My Daily Toolkit

We all have habits, rituals, and tools we use each day – or most days – that we probably don’t give much thought to. Similar to the structural supports of a house hiding behind the walls, these habits and tools are the scaffolding and structure of our daily lives regardless of whether or not we take a peek behind the drywall.

This post is an excuse for me to document my own, something I surprisingly haven’t done before. And you, my dear friends that have never asked for such a post, get to indulge me while I organize them into something moderately digestible.

Morning

Waking Up

I used to be the guy that was up at 5:30am trying to squeeze whatever virtue signaling I could out of my morning.

And then I had kids.
And my career became increasingly demanding.
And 2 drinks at night started feeling like 10 drinks the next day.

So I ditched it.

Today the #riseandgrind mindset is a relic of my past and my mornings look much different. I don’t even set an alarm anymore. With the aforementioned 3 kids around the roost, a high pitched scream from the crib or the paddle of steps running down the hall has become my alarm.

And this is how I want it. Sleep has risen to the top of my priority list the past several years, and there will likely come a day when I try to squeeze the most out of those admittedly serene mornings before the world wakes up. But for now…the roosters masked as children will do.

Morning Sun

With sleep being a priority for me, my habits to assist a healthy circadian rhythm start in the morning. I try to get a decent amount of unobstructed (read: no sunglasses) morning light first thing in the morning which has been shown in numerous studies to aid in sleep that evening.

Walking my daughter to school is the best excuse in the world to get this exposure, and on days where that’s not possible I still try to get outside and walk around for a bit.

Fasting

A morning habit that I’ve stuck with for ~11 years is fasting. I’m not here to sell you on the benefits of fasting, though there’s plenty of great research to dig into if you’re interested.

For me, fasting has always been a hedge against the control food has over our lives. I have no desire to eat a perfect diet all of the time. I find too much joy in food (and drink) to do that. And so I fast nearly every day. This keeps my overall caloric intake low, gives my gut ample time to repair and recover, and removes any mental anxiety around food that might exist otherwise.

It works for me and has been the single greatest tool in my health toolkit over the years.

Breath Work

We don’t realize how little we pay attention to our breath until we start…paying attention to our breath. Breathing regulates a cascade of functions in our bodies, and doing breath work each day is one of the simplest tools I’ve found for making this amazing system a priority.

I use an app called The Breathing App (creative, I know) to do 10 minutes of breath work in the morning. It is as simple as it gets and helps ground me for the day ahead.

I’m regularly paying attention to my resting heart rate and one of the most surprising finds after implementing breath work is the effect it has on my heart rate. My normal resting heart rate is somewhere between mid-fifties and low-sixties depending on the day. Breath work lowers my heart rate to the low-to-mid-forties. And not just while I’m doing it…this effect lasts for hours after the breath work. I’ve never seen a single tool with this level of an impact on heart rate.

While I won’t try to sell you on fasting, I think everyone can benefit from daily breath work. Our world is increasingly chaotic and we need tools that help center us amidst the chaos.

Afternoon

Workouts

I almost always do my workouts in a fasted state, meaning I haven’t eaten anything during the day before my workout. A typical day is training around 1pm (18 hours of fasting) and I’ll have my first meal of the day after I train.

My workout methodology also hasn’t changed in about 11 years. When I was running Bodeefit (and later, The Vitruvian Project), I called it “Builders and Burners” because the sessions are broken into a heavy lifting component, and a high intensity cardiovascular component. A simple example would be something like:

  • 5 sets of 5 heavy back squats
  • 5 sets of 10 strict pull-ups
  • 50 burpees as fast as possible

In that example, the back squats and pull-ups operate as heavy, strength building exercises, while the burpees are a great excuse to push my body and cardiovascular systems a bit without over-training.

I’m not a coach or trainer (anymore), and I’m not telling you to mimic the above. But much like fasting, it’s always worked for me, and if there’s a general rule to pull out, it’s to find things that work for you.

Breaking the Fast

My first meal of the day usually comes mid-afternoon (today it was 3pm as an example, which is about an hour later than normal) after I’ve trained. And my first meal of the day almost never changes…3 eggs, some white rice or a piece of toast, and vitamins (a daily multi-vitamin, vitamin D-3, and an elderberry extract). Somehow, after years of eating the same thing for lunch, I’m still not sick of it, and I think there’s a lot to be said for that.

Consistency is the hardest thing to achieve in both fitness and diet, so holding space for a meal that’s the same everyday gives me one less thing to think about and one more variable I can control.

Night

Blue Light Glasses

As soon as I shut my work computer at the end of the day, one of the first things I do is grab my blue light blocking glasses. I don’t care enough about this topic enough to argue for or against the science of said glasses. For me, they act as much as a ritual transition to family time as they do a functional tool for my sleep.

But as I noted above, quality sleep is primary for me, so I wear them trusting that they’re providing some level of assistance as my body prepares for winding down and eventually sleeping.

Capturing the Day

The company I work for (Automattic) acquired a journaling app recently called Day One, and over the past several months it has become central to my day. You can create any sort of journal you’d like, and you can use all sorts of media types like text, video, images, etc.

I have several different journals in the app:

  • Daily This is for capturing daily moments, big or small. I post a few times per week in this journal, usually pictures.
  • Kids This is one of my favorite things of all time. I capture pictures of the kids and add context about what we were doing, who we were with, etc. It also automatically captures the meta-data of pics and adds info like location and weather. Some day, when the kids are older, I’ll be able to share this journal directly with them as a user through Day One, and they’ll have a lifetime of memories to explore.
  • Workouts I’ve tracked my workouts countless different ways over the years. Tracking in Day One is no different than any other method, but I love that it’s in the same place I’m capturing daily memories and my kids’ journal.
  • Instagram I quit Facebook in 2016. I quit Twitter a year or two later. Instagram was the only remaining social media devil platform I had left, and it wasn’t until Day One that I had an excuse to leave it. Like many people, it’s hard to quit social because I’d captured so many pictures and memories there. But Day One has an integration that lets you pull all of your posts into a journal. Voila. The memories remain, but my Instagram account does not.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of my scaffolding. If there’s a common thread through any of it, it’s intention. It’s far too easy to pass an entire day without any intention. The habits and tools above ensure that even the most hectic days have intentionality sprinkled throughout. I can control much of the outcome without feeling like I have to control any of it. And there’s immense freedom in that reality.

It’s my daily toolkit. But it doesn’t have to be yours. What’s in your toolkit? I’d love to hear about it!

Our Work is Derivative

Our ego is deeply intertwined with our work. When we perform well our ego gets a boost, and when we don’t perform well our ego takes a hit.

The reason this happens is that we oftentimes isolate the source our work – good or bad – to our own talent and ability. Our work in many cases…is us. But is that the truth?

Our work, whether it be creative work like writing this post or tactical work like leading a sales team, is a derivative of countless people that have come before us. In both conscious and subconscious ways, we’ve taken the work that other people have done and iterated it enough to make it our own. This is how knowledge and skills are transferred from one person to another, and has been for all of time.

Those Terms & Conditions on your company’s website likely originated as a copy of someone else’s terms.

That compensation plan you have in front of you is a variation on some other company’s compensation plan that someone brought with them into your organization years ago.

That one on one you just had with your boss is a format passed down from leader to leader for the past decade.

The presentation style you have when in a company meeting is an amalgamation of people you’ve observed throughout your career.

None of this is bad. This is simply how work…works.

We observe other people. We learn from their work. We borrow the things we like. We discard the things we don’t. And we iterate like this throughout our career until we’re left with something that seems like our own work, but is truly a style built on the backs of the people before us. As author Austin Kleon puts it, we Steal Like An Artist.

So the key to a successful and happy career lies somewhere between the lines written above.

If we have serious ambitions in our career we should not be thinking in terms of my work and my talents. We should be thinking about ensuring that our work is a derivative of something worth copying.

Inputs lead to outputs. If the inputs are junk, the outputs will be as well. This removes ego from the equation entirely, and forces us to answer the ultimate question:

Do I have the right inputs in my career?

The thing about advice…

Advice. It’s been given since the dawn of communication, and will continue be given as long as us humans are around. It’s the packaging of choice for encouragement, rebuke, and wisdom. It’s good, it’s bad, and it’s neutral. And it’s the thing that can lift us up, and thing that can hold us down. But the main thing to understand about advice…

It’s given and received by imperfect people. And that’s okay.

Hidden beneath the veil of advice is personal experiences, biases, blind spots, ego, insecurity, confidence, and every now and then…wisdom. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give advice. And that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t receive advice. It means that we should filter advice. And we should filter it without attaching emotion to it.

If it’s useful to us, keep it. If it isn’t, discard it. Just like this post.

The Answer No One Wants to Hear

What workout program do you do?

It’s a question I’m asked at least once a week – in the gym, at a social event, from a reader, from a friend – and what they’re really trying to ask is “How do you look the way you do?”

I usually try to satisfy their question with some version of lifting weights, doing sprints, or rowing. This generic response will usually suffice, and the person will likely draw the conclusion that I must have some tricks up my sleeve that I won’t talk about.

But the real answer to their question?

I’ve had a heavy barbell in my hands or on my back nearly every day for the past seventeen years.

And therein lies the problem. While this is the truthful answer to their question, it’s not the one most people want to hear. Because if they wanted my advice and I told them to lift heavy weights for fifteen years straight, the conversation would be over before it began.

Repetition is the master of all great, predictable outcomes.

We are inundated with ways to cut corners in everything from our work to our workouts. Media thrives off of ways to burn belly fat, get rich, or feel your best in just a matter of weeks. Our social feeds are filled with friends doing some new 30 day workout or nutrition program.

We want the results, but we also want to see the finish line in the near future.

But alas, this is not how life works.

If I were to ask Seth Godin how to be a great author, he’d tell me to write every single day for the next 20 years.

If I were to ask Jerry Seinfeld how to be a great comedian, he’d tell me to write jokes and practice every single day for the next 15 years.

If I were to ask the top sales rep at any company how to be a great sales rep, they’d tell me to pick up the phone 100 times a day, every single day.

Success is not sexy, as much as we want to make it so. It also isn’t accessible via a shortcut, band-aid, or “hack”.

So now whenever someone asks me what workout program I do, I’m just going to tell them the truth, the answer no one wants to hear…

…that I’ve had this heavy-ass steel bar on me for 17 years and counting.

The Only Thing That Matters When Creating Your Best Self

Why don’t you have any food?

This is a question I’m asked virtually every time someone is at my house. A quick peek in the fridge reveals some fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, and a jug of almond milk. A peek in the pantry reveals some rice, coconut oil, apple cider vinegar, RXBARs, and baby food.

This is what our fridge and pantry look like every single week. It’s not because we don’t eat. It’s because we make eating healthy¬†as easy as possible. Let me explain.

When we think of someone that is in really great shape, we think they must have incredible discipline and willpower to eat healthy and workout a lot.

When we think of someone that is very successful in business, we think they must work harder than everyone else and be smarter than most.

But in my experience studying successful people, both in my own network and through reading, rarely is it the characteristics we “think” lead to success that actually do. Instead…

Creating our best self boils down to making it easy to succeed and difficult to fail.

If you pull back the curtain on the daily lives of people we deem successful, there is a good chance they’re no different than anyone else. They simply make it as easy as possible to be successful, and make it as difficult as possible to fail.

Which brings me back to the food in my house. I am not in good shape because I have iron will. In fact, if you put me around a large pizza or a dozen cookies, they will both be gone in a matter of minutes. Instead, I am really good at controlling my environment, which then leads to my success. With food, I keep the bad stuff out of my house so I’m not tempted to eat it. With workouts, I set my bar low by simply trying to lift heavy weights for 30 minutes a few times per week. For some insurance, I fast nearly everyday until 1pm and have done so for the past 7+ years.

When we think of creating the best version of ourselves, we should be crystal clear about the characteristics we’re striving to normalize in our lives. Once we’re crystal clear about those, we need to ask ourselves:

  1. How do I make it easy to succeed at this?
  2. How do I make it difficult to fail at this?

Limiting the food in your house is a system. Putting the alarm clock in the other room is a system. Putting your fish oil or multivitamin next to your toothbrush is a system. Putting your phone on airplane mode while you write or make sales calls or work on your most important project is a system.

Willpower is limited. Discipline is overrated. To create our best selves, we need to use systems – systems that make it easy to succeed and hard to fail.