You will quickly realize that these tips and strategies are not specific to Paralegals, Lawyers, or the legal community. Productivity, efficiency, and tactics for a successful day are not specific to a job title. They are human strategies. It is the reason why top performing CEOs can successfully jump from one industry to another.
In this article, we explore a few techniques to help you live a more fulfilling, productive, and happy day.
The following list is inspired by elite performers in fitness, mega tech billionaires, and career military generals.
How can we apply a few simple techniques to our mornings whether we’re lawyers, legal secretaries, court reporters, school bus drivers, or cashiers to make us more effective, and happier in our everyday lives?
1. Wake up 3 hours before you have to be anywhere
Ask yourself, what does your perfect weekday morning look like? Are you snoozing your alarm ten times, peeling yourself out of bed just to be thrown into a whirlwind of hastily getting ready, situating the family, walking the dog, feeding all of the pets, and skipping breakfast in order to jump into your car and start tailgating your neighbors while you all speed around one another pushing your anxiety to the max just to barely skid into work “on time”? That’s probably not your ideal morning, but it might be your reality.
You need ample time to get your morning started without the stress of the ticking clock.
Waking up three hours before you have to be anywhere is admittedly a goal at the moment. Understood, it’s hard when you’ve made decisions the night before that will severely inhibit your ability to accomplish this. Maybe the header should read, “Wake up 3 hours before you need to be anywhere, but only if you’ve slept at least seven-and-a-half hours.”
Getting enough quality sleep, I would argue, is more important than waking up early when it comes to having a productive day. The success of your morning is a major determinant of the success of your overall day, and having an alert mind is essential. On the flipside, the success of your morning is majorly determined by the decisions made the night/evening before.
Once you’ve mastered your sleep timing, and have boiled your nighttime routine down to an automatic response, you can work on giving yourself ample amount time in the morning to set your day up right.
Why is this important? Keep reading.
2. Set the bar low then jump over
What do you need to accomplish to feel successful each day? What do you need to do to win the day? Is it hitting the weights? Going for a jog? Surfing? Reading? Eating all of your vegetables? Making your bed? Doing last night’s dishes? Or all of the above.
Whatever you need to do in order to look back on your day each evening and say, “Today was a good day” get that out of the way early so you can win the day while the rest of the world is still hitting snooze.
Navy Seal William H. McCraven who commanded the forces that led the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, advised the 2014 graduating class of the University of Texas in his commencement speech, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
General Stanley McChrystal mentioned in an interview on The Tim Ferriss Show that he wakes up at 4 AM to workout before he goes to the gym. He has a bodyweight workout that relies on nothing but himself allowing him to get the first half of his workout in before the gym is even open. When asked about the importance of working out early, he said: No matter how the day goes after that, I’ve already won because I had a good workout [paraphrased].
Find out what it is that you need to win your day and commit to getting it out of the way early. The rest is just gravy.
3. Stop making morning decisions
If you like efficiency, then this next tip is for you. Streamline your morning ritual and stop making decisions! Anywhere in your life that you can eliminate the stress of making decisions, do so. Make it a priority because streamlining daily processes is important for anyone in a demanding profession.
If you don’t think you have a morning ritual, just look at what you do after you’ve rolled out of bed. You’ll find that it’s probably the same laundry list of to-do’s each day. Whether your ritual is a healthy one, productive one, or whether you like it or not, you are ingraining that into your automatic responses. So, let’s make it more efficient with 2 quick tweaks.
4. Wear a Uniform
It doesn’t have to be an actual uniform, but having your go-to style with multiples of your favorite shirts in various colors, dresses and outfits that you know look good, and shoes that go with everything will eliminate a major decision each day. My goal is to get all of my clothes to “play nice” together. My requirement is that I should be able to get dressed in the dark and not worry about anything clashing.
When asked why he always wears a black turtleneck, jeans, and tennis shoes Steve Jobs emphasized the importance of freeing up his mental bandwidth and not wasting it on trivial decision making processes like deciding what to wear each day. Mark Zuckerberg echoed a similar sentiment when asked about his style of dress in his first town hall Q&A back in 2014: "I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community."
5. Create a Breakfast Menu
Having my breakfast decided for me is a time saver and allows me to eat healthy without thinking about it. My kneejerk breakfasts are either a veggie scramble or oatmeal. I keep a fresh allotment of vegetables on hand - pre washed and small enough to not need additional prep - that I can throw into a pan and scramble into a couple of eggs.
On my countertop, I keep an airtight container of oatmeal and a second of mixed nuts sourced from the bulk section of my grocery store. I’ve placed measuring cups in both containers: one scoop of each, add water, toss in the microwave for a minute and eat.
Having a prefixed menu allows me to eat quickly while maintaining a healthy diet without having to think about it. We humans make bad decisions when our blood sugar is low and when we’re tired. In the morning, we suffer from both. Getting the right nutrients and breaking the fast is important for a productive, active, and alert mind when we’ve finally made it to the office. Automate the process and know you’re doing your body right, while making your life a little easier in the process.
Decision fatigue is a real phenomenon, there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. Eliminating superfluous decisions will not only speed up your mornings allowing you to get more done, but you’ll get more done while maintaining a better mood. And, you’ll have the required energy to make the right decision when it matters the most.
6. Use Caffeine As A Superpower... not a band aid
We all understand that caffeine is a stimulant, that’s why so many of us are dependent on it throughout the morning. However, constantly consuming caffeine throughout the day lessens its potency, and before you know it you’re drinking a pot of coffee in order to get the effect you used to get from that first cup of coffee.
If you’ve built a tolerance to caffeine, then it’s not working effectively to stimulate you in the way you’re hoping for in the first place.
Take a caffeine vacation to drop your tolerance and reinvigorate its effects.
Those of you screaming, “But I need caffeine to wake up…” need a caffeine vacation more than the rest. If you’re using this powerful stimulant to feel ‘normal’ what’s the fun in that? You’d benefit more from focusing on your sleep habits and setting a goal to get a better quality of sleep so you’re not dependent on that first sip of coffee just to open your eyes.
Once your tolerance to caffeine has been reset, you can use caffeine strategically. Fitness and nutrition expert Shawn Stevenson writes about the effective use of caffeine in his book Sleep Smarter.
Stevenson talks about having a caffeine curfew to ensure it’s not hindering your sleep, but he also talks about the importance of limiting and cycling your intake of stimulants so you can use them effectively for concentration and productivity without building a resistance to them.
When caffeine is a tool, you get to enjoy the boosting benefits it can have on your focus to get work done. It’ll help you annihilate that to-do list and operate from a position of power and energy rather than lethargy, just barely scraping through your day.
7. Erase everything from your To Do List except one
It’s not enough to make a list and start arbitrarily taking care of business in the order you happened to remember the tasks. When you make your list, prioritize and isolate the single task that’s going to be the domino to knock down the rest of your responsibilities.
What is that one thing you need to get out of the way that will make the rest of your day, and all of your other obligations, run smoothly.
Maybe it’s applying the 80-20 rule and deciding which task accomplished first allows the rest of your day to fall into place. Or maybe, there is a major stress weighing on you that keeps stealing time, energy, and focus. Knock that out and free your mind to concentrate without distraction.
Even if today’s linchpin is a personal obligation weighing on you that has nothing to do with work get it done. Your work will thank you. It might be something you’ve been putting off and serves no immediate need - but it keeps pulling your thoughts away from more important work thus sabotaging your success for that day.
Isolate that one task and make that your priority. It’s worth blocking out a chunk of time to get it out of the way early.
Your day starts well before you get to the office. With a few minor tweaks, you are well on your way to winning the day before you ever step foot in the office.
Take a moment and think about how you can apply these principles to other areas of your life. Are there daily decisions you face that you can eliminate and replace with automation and automatic responses?
Take just one of these tips and put it into practice. Experiment and see what works for you.