How A Strict12-Hour Routine Will Steadily Grow A Business (Even If You Have Kids)
One of life’s big curveballs struck me square in the face a few weeks ago: my wife is expecting twins.
If I were to give careers advice to myself 20 years ago, one big piece of advice that I would give would be to have a secure, permanent job if you are going to be the breadwinner for a family of five because you’re going to need a regular income.
So maybe, this isn’t quite the best time to launch a startup while supporting a family with a wife and three kids.
I had a rather bold idea to create a startup after consulting for London Marketing agencies for a few years, getting rather tired of the daily 3.5 hour commute from London to the countryside (where I live). And there was all that time that I wasn’t spending with my family being stuck on the train.
The startup idea is to support my wife and 4-year-old daughter (and the future twins) by bringing in the money and creating more time to work from home (in the house or garden shed). All meaning I would be around a lot more.
The downside is that, I’ll be halving the income (which is a risk in itself) as I won’t be earning that bigger London salary. But that is a good idea in my book. I couldn’t see myself on my deathbed wishing that I’d spent more time away from my family and spending most of my life on a train or in an office 40 miles away.
So, this piece is the opposite of all those other startup success stories.
I’m not starting from my parents' basement as a single male or female eating cheap noodles and trying to get rich quick and ‘hustle’.
If anything, this isn’t a success story.
It’s the opposite of a success story. It’s a story of someone who is trying to be successful, someone who has defined success as earning a respectable amount to support a wife and three kids and simply being there for them.
Now, I don’t want to make this all about me to talk about you.
I want to talk about the phrase ‘BE THE ENERGY’. When you’re running your own business, you are the driving force. You are the energy. It all starts with you and without your energy very little moves forward. And it’s this ability to ‘be the energy’ that makes you and your business a success story (or not).
‘Be the energy’ sounds a something Mr Mewogi from the Karate kid would say. But’s really, being the energy is about dealing with the great pressure on the everyday business owner not to burn out, and instead keep your energy going, so you can keep your business going.
And right now, there are three things I find particularly important to keep your energy strong and your business running.
The first is a strict 12-hour routine that focuses on getting done the things that really ought to get done (and not getting distracted by WhatsApp, Face-agram or whatever).
The second is to create space for yourself and switch off for the other 12 hours so you don’t go nuts and can be there for your friends and family with a smile on your face.
The third is to plan a ‘mop-up day’, so you get all those things done that you didn’t have the time or energy to get done before.
Let’s take a little look at these three points and see what you can pinch and pilfer for your own business.
And the best place to start is by talking about astronauts! (yes you heard me right).
Before astronauts go into space, they have a strict routine where they prepare for all eventualities.
From the terrifying ordeal of take-off to reaching space and surviving up there for months on end, to re-entry and landing in potentially hostile terrain (like the ocean or the desert), these astronauts have to know everything from how to navigate a spaceship in zero gravity to performing operations to save lives of your crew members.
They even have to learn how to wave at the TV cameras before they board a space shuttle so as to not block the view of their fellow astronauts with their waving hand! Their routine from take-off to final return to earth is practised, rehearsed to a tee, so they can deal with all conceivable, high-risk scenarios.
Now let’s come down to planet earth and everyday business life and talk about our own routines for surviving a typical workday.
Without a strict routine to get us through the day, it’s easy to get distracted by almost anything. Phones, friends, social media, you know the list. Left without structure, we humans are wonderful at being expert procrastinators.
Without a routine that blocks off time and deals with the most important tasks first, it’s hard to spend your limited mental chips on what matters.
If I had a routine to recommend, it would be a 12 hour day for five days a week.
A 12 hour day might seem a lot to some, but for others like Elon Musk who work 100 or so hours a week, this doesn’t seem like a stretch.
However, I would recommend a 12 hour day because it gives you a balanced split down the middle of one 24 hour day. You get 12 hours to do your work when the sun’s up, and 12 hours to recover as the sun sets for night time.
My 12-hour routine is pretty much ingrained in my head, and it works like this:
· 5:30am-6am: I work on the Podcast
· 6am-7:30am: breakfast, dressed, see the family, do a cartoon sketch for my daughter, drive to a client’s if I have to
· 7:30 - 9am 70 minutes of big project work (like preparing a presentation, writing a book), then 20 minutes of catching up on emails, newsletters for the week, other smaller projects.
· 9am - 12:30pm consultancy work
· 12:30pm - 1pm 15 minutes of training with lunch, followed by a walk for 20-30 minutes
· 1pm - 5:30pm consultancy work
· 5:30pm home for my daughter’s bath time, exercise, eat, sleep
That sounds like quite a stretch to fit into a day… and it is. I mean, I have regular breaks, which are extremely important to break up the day. But when the clock hit’s 5:30pm, that’s it. The routine is over and it’s time to charge the batteries for another 12 hours.
This might all sound rosy to you, all in balance perhaps, like clockwork, but it’s really not.
I, like other people, who have their own business, also have a strong inclination to overdo it and to find themselves in a bit of mischief. You know, feeling like they’re stressed, tight feelings in your chest or stomach at times, but they have to keep on going.
I also now work 1/2 a day at weekends.
It’s not because I want to, but it’s because I feel the pressure of being the only breadwinner and need to keep things going and to meet the deadlines that I’ve set for myself. So I fit that other 1/2 day into early Saturday mornings and late Saturday evenings so work doesn’t interrupt my time with my daughter. It isn’t ideal, but that’s how it is for now.
And sometimes, I’ll find myself of a weekday evening switching my brain on again, checking emails instead of turning off the phone, and hiding it in a cupboard until 5am the next morning.
And that’s why it’s important to make sure that the other 12 hours of a day do not have a routine at all.
It’s important to see these other 12 hours as the time when you let your mind go elsewhere, switch off and let all the little thought-elves sift through and store all you’ve learnt and to create a bit of space for yourself.
It’s a period of recharging and a time of energy maintenance so that you're raring to go again.
So, how do you create space for yourself when it’s so tempting in the moment, to keep on going until you knacker yourself? How do you stop that temptation?
Well, the answer to that starts with my osteopath.
My osteopath is more than an osteopath.
She’s a counsellor, psychologist and osteopath all rolled into one. Whatever you say to her, she’ll cut through to how you are feeling simply by reading the signs of tension that are written in the muscles on your body.
The other morning, I paid a trip to her, and she did her usual warm-up routine. She asked me to roll my spine forward, then back up again, and to take a deep, long breath.
“That’s not a very comfortable breath”, she said. “Try again and take a breath from the bottom of your ribs.”
When I did, she spotted towards the middle of my spine a kink, almost imperceptible to the naked eye…yet she saw it. She then asked if I was stressed, since my breathing was shallow and towards the top of my chest (instead of deeper down in my rib cage nearer my belly button).
And then I told her.
I told her about the pressure of running a new business, being the only breadwinner with twins on the way, and how that was playing on my mind a lot at the moment. And sleep hadn’t been great either.
As she worked on my spine and shoulders to loosen me up, she gave me some advice. She said that it’s important to remove your armour every day, to remove that work routine, and any eagerness just to keep going when you’re tired.
Instead have time to yourself, a time where you create space, a time that is a different sort of 12 hours of working, a time that could run from 5:30pm to 5:30am.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not the worst at giving myself rest and switching off, but recently, I have clearly needed to.
I realised that a strict 12-hour work routine is something like a piece of chainmail or body armour that needs to be removed. So when the clock hits ‘home’ time, you take it off, that chainmail, that routine, and go and look after yourself.
You go to the gym, see your friends and family, watch some television, watch a re-run of Seinfeld, put your children to bed, eat some good food, call a friend, paint a picture. And turn off that smartphone.
I don’t know, it’s your life, but by taking off that armour of routine and switching off for 12 hours that’s how you get to be the energy. That’s how you can ensure that you are the energy that drives a business forward.
But life isn’t so kind to us, is it?
And that’s because the unexpected happens. Your child is sick in the night, a loved one needs help, it takes ages to go to sleep for no reason, or there’s an important report to hand in for the next day and you have to stay up late. All of which means, 12 hours on working and 12 hours switching off isn’t always possible.
And this saps energy and motivation quickly.
Without resorting to excess coffee or – worse still – illegal substances, how do you give a good level of energy to your business even when you don’t have much to give? How do you keep on with your routine when the unexpected happens, like newborn twins for example?
Have you ever read a book called ‘Chaos Planning’?
It’s written by Sean D’Souza from Psychotactics.
If you haven’t already, I’d urge you to read it. It’s a wonderful, alternative take on how to manage your precious time when the inevitable chaos of life takes over.
The car breaks down, you lose your car keys just before that meeting, or you get a stomach bug for two days. You know the scene.
Well, the book ‘Chaos Planning’ has a terrific system to help you cope with the chaos that can spring up unawares and throw you off course. One bit that I found useful in the book was the idea of having one ‘Chaos Day’ in the week, which is a whole day to catch up on things that have been left undone.
This day is my ‘mop up day’.
As I write this, today is my mop up day. Right now, I am behind on finishing my podcast (because I had to write an outline for it twice as I hadn’t prepared it well enough). Later I have to rehearse for a webinar – a rehearsal that I meant to do two days ago. I also have to interview somebody for feedback on my sales page for my new Brain2Brain startup consultancy service, which I meant to have wrapped up last week.
Chaos ensues and you need this ‘mop up day’ to clear things up as best you can.
You need to have space in the diary for it. You need to have a buffer at the end of the week that you know is coming. And when you know about this buffer, you aren’t too hard on yourself if you don’t get it all done earlier.
You think, “Oh well, I meant to finish what I was doing but I didn’t and I’m okay because that’s life – oh and there’s ‘mop up day’ to catch up on things.”
This day relaxes me and eases any pressure.
When the whirlwind of a week takes over, knowing that you have this buffer day in place raises your energy because you don’t get fixated on what you haven’t done and beat yourself up about it. You don’t push yourself to work early mornings and late at night.
If you don’t get it done, it just becomes something that isn’t really the end of the world. And by being a little kinder to yourself, you actually increase your energy. And that’s a good thing because that’s how you get to be the energy when running your business.
I’ve even started to be okay not being 100% strict with my routine either.
I find that if I don’t sleep as well, or I get to bed late because I’ve been at a networking event then, I give myself five to ten minutes extra in bed. I might I treat myself to a breakfast in a nearby cafe if I’ve worked hard, or I take time off to just walk in the countryside.
These small acts of self-kindness might seem insignificant to you.
But when you add them all up, they give you little energy ups when you most need them. They are like little mental candy to reward yourself and get you throughout the day. I mean, we reward our pet dogs and cats with mini treats – and they don’t run businesses – so why not do it to ourselves?
All this talk of small treats means that it’s probably time for me to move on, and have my morning breakfast.
I’m going to pile it high with frozen blueberries, oats and a little sugar-free peanut butter before my daughter and pregnant wife wake up and the day kicks in (it’s 5:50am I hasten to add).
Everyone who runs their own business or even a team needs to ‘be the energy’ if they are going to drive it forward. If you’re not being the energy, then just who is? It is really is on you.
Yet there are ways to keep that energy going, to keep the energy high even when you’re running low on it.
It’s the importance of a strict 12-hour routine that focuses on what you really need to do.
And then an un-strict 12 hours that follows where you take off your armour, see your family and friends and do some push-ups, go for a walk, recharge yourself like a smartphone battery, ready for the next day.
And be kind to yourself I’d say.
Have a ‘mop up day’ as a buffer from the inevitable chaos of the week, to catch up on missed tasks, and give yourself little treats of kindness, whether it’s a little or lie in or painting stick figures with your four-year-old daughter when you should be writing that presentation. All which keep your energy moving forward.
That’s me done for today and thanks for reading.