Jump Start Your Day (Like an Athlete)

Jump Start Your Day (Like an Athlete)

Can you imagine a high-performing athlete showing up for a competition, thinking, “I’ll just see how it goes?” It would be ludicrous! We all know that athletes need to properly prepare for a competition. They make sure they get enough sleep, eat well, check their equipment, and repeatedly envision a successful competition. In fact, most coaches would argue that an athlete’s attention to preparation could easily make or break their competition.

So why should preparation for work be any different? We spend about one-third of our working years at work. Don’t you think that is too much time to leave to chance? Every day, either consciously or unconsciously, we choose how we come to work. We might think that the quality of our day is determined by outside circumstances: how people drive on their morning commutes, the line-up at Tim Hortons, or how heavy our workload is. In fact, what determines the quality of our day, more than anything else, are our intention and choices.

When you jump-start your day, you consciously pre-empt the day with a clear intention of the success you look forward to creating. You choose to see the big picture, instead of short-term frustrations. You choose to stay focused on your goals and to continually make the decisions that allow you to complete tasks. You plan to create the best possible success for yourself and for others, despite whatever crisis others find themselves in. In short, you don’t leave your day to chance. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “… your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing.”


For many years, my morning routine between waking and leaving for work was admittedly a disaster. Every morning, I wanted to pack in as much work, exercise, and time with my family as I could, but it wasn’t working. My unrealistic expectations left me frustrated, and my family resigned to my chaotic rushing.

About eight years ago, I decided to take a close look at what wasn’t working, and I found someone to blame (guess who?). I realized that, while I aspired to enjoy productive mornings, where I was free to focus on my activity of choice, I was delusional. Instead of enjoying both my time and family time, I wasn’t enjoying either. I was typically absent from breakfast and was instead either frantically trying to finish some work, or halfway through a workout.

It was a recipe for disaster, and I was the chef.

My first change was to go to bed earlier (I am usually comatose after about 10pm anyways). Then I experimented with my routine, and settled on rising at 5am, staying off the email, and being more realistic about my goals. I also became fanatical about planning the first two hours of the morning the night before. This last change was easy — all it took was a couple of minutes to scribble down my plans for the morning. On a typical morning, it might read:

  • Finish client proposal
  • Blog
  • 6:15 go for paddle
  • 7:15 walk Riley (dog)
  • Kate (daughter) needs ride to school

I now have almost two hours every morning to read, write, work on Boulders, and exercise guaranteed that I won’t be interrupted. This time has become sacred space, and is incredibly important to my sense of achievement and peace.

Let’s look at three other strategies for jump-starting your day:


Just like athletes, we can create more success by envisioning the best possible outcomes for ourselves. If you have a heavy workload or tough meeting planned for the day, spend a minute to see it going well. Your prediction for success will lift your mood and help create a positive attitude.

This isn’t 1990s positive thinking; your brain is actually hard- wired to spot more of what you want. Let me explain.

Prehistorically, we were constantly on the lookout for our survival needs: food, a mate, safety, and shelter (of course, not always in that order). Through natural selection, we evolved to have a kind of built-in radar for what we want, be it that certain model of Toyota, the new iPhone, or a sunny vacation destination.

Even though we’re not running around the Savanna half-naked, fighting for survival, our highly attuned internal radar is busy at work. Once you create the focus on what you want, you will become more aware of examples of it around you.

For example, you could be zooming along the highway, thinking about work, when you suddenly spot the model of car you like. Out of hundreds of cars, and in only a split second, you managed to pick out the one car four lanes away. You even noticed the tinted windows or paint color that you like. That’s a pretty powerful focus.

This classic self-fulfilling prophecy (I tend to get more of what I am looking for) can be put to work for positive results as well. Here’s one example of how I use it:

Moments before I step on stage to give a speech, I create a powerful mental focus on how I want to feel in front of the audience. I know I want to feel calm, but excited, resourceful, and ready to share. I create the image in my mind, and allow my body to respond emotionally.

Within seconds of stepping on stage, I start to notice examples of feeling pretty good, and of even having fun. I see someone in the audience having a good time listening to my crazy story about flying to the South Pole. I notice my body feels relaxed and loose. I realize that I’ve just delivered one of my lessons, and wasn’t using my notes (always good a sign).

As I notice these clues, I remind myself that everything is working: I’m relaxed, the audience is engaged, the timing is good — it’s working. I think to myself: ‘I can be giving a speech and having a heck of a good time!’ Perfect! Now I’m in the state I need to be in to perform at my best. No longer am I fixated on A/V set-up and timing details; I’m in the moment, doing my thing, and getting rewarded for it.

Envisioning success is also a great exercise for your morning commute. Take just a moment to envision the sales meeting going well, and getting the ‘Yes’ you are looking for. See the list on your Day Plan shrinking as you cross Pebbles off your list. Envision yourself enjoying an afternoon walk and feeling successful and happy with your accomplishments. It only takes a few minutes, but the impact can last all day, and can make the difference between having just another day at work, and feeling powerful, successful, and in control.


Are you taking care of the basics? Do you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a good breakfast? All the mental machinations in the world can’t overcome the drag of an engine that’s running on empty. It’s pretty simple: if you neglect your body, you will pay the price in terms of concentration, energy, emotions, and health. The trick is to establish a routine that will fuel your engine. My rule is that if it’s convenient, affordable, and enjoyable, I’ll probably stick with it. Here are some of the basics.

Stay hydrated. Coffee and tea don’t hydrate you; in fact they are diuretics that draw water out of your cells. You maybe noticed that drinking more tea will leave you with a dry mouth. Pounding back the mugs of java or sipping your favorite leaf brew makes for sluggish circulation – your heart has to work harder, and your body starts to redirect blood away from areas not vital for survival (like the brain). A simple solution is to start the day with a large glass of water. That will get you off to a great start. Then, you need to match every cup of coffee or tea with a glass of water.

Exercise at least thirty minutes per day. Okay, let’s get real about exercise. First fact: most people are never going to commit to a regular exercise routine. Second fact: people will commit to something they enjoy. No wonder TV wins over exercise, and so does reading, eating, Internet and a host of other distractions.

It may not be a scientifically accurate research study, but every time I ask an audience if they would like to be in better physical shape virtually all hands go up. This leads to the third fact: almost everyone wants to be in better physical shape.

So the desire is there, but not the will. The mismatch is that exercise sounds like work, not something to be enjoyed. The solution should be obvious: make exercise something you enjoy. First, commit to a goal. What’s it going to be: look better in the mirror, run that ten-kilometre race, complete the cycling tour or just feel better in the morning? Next start a new routine that you actually look forward to enjoying. Combine listening to an audio book or podcast with your walk or while on the stationary bike. Join a riding club, sports team or hiking group. Or stretch your self (literally) with yoga, Tai Chi or Karate. There are hundreds of options that provide alternative ways to exercise in unique ways.

Once you have the ‘why’ clearly defined, you just need to stick with your plan. Three steps: pick the goal, commit, start and don’t stop. It’s like an Olympic athlete once said, “There’s only two times you need to exercise to be prepared for the Olympics: when you want to and when you don’t.”


After over twenty years of training for marathons and pretty consistent long workouts, Riley made me cut back on my workouts. Riley is our new dog and dogs (as I quickly learned) need a lot of exercise. So my runs and long bike rides have turned into morning and night walks — every day. And here’s the surprise: sixty to ninety minutes of brisk walking (we run together on weekends) is a lot of exercise. And, even though, it wasn’t the regular, more intensive workouts I was used to it was more consistent and it was a lot of hours with a leash. So I did some research.

It turns out those thirty minutes of brisk walking, just five days a week is a fantastic fitness program! In a longitudinal study of 72,000 female nurses this amount of exercise is associated with a thirty to 40% lower risk of heart disease, reduced risk of breast cancer and type 2 Diabetes.(1)

A similar study related this level of exercise to a twenty to 30% lower risk of gallstone surgery in women and half the risk of strokes in men.(2)(3) And the list goes on for general health benefits, like: lower risk of hip fracture, arthritis, colon cancer, mood swings, impotence, depression and osteoporosis. Not bad results for the equivalent time as watching the evening news.(4)

Eat for long energy. In the morning skip the pop tarts and go for complex carbohydrates (whole grain bread, cereal) with protein (yogurt, cottage cheese or skim milk) and fruit. Stay off the high-sugar-content sweets, cereals or pastries. There is a reason why ‘sugar’ is first on the list of ingredients for most of these goodies and it’s not because they are good for your health.

Your objective is to fuel up for the next four to five hours, so think long-term. The quick hit of pastry or muffin with coffee might work short-term, but you’ll be hitting an energy low soon after.

Sleep to recharge. The jury is out on how much sleep we need, but the verdict is that too little is obviously not good, but nor is too much either. If you aren’t getting the sleep you need you need to get it right and you probably need a professional’s advice. When you get this one right, it is a catalyst for all aspects of your health.

Pack a snack. Here’s quick re-frame my wife gave me years ago: muffins, that staple of mid-morning snacks, are nothing more than cake wrapped in paper. Yuck, that re-frame has stuck with me for years, and has kept my paws off many a treat. Let’s face it: most snacks we eat during the day aren’t designed to give us slow-burn energy. Healthier alternatives, like fruit, nuts and raw vegetables have to be more convenient than the vending machine. Every day (even when travelling) bring an interesting variety of healthy goodies and experiment to find what makes you feel best when you need to be at your best.


Do you find yourself rushing to get to meetings on time, rushing to finish that phone call before your next appointment and then, topping it all off, rushing to get home on time? Constant rushing can cost you in terms of mistakes made, appointments missed, elevated stress and setting a poor example for anyone watching. Maybe it’s time to look at what is simply habit and can be changed. Here are four solutions that will help you slow your jets and still get it all done.

Don’t start rushed. Allow enough time to get to work early, get settled in and review your plans for the week and for the day. Pilots don’t jump in the seat just before takeoff and neither should you.

Start the day prepared. At the end of every day, prepare your plan for the next day and update your Action Plan. Just taking ten minutes for this ritual can mean less worry on the drive home, being more organized in the morning and being more decisive all through the day.

Allow enough time. You know that a thirty-minute meeting will actually take forty-five minutes by the time you get ready for it, attend, and return to your desk, so block the time needed. Underestimating time needed for meetings, appointments and Pebbles just sets you up for more rushing and stress.

Plan to get back on track. I find that in the late morning and mid-afternoon I need ten minutes to revisit my plan, take a break and refocus. It’s not a big investment of time, but it makes a world of difference to what happens next.


By now you should know I’m a big advocate for minimizing distractions and starting at full speed. A critical first step is to protect the first ninety minutes of the day. If you are like most people, this is the most productive time in your day. Stay off the email, focus on your Day Plan and keep interruptions short. This is the time to move Boulders forward, have difficult conversations, make decisions and cross Pebbles off your list.

1 Based on the twenty year Nurses’ Health Study of 72,000 female nurses.
2 A Harvard study of more than 60,000 women ages 40 to 65.
3 According to a Harvard study of more than 11,000 men.
4 Be sure to check with your doctor on the level of exercise that’s best for you.

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