One thing I’ve learned (the hard way, I might add) is 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 efficient your business is, if you neglect to keep your body and mind running well, those inefficiencies in your personal life will eventually spill over into your business, bringing both you and your business crashing down in catastrophic fashion. [UPDATE: Here’s how I’ve learned to recover from the eventual burnout and be productive again]
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, in general there is one thing everyone can do 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 to my morning routine made a remarkable difference in my energy levels throughout the day, allowing me to be more productive than I otherwise would’ve been. I hope my experiences can be a useful starting-point for you to optimize your morning routine for maximum energy levels and productivity.
1) Immediately Upon Waking, 15 Minutes Of Morning Meditation
Every 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, which is important for learning and memory, and reducing the amount of grey-matter in the amygdala, which is connected to anxiety and stress.
I’ve only been meditating for about a year 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. If you want to be extra attentive to your posture, the general rule of thumb is to keep your ears, shoulders and pelvis in line.
Lay off the coffee. I find when I’m not drinking coffee on a daily basis, my morning meditation is more productive and I feel 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 more energy and amazing mental clarity.
Accept that you will be horrible at first. It’s called practice for a reason. Dedicate 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 your practice.
Here are some more tips from meditation expert, former Boston Regional Medical Center Chief-of-Staff and annual lecturer at Harvard Medical School’s Update in Internal Medicine, Deepak Chopra. These videos answered many of my questions in the beginning and helped me begin my meditation practice–
2) After Meditation, Drink 3 Large Glasses of Water
Right after my morning meditation, I head to the kitchen, chug two large glasses of water and continue to sip a third glass over the next few minutes. Each glass is 16oz, so this is a total of 48oz of water, or just shy of 1.5L.
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, so give it a shot for a week or two and see if you notice any positive benefits to your energy levels throughout the day.
[Update: I found that staying hydrated throughout the day has been key to maintaining my energy, both mental and physical. Once I bought this basic Sterilite 2-quart pitcher to leave at my desk, staying hydrated became MUCH easier. And for that price, it’s a no-brainer]
3) After Rehydrating, Fasted Exercise
I used to prefer working out 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. I was honestly shocked with the results– more strength and energy during the workout and throughout the day, breaking PRs on olympic lifts, and just an overall improved feeling of well-being.
I decided to incorporate different types of fasted exercising into my workout 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 incorporated fasted walking into my morning workout routine after one of my favorite exercise and strength gurus Elliot Hulse explained the benefits of walking on an empty stomach 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: Scheduled rest day
Monday: Drink some BCAAs (this is my favorite brand), then Fasted Full-Body Weightlifting
Tuesday: 3 sets of max rep push-ups, then a 30-minute walk at a fast pace
Wednesday: Drink some BCAAs, then Fasted Full-Body Weightlifting
Thursday: 3 sets of max rep push-ups, then a 30-minute walk at a fast pace
Friday: Drink some BCAAs, then Fasted Full-Body Weightlifting
Saturday: Drink some BCAAs, then long distance run
Morning meditation, chugging 1.5L of water first thing in the morning, followed by some sort of fasted exercise has drastically improved my mental clarity and overall energy levels throughout the day. It took a while to research ways I could start my day off better, and even longer to actually experiment with different setups. What works for me may not work for you, but I hope this article helps you begin the process of figuring that out!