“I don’t get a lot of email by design. I send very few emails, and I’ve taught my team to limit the emails they send.” – Craig Ballantyne Share this quote on Twitter

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Craig Ballantyne

What is your morning routine?

I get up around 3:45am so that I can start writing at 4:00am. Writing articles and books is my number one priority (after petting my dog, Bally, good morning), and on a good day I finish 1,500 words in sixty minutes.

The early morning hours are my most creative and productive, and I refer to them as my “magic time.” Everyone has a “magic time” during the day when they are 3-5 times more productive, efficient, creative, and energetic than they are at any other point in the day.

I encourage everyone to keep a time and energy journal for each day, tracking when you are most creative and productive. You’ll quickly identify your magic time, and then it’s up to you to ruthlessly protect it from others and leverage it so that you get ahead in life.

Once I’m done writing, I meditate, walk Bally the dog, exercise, and have breakfast (or have breakfast and then exercise, depending on the day). If I’m in Denver, I head to our EarlyToRise.com office for marketing meetings and employee coaching. If I’m at home (near Toronto, Canada), I get in two more hours of writing before the team gets to the office.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I’ve been getting up this early since 2010.

In the early 2000s I was a personal trainer, starting at 6:00am each morning. When my online business grew to the point that I no longer needed to be a trainer, I started sleeping in until 7:30am. But I quickly realized that sleeping in left me feeling “behind” and anxious, so I started getting up earlier and earlier until I settled into my optimal schedule.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I struggled to make meditation a habit for years, but finally added it a couple of years ago. Another component that has evolved is my email habits. In 2007 email was the first thing I did in the morning. That was foolish and often sidetracked me from important matters.

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I then resolved to open my inbox later and later each day, and built up the rituals and willpower to stay out of my inbox until I’ve been awake and working for several hours. I’ve also put in place systems that have resulted in far less email being sent and received (that’s one important tip to fight email addiction: the less you send, the less you receive!). Today I have my system dialed in to protect my magic time and make big progress on my priorities.

What time do you go to sleep?

8:00pm. And I’ve learned to fall asleep quickly wearing an eye mask and earplugs.

I’ve shifted my schedule to make it most conducive to my goals and well-being. Everyone who wants to can get to bed and get up a little bit earlier. After all, there was probably a time in college when you slept in late, and somehow you managed to survive the transition to getting up earlier once you got your first job in the “real world.” If you want to get up earlier, it just requires planning and preparation.

Staying up late seems cool, but if it’s not working for your goals, then you have to draw a line, hunker down, and make an important lifestyle change.

If you’re a writer or an artist and worry that you won’t be as creative, that’s unfounded. You can still be creative early in the day.

There are just as many great authors, artists, and even architects that worked early in the morning (Beethoven, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.) as there were famous night owls. Two authors who switched from a night owl schedule to writing in the morning are Toni Morrison and Neil Strauss.

If Stephen King can get up and write horror novels in the morning (he works from 9:00am to 1:00pm), then we can get up early and write every morning, too.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

My morning begins at 4:30pm the afternoon before. That is when I do a “brain dump,” writing down all of the work-related thoughts running through my head. This allows me to leave those thoughts behind and separates work time from personal/family time. I encourage everyone to use this exercise. It allows you to be present with your family while not worrying about something from work. It allows you to be the father who is focused on playing catch with his son, not the father looking at his phone while he throws the ball in the general direction of his child.

After the brain dump, I script my next workday, filling in blocks of time with important tasks to finish. Then I unplug, eat dinner, spend time with family and friends, and read a book or magazine before bed. Other things you can do to make your morning easier include preparing your lunch the night before, laying out your work clothes, packing your work bag, and even sleeping in your (clean!) exercise clothes if you want to do that in the morning.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

I set an alarm, but it’s not always needed, thanks to the habitual wake-up time I’ve had for years. My body often gets up five minutes before the alarm. I don’t hit the snooze button because I leave the alarm (my phone) fifteen feet away from my bed. That means I must get up and walk across the room to turn it off. By that time I’m awake and no longer tempted to hit snooze. But again, the consistency of going to bed and getting up at the same time (90 percent of the time) makes this easy.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

I’m up for about three hours before breakfast. I’m not into the sixteen-hour daily fasting, but I make sure there is a twelve-hour break between dinner and my morning meal.

For breakfast, I have my unique “Bulletproof Cereal” (nicknamed after the Bulletproof Coffee phenomenon). Here’s the strange recipe that I follow due to my love for cereal but my need to avoid gluten.

Craig’s Bulletproof Cereal:

  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 3 ounces walnuts
  • 1 banana
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter (crunchy, of course!)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon cacao nibs

It’s high fat and high calorie, but it keeps me full for hours (usually 5-6 hours, from 7:00am to lunchtime).

If I’m at a restaurant for a business meeting, I’ll have four scrambled eggs with spinach and then a bowl of pineapple.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Yes, although the time varies. On my non-lifting days (three days per week), I’ll meditate and then take my dog for a long walk (or go for a solo outdoor walk if I’m traveling for work) and do fifteen minutes of stretching. Then I have breakfast. On the one day per week when I do intervals, I’ll do those immediately after walking the dog (using kettlebells or bodyweight exercises in my garage).

On my lifting days (three days per week), I meditate, walk the dog, eat breakfast, work for two more hours, and then lift either in my garage gym or at a local gym.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

I started meditating on January 28th, 2013, and haven’t missed a day since. My average session lasts twenty minutes, and if possible, I time it with the sunrise and meditate on a few pillows in front of an east-facing window. On days where I have an early flight, I’ll meditate for at least five minutes during takeoff. It’s a perfect opportunity to lean back, relax, and breathe deeply. And if I’m lucky, I’ll fall asleep in that position for a quick snooze.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I don’t check email until I’ve been awake for several hours and have completed major progress on my number one priority. Fortunately, I don’t get a lot of email by design. I send very few emails, and I’ve taught my team to limit the emails they send. It’s much better to have a face-to-face discussion or phone call.

Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

No. I have never used an app in my life. My phone is a 2010 Blackberry Bold. That’s right, my phone is six years old (in human years) this year. I believe that makes it seventy-two years old in phone years.

I’ve never downloaded an app, and I’m not even sure if my phone can do that! My phone is only for texting and talking, and there are only a handful of very close friends, coaching clients, and family members who have my number.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

I check it immediately, but I don’t actually receive email on my phone, so there’s not much to check. But I do send out important morning messages. Each day, before 5:00am, I send out a “PEXT” to my coaching clients.

What’s a PEXT? It’s a nickname for “Pester Texting,” since the coaching message is designed to pester them into action, to motivate them, to help them overcome procrastination, and to focus on what really matters in life.

I send the PEXT while drinking my morning “immunity” drink (see below).

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Writing. I produce several articles each day, including personal development content for EarlyToRise.com, fitness and nutrition content for TTFatLoss.com, and online business-building for InternetIndependence.com. I’m also writing two new books (one on personal development and habit transformation, and the other on exercise for fat loss). In a good day I’ll write about 5,000 words. Later in the morning I have several meetings with team members in our Denver office.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

I have a cup of water first, and then within thirty minutes of waking I have my “immunity” drink of vitamin C, glutamine, and a greens powder. It helps me avoid illness while traveling… although I did just recently suffer from my first cold in three years, so it’s not perfect.

After that I consume almost exclusively water for the rest of the day, although I have peppermint tea at breakfast, and a green tea prior to a workout.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

I follow it seven days a week.

By now I know you’re thinking, “Wow, this guy is the opposite of the Dos Equis guy. He is the most boring man in the world. He’s like the Chuck Norris of lame.”

You’re right. But I’m proud of that! Of course, there are usually two nights per week when I get wild and crazy and stay out to 10:00 or 11:00pm: for date night, a basketball game, or a work dinner.

However, the secret to staying high energy is to get up at the same time as normal the next day. That means having a nap and going to bed early the next night. You might be tired the next afternoon, but you will be back to normal the day after.

It’s much better than what I did back in my twenties when I would stay out till 3:00am on weekends and sleep till 11:00am. That would leave me tired and dragging from Sunday through Wednesday. I’d just get back on track when it was time to ruin it all again.

I much prefer my virtuous, boring, and consistent life these days!

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

I spend over one hundred days away from home (Toronto) every year, speaking at events, coaching at Mastermind groups, and working in our Denver office. But it’s easy to adapt a routine when traveling. All you have to do is plan ahead. There are no excuses.

I’ve stuck to this schedule on trips to dozens of countries, including while on holiday in Tuscany, Russia, Nicaragua, and even New York and Las Vegas. You wouldn’t believe some of the elevator rides I’ve had in Vegas when I was going to the gym at 5:00am and others were just going back to their rooms. Ha!

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I never fail. My morning is spiritual to me, and missing my morning routine would be like the Pope missing morning mass. It does not go neglected, period.

It all comes down to planning and preparation. That is how you control your days, own your life, and live perfect days without regret every day.

Craig kindly offered to give away five copies of The Perfect Day Formula to five lucky My Morning Routine readers! For your chance to win a copy, click here.

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