Allow your intrepid author to begin with this caveat: Neither I nor any other former SEAL, Ranger, Marine Raider, Special Forces guy, or CIA officer has his or her shit totally together all the time. I am not here to fool you into believing that. Lots of us do have our shit together a good deal of the time, though, as we were at some point in our lives forced to do so as part of our job.
Once you learn how to do it—and there are many different techniques and daily routines to accomplish the task—it becomes ingrained in your brain, and for some, it is hard to live any other way. Some are even lucky enough to be born as “Type A,” meaning that many of these techniques come naturally at an early age.
For most of us though, and even the Type A’s out there, there are always new things to learn to make your life more efficient and productive. That is the point of this article: to help you, the reader, sharpen your routine so that it facilitates a (hopefully) more productive existence. I hope you will take something useful away from these suggested life hacks.
This is probably the most important thing you can do to square away your life. You should despise the idea of wasted time. Make a schedule and plan out your day so that you are most effectively using the hours available to you. There are only so many in the day, after all, and since some should be used for sleeping, eating, and working out, that does not leave a ton in the remainder.
For example, if you know you need to write a SOFREP article, collect rent money, go by the dry cleaner’s, hit the grocery store, and pick kids up from soccer practice, then the neurons in your brain should be firing to compute the order in which those tasks can be completed in the most efficient manner.
Maybe you hit the dry cleaner on the way to the gym. Then you hit the store on the way home. Shower, eat, then knock out the article. Then, collect the rent on the way to get the kids from soccer. With this kind of time management, you avoid wasting valuable minutes (and gas) driving to do each chore separately. That gives you even more time in the day to get more shit done.
Design a routine
This piggybacks on the first tip. Routines can be boring, I will grant you that, but they also make for a less stressful and hectic life. One need not be rigid in the routine, but a regular and established “flow” of your day will help you keep your life organized.
This author, for example, works a fire shift every third day, so that basically accounts for 33 percent of my routine. I then have a normal routine for the first day after shift, which varies depending on the day, and a separate routine for the second post-shift day. Again, they are not always the same, but generally speaking, the flow is similar day to day. Breakfast, the gym, writing, chores, and kid activities pretty much always take me through dinner, and are the constants of my routine. Fun stuff like shooting or running a road or trail race can be fit in when desired, and evenings are set aside for guitar playing, cooking dinner, reading, and some television.
The routine is not always the same, but the flow is fairly constant, depending on the day. You can always throw the routine out the window, too, when the need arises. That leads us to…
I will admit, this is sometimes the hardest thing for the Type A’s out there. It is easy to throw one off by suggesting an unannounced change in the routine, which can then lead to a Shelden Cooper-like outbreak of eye twitching and anxiety. If you can, allow yourself to be flexible with whatever life throws at you.
You never know when your tire might blow out, your water heater may die, or your dog may have an onset of explosive diarrhea. Shit happens (pun intended) and you have to manage it. Mentally, then, you have to allow for these curveballs and accommodate them. In your routine, know what can be thrown out on the fly. Don’t leave the kids at the soccer field; instead, skip playing guitar or going to the shooting range. This leads to…
Have priorities and make lists
One thing that will help you become a more productive and efficient person is making lists. It is for sure Type A, obsessive compulsive nerdery to many, but it really is a lifesaver to write stuff down or put it in your phone. For me, if I want to ensure that something gets done, I write it on the list.
I also have more than one list. There are short-term lists on a sticky note (buy milk, dentist at two, clean up dog’s diarrhea), medium-term lists on a notepad in my man bag (schedule oil change, pay Catholic school fees in June), and there are long-term lists on my electronic devices (write Pulitzer-prize winning novel, buy home in the Colorado Rockies).
Writing something down that you want or need to accomplish is not the same as actually doing it, but it is the next best thing, and the necessary first step for many.
Don’t put off the small stuff
A lot of people in America are stressed. They worry about the bills, the future, their job, and have an overwhelming sense of having too much to do, with not enough time and money to do it all. I get that. I feel it too. The first step to preventing this feeling from crushing your soul like a Chief’s fan in the playoffs is to do the small stuff.
It is easy to put off the annoying little things that do not require immediate attention. That towel rack in the bathroom? I will replace that next month. The running toilet? I will get that flapper valve when I get around to it. Before long, though, your to-do list will blow up and you will be sinking under the weight of the tasks like a Kardashian trying to pass a high school algebra test.
To avoid this pressure, try not to put off the little things. Accomplish the quick and easy tasks, and you will be rewarded with a shortened to-do list and a feeling that you are getting things done. The momentum will then carry you on to the bigger tasks.
Set realistic goals
Going along with minimizing the pressure you impose on yourself is setting realistic goals. Yes, I would like to write the great American novel, or an epic semi-autobiographical tome about a dashing-yet-flawed firefighter who saves the world, but reality is not the only thing preventing that from happening. Time, two jobs, children, and a wife also demand my time, and are frankly more important at this stage in my life.
Therefore, I do not beat myself up too much when I do not work on a book for weeks at a time. It just is not a realistic goal to get it done at this moment in my life. That does not mean I will abandon it, though. It just moves further down the list of priorities for a while.
Get rid of the drama
It is frankly amazing how too much drama in one’s life can snort your energy and time away like blow disappearing up Charlie Sheen’s nose (throwback!). Do not get me wrong, we all deal with some drama now and again. It is standard issue for even the most normal and well-ordered life. But we all know that certain people bring an inordinate amount of drama to everyone with whom they come in contact.
You have to do your best to exorcise those people from your life. They are not worth the mental energy you will spend dealing with their issues—unless you enjoy that kind of thing, and it is something you find rewarding.
If it is an immediate family member, it will be hard to get rid of them completely, as familial obligations cannot simply be abandoned, but even in that case, you can do your best to minimize your interaction with the drama queen (or king) in question, so they do not corrupt your life too much. Life is just too short to get wrapped up in bullshit. To quote a wise woman, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Go to bed and wake up early
This is a simple one. It is easy to do, and can make you instantly more productive in your day. Think of the usual things you do when you stay up late, and ask yourself if they are worthwhile. If that is when you get good work done, then stick with your program, by all means, but if you are like me, you are probably drinking or watching some third-rate band pound out a tune in a bar if you are staying up late. These are not exactly the most productive uses of your time, though definitely carve out time for them on a regular basis if you enjoy them (see below).
When you go to sleep early, you will usually find yourself more rested in the morning, and you will typically get more done the next morning, after you have dragged yourself out of bed and fueled up on some coffee. I am not saying you have to be like that lunatic Jocko Willink, and wake up at four a.m. to flog yourself in the gym, but aim for reasonable hours to sleep and wake, and you will find yourself becoming more productive.
As another wise man once told me, “You can’t hoot with the hoot owls and expect to soar with the eagles.” Indeed.
Speaking of the gym, you have to get sweaty every once in a while. I will not preach that you should follow any certain workout routine or program, but you have to do something to burn off stress and keep yourself mentally and physically fit. Even if you walk two miles every day, that is better than nothing. Get out there and be active and you will thank yourself for it. The reward in energy and mental focus is huge.
Just like working out, you have to set aside time for fun. If you enjoy shooting things, then do it. If you like playing golf, then make sure you schedule some tee times. If seeing movies is your thing, then set aside time for movie night once a week. You have to enjoy your life while you can, and it will rejuvenate you for other less-fun chores after you blow off some steam.
Now get out there and lead a productive life. The world needs you.