I’m in my last year of university. My days consist of a couple hours of class, maybe a workout, a pizza and some video games with my roommates. The nights usually end with binge-watching a television series into the late hours of the night.
I was lucky if my head hit the pillow by 3:00am.
This pattern progressed into 2012 and well after the launch of Cave Magazine – our online men’s magazine. I’d wake up late and “work” late. In reality, I’d wake up, work 4-5 hours, then fall into my usual evening routine. On the weekends, I’d bartend to pay the bills and fund any small marketing efforts for the magazine.
Needless to say, I was far from productive.
Fast forward to today.
I wake up religiously between 5:00am and 5:30am every day. By 8:00 am I’ve read, exercised, eaten breakfast and done some writing. Then I’m off to the office for a full day of work.
Since changing to become a “morning person,” our business has grown 3X in net revenue, I’ve lost 15 pounds, we’ve added 3 more people to our team and we’ve opened an American office.
So how the hell did this happen?
I attribute this to a couple of things:
1. The competitive nature of our team
Both myself and founder Michael Prempeh played university football together – Go Blues. This meant we put in endless hours competing with each other (and 90 other guys) in the offseason. It’s the nature of competitive sports; you constantly try and outwork each other.
So when Michael left his job working for the now notorious Toronto Mayor, Rob Ford, we became competitive. If Michael was up early getting things done, I’d feel guilty for not doing the same. This would lead to us subconsciously trying to outwork each other over the coming months.
With no surprise, the more structured our days became, the more we pushed each other, and the easier it became to generate revenue for the company.
The accountability that comes along with having a co-founder is one of the best things to help you become more productive.
2. I cut out distractions
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I’d burn the midnight oil too often. A large part of this was due to watching television into the late hours. One thing that has helped me get more sleep, and ultimately be more productive was taking my television out of my room. This may seem simple, but the inability to watch TV in my bed forced my hand – I had to try and sleep. After a few days without a TV in my room, I started to associate my room with sleep and relaxation. This put me in the right mindset to fall asleep and also cut 90% of my TV time down.
At the office, one of the techniques I’ve started using to cut out distractions and get work done is the Pomodoro technique. It consists of working in 25-minute sprints with 5-minute breaks. You can read more about our whole team using it here.
3. I started to physically write out my to do’s for the morning and afternoon
This may seem petty, but setting daily goals helped me become much more productive. I’m not confined to eight hours behind a desk, but rather a set of goals/tasks I need to achieve on a daily basis. Sometimes these tasks can take me 14 hours, other times they can take me 4 hours. I started writing down what I want to accomplish for the next day right before I go to sleep. This gets me excited about the next day and makes me eager to get started on tasks.
4. I became obsessed with successful people and their habits
This has been one of the most important parts of my development, both personally and as a business owner. I started becoming infatuated with entrepreneurial stories, detailing how Fortune 500 CEOs rose to their posts. There were some commonalities among the elite CEOs: the majority woke up early, exercised daily and worked on something distraction free before starting their day. I started to think, “If I could take one thing away from all these CEOs stories and implement it into my own life, I’ll be doing something right.”
One example that sticks out is a story of Marissa Mayer’s first week at Yahoo. Mayer, after receiving a warm reception, and a ton of media coverage, walked into the Yahoo headquarters and requested that (i) a computer be set up in her office and (ii) that she have access to Yahoo’s codebase immediately – she then began to plug away at the code. The moral of this story: she didn’t get caught up in the hoopla.
Whenever we’ve had a major win or loss at Cave, it’s easy to get caught up in distractions. Since reading, I try my best to keep plugging away, not letting big wins or big losses affect my demeanor or work ethic.
I know waking up early isn’t the secret to success, but for me it’s part of it. I’m still far from where I want to be as an entrepreneur, but I’m a lot closer than I was two years ago.
The moral of this entire post isn’t to wake up early, it’s to change whatever is stopping you from being more productive. For me, I was staying up late, eating like garbage and not getting much done. Waking up early means I will work out, eat healthy, and get some work done. I start my day off with wins, and I’m able to continue this trend into the rest of my work day.
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