Bookending Your Day

The 80/20 rule of winning your day (and your life)

The Pareto Principle states that 80% of the results are produced by 20% of the activities. Most people know it as the 80/ 20 rule. That said, not all efforts yield equal results. While it's impossible for you to only focus on the 20% and ignore everything else, it's always good to be aware of them.

Spend a week or two taking notes on everything you do in a 30-minute to an hour time block. See what creates the outcome you want to see, find out the people you enjoy spending time with, and discover what makes you feel good. Then, do more of them.

The 20% is the leverage point. In other words, time and effort spent here generate asymmetric returns to your work and life. Leverage points could be different from one person to another. What works for me might not work for you because we may have a different workflow and lifestyle.

However, there're universal leverage points every one of us could make use of and benefit from. They are universal because, well, we are all human. And today, I'm going to share one of my favorites.

The AM and PM bookends

Often. It's tough for us to control what shows up in the middle of our work day.

  • Your manager might call you in for an urgent meeting.
  • You may receive unexpected emails with requests from others.
  • Or on a positive note, you might come across some brilliant ideas that leave you too excited to focus on what you need to get done.

These inputs mess up your flow and leave you feeling overwhelmed and unproductive.

But, you can almost always control how you start and end your day. In the library or the bookshelf at your home office, the bookends are the support placed at the two ends of a row of books to keep them upright. In the book The Compound Effect, the author Darren Hardy refers to the start and end points of the day as the AM and PM bookends because they are what keep a day in place.

How you start and end your day, I would say, your morning and bedtime routines, are what you can leverage to maximize your productivity and output. They are the 20% you should spend time optimizing for you to have a great day.

Start your day right with a morning routine

Let's start with the morning routine. The first one or two hours after you wake up is the most important time in the day. If you win the morning, you win the day. I'm not saying that you need to wake up at 5AM or meditate or journal or take a cold shower in the morning. These are great additions to your morning routine if you're not doing them yet.

But the point is not about what you have in your morning routine. The point is to have a morning routine. Maybe you don't have an hour to spare in the morning. That's okay. Create a 20-minute routine to do your morning hygiene, make your bed, get dressed up, and leave home for work.

By the way, your morning routine doesn't need to be things you do at home.

  • Order coffee and have a quick chat with the barista.
  • Listen to a podcast while commuting to work.
  • Have breakfast and your favorite place nearby your office

These could be a part of your morning routine too.

With a morning routine laid out, you know exactly what to do right after you wake up and what to do next after that, and next after that, without even thinking about them.

The point of doing that is so that you can be proactive instead of reactive early in the day. And what you have in your morning routine should raise your energy level, set you up in the right mental state, and bring clarity to what you need to do for the remaining day.

End your day well with a bedtime routine

Now we have the morning routine covered, let's move on to the bedtime routine.

The next time a friend tells you about his morning routine, ask him about his bedtime routine. You'll be surprised that most people don't have one. While many people talk about how well they start their day and the 28 things they do to optimize their morning, not many give a second thought to how they end the day.

So, what do most people do before bed? They do what everyone else does—glue to their screen, whether it's binge-watching a Netflix show, scrolling through your social media feed, or finishing up their workdays with email replies right before sleep.

All these activities create the exact opposite of what you want from your bedtime routine: First, to shut down from work and input. And second, to prepare you for a good night's sleep.

Here's a very simple rule from Austin Kleon:

Don't think too much about life after dinner time.

Unless you sleep at 8:00 PM, it's not exactly a bedtime routine. But it does the job of helping you wind down from a full day of work, whether it is working at a job, creating the next piece of art, or taking care of your kids. Instead of lingering with work, shut down completely. Go for a walk, listen to music, have small talks with your family, or do anything that makes you feel calm and relaxed.

And then, go to bed at a time that will let you have a total of eight to nine hours of sleep. You can do more by creating a sleep-friendly environment.

Win the morning before you wake up

Winning the morning is the best way to win the day. But do you know what is the best way to win the morning?

The best way to win the morning is to win the night before it. If 80% of having a great day is about starting it right, then 80% of starting a day right is about ending the day before it well.

If you can only take one thing away from this article, I hope this is it. Make the connection to see how you end your day feeds into how you start your day, and how both of them create a loop that spirals upwards towards the life you always wanted to have.

Footnotes

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