Each day when Mark Zuckerberg wakes up, he gets dressed in the exact same outfit: a grey, crew neck t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans.
Related: Content is not enough: How to use Facebook ads to get the most from your posts
He’s not alone. Barack Obama does the same thing by limiting his choice of suit colors to 2: blue or gray.
This would be overkill for many of us, but you’ve got to respect their motive.
Mark and Barack, 2 of the most powerful men on the planet make this choice for 1 simple reason — to save their mental energy for important decisions.
We can (and should) use this exact approach with our own work in content marketing.
The #1 hack for writing everyday
It was a few months ago when I experienced a breakthrough in my content marketing.
As a full-time employee and part-time entrepreneur, I struggled to find the time to write great content. Every day I’d get home telling myself I should write, but was exhausted — mentally and physically — from the hellacious Houston commute, back-to-back meetings and deadlines with my day job.
It was only once in a great while that I’d have a burst of motivation and write a thousand or so words in the evening.
This is the method I used for years, until 1 day I made a simple switch: I committed to writing in the early morning, i.e.,before work.
Related: 14 surprising morning routines of entrepreneurs and creatives
By making this slight tweak in my day, I’ve been able to write every day, for weeks on end, adding up to tens of thousands of words.
The best part? Not only do I write more, but I write better too.
In this post, I’ll explain why content marketing is best done in the morning and how to train your body and mind to start writing at 5:30 AM.
You take advantage of peak cognitive thinking
In a normal day, we make hundreds of decisions:
- What’s the best strategy to increase our subscriber count?
- Should I eat my 2-day old lunch or go out?
- Is there a better way to drive home with the accident on I-10?
These are overly-simple examples of the thoughts that float through our mind every second of every day.
The CEO of coach.me, Tony Stubblebine, suggests that these small decisions impact our cognitive stamina:
“People have a daily cognitive stamina that represents their ability to do any intellectual work.
Every decision, big or small, every moment of mental focus, and every act of comprehension is part of your day’s cognitive stamina. Let’s call that your cognitive budget.
When your stamina is drained, you revert to your lazy self, choosing actions which are habitual, familiar and routine. Your stamina recharges completely overnight (and gets a partial refill after every meal).”
There are 2 ways to combat your limited cognitive stamina:
- Make fewer decisions (like Zuckerberg and Obama)
- Allocate our most important work in the morning
We’re going to focus on the latter.
We’ll never fully control what happens in our day-to-day lives, so it’s best to do our most important task, writing, in the morning. This allows us to work when our cognitive stamina is at it’s highest.
Finding your inner monk
Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Driven Pursuit of Less defines monk mode as “shutting out the world for a time.”
By waking up at 5 AM, you’ll have the ability to work in solitude (something you probably haven’t done in years).
Research shows this quiet time promotes productivity and creativity:
“…[T]he “a-ha!” moment (otherwise known as achieving your flow) tends to come after long, dedicated hours. It’s a process known to mathematicians, designers, writers, and painters: you need to stare down the complexity of the problem or the emptiness of the canvas for a long while for the solutions to emerge. If we’re going to be able to create things, we need to be able to focus — at length.”
In other words, monk mode enables you put forth your best writing.
Personally, it takes me about 10-15 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time before I hit my flow. But once that happens, the words almost write themselves.
You have no reason NOT to write (plus a daily deadline)
It’s 5 A.M. You just woke up and you’ve got zero obligations.
Is there any other point in the day when you can say that?
Early mornings are the only time that you can focus on you while your boss/family/wife/husband sleeps.
Compare this to your typical evening.
When you get home from work there is an endless list of items that you can do:
- Attend happy hour
- Make dinner
- Spend time with family / friends
- Watch your favorite TV program
- Run quick errands – dry cleaning, grocery shopping, etc
If you try to cram writing into the evening, it’ll always be competing with other activities. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll find excuses to not write and do other things that you enjoy. Enjoy an Old Fashioned at happy hour after work? Yes please.
Additionally, when you write in the morning, you’ll have a time limit in order to make it to your day job. This deadline forces you to stay focused and stick to your writing.
This deadline goes hand-in-hand with Parkinson’s Law, a concept taken from the 4-Hour Workweek (paraphrased below):
“Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for it’s completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focused on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials. If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s 6 days of making a mountain out of a molehill. If I give you 2 months, God forbid, it becomes a mental monster. The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus.”
Many of us have experienced Parkinson’s Law through professors, managers, etc. Why not take it upon ourselves to have it be part of our daily routine and increase the efficiency with our writing?
You’ll be done with writing by 7 AM
My commitment with writing is simple – 750 words a day (inspired by 750words.com).
Sometimes I write more, in fact way more. And other times I end right at 750.
Regardless, hitting 750 is a psychological feel good for me. I know that I just accomplished my most important and creative work of the day — and it’s not even 7 AM.
I know 750 words doesn’t sound like much, but let’s run some quick math. At this rate I’ll accomplish:
- 750 words daily
- 5,250 words weekly
- 22,500 words monthly
- 273,250 words annually
Those numbers are incredible to think about.
By focusing on the process of writing 750 words a day, I’m able to keep it simple while accumulating hundreds of thousands of words. Compare this process-thinking to most people who have vague goals of “writing a book this year”.
Plan your evening for morning success
When I tell people I get up early to write, the automatic question I receive is, “What time do you get up?”
I get up early, about 4:45 AM. But while on the surface this appears to be important, the question they should be asking is “What time do you go to bed”?
The answer to that is much less sexy. I go to bed between 9:30 and 10:00 PM.
I made this fundamental shift in my day years ago. The original intent was to avoid the morning commuters in Houston. Nowadays, I maintain this habit to get to work early, except it’s to work on my own business.
In this section, I’ll give you the step-by-step method I use to be awake, energized and creative for your morning writing session.
Step No. 1 – Finish writing mid-sentence
I battled with writer’s block for years. Few things are worse than staring at a blank, white screen while you wait for inspiration to hit.
This changed when I made 1 small tweak — finishing my previous writing session in mid-sentence.
This seems counterintuitive, but when you’re in the middle of your flow and you’ve hit your word quota, stop mid-sentence. This gives your mind something to think about and develop until your next writing session.
Nadia Ballas-Ruta came up with this idea from Ernest Hemingway’s short passage on writing:
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck … That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it, you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”
This simple idea helps me get started right when I sit down at the computer — not 15 minutes later.
Step No. 2 – The evening alarm
During an interview with Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, she provided what has turned out to be my favorite lifehack — an evening alarm.
Nearly all of us have an alarm in the morning to wake up, but how many of us have an evening alarm to remind us to wind down and go to bed?
Getting enough sleep is a force multiplier — everything will improve from your health, energy, mood and of course, your creative thinking needed for content marketing. Having an evening and morning alarm helps us get the amount of sleep we need by controlling the times we go to sleep and wake up.
To set your evening alarm, you’ll need to work backwards and make sleep a priority.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Decide what time you want to wake up (e.g. 5 AM) and how much sleep you want (e.g. 7 hours)
Step 2: Work backwards to find out what time you need to go to sleep (e.g. 5 AM – 7 hours = 10 PM)
Step 3: Subtract an additional hour to allow for wind-down time (10 PM – 1 hour = 9 PM)
Every night, I am reminded at 9 PM to stop whatever I’m doing and get ready for the next day. In no particular order, I’ll do the following:
- Define my 3 to-do items for tomorrow
- Set out my work clothes and workout clothes
- Prepare my breakfast
When I’m finished with that, I’ll read and hang out with my fiancée till I fall asleep.
To wake up early in the morning requires a shift in mindset (not necessarily more sleep). I try to think of my day starting at 9 PM the night before, so I can virtually guarantee I’ll wake up early to do my writing.
Step No. 3 – Waking up with a purpose
You’ve either got the gumption for this step, or you don’t.
For all of us, there’s a moment in the morning when we can hit the snooze button and delay our day.
It’s this moment when I think to the Stoic quote by Marcus Aurelius (thanks Ryan Holiday):
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work–as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for–the things which I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
–But it’s nicer here…
So you were born to feel “nice?” Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
–But we have to sleep sometime…
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that–as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash and eat.”
– Marcus Aurelius
For me, I know the only guaranteed time I have to write is in the morning before work. If I sleep in, I’m not just losing out on an hour of writing in the morning, I’m losing out for the entire day.
But it’s deeper than that.
I know that I have more time now than I’ll likely ever have again. At 31 years old and engaged, I may have a family and a mortgage to support in 2 to 3 years. I’m able to balance a full-time career, side business, CrossFit coaching, and spending time with family, friends and my fiancée now – but some of those things will be replaced (or reduced) when I have a family.
Whatever your situation, it’s important to fully understand the short and long-term implications of sleeping in.
In the short-term, you’ll miss a day of writing and building momentum on working the process.
In the long-term, you’re delaying the goals you have with writing. And if you continue to delay, you may end up psyching yourself out from ever finishing that goal.
Results from writing every day
Before finding 750words and writing every morning, I would only write “when the motivation was there.”
Motivation to write almost never happens.
Writing is the core of my side business, yet I was almost never doing it.
To be specific, I write close to 6,000 words a week. This helps me develop autoresponders, web copy, guest posts (like this one), and case studies. I’m writing all the time. It’s the product of my business.
To recap, here are the action steps so you can work on your content marketing in the morning:
- Finish writing mid-sentence
- Set an evening alarm
- Wake up with a purpose
If you’ve got questions on anything related to sleep — falling asleep quickly, waking up early, sleep hacks, etc. — let me know in the comments.
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