise. When I’m done, the most amazing thing happens. I no longer have the feeling of being stressed, anxious of overwhelmed. When I get past the feeling of “I feel like I’m dying”, answering 200 emails doesn’t seem that hard. Intense exercise builds mental toughness and teaches you how to "embrace the challenge."
So, how does a busy person fit exercise? Taking an hour out of your busy schedule may seem impossible and that’s because it is. Between answering emails, attending meetings, and completing operational tasks for the day, there is no time to fit in exercise. That is why it must be done before you start your day. Through my years of coaching and training I have discovered that this is the best option for people that are or are striving to be high performers. I wake up at 4am, make my coffee and then head right into the tasks that need to be done before the day starts rolling. Again, this is my time - I read, I write, and I train. This way I am done with my workout, showered and dressed before the clock hits 7 am. By trying to fit in exercise, reading, or writing later in the day, I know, I run the risk of the time being either filled with something else or impeded by other pressing matters.
In Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans, Tim realizes many successful people start each day by competing a small task of making their bed in the morning. When asked why they do this, they all explain how starting your day by completing a task, sets your day up for success. I decided to take this one step further, when I finish my morning routine, I have the feeling that I can now take on anything that I encounter throughout the rest of the day. Each day is begun with a level of accomplishment and clarity that is empowering.
For those that are feeling stressed, tired, and weak, less is more when it comes to exercise. One should apply the concept of the minimum effective dose. Throughout each day we carry an unbelievable amount of stress and while exercise is a healthy habit, it is another stress on the body. Studies have shown that higher volume exercise is more stressful than higher intensity exercise. So, let's define those terms:
Volume (how much) - volume is the total amount of repetitions or time spent exercising
Intensity (how hard) - intensity is the difficulty level of a specific exercise
We want our exercise plan to have low volume with high intensity. To make this simple, workout for short periods of time but as hard as you can. These short but difficult workouts take less time, are less stressful on your body, and have been shown to stimulate the body in effective ways. If you do not have exercise experience, start off with easy movements that you feel comfortable with. Something as simple as hill sprints can be extremely effective. Find a steep hill near you that you can run or walk up as fast as you can several times for no more than 20minutes.
If you desire a more advanced strength and conditioning program, please adhere to the same restrictions of high intensity and low volume. To simplify, lift heavy weights for low repetition. 3-5 reps of heavy weight over 3 sets will suffice.
In sum, through optimization of ones day one can complete anything that is necessary to be successful, accomplished, and strong. Stress, when managed correctly, can be transmuted to achievements in the gym, mental clarity at work, and happiness with friends and family. By structuring ones day to be filled with positive stressors and aligned with priorities one can take on nearly anything and thrive. So, take time for yourself early each day, train with intensity, and challenge yourself across multiple domains to achieve the highest you long for. Now is the time to start valuing your time and health above everything else, only then will you truly be able to live a life of health, wealth, and wisdom.