Author Laura Vanderkam has written numerous books about the traits of successful people. She claims the “key to making myself happy is NOT to be a perfectionist.” In fact, she has researched the traits of successful women and how much time they devote to their careers.
The author was surprised to discover that women who work an average of 35 hours per week earn about $37,000 per year. However, the women in her study who earned in excess of six figures annually averaged 44 hours per week. That’s only a nine-hour per week difference for an almost threefold increase in salary.
She tracked these women in a typical day and found a few differences that the higher earning women had in common.
Ninety percent of them made time for daily exercise, they watched less than five hours of TV each week (compared to the national average of 34 hours), and they didn’t skimp on sleep, with an average of seven to eight hours of shut-eye each night.
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Where did these women find time for so much sleep and keep a consistent exercise schedule on top of a 44-hour workweek?
Vanderkam’s suggestion is to remind ourselves that we have choices and instead focus on what she calls, “high value activities.” In her book, “What Successful People do Before Breakfast,” the author suggests we make our routines start the minute we hop out of bed.
“If it has to happen, then it has to happen first,” Vanderkam claims. Our willpower is much stronger in the morning, so we should focus on the activities that might not get accomplished otherwise. For example, don’t schedule laundry or housecleaning, because these are duties that you can find time for later because they MUST get done.
Vanderkam suggests devoting early morning time to nurturing your career, your relationships, or yourself. Her clients keep a time log of their daily activities and look for slots that allow them to be focused and to make the activity a habit.
Whether it’s exercising, spending time with your children, spouse, pet, or just using the time for meditation or reflection, morning sessions allow you to start the day having accomplished something important to you and your self-development.
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If you are interested in changing your morning routine, here are five steps Vanderkam suggests adopting.
1. Track your time. The only way to find out how you’re spending your day is to write down your activities. The author suggests tracking an entire week to see where you are wasting your minutes or hours.
2. Determine what would make a perfect morning? What activities would you want to start your day with? Running, meditating, taking an online class, doing some writing, or reading to your kids are all things you might want to list as your morning priority.
3. Think through the logistics. How can you make the schedule work? What changes will you need to make to ensure your activity becomes a habit? Going to bed earlier, setting your cereal and bowl on the table the night before, and laying out your clothes before you go to bed are all ways to eliminate some morning time wasters so you can focus on your activity of choice.
4. Build the habit. It takes time to build a ritual, so keep working at it and add a little bit at a time. Maybe get up fifteen minutes early and then thirty minutes after a week or so. Vanderkam suggests using bribery to get yourself motivated. Promise yourself something fun once you’ve started sticking to your new routine.
5. Tune up as necessary. Your circumstances might cause you to adjust your new schedule as needed, but don’t give up on the idea of doing something for yourself before breakfast.
Everyone has the same amount of time each day; it’s how we choose to spend those minutes that separate the high achievers from the rest of the group. Determine what you can eliminate and define your own high value activities and you might just find yourself climbing the corporate ladder more quickly.