The evening walk

A few weeks ago I restarted one of my favorite habits: a daily evening walk. I want to share a couple of reasons why I love this habit so much, and how I recommend starting it if you find that you want to give it a try.

Disengagement from the busy day

One of the key reasons that the evening walk has become a crucial part of my daily routine is that it provides a powerful way to quickly become fully disengaged from the activities of the day and the plans, worries or excitement I have lingering.

I’ve written before that I believe the evening routine is just as important as the morning routine, when trying to create a lasting early waking habit.

In a recent interview with Leo Babauta, Mark Sisson recommended a tech cut-off time in the evening:

Set a tech cut-off time before bed. Shoot for at least an hour before you go to sleep, but strive to extend that period to two hours.

For me, the evening walk provides the perfect tech cut-off time and is a key reason I am able to sustain habits through the whole week.

Deliberate reflection

I recently set a goal of becoming a more frequent content creator, rather than simply a consumer or curator. I share a daily 3 minute voice clip on SoundCloud, I blog here usually twice a week and I create and share a video once a week.

With this high frequency of sharing my thoughts through various forms of content, I need lots of ideas in order to be able to keep up that pace. Therefore, I started reflecting a lot around when exactly the breakthroughs of the ideas come - when the inspiration comes to me.

What I realized, is that I have most of my ideas for blog posts, sound clips or videos through the combination of two things:

  1. Spending time discussing startup and life challenges and ideas with my team, or with other founders.
  2. Time to reflect on the discussions I’ve had, to ponder the ideas by myself and let thoughts emerge with clarity.

After this discovery, I started deliberately working to do these two things even more. Firstly, I offer help for founders and generally have 30 minute office hours sessions with 6-8 people a week. Secondly, I scheduled time for the reflection to happen and the inspiration to hit me: by having a daily evening walk. Most people leave this to chance, their “inspiration” time being when they are in the shower. I try to be much more deliberate about it.

The walk helps me wind down for the day and sleep better when I return, and it also is a time when I find I have inspiration for blog posts and voice clips, as well as many product, vision and culture ideas for Buffer.

How to start an evening walk habit

If the evening walk sounds like something you want to try, I’d love to share some practical tips to start doing it. In the last two years I’ve lived in the UK, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv and during my time in each of these places I always quickly formed a specific and automatic evening walk habit.

1. Aim to walk for 20 minutes

I’ve tried shorter than 20 minutes and I’ve also done 30 or 40 minutes at times, and I’ve found that 20 minutes is, for me, the most ideal duration for the evening walk. It’s short enough that it’s easy to fit it in each day, especially when forming the habit to begin with. It’s long enough to gradually let go of the day to day excitement or worries, and let your mind wander and reflect on a higher level.

2. Plan a precise route, and stick to it

One of the most important aspects of the walk for me has been to quickly decide a route, and stick to it. The route should be very specific, down to almost each step. When creating a new evening walk habit, I plan each turn and visualize walking it in my mind. The power of this specificity is that it quickly becomes automatic and you forget about where you are going or what you are seeing, and can start to reflect inwards on what you are doing and whether you are happy. I usually walk much more slowly than my normal walking pace, and find I can start to ponder changes I want to make in my life.

3. Think backwards from when you want to sleep

To utilize the evening walk as a core part of your morning routine, the key is to think about when you want to awake, ensure that you will get 7-8 hours of sleep, and then work backwards from there to decide exactly when you should set off for your evening walk. Having a specific time to walk out of the door each day makes it much easier to create the habit. I leave at 7:30.

Have you tried having a daily evening walk routine? Do you find it helps you to make progress with the most important things in your life? Or, do you think you will try it? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

5 reasons as a CEO you should develop a habit of daily meditation

Through my journey from a founder whose role it was to essentially build the product and code all day, to growing into a CEO role with more management duties and a fast growing team of 7 people, there have been a lot of challenges and I’ve had to learn new skills over and over.

If you can relate to this, whether you’re a CEO or you find that you have to wear many hats and your role changes a lot, you’ve probably discovered, like me, that the general mentality is that we should be working non-stop and sacrificing our sleep, health and everything else in order to ensure we are successful with our endeavors.

How, then, would we possibly have time to “meditate”? It’s this elusive thing, where tangible benefits are not often associated and even the practicalities of what the activity is, are often not discussed.

Despite all of this, I’ve recently started regularly meditating as soon as I awake in the morning, and just before I sleep in the evening. I’ve found this to have a profound effect on my life and my ability to succeed as a CEO, so I wanted to share the benefits you might get from forming a habit of meditation yourself:

1. You will easily handle the inevitable ups and downs

One thing you can be sure of if you run a startup, is that it’s not all going to be plain sailing. You’re going to have to change your mind, you’re going to run into unexpected events and there are going to be days where nothing works out.

I’ve found that my daily morning and evening meditation helps me to reduce how dramatically these highs and lows can effect my ability to keep moving forward and make progress. Through simply focusing on my breathing for at least 5 minutes each morning, I am brought back to the present moment and over time, I become more and more tolerant to the ups and downs that arise.

2. It will save you time, by reducing procrastination

I truly believe that the purpose of meditation is simply to meditate, but there are of course some amazing benefits that come as a result. I focus on “now” when I meditate, and if you’ve tried to do this you will know how hard it can be. As soon as you close your eyes to meditate, you think about what you’ll do today, whether your metrics will grow as they need to, even what you’ll eat for breakfast and how much time is left on the counter for your meditation session.

The result of having all these unhealthy thoughts come into your mind while you meditate, is that you are practicing letting these thoughts come in and then leave your mind, and you are therefore improving your ability to be unaffected by distractions. I’ve found this carries over to my workday and makes me much more productive.

3. You will have bursts of creative genius

Often after my meditation session I feel so renewed and my mind is so clear, that the activity afterwards is filled with much more creativity. Whether I sit down to work on a most important task, I go to the gym, or I take a shower, I seem to have breakthroughs when I’m doing an activity just after meditating.

Try it for a week. Meditate for just 3 minutes, or try 5 if you can. There are many ways to meditate. Personally, I simply sit cross-legged on a cushion, close my eyes, and focus on breathing in and out. If you try it, I truly believe you will find that you have many more useful thoughts on a consistent basis. In the evening I am doing guided meditation with Headspace, which is also great.

4. You will feel alive and healthy and have better sleep

After I started doing my daily evening meditation session, my sleep became much better. I usually struggle to sleep, and I often have all kinds of thoughts swirling around in my head. After 5 minutes of meditation, those thoughts are emptied from my mind and I’ve found it easier to fall asleep, and in addition the quality of my sleep has been higher.

Through meditation, I have learned to respect my body and be grateful for it. I’m much healthier and I find it easier to restrain myself with food, in a similar way that I have found I can avoid procrastinating. Overall, I feel much more alive.

5. It will make you happy and you’ll find meaning

A great result of feeling alive, healthy and spending more time in the present moment, is that you will naturally be happier. Being happy is being in the present moment. The most common times I’m unhappy are when I’m thinking about the past or the future, so meditation makes me happy. Through regular meditation, I’ve had deeper and deeper sessions where my mind has become even more clear and I’ve let go of my day-to-day worries. This has helped me to much more easily reflect on what I truly want to achieve through my role as the CEO of a startup, and in life itself.

Have you tried a habit of daily meditation? If not, what’s stopping you? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Photo credit: Caleb Roenigk

Want to create a new habit? Get ready to break it.

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Aristotle

I’ve been obsessed with thinking about, adjusting and building upon my habits for a long time now, and working on good habits is probably one of the things that’s helped me the most to make progress with my startup. In addition, it seems like habits are now becoming popular again. This is a great thing, and books like The Power of Habit are helping lots of people.

I’ve discovered that perhaps one of the things which is rarely discussed with habits is failing with them. How do you keep going with building habits when you fail one day, or you have some kind of momentary setback? I thought it might be useful for me to share my thoughts on habits, and particularly the aspect of failing with habits.

Building an awesome habit

There are the steps I’ve found which work best for creating an amazing habit:

  1. Start so small you “can’t fail” (more on the reality of that later)
  2. Work on the small habit for as long as it becomes a ritual (something you’re pulled towards rather than which requires willpower)
  3. Make a very small addition to the habit, ideally anchored to an existing ritual

How I built my most rewarding habit

The habit I’m happiest with is my morning routine. It gives me a fantastic start to the day and lots of energy. To build it, I took the approach above of starting small and building on top.

I started my habit two years ago when I was based in Birmingham in the UK. The first thing I started with, was to go to the gym 2-3 times per week. That’s all my routine was for a long time. Once I had that habit ingrained, I expanded on it so that I would go swimming the other two days of the week, essentially meaning that I went to the gym every day at the same time. I’d go around 7:30, which meant I awoke at around 7am.

Next, I gradually woke up earlier, first waking up at 6:45 for several weeks, and then 6:30. At the same time, I put in place my evening ritual of going for a walk, which helped me wind down and get to sleep early enough to then awake early. Eventually, I achieved the ability to wake up at 6am and do 1 hour of productive work before the gym. This precious early morning time for work when I was the freshest was one of the things that helped me get Buffer off the ground in the early days.

The next thing I made a real habit was to have breakfast after I returned from the gym. I then worked on making this full routine a habit for a number of months, and I had times when I moved to a different country and had to work hard to get back to the routine after the initial disruption of settling in. It was whilst in Hong Kong that I achieved being very disciplined with this routine and wrote about it.

My morning routine

Today, I’ve built on top of this habit even further. Here’s what my morning routine looks like now:

  • I awake at 5:05am.
  • At 5:10, I meditate for 6 minutes.
  • I spend until 5:30 having a first breakfast: a bagel and a protein shake.
  • I do 90 minutes of productive work on a most important task from 5:30 until 7am.
  • At 7am, I go to the gym. I do a weights session every morning (different muscle group each day).
  • I arrive home from the gym at 8:30am and have a second breakfast: chicken, 2 eggs and cottage cheese.
  • At 9am we have the Buffer team standup video Skype call.

It may seem extremely regimented, and I guess perhaps it is. However, the important thing is the approach. You can start with one simple thing and then work on it over time. I’m now working to build around this current habit even more.

Failing whilst building your awesome habit

One of the most popular and simultaneously most controversial articles I’ve ever written is probably The Exercise Habit. It’s one which has been mentioned to me many times by people I’ve met to help with their startup challenges. I’ve been humbled to find out that a number of people have been inspired by the article to start a habit of daily exercise.

Whilst in Tel Aviv, I met Eytan Levit, a great startup founder who has since become a good friend. He told me he had read my article and was immediately driven to start a habit of daily exercise. I sat down and had coffee with him and he told me about his experience, it was fascinating. He told me that he did daily exercise for 4 days in a row, and he felt fantastic. He said he felt like he had more energy than ever before, and was ready to conquer the world. Then, on the 5th day Eytan struggled to get to the gym for whatever reason, and essentially the chain was broken. The most revelatory thing he said to me was that the reason he didn’t start the habit again was not that he didn’t enjoy the exercise or benefit greatly from doing it. The reason he failed to create the exercise habit was the feeling of disappointment of not getting to the gym on that 5th day.

Get ready and expect to break your habit

"I deal with procrastination by scheduling for it. I allow it. I expect it." - Tim Ferriss

What I’ve realised, is that one of the key parts of building habits might be to know that you will not flawlessly create your habits. You are going to break your habit at some point, you are going to fail that next day or next gym session sooner or later. The important thing is to avoid a feeling of guilt and disappointment, because that is what will probably stop you from getting up the next day and continuing with the routine.

In a similar way to how Tim Ferriss deals with procrastination, I believe we should not try so hard to avoid breaking our habits. We should instead be calm and expect to break them sometime, let it happen, then regroup and get ready to continue with the habit. Perhaps we took too much on, and we cut back a little or try to add one less thing to our habit. Or maybe we just had a bad day. That’s fine, and a single failure shouldn’t stop our long-term success with building amazing habits.

Is there a habit you were building and are not anymore? Why is that? Which habit are you happiest with? I’d love to hear your experiences on creating habits.

Photo credit: darinaniz

5 realisations that helped me write regularly

I was recently talking with Eytan Levit, a really interesting founder who’s had a lot of amazing experiences. We were chatting about some of his current challenges, and amongst some things to do with the startup, blogging also came up as something Eytan wanted to find regularity in. I’m happy that our chat triggered him to start writing again.

I’ve also since spoken to Andy, Alyssa and Sunil, who are getting into regular blogging and seem to be going through some of the experiences I had at the start of my blogging journey. I thought sharing some of my realisations about what held me back might help people create a habit quicker than I did.

I’ve now written over 50 articles on this blog over the last two years, and I’ve recently successfully written an article every week for the last 5 months. Luckily people have noticed this, and seem to enjoy the articles, and as a result I get a few people asking me how I’ve kept up blogging as a habit. This triggered me to think about the key things that helped me:

1. Research or strong points are not necessary

I used to often believe that I needed some very solid research to back up any thought I penned down in an article. I also frequently found myself thinking that my ideas or experience were not interesting or valuable enough for others.

I’ve since realised that by simply writing from a personal experience perspective, sharing lots of details about any topic I’ve recently touched on in my startup, personal projects or thoughts about life, I usually creating content that was interesting for people to read.

2. Delaying an article with the belief spending longer will make it better usually just means it won’t get written

I used to create a draft in Tumblr every time I had an idea for a blog post. Then I’d let it sit there for a while, because I believed the idea wasn’t fully formed yet, or I didn’t have enough points to share about the topic. I believed by delaying, the perfect post would eventually come to mind.

What I’ve realised is that there is no better time to write the article than when the thought first enters your mind. I should only write it at another time if I simply can’t open my laptop and write it all the way through right at that moment. The content is freshest when it first appears in my mind, and in that state I write the best posts.

I’ve gotten much better at this over time, but I have 10s of drafts lying in Tumblr from the early days when this caught me out time and time again. If you delay, the more likely outcome is that it just won’t get written.

3. We should fear not publishing articles, rather than fearing the bad outcomes of putting something out there

Over time, the concept of “shipping” started to really fascinate me. I forced myself to, despite it being uncomfortable, “ship” everything I did earlier and earlier. Whether a product, a blog post, a speaking opportunity, I’d quit delaying and just put it out there or say “yes” to speaking.

One of my biggest learnings in the last year is that there is immense power in doing a huge volume of work. If I write a blog post every week, I learn a massive amount about what works, and it gives me much more inspiration for more articles. Also, if I write each week, I’m gradually reaching more people, growing my connections on Twitter and Facebook, and putting myself in a better position overall. I know now, that if I don’t publish one week, I’m missing out on these benefits. Therefore, I actually fear not shipping.

4. When I have a strong connection between writing and my higher level goals and purpose, it’s easy to write

One of my aspirations for some time which has driven many of my actions around writing and helping startup founders, is that I eventually want to be a fantastic advisor and angel investor for other startups. I want to be the kind of advisor who has been through many different experiences, and has a lot of thoughts about startup challenges and solutions right in my mind.

This higher level purpose is what often helps me go through the tougher times, since I need that experience first-hand in order to help others. It’s also what helps me continually write, because I know that if I write a blog post about a topic, it is always very clear in my mind from then onwards. If someone asks advice on something I’ve written about, it’s very easy to help them and add a lot of value.

5. Choosing a schedule for writing is a great hack to ensure regularity

Finding a pattern and rhythm for writing is really helpful of course. I’ve found that once I get #3 and #4 very clear in my head, that I fear that I’ll fail to put something out there, and that I attach my writing to a higher level purpose, then it is much easier to establish a regular writing habit. In this way, I’ve been able to write consistently once a week for the last 5 months.

In the early days of my blog, I set myself a rule that I would always write on a Sunday, and always publish by noon. This worked very well, and it also meant that people began to notice my pattern and look forward to the content. I follow a similar pattern now - I always write on the second day of my weekend (whilst here in Tel Aviv that’s been Saturday, normally it is Sunday).

Are there any cool realisations you’ve had whilst working towards a regular blogging or writing schedule? I’d really love to hear what worked for you.

Photo credit: Kartikay Sahay

The power of ignoring mainstream news

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers." - Thomas Jefferson

Around 2 years ago I stopped reading and watching mainstream news. I don’t read a single newspaper, offline or online, and I don’t watch any TV at all. I recently mentioned this on Twitter and Facebook and it created a lot of discussion, so I wanted to expand on my thoughts and experiences.

When I first started ignoring news, I felt that I was simply making an excuse, that if I had more time I should read the news. Today, however, it is a very deliberate choice and I feel consistently happier every single day due to ignoring the mainstream news. It just so happens that the last 2 years have also been the most enjoyable and productive of my entire life, and have contained some of my greatest achievements. Here are a few reasons I think we should stop consuming mainstream news:

News is negative

"The news media are, for the most part, the bringers of bad news and it’s not entirely the media’s fault, bad news gets higher ratings and sells more papers than good news." - Peter McWilliams

The most interesting fact I learned in the last few years about mainstream media is that is that almost all news reported is negative. Studies have shown that the ratio of bad news to good news is around 17:1. That means that 95% is negative. This is a massive number, and I’m sure if you stop to think for a moment about the most recent news you watched, it has also been overwhelmingly negative. In my experience, 95% is absolutely the correct ratio in the news. However, 95% is a very bad reflection of the real ratio of good to bad in the world. Many great things happen, they just don’t sell newspapers.

Mainstream news report about wars, natural disasters, murders and other kinds of suffering. It seems the only natural conclusion of watching or reading mainstream news is that the world is a terrible place, and that it is getting worse every day. However, the reality of course is the complete opposite: we live in an amazing time and the human race is improving at a faster pace than ever before.

The effect of negative news

"When you turn on the television, for instance, you run the risk ingesting harmful things, such as violence, despair, or fear." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Another very interesting thing I’ve learned in the last few years is the incredible impact that being around the right people can have on your trajectory to achieving what you want. This comes down essentially to your environment, and whilst it can mean some hard decisions to change our environment, we actually have a lot of control over it.

These two aspects - that we are subconsciously affected by our environment, no matter how much willpower we believe ourselves to have, and that we have much more control over our environment than we realise have been a key factor of some of the success I’ve had in the last few years.

In a TED talk titled "Information is food", JP Rangaswami compared eating McDonald’s for 31 days, as in Supersize Me, to watching Fox News for 31 days. In essence, mainstream news is the fast food of information. There are much healthier types of information we can and should consume.

The opportunity cost of watching news

The other key thing that I think it can be easy to overlook, is what you could be doing in the time you are spending watching the news.

I remember as a kid, my parents always used to watch the 6 o’clock news. It became so ingrained, it was what would always happen at exactly 6pm, and if we didn’t watch it, we would surely miss out on something vital that could affect our lives.

As a teenager, over time I managed to gradually escape that more and more often. At first, I simply turned to something I enjoyed. I played games online in the evenings instead of sitting with my family and watching the news. The most interesting thing, however, is that my passion for gaming turned into a powerful hobby of learning to code, and I accredit this for a lot of my startup success.

Not only is watching news going to put an out of proportion amount of negative thoughts in your mind, which will affect what you can achieve, it is also valuable time where there are many amazing and meaningful things you could be doing:

Try a month off mainstream news

Abstaining from mainstream news has been one of the single best decisions I’ve made in the last two years for both my productivity and my happiness. If you’re still in a habit of watching or reading news, I strongly recommend you take Thomas Jefferson’s advice and try a month off news:

"I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it."

Do you read or watch mainstream news? Have you thought about stopping consuming it? Have you also given it up and felt better? I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Jon S