I am an indie hacker and CTO in my mid-thirties, and my life improved so much a few years ago when morning activity magic clicked for me. After a period of burnout, reduced productivity, when I became older, and less excited in tech and programming, this was like a renaissance for me, when I was able to start a number of small SaaS businesses which required high concentration, new skills, and productivity, and one of major factors which allowed me to do this, and improved the quality of my life, is this morning "sports" thing I am writing in this post.
After being CTO for more than 8 years, when I decided I need to get back to real programming and create SaaS, I quickly realized that coding in 35 does not feel like coding in 20: you are not "hungry" anymore, and you don't have a customer who is waiting for his website, and youtube and reddit is just a click away.. I know there is plenty of advice on the internet on how to fight procrastination, but I want to share simple trick that clicked for me, and the results are 3 finished side projects (1 huge with months of development), first recurring money from side project, and great feeling of focus almost every day.
It's just one thing: integrating outdoor sports as a daily morning routine. This is what I do every day right after wakeup.
I am no stranger to sports (used to do weight lifting and bodybuilding in youth, on an amateur level, without any steroids or stuff like that), but since I've started using sports in a right way, it was a huge difference for me on reducing my brain fog and getting concentration.
I think lots of people know (or heard of) how sports magically helps you with being focused, but it's hard to overestimate this when you do right amount of sports, before breakfast: you get 100% of the benefit this way, comparing to the gym workout in the evening after the work.
I get up 7.30-8 AM, and the only thing I need to do is to get my pants and t-shirt on and get outdoors. I don't think or analyse if I need or want to go outdoors, and this is very important.
During summer, I do jogging in park or on the beach, outdoor swimming (20-40 min), and then when I'm finally perfectly warmed up - light 15-20 min workouts (all kinds of pullups & pushups - always outdoors, preferably in park). During winter, it's walking, running, and cross-country skiing.
A lot of my friends (35-40 years, IT industry) think it's too hard to get up in the morning and do it.
This is not about competition or "real" sport, this is about a micro-dose of activity to launch your brain, every morning.
The main point is to make it a routine, not an achievement like "I go to gym two times a week". You don't think cleaning your teeth is hard, do you?
Doing sports is hard only if you need to spend your mind energy on it, or if you are working out too hard. Remembering that I need to collect my gym bag used to be hard. Remembering that this exact day after lunch I need to go to gym was hard.
Now it's easy - I open my eyes in the morning and in 10 minutes I am already running outdoors.
Another important point here is that you need to be careful choosing everyday sports. For example, doing real weightlifting every day may be physically exhausting, and too time consuming, especially if you need to commute.
Another friction for me was that I thought I can't work out effectively before breakfast, because I won't have energy (coming from bodybuilding past when I had issues gaining weight). Human body is amazing thing with huge amounts of energy stored inside, and even if you are hungry, when you start running - adrenaline is injected by your body into the bloodflow and you forget about hunger.
I also started having good late dinner when I am hungry in 9pm, and I still have my abs with me.
I also have perfect appetite ready for my protein-rich breakfast when I am at home after my 1.5-2h morning walk.
Best thing about morning sports is that the effect is lasting all day long and you sleep well!
My morning sports rules
- Morning sports is like taking a magical pill, good for my brain and my body, and without side effects
- This is a pill I take before breakfast. I get up, drink a glass of water, and get outdoors. When I was doing bodybuilding I was sure that I can't do any activity in the morning before breakfast because I won't have any energy. This turned out to work exactly the opposite. The time before breakfast is the best time of my day now. I grab an apple if I am super hungry (e.g. if I didn't have a proper dinner the previous day). If I am a bit hungry, just starting power walking makes me forget about this feeling and I feel super energized in 3 minutes. And my body has plenty of energy for 1-2 hour activity. Try it and see!
- I consider sports a daily routine, not an achievement. I take the pill every day. This is like cleaning my teeth. I am not competing and I am not trying to finish Ironman the next month (may be next year? you never know) - sports is just a foundation brick perfectly integrated into my daily routine. There is no reason to fall in "I need to run larger distance every day" trap and exhaust your body and your brain. My day does not spin around sports, I sacrifice nothing for this morning activity, I just get benefits and joy.
- I do not work out too much: tomorrow will be another day! It's just one pill per day, not a handful of pills once a week. Too much morning sports is harmful for me - I get lazy, I want to sleep after breakfast, I don't have a desire to work productively until late lunch time. This is not what I need.
- I prefer outdoor sports. Sunlight and fresh air are precious. Walking outdoors is a gift. Best ideas and solutions come to me when I am power walking outdoors. I would never recommend to exchange this for a treadmill and, god forbid, ipad attached to it.
- I reduce friction for doing sports. Taking pill should not be hard or require 40 min commute. Running is perfect because you only need a pair of shoes. Living near park or near river is perfect. I live very close to clean and warm sea and wonderful beach park now (2022) and I am swimming like a dolphin every morning, though this has never been my talent. It is just super easy to start swimming every day when you live in 100m near the sea! Put yourself in the conditions where doing your sports routine is easy and obvious thing to do.
- Sometimes I really don't want to do it. This might happen once in a week or in two weeks. Nothing awful happened. I don't go outdoors this morning and I do not blame myself. I will return to my routine tomorrow.
It's not about sports or being "in shape" - it's just about living better life when you're in a good mood.
UPD: notes regarding morning jogging.
Don't try to start running just when you just got outdoors!
Just walk. Walk 15-20 minutes in a good tempo and enjoy the weather and the fact that you are outdoors. Your heart and your body needs time to get awake!
Then start jogging, slowly. This way it works much better for me (and I am not a huge fan of running, and not super healthy, and I still usually get around 20km of running distance every week).
Before doing real jogging in a good tempo on a daily basis, make sure you have plenty of regular walking every day - if you don't get 10k of steps of walking daily - running is probably won't have a lot of benefits, you'd better do fast walking instead.