11 Little Secrets

One of the peculiar habits we have in our hyperactive, short attention span culture is the habit of looking for the big secret. We strive desperately to look for the next big thing, the next big secret, the magic wand that will make everything better. What we tend to overlook – or most of us, anyway – are the little secrets, the little hacks and tweaks you can make to your day, your year, your life to help things operate better.

Most of the little secrets aren’t secret at all, or at least not the knowledge portion. The mystery and power of the little secrets are entirely in the execution of said secrets.

I’ve put together just a few of mine, and would love it if you shared yours in the comments.

1. Take a multivitamin daily before bed. I learned this trick from a friend who said that since most of our body repairs – healing, growth, restoration – happens at night while we sleep, it only makes logical sense to have the proper tools on hand. I find that a multivitamin with a tall glass of water helps get the next day started on the right foot.

2. Get up early. There is an incredible amount of productive time before 9 AM. Thanks to a much shorter commute, I can afford the luxury of sleeping until 6 AM and still take advantage of the early morning hours when the phone isn’t ringing and the inbox isn’t flooding over.

3. Five minutes of spiritual practice daily. Whatever your thing is that refreshes your spirit and reaffirms the rightness and brightness of your presence in the world, do it daily without fail. Even with a nice short commute to work now, I still pack it in before I ever get to the office. For those so interested in my specific practice, go check out How To Own The World by Stephen K. Hayes.

4. Work out before the day starts. I’m one of those folks who just can’t get motivated to work out at night. Whether it’s stuff from the day, fun time with the family, or class, working out at night is draining rather than refreshing to me. Working out first thing in the morning before the day starts is what works best for me. Your mileage will vary, but try to pack 20 minutes of cardio in at least twice a week, if not more. Also, experiment with different kinds of fitness. I’m not wild about running but I love using elliptical machines. I suck badly at basketball but I’m an avid martial artist. Find your thing and do it often.

5. Wonder how I find the time to do as much as I do? No television. Very little general news beyond skimming the headlines and Bloomberg.com. I choose Bloomberg as a primary news source because most investors won’t put up with the useless BS in regular news about celebrities and what’s trendy. Investors want only the stuff that’s going to make them productive, and so do I. That may mean that I’m a fashion disaster and a cultural n00b, but I’ll be a productive fashion disaster, dangit.

6. Twenty minutes a day reading, first thing in the office. Long before the day gets started, I’m hitting my favorite marketing, sales, motivation, economics, and Warcraft blogs to see what’s shaking in the world from the ground level perspective. If you’d like to get a sample of what blogs I read, grab this OPML file from Marketing Over Coffee.

7. Twenty minutes a day creating, first thing in the office. After I’ve caught up on my reading, I create. I might blog, edit a photo, sketch some things in a notepad, but I take advantage of the quiet morning hours to create.

8. Daily review. Except on days when the Internet is fail, I sit down on Skype with my personal assistant Chel Wolverton and review my inbox, calendar, and items that need my attention so that important stuff for the day doesn’t get missed.

9. Coffee and water. It’s no secret at all that I drink a lot of coffee. What is kind of a secret is that I try to balance so that I drink twice as much water as I do coffee daily. It’s astonishing how much a single bottle of water (I keep a 1 liter refillable bottle on my desk) can make a difference in your energy level during the day.

10. Rigorous boundaries. I’m extremely selective in who I actually listen to, in what email is worth my time (see my contact form), and what can happen when. For example, I block out a certain part of my day with family that is inviolable. I leave my cell phone and laptop in my car, and there’s literally no way to reach me during that time. I don’t respond to about 95% of the non-work email I get, either. At this point in my life, time is the most valuable resource I have, and I’m stingy as hell.

11. Daily time with friends. I play World of Warcraft on a daily basis, not just for the fun of virtually crushing my enemies and leaving ashes and misery in my destructive wake (yay Death Knights!), but also because some of the best conversations of the day happen with my friends in guild chat. They’re the trusted folks I bounce things off of, listen to, and share advice with.

None of these secrets is going to be a game-changer for you. None of these secrets will instantly make you rich or powerful (with the exception of #5, because pop culture is a giant time suck), but cumulatively, all of these secrets contribute a little towards helping me do what I do.

Now here’s the next part, the important part. What are the little secrets that YOU use to get more juice for the squeeze (a John Wall trademark expression) out of your day, week, or life? Leave yours in the comments.


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  • Laura

    All great ideas…but do you ever find that taking a vitamin before bed gives you a belly-ache? I find that I have to take mine on a full stomach…

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Never had that issue myself, but I take a pretty standard multivitamin.

  • http://twitter.com/LouiseT_PR Louise Tipton

    These are great ideas. I like to carve out time each day to play with my dog, Sophie. Even after a rough day, it's impossible to feel bad when you arrive home to a wagging tail!

  • http://broadcasting-brain.com Mark Dykeman

    I work on the ability to make my mind go completely blank in moments of need. It's not like it's a daily ritual, but it does help when needed.

  • http://twitter.com/KarlBimshas KarlBimshas

    Listen to podcasts in the car. Pick 5-7. A couple that focus on what you need help learning, a couple that reinforce your strengths, and the rest way outside your comfort zone to get a different perspective on things.

  • http://www.startupdaddy.com Ian Gordon

    I take a break and go outside for at least 5 minutes every work day (weather permitting). I like to go out and feel the sun on my face (if it's out there) for a few minutes every day. I'm a solar powered animal and even if it's cold, I find this keeps my head right.

  • http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com olivierBlanchard

    I felt inspired, so I made this: http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2010/04/05

  • http://davidhorne.me david horne

    Christopher,

    There is never a bad time to start a good thing. I too take a multivitamin in the evening and in the morning. Reading, Exercise, Spiritual Time, and Creating are huge. Sometimes the best secrets are what you don't do, like watching TV or associating with the wrong folks. One thing I would like to add is speaking positively. It may seem cheesy but speaking out loud the what you are trying to accomplish is a great way to keep it on the front of your mind. It also helps with decision making and productivity. Thanks for always bringing practical food for thought.

  • Laura

    All great ideas…but do you ever find that taking a vitamin before bed gives you a belly-ache? I find that I have to take mine on a full stomach…

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    Never had that issue myself, but I take a pretty standard multivitamin.

  • http://twitter.com/LouiseT_PR Louise Tipton

    These are great ideas. I like to carve out time each day to play with my dog, Sophie. Even after a rough day, it's impossible to feel bad when you arrive home to a wagging tail!

  • http://thoughtwrestling.com/blog Mark Dykeman

    I work on the ability to make my mind go completely blank in moments of need. It's not like it's a daily ritual, but it does help when needed.

  • http://twitter.com/KarlBimshas KarlBimshas

    Listen to podcasts in the car. Pick 5-7. A couple that focus on what you need help learning, a couple that reinforce your strengths, and the rest way outside your comfort zone to get a different perspective on things.

  • http://www.startupdaddy.com Ian Gordon

    I take a break and go outside for at least 5 minutes every work day (weather permitting). I like to go out and feel the sun on my face (if it's out there) for a few minutes every day. I'm a solar powered animal and even if it's cold, I find this keeps my head right.

  • http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com olivierBlanchard

    I felt inspired, so I made this: http://thebrandbuilder.wordpress.com/2010/04/05

  • http://davidhorne.me david horne

    Christopher,

    There is never a bad time to start a good thing. I too take a multivitamin in the evening and in the morning. Reading, Exercise, Spiritual Time, and Creating are huge. Sometimes the best secrets are what you don't do, like watching TV or associating with the wrong folks. One thing I would like to add is speaking positively. It may seem cheesy but speaking out loud the what you are trying to accomplish is a great way to keep it on the front of your mind. It also helps with decision making and productivity. Thanks for always bringing practical food for thought.

  • http://twitter.com/drorengel drorengel

    nice list Christopher! thanks for sharing

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Chris –

    Funny. I'm the exact same way with coffee. I actually have gotten into a routine over the past 6+ months. I grind then french press an entire pot (8 c.) of coffee. I drop in my super-good-for-your processed fake Coffee Mate creamer and suck down 2 full cups before 7AM. But, like you, I also pound a ton of water during the day. All balanced, right?

    No TV at all? Really? I guess while you are playing WoW, I'm watching LOST or V or 30 Rock or The Office. To each his own!

    I'm baffled by you #7. Only 20 minutes of creation. Safe to assume you mean FOCUSED creation? I know you create a hell of a lot more than that every day…

    Great list. Like Olivier, I think you've inspired me to create my own. Thanks.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • http://twitter.com/drorengel drorengel

    nice list Christopher! thanks for sharing

  • http://chelpixie.com/ Chel Wolverton

    Thanks for the shout out. :)

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    20 minutes in the sense that you MAY NOT interrupt that time. All forms of messaging are flat out off.

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Inspired! Thanks.

    http://idek.net/1HJj

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • Pingback: DJ Waldow's 11 Secrets | Social Butterfly Guy

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Chris –

    Funny. I'm the exact same way with coffee. I actually have gotten into a routine over the past 6+ months. I grind then french press an entire pot (8 c.) of coffee. I drop in my super-good-for-your processed fake Coffee Mate creamer and suck down 2 full cups before 7AM. But, like you, I also pound a ton of water during the day. All balanced, right?

    No TV at all? Really? I guess while you are playing WoW, I'm watching LOST or V or 30 Rock or The Office. To each his own!

    I'm baffled by you #7. Only 20 minutes of creation. Safe to assume you mean FOCUSED creation? I know you create a hell of a lot more than that every day…

    Great list. Like Olivier, I think you've inspired me to create my own. Thanks.

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • http://chelpixie.com/ Chel Wolverton

    Thanks for the shout out. :)

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    20 minutes in the sense that you MAY NOT interrupt that time. All forms of messaging are flat out off.

  • http://socialbutterflyguy.com/ DJ Waldow

    Inspired! Thanks.

    http://idek.net/1HJj

    DJ Waldow
    Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
    @djwaldow

  • http://twitter.com/barbchamberlain Barb Chamberlain

    On the multivitamin front, there was an interesting point made in a health advice piece I read recently–can't recall what but it may have been Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food–that essentially said “Be more like people who take multivitamins.”

    That is, people who take them are generally better educated, more health-conscious, and more likely to have good health habits. So even if you don't TAKE them, be like the people who do and you'll be healthier anyway.

    @BarbChamberlain
    —————————————–
    PS: I won't claim that my version of the list will awaken a superhero, but I did find both yours and @thebrandbuilder's inspiring so I took my own run at it. Of course, this means people have 33 or more things to do, so the to-do list is getting longer…. http://bit.ly/aUkfyz

  • Pingback: 11 Little Secrets – The Secret of 15 Minutes Uninterrupted « wonderwebby

  • http://twitter.com/barbchamberlain Barb Chamberlain

    On the multivitamin front, there was an interesting point made in a health advice piece I read recently–can't recall what but it may have been Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food–that essentially said “Be more like people who take multivitamins.”

    That is, people who take them are generally better educated, more health-conscious, and more likely to have good health habits. So even if you don't TAKE them, be like the people who do and you'll be healthier anyway.

    @BarbChamberlain
    —————————————–
    PS: I won't claim that my version of the list will awaken a superhero, but I did find both yours and @thebrandbuilder's inspiring so I took my own run at it. Of course, this means people have 33 or more things to do, so the to-do list is getting longer…. http://bit.ly/aUkfyz

  • girlfridaycda

    Great advice! We have not had television in our home for 2 years now and we don't miss it one bit. I am with Laura on the vitamin before bed. I had to take mine on a full stomach too, but found a liquid one that doesn't make me sick even on an empty stomach.

    My question I have though is how about for those of us that are not early risers? Do you think that someone can still be productive as long as they are doing it when at “their” best? Or, because the status quo is a 9-5 do you miss opportunities?

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    I firmly believe that you should be most productive when you know you're most productive. Know yourself, know when you do the best stuff, and focus like a laser during those times.

  • girlfridaycda

    Great advice! We have not had television in our home for 2 years now and we don't miss it one bit. I am with Laura on the vitamin before bed. I had to take mine on a full stomach too, but found a liquid one that doesn't make me sick even on an empty stomach.

    My question I have though is how about for those of us that are not early risers? Do you think that someone can still be productive as long as they are doing it when at “their” best? Or, because the status quo is a 9-5 do you miss opportunities?

  • http://www.ChristopherSPenn.com Christopher S. Penn

    I firmly believe that you should be most productive when you know you're most productive. Know yourself, know when you do the best stuff, and focus like a laser during those times.

  • Pingback: Still More 11 Little Secrets

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    how do you do that? i.e. make your mind go blank? do you mean stop all thought processes?

  • http://dbthomas.com/blog David B. Thomas

    Great stuff, Chris. I wrote one of my own:

    http://dbthomas.com/blog/2010/04/08/still-more-

  • http://www.ivanwalsh.com Ivan Walsh

    how do you do that? i.e. make your mind go blank? do you mean stop all thought processes?

  • http://www.eddybadrina.com/ Eddy Badrina

    Chris – I love the list. I read DJ's first and then went to yours. The one that resonated with me the most: #11. I have a weekly XBox360 online night with a gaggle of friends, and it's usually the most fun/don't-take-yourself-so-seriously conversation I have all week. I appreciate that you included it.

  • http://www.eddybadrina.com/ Eddy Badrina

    Chris – I love the list. I read DJ's first and then went to yours. The one that resonated with me the most: #11. I have a weekly XBox360 online night with a gaggle of friends, and it's usually the most fun/don't-take-yourself-so-seriously conversation I have all week. I appreciate that you included it.

  • http://www.eddybadrina.com/ Eddy Badrina

    Chris – I love the list. I read DJ's first and then went to yours. The one that resonated with me the most: #11. I have a weekly XBox360 online night with a gaggle of friends, and it's usually the most fun/don't-take-yourself-so-seriously conversation I have all week. I appreciate that you included it.

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