One thing I’ve learned (the hard way, I might add) is that when starting and running a business, lines get blurred between yourself and your business, especially in regards to energy levels and productivity. No matter how automated and well-oiled your business is, if you neglect to keep your body and mind running smoothly, those inefficiencies in your personal life will eventually spill over into your business, bringing both you and your business crashing down in catastrophic fashion.
Learning how to manage yourself for maximum productivity is one of the most notoriously under-reported challenges of running a business. The problem is, what works for some people doesn’t work for others, so suggesting one specific thing that everyone can do to improve their energy levels and productivity is impossible. However, there is one thing everyone can do in general to improve their energy levels and productivity– tweaking their morning routine until they find what works best for them. [Update: I now believe tweaking your bed-time routine to optimize sleep quality can also do a lot for your daily energy levels and productivity]. For me, three tweaks in particular made a remarkable difference in how I feel throughout the day, allowing me to get more quality work done than I otherwise would’ve been able to do. I hope my experiences can be a useful starting-point for others trying to optimize their morning schedule for maximum energy levels and productivity.
1) IMMEDIATELY UPON WAKING: 15 Minutes of Morning Meditation
Every single morning, immediately after hopping out of bed, I sit on a pillow on the floor and meditate for 15 minutes. Sitting and clearing your mind is really difficult– even the thought of repressing a thought, is a thought. It takes a while to get the hang of it, but once you do, you will reap the many benefits, such as better stress-management, being more mindful, and improving your ability to think clearly and make better decisions. There’s also scientific proof that meditation can physically improve your brain by increasing grey-matter in the hippocampus, important for learning and memory, and reduction of grey-matter in the amygdala, which is connected to anxiety and stress.
I’ve only been meditating for a few months now, and as a beginner, a few things really helped me–
Don’t worry too much about posture. Just sit cross-legged on a pillow, use other pillows to support your knees if necessary, keep your back relatively straight, but most importantly, be comfortable.
Lay off the coffee. I find when I’m not drinking coffee on a daily basis, my meditation is much more productive and I feel much more energized afterwards. Not sure of the physiological connection here, but that’s just what I’ve experienced personally. I’m certainly not saying quit coffee altogether, but it’s worth giving your body a short break while you begin to learn meditation. If you’re a coffee-lover like me, the first few days will be agonizing, but around day 4 you will suddenly experience true energy and amazing mental clarity.
Accept that you will be horrible at first. Dedicate to yourself to practicing meditation for a few weeks. Trust the studies– it’s good for you, and you will be a stronger version of yourself because of it. It will become easier and more enjoyable as you continue to practice.
Here are some more tips from meditation expert, former Chief-of-Staff at Boston Regional Medical Center and annual lecturer at Harvard Medical School’s Update in Internal Medicine, Deepak Chopra, that answered many of my questions and helped me get started–
2) Then– Drink 3 Large Glasses of Water
Right after meditating, I head to the kitchen, grab a large glass, fill it with lukewarm water, chug it, fill it again, chug it a second time, fill it one last time and continue to sip that third glass over the next few minutes– each glass is 16oz, so in total this is 48oz of water, or just shy of 1.5L.
I’m sure you’ve heard the benefits of staying hydrated and the dangers of being dehydrated, but what’s surprising are the benefits of drinking a lot of water first thing in the morning. For example, a German study showed that drinking at least 16oz of water first thing in the morning boosts your metabolism about 25% for the next 90 minutes. Rehydrating in the morning can also help reduce fatigue, fuel your muscles for the day, and reduce stress.
This is one of those tweaks in your morning routine that takes very little effort to try and has zero negative consequences, so give it a shot for a week or two and see how it affects you.
[Update: I found that staying hydrated throughout the day has been key to maintaining my energy, both mental and physical. Once I bought this Sterilite 2-quart pitcher to leave at my desk, staying hydrated became MUCH easier. And for that price, it’s a no-brainer].
3) Then– Fasted Exercise
I’ve always preferred to workout later in the day, but after reading some interesting studies on the benefits of exercising first thing in the morning in a fasted state, I decided to give fasted morning workouts a try and was honestly shocked with the results– more energy during the workout and throughout the day, breaking PRs on olympic lifts, and just a general improved feeling of well-being.
I decided to incorporate different types of fasted exercising into different days of my routine based on a number of interesting articles and recommendations, and also to avoid having a boring, repetitive routine–
Fasted Weight Training 3x Per Week
One of the most intriguing articles on fasted exercise I read was the Fasted Exercise post in Mark Sisson’s 7-part blog series on fasting. It cited scientific studies on fasted exercise leading to improved insulin sensitivity, improved muscle recovery from endurance exercise, improved muscle recovery from weight training, and improved muscle glycogen replenishment and retention. Then after doing a bit more digging, Martin Berkhan’s Lean Gains Protocol, and Mike Matthews’ Definitive Guide to Intermittent Fasting convinced me to give fasted weight training a shot.
Fasted Walking 2x Per Week
We all know that walking is good for you, but recently I’ve actually incorporated fasted walking into my workout routine after one of my favorite exercise and strength gurus Elliot Hulse explained the benefits of fasted walking for fat loss and fat loss while maintaining muscle. To take full advantage of the health benefits of walking — such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia — it’s recommended to walk at a fast pace.
Here’s how the weekly fasted exercise routine looks, which happens right after the 1.5L of water–
Sunday: Drink some BCAAs, then Fasted Full-Body Weightlifting
Monday: 3 sets of max rep push-ups, then a 30-minute walk at a fast pace
Tuesday: Drink some BCAAs, then Fasted Full-Body Circuit Training & Plyometrics
Wednesday: 3 sets of max rep push-ups, then a 30-minute walk at a fast pace
Thursday: Drink some BCAAs, then Fasted Full-Body Weightlifting
Friday: Scheduled rest day
Saturday: Scheduled rest day
These three things in conjunction — meditation, chugging 1.5L of water, and fasted exercise — have drastically improved my mental clarity and overall energy levels throughout the day. It took a lot of time to research ways in which I could start my day off better, and then actually experimenting with them and figuring out what personally worked for me. I hope this helps. Go on and experiment what works for you!