Over the years I’ve talked a lot about productivity and routines (here, here, and here for just a few), both in posts and on my two podcasts. If you’ve been reading for a long time, you’ll know that I used to be a night owl, staying up late into the night to write posts for the blog. And then I read Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning (affiliate link – I make a commission if you purchase), and I changed up my routine entirely. I’m a huge fan of Hal’s, and am still following the Miracle Morning routine.
The topic of productivity and routines is really important to me for one big reason: my family. My wife and my kids are my top priority—I want to be able to spend as much time as possible with them. I love that I get to take Keoni to school every day and that I get to eat lunch with April and Kai. This time is the “why” productivity matters so much to me.
Your motivation might be different: I hear from a lot of readers (especially from people leaving questions for AskPat) asking how to juggle starting their business while still holding down a day job. Whatever your reasons, I want to share with you the productivity tools and apps that are helping me manage my daily routine.
These tools have definitely shaped my life for the better. I hope they’ll help you, too!
Sleep and The Miracle Morning
To start off the day, I usually wake up around 6:00 a.m., although sometimes it’s a bit earlier depending on what time my Sleep Time app wakes me up. I use Sleep Time because it helps me wake up with a lot more energy. It does this by analyzing my movements throughout the night, graphing my sleep cycles, and waking me during my lightest sleep phase.
This app has taught me about the importance of knowing my sleep cycle. Have you ever woken up groggy even with a solid eight hours of sleep? That’s typically because you’ve awoken during the middle of your sleep cycle. With Sleep Time, it wakes you at the perfect time so you wake up ready to take on the world. There’s no better way to start the day!
Another tool that has helped me kick off the day right is a book called Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson of The Model Health Show. I highly recommend this book. It has helped me optimize my sleep in ways I didn’t know were possible, including, as I discussed with Shawn on SPI 125, an improved mental focus and overall better performance in my day to day tasks as an entrepreneur. As some of you know, I don’t often get a full eight hours of sleep. My average is about six hours. But, as a result of Shawn’s amazing book, those six hours are masterfully optimized, giving me the best six hours I can ask for.
After I wake up, I check my Dark Sky app. Dark Sky is a beautifully visualized, really accurate, and user-friendly weather app. I set it up to send me a detailed twenty-four-hour weather outlook every morning so that I can prepare for the day in advance. If the app projects it’s going to be a colder day (in San Diego, if it drops below seventy degrees, everyone bundles up like they’re about to face a blizzard), I know to send the kids off to school with a sweatshirt or jacket.
It’s at this point I walk to the bathroom to splash some water on my face, brush my teeth, and head downstairs to drink a glass of water. From there, I jump into a few exercises I learned thanks to Hal Elrod’s life-changing book, The Miracle Morning (affiliate link – I make a commission if you purchase). I had a great conversation with Hal on SPI 140: Productivity and the Early Morning Routine with Hal Elrod, an episode that resonated with a lot of people.
And what Hal illustrates in the book still resonates with me. Thanks to Hal, I’m reminded of the importance of being consistent with my morning ritual, starting with writing in my Five Minute Journal, which is filled with writing prompts that encourage you to engage with the world in a positive, focused way. I do this every morning and it puts me in the right frame of mind to start the day.
Meditation and Exercise
After my five focused minutes of writing, I meditate with the help of an app called Muse. It comes with a headband (like something out of Star Trek) designed to analyze my brain and provide real-time feedback on what happens to my brain while I meditate. When you enter a meditation session, you can hear whether or not your brain is in a state of activity or calm. When it’s in a state of activity, you hear rushing water and a loud, rustling wind. When it’s in a state of calm, you hardly hear anything, which is the place you want to be. Once you’re calm for a long period of time, you are rewarded with the peaceful sounds of birds chirping.
I like Muse because it helps gamify meditation while keeping track of it. That was an issue I had when I first started meditating, using an app called Headspace. Headspace is great, but I wasn’t getting the real-time feedback I needed. Muse, on the other hand, is a tool I use every single day, and it has totally helped me calm my mind, focus on my breathing, and get set for the day.
Following my meditation, if the kids aren’t awake, and usually they’re not at this point, I will make some breakfast or exercise, depending on my exercise for that particular day. It all depends on what exercise my trainer, Jeff McMahon of TotalBodyConstruction.com, has texted me. Currently, Jeff is helping me jump higher so that I can finally grab onto a regulation height basketball rim (look, I’m almost there!). That’s my goal for the first half of 2016.
So, depending on the type of workout Jeff has assigned, as well as the time I have before my kids wake up, I may do the workout at home or, in the case of the basketball rim goal, I’ll go to the gym. If I don’t have the time in the morning, I’ll do the workout later in the day.
Speaking of, I like to use STRAVA for my workouts, especially if I’m running or cycling. Last year during my triathlon training, it was a such a useful companion. The interface is functional and well designed, it tracks your performance and maps your activity, and you get to see how you stack up against other cyclists or runners who’ve tracked activity on the same path, so there’s that motivating, competitive element I’m really drawn to.
If there’s still time after my exercise, I’ll read a bit, which I usually do in a couple of ways, either through my Kindle app on my iPad, or I listen to a book through Audible. (By the way, if you love audiobooks, Will It Fly? is now available on Audible!)
Communication and Calendar
As a rule, I don’t like to check email until after Keoni is dropped off at school around 8:00 a.m. If it’s a weekday, my wife and I will drop him off together, along with Kai, our three-year-old daughter. Afterwards, I spend some time playing with Kai. While she’s running around like a pinball, I check email for about twenty to thirty minutes to make sure there’s nothing urgent. If there is something urgent, I first use the native mail application on my phone to tag those emails. Then I head into the office and work for however long I need to address the urgent emails, which usually isn’t too long. I don’t like to work during the day when the kids are up. The more time I have with my kids and April, the better, so I do most of my work during the mornings or in the evenings after the kids go to bed.
For my day-to-day tasks, I like to organize my week with Sunrise Calendar, which also syncs nicely with Google calendar. Typically, each day of the week is assigned to a specific task, which helps me organize my thoughts around a specific function and mentally prepare for what the week is going to bring. If you’re as busy as I am, this is a pretty helpful way to organize your week!
To kick off, Mondays are typically writing days. I use Google Docs for writing in conjunction with CoSchedule, another tool Team Flynn uses to manage the editorial calendar (and also played an integral role in developing the social media strategy for Will It Fly?). If it is a writing day, I open up CoSchedule, head over to the specific writing task that Janna, Team Flynn’s Editorial Manager, has assigned me for that day, click on the Google Docs link, and start writing.
Tuesdays are my podcasting days. I’ll use both Sunrise Calendar and CoSchedule to help me determine which podcast episodes I need to record and any podcast-related meetings I need to attend. I will also spend time on Tuesdays inviting people onto the podcast or working on guest spots for other podcasts. I love this aspect of the podcast prep process.
Wednesdays are for meetings, so I start the day with a Mastermind Meeting. I usually follow these with an editorial team meeting on Google Hangouts. We discuss current and upcoming editorial projects and, most importantly, we get see each other’s smiling faces. Working with a remote team for the most part, it’s great to have that human (sort of) face-to-face connection every so often.
After a few minutes of catching up, we talk about how the editorial process is going, where we’re behind in our schedule, and we plan out the editorial content a month or two months ahead so that we stay on top of everything from blog posts to podcasts to SPI TV.
The remainder of the week (well, most days really) is for Slack. Slack is by far the most essential app I’ve used to grow my business. It’s a powerful tool designed for efficient communication among teams, and we use it relentlessly. It’s reduced our need for email, and allows us to engage in real-time and organize conversations around specific projects. When I need to refer back to a conversation, because it’s organized the way it is, it’s easy to search for what I need.
Slack also connects with Dropbox and Google Docs to make it easy to access shared files. If you have more than one person on your team, and prefer a more efficient and organized communication tool, sign up for Slack. You won’t regret it!
Meals and Driving
After my meetings, around the afternoon, I will usually cook something quick at home with Kai and April. I’m currently obsessed with Pete’s Paleo (for its alliteration and delicious food). Pete’s Paleo is a tasty, ready-made, high-quality option that you just reheat. I really love the grass fed beef with winter greens. And I love that it saves us a ton of time. Rather than spending time thinking about what to prepare or cleaning the dishes, I get quality time to spend with my family during the day.
If we want something quick outside the house, I’ll go to the nearby Chipotle. I always use the Chipotle app when I do. In fact, if a restaurant has an app, I use it whenever possible. The Starbucks app is fantastic too. You can quickly fill out your order, and pick it up when it’s convenient. Apps like this help me save little bits of time here and there, which all adds up at the end of the day, giving me an extra bit of time to focus on the things that matter.
After I replenish my stomach, I always make time to replenish my brain. As a podcaster, I think it’s essential to listen to other podcasts. There are so many great ones out there, including The Model Health Show, as I mentioned. The way that I approach podcast listening is based on what I’m working on in a given day, so I usually don’t focus on the latest episodes, but on the ones that are relevant to my focus for that day.
But Pat, you may say. How on earth do you find time to listen to podcasts?! Well, I usually find time when I’m driving. Whether I’m on the road to a speaking event or driving around San Diego meeting up with fellow entrepreneurs, that’s my podcasting listening time.
In addition to podcasts, I replenish my brain by finding relevant content on blogs and on YouTube (I don’t do this part when I’m driving!). To help organize this content, I use Evernote, both on my phone and desktop. It allows me to create different folders for specific topics so I can refer back to it when I need it. And when I’m on the go, I like to use the Rev Voice Recorder, which is both a recorder and transcriber. It’s fantastic for when I have an idea for a blog post or want to share a thought with a team member.
But, even with all of these amazing apps helping me manage my daily routine, it can still be overwhelming. Thankfully I’ve learned to adopt the Just-In-Time Learning method, an approach to task efficiency that teaches you to focus on one task at a time, rather than get ahead of myself thinking about all of the other tasks I have to accomplish. When I do this, I often get nothing done, or I spread my efforts too thin to be effective. With Just-In-time, I focus on what I need to do, and block out the rest. It’s a powerful way to approach your daily routine.
If you’re a business owner or freelancer, this next app is for you. It’s called MileIQ (available for both iOS and Android) and it allows you to easily log your driving mileage, classify the mileage as business or personal, calculate the value of your drive based on the IRS standard, and create super detailed mileage reports for when your accountant or employer needs them. If you’re anything like me, logging mileage manually is the last thing you want to do. So, having it done automatically with MileIQ is amazing.
The average user actually ends up clocking in $547 a month in business mileage, which definitely adds up over the year. I was lucky enough to have MileIQ as a sponsor on Ask Pat too. If you text PAT to 31996 you can save 20 percent, plus you’ll get forty free drives.
If I’m not driving, you may find me using one of many social media apps: Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, and Instagram, to name a few. One you may not be familiar with is Remind. Remind is an app designed for teachers to communicate to both students and their parents. It’s similar to an Instagram feed, only private and accessible to parents of the students, in my case, in my son’s class. It’s cool. I get to see what the students are up to throughout the day, connecting with them as though I am in the classroom. I get to see my son interact with other students and participate in fun learning activities. And when I pick up Keoni from school, I can easily start a conversation around what he did for that day.
Another app I love using is Diptic. Diptic is a neat tool I use to quickly edit photos, and combine multiple photos into posts on Instagram with different frames and borders, like this photo of April and me after we completed the Star Wars Half-Marathon (may the force be with you!).
For videos, I can do a similar function with the Videoshop app, adding various clips together into a miniature movie for Instagram or Twitter.
Finally, I adore Timehop. It’s a fun app I use mostly with my family when we’re eating dinner or after dinner while we’re reading or watching television. Timehop works as a time capsule, capturing your best memories from an exact date in the past. It’s a really great way for us, as a family, to get a glimpse into the past, see where we came from, and remind us how far we have come. And, since I take a lot of pictures of my kids, it’s a great way for my wife and me to reminisce on how much our kids have grown. They grow so fast!
Family Dinner and Bedtime
At the end of the day, we always eat together as a family. Sometimes we go out to dinner and sometimes we cook at home. Sometimes we prepare a meal from Blue Apron. With Blue Apron, they send you the ingredients, and you cook. Or, rather, we all cook! The kids too. It’s adorable, and each meal becomes an instructive family activity. I’ve also found that when we do this, we don’t really waste any food because Blue Apron comes with exact ingredients and portion sizes.
If I’m going to stay on the food train, I have to also mention both PrepDish and Prime Now. PrepDish provides paleo and gluten-free meal plans that are convenient and easy to prepare at home. Before PrepDish, we’d sometimes stand around trying to think about what we wanted for dinner, and we’d eat much later because of it. PrepDish takes away that last-minute stress. Also, if you’re curious, the creator of PrepDish visited the podcast on SPI 201: How Chef Allison Schaaf Built a Newsletter-Based Business – The Story of PrepDish.
Prime Now has been an incredible time saver for house staples like toiletries, cleaning products, and even grocery items. It’s an Amazon service that’s not yet available in all cities (you can check if it’s in your city here). You can get most things the same day you order them. Fast! So, because of circumstances at home or the hecticness of the day, Prime Now has been an immense help. The app shows you exactly what you can get. It’s pretty amazing to see that, within a couple of hours, you can have what you need delivered to your doorstep. The app will also track the driver’s location, so you can make sure you’re home at the time of delivery.
After dinner, we’ll usually do some sort of activity together as a family. Sometimes we build LEGOs or read. Sometimes we do arts and crafts. Right now, Little Bits are a big hit. Little Bits are similar to LEGOs in that they are building blocks. But they also feature an electronic component with circuit boards and wiring. Here’s how it works. And here’s a video of me tinkering with the kids:
After this, around 8:00 p.m., we start to get the kids ready for bed. Once they are in bed, I head into the office and spend a few minutes sifting through emails and then crank on anything that I need to crank on. At around 11:30 p.m. or 12:00 a.m., I head to bed, wake up, rinse, and repeat!
Doing What You Love
As I mentioned, the time I get to spend with my family is my motivation for improving my productivity and organizing my tasks throughout the day. Whatever your motivation is, I hope the apps I’ve mentioned help kickstart your productivity, organization, and time management skills, allowing you to do more of what you love to do.
Everyone’s life is different. Everyone has different goals. I think it’s important to realize that these apps are tools created to help us achieve our goals. What apps do you use for productivity and organization? How have they helped you? I’d love to hear from you!