By Michael Masterson
When it comes to personal productivity, we all have the chance to have good days or bad
Good days are those that leave you feeling good because you have accomplished your
most important tasks. Bad days are those that leave you feeling bad because you have
failed to do anything to advance your most important goals.
If you want to have a better life, you must fill it with good days. The best way to do that
is to organize your day according to your personal priorities – doing the most important
It’s easy to do. Yet most people don’t. Eighty percent of the people I know – and I’m
including all the intelligent and hardworking people I work with – do exactly the
opposite. They organize their days around urgencies and emergencies. Taking care of
last-minute issues that should have been dealt with earlier. Or doing tasks that help other
people achieve their goals while ignoring their own.
Doing first things first. It is a very simple discipline. Yet its transformative power is
immense. It can change your life – literally overnight.
It changed my life. Several times, in fact.
I’ve used this amazing technique to write six books, produce a record, and script and
direct a feature-length film. I used it again last year to write 350 poems – one a day, after
I began on January 15. And I am using it this year to get that book of poems published
and to write six other books (five business books under the Michael Masterson pen name,
and a novel with my personal byline).
MaryEllen Tribby is using this technique right now to write her first book on marketing
(which John Wiley & Sons will be publishing at the end of this year).
It is the single best technique I know for change. And it’s the fastest and easiest way to
turn your life around if you are not happy with the way it’s been going so far.
Doing first things first. Is that what you do?
Here’s what I do:
* I get up early – never after 6:30 a.m.
* I get to work early – never later than 7:30 a.m.
* I spend my first hour doing a task that advances my most important goal.
* If I’m going strong, I spend the next hour doing the same thing. If not, I switch to a
task that advances my second-most-important goal.
* I spend my third hour on another priority.
* Only after four hours of doing important work do I allow myself to deal with less
important work and other people’s urgencies.
By the time most people start wandering into the office – between 8:30 and 9:00 – I’ve
done at least an hour and sometimes two hours of work that is helping me achieve my
important goals. Goals that correspond to my core values. Goals that will immensely
improve my life.
That’s how to begin a very good day!
I do this five days a week. And on weekends, I find at least two more hours each day to
devote to my top priority. In a year, this averages to about 600 hours. Six hundred hours
may not sound like much, but it is.
Six hundred hours is 15 40-hour work weeks. That’s almost four working months! Think
Here’s what you can accomplish in 600 hours:
* Learn to speak a foreign language with moderate proficiency.
* Become a reasonably skillful ballroom dancer, with a good command of the swing,
the fox trot, the salsa, and the hustle.
* Achieve a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or a brown or black belt in one of many
other martial arts.
* Develop a decent singing voice and feel comfortable singing at parties.
* Write five 60,000-word books on a subject you know.
* Write and edit two novels or 365 poems.
* Write, direct, film, and edit a 30-minute movie.
* Start a multimillion-dollar side business.
Do any of those things sound interesting to you?
Now let me show you how I organize my workdays to tie into my long-term goals. Here
is the exact schedule I followed last Friday:
6:30: Woke. Dressed. Sprinted, walked, stretched, and meditated on the beach.
The first thing I do is sprint and stretch and meditate. This is the most important thing I
can do (besides eating well) to ensure a long and happy life.
7:00: Showered. Changed. Went to my home office.
7:30: Revised two poems written last year.
8:00: Wrote a new poem.
8:30: Wrote 600 words of Sin, my current (and first-to-be-published novel).
9:30: Wrote 600 words of the marketing book I’m working on with MaryEllen.
10:30-11:30: Wrote an essay for ETR.
I devote four hours entirely to writing – which is one of my four top priorities. About half
my writing time is spent on creative writing and about half on business writing. This
reflects a balance that corresponds to my current goals.
11:45: Went to the office. Trained in Jiu Jitsu with Marcel. Showered. Changed.
Jiu Jitsu is a hobby for me. It strengthens me, expands my mind, humbles me, and
1:00: Met with my assistant. Assigned tasks to her.
1:30: Luncheon meeting with AS.
2:45: Met with MaryEllen and Charlie Byrne.
3:30: Did a phone interview for Ready, Fire, Aim.
4:00: Met with PP to discuss real estate holdings.
I don’t take any meetings until after my midday workout. (I’ve trained everyone I work
with not to expect to be able to interrupt me in the morning.) Beginning at noon, my day
takes a dramatic change: from a schedule devoted to my primary objectives to one that is
devoted to others’ needs. Most of the meetings scheduled during the afternoon, for
example, accommodate the wishes of others. They have time to see me each day, but it’s
only after I have taken care of my own top priorities.
4:30: Returned phone calls to GP, DT, and LG.
I return phone calls in the late afternoon. It’s not a top priority for me. It’s as simple as
5:00: Wrote two ETR briefs and a blog entry.
If I have a spare half-hour during the afternoon, I devote it to an important but not urgent
task… like writing things that don’t have to be done by a specific deadline.
5:45: Reviewed and returned e-mails.
My penultimate task of the day is to review and return e-mails. I used to do it twice a day.
Now I do it only once.
6:15: Planned the next day.
This is the last task of my workday.
6:30: Had a fitness workout with JM.
Feeling good about accomplishing most of my priorities, I often reward myself with a
7:30: Got home for dinner on time!
None of what I’ve said so far should astound you. It’s all good common sense. It’s advice
we’ve been giving you in ETR for years.
But it’s one thing to recognize a good technique and quite another thing to learn to use it.
Most people who read this essay will think to themselves, “I should do that. I should
wake up early and spend time working on my dream.” They’ll think it, but they won’t do
it. They may get into the office earlier, but when they do they’ll probably turn on their
computer and read their e-mail.
People sometimes ask me if it’s really necessary to get up early. “I’m a night person,”
they say. “I get my best work done after dark.”
“Sure you do,” I think when I hear that.
I used to say the same thing. But I was wrong. And I think you will change your mind if
you allow yourself to experience the natural, unbeatable advantage of doing your most
important work when your body is fresh and strong.
Get up early. Get to work early. Do your important but not urgent tasks first.
A Life-Changing Early-Morning Routine
By Michael Masterson