This routine takes seven minutes each morning before you start work. Will you follow it?

BY JOHN BRANDON  |  Contributing editor,

It only takes seven minutes to change how you approach your day. Using the routine described below when you get to work will make a world of difference in your productivity, your attitude, your success, and your health. It’s like the approach you make to the tee on a golf course. You plan out how you will hit the shot, which is more important than the actual swing. Before you start your day, this routine will provide the right mindset. Will you follow it?

Note: I’m going to call this routine “The Seven,” as in, “Did you do your Seven this morning?” (I’ve even applied the seven-minute rule to business presentations.) Feel free to borrow that term or send me ideas on a better name.

1. Before you start: Prepare
First, you need to find a quiet place. Hint for those who work in a cubicle farm: This is not at your desk. And it’s not in the car, because there are too many distractions. At a busy startup, it might be a foyer or a balcony. You might have to arrive earlier in the morning to make this work. You’ll also need a journal. Make sure you have one, and that you have a pen. Also, wear a watch. You will want to time yourself and finish up within seven minutes.

2. Minute one: Clear your head
I won’t get into any religious issues or get preachy here, and I’m not even encouraging meditation, but every person on the planet who has to work for a living needs to follow this basic routine. You have to clear your head. That phone you use to check your messages constantly or that iPad that’s stuck to your hip? Get rid of them. They are not part of this morning routine. Clearing your head just means being present as you prepare for the day.

3. Minute two: Breathe a little
Again, you may have a different way of dealing with the stress you feel in life. However, breathing deeply creates a calming effect in your brain and helps you focus. Intentional breathing is important at all times of the day. For this routine to work, you have to stop and settle your thinking and get into the right frame of mind. Just sit quietly and breathe.

4. Minutes three through six: Write notes and draw
You’ve heard all about journaling, but the process I use is not just journaling. I write in a journal all day, right after I get up in the morning and have coffee, at night before bed, and during meetings and at conferences. I’m not just talking about journaling. I’m talking about writing down the first few thoughts you have after you’ve arrived at work but before you’ve started on the day’s tasks. Draw a picture or doodle an idea. It’s a way to figure out what is important, and what is stressing you out. It is a record of your preparation and a way to help you look back and see, for these seven minutes, what was really important. Make sure you don’t get too focused on the writing and not enough on the thinking.

5. Minute seven: Debrief
After you write a few notes, keep track of the time and make sure you allow about one minute at the end to debrief. What does that mean? Just look over your notes a second time. Think about what you wrote and why, and make a brief plan–in only 30 seconds–to act on one of the items on your list. Just one. If you jotted down a note to deal with a conflict or to finish a report, decide to focus on that task and make sure you are intentional about addressing it.

That’s it. Seven minutes. I’m really interested to find out if you use this routine in the morning before you start working. Follow the plan for at least one week. Then, send me a note about what you learned and how it all worked out. I promise to respond.

by Geoffrey James, Inc. Magazine

I’ve already posted most of the advice below but scattered among five or six posts. I thought it would be useful to collect all of my happiness and success rules in a single place. Enjoy!

1. Assume People Have Good Intentions
Since you can’t read minds, you don’t really know the “why” behind the “what” that people do. Imputing evil motives to other people’s weird behaviors adds extra misery to life, while assuming good intentions leaves you open to reconciliation.

2. Avoid Using Negative Words
Stop using negative phrases, such as “I can’t,” “It’s impossible,” or “This won’t work.” Stop using profanity, too. What comes out of your mouth programs your mind. When you talk trash, you’re transforming your brain into trash.

3. Avoid Spending Time with Stressed-Out People
You may not realize it, but your physiology is programmed to mirror the physiology of those around you. In other words, you can “catch” stress from other people. So although it may not be possible to avoid stressed people all the time, avoid them as far as possible.

4. Begin Each Day with Expectation
If there’s any big truth about life, it’s that it usually lives up to (or down to) your expectations. Therefore, when you rise from bed, make your first thought be, “Something wonderful is going to happen today.” Guess what? You’re probably right.

5. Breathe More Deeply
Breathing deeply calms you down but, more importantly, it helps ensure that plenty of oxygen is getting into your lungs and into your blood stream, where (among other things) it helps your brain work more efficiently.

6. Celebrate More Frequently
The small and large successes and accomplishments in your life deserve recognition. It’s a mistake to head straight for the next task or the next goal without celebrating, even if it’s only patting yourself on the back.

7. Daydream More Frequently
The idea that daydreaming and working are mutually exclusive belongs back in the 20th century. It’s when you let your thoughts wander that you’re more likely to have the insights that will make you both unique and more competitive.

8. Decide That You Must Achieve Your Goals
When you approach a task that leads toward your goal, never start out by saying, “I’ll try…” When you use that phrase, you’re giving yourself permission to fail. Instead, phrase your action in terms of “I will…!” or “I must…!” No wiggle room allowed.

9. Define “Failure” as “Failing to Take Action”
Regardless of your goals and milestones, you don’t have control over anything except your own behavior. Redefining failure as “failing to take action” puts failure (and therefore success) within your control.

10. Deflect Partisan Conversations
Arguments about politics and religion never have a “right” answer, but they definitely get people all riled up over things they can’t control. When such topics surface, bow out by saying something like: “Thinking about that stuff makes my head hurt.”

11. Don’t Waste Energy on Hate
Hate is an emotional parasite that eats away at your energy and health. If something is wrong with the world and you can change it, take action. If you can’t take action, you’re better off to forgive and forget.

12. Don’t Take Calls from Strangers
Unless you’re working in telesales or product support, there’s no reason you should ever take a call from somebody you don’t know. After all, when was the last time you took an unexpected call that was truly important? If it’s important, they’ll get you through email.

13. Don’t Take Yourself Seriously
The ability to laugh at your foibles not only makes you happier as a person, it makes you more powerful, more influential, and more attractive to others. If you can’t laugh at yourself, everyone else will be laughing behind your back.

14. Don’t Try to Win Every Argument
Some battles aren’t worth fighting, and many people are easier to handle when they think they’ve won the argument. What’s important isn’t “winning,” but what you, and the other people involved, plan to do next.

15. Don’t Succumb To Malice or Gossip
Before you tell a story about anybody else, or listen to such a story, ask yourself four questions: Is it true?, Is it kind?, Is it necessary?, and Would I want somebody telling a similar story about me?

16. Don’t Worry What Others Think About You
You can’t mind-read and you don’t have everyone else wired into a lie detector. Truly, you have no idea what anyone is really thinking about you. It’s a total waste of time and energy to cling to your own idea of what that might be, especially if it’s negative.

17. Drink More Water
Even a tiny amount of dehydration can “drain your energy and make you tired,” according to the Mayo Clinic. They recommend that men drink roughly three liters (about 13 cups) and women 2.2 liters (about nine cups) of total beverages every day.

18. Eat a Big Breakfast
There’s truth to the old saying that you should eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a merchant, and supper like a pauper. Fueling up early makes you less likely to need that extra jolt of sugar at about 10:30 AM.

19. End Each Day With Gratitude
Just before you go to bed, write down at least one wonderful thing that happened. It might be something as small as a making a child laugh or as huge as a million-dollar deal. Whatever it is, be grateful for that day because it will never come again.

20. Exercise Your Eyes
While working at a screen, periodically stare at something that’s far away, like out the window. If necessary, get up and find a window or at least a hallway so that you can focus at a distance. This keeps your eyesight from degenerating.

21. Find the Right Job for You
While some work environments are inherently difficult, if you’re consistently miserable, it’s your fault. You owe it to yourself and your co-workers to either find a job that makes you happy or make the best of the job you’ve got.

22. If It’s Scary, Do it Now
Being successful means taking risks, and risks are inherently scary. Rather than letting fear keep you from taking action, use it as a signal that it’s time to actually take action. It may sound trite, but there’s real truth the old saying: “Feel the fear, then do it anyway.”

23. Know and Keep Your Personal Limits
While your job might sometimes seem like the most important thing in your world, you’re killing a part of yourself if you let work situations push you into places that violate your privacy and your integrity.

24. Let Go of Your Results
The big enemy of happiness is worry, which comes from focusing on events that are outside your control. Once you’ve taken action, there’s usually nothing more you can do. Focus on the job at hand rather than some weird fantasy of what might happen.

25. Listen to Something Inspiring
Your ears are the pathway to your brain. When doing something visually boring (like driving), listen to audio books or motivation talks. When you need some extra energy, listen to music that “pumps you up.”

26. Make a Public Commitment
To provide an extra oomph to your efforts, make a formal public commitment to your goals. For example, you might want to sign up for a charity race that you couldn’t possibly run without first getting yourself in tip-top shape.

27. Make Peace With Your Past
Focusing on past mistakes or wrongs inflicted on you is like driving a car while looking in the rearview mirror. You’ll keep heading in the same direction until you collide with something solid.

28. Make Your Goals Pervasive
Post your goals everywhere you spend time. Post them on your bathroom mirror, right behind your computer screen, and on the dashboard of your car. The more you see your goals, the easier it will be to achieve them.

29. Monitor Your Progress
Keep a record of what you’ve already accomplished. Review this when you’re feeling discouraged or unsure—it’s an instant confidence builder and helps you focus on the positive.

30. Never Argue With Strangers
When you’re driving, you’re going to see people driving in ways that are stupid, dangerous, and annoying. Even so, you’re wasting your energy getting upset about what they do, much less reacting to it by honking or flipping the bird.

31. Never Attend Agenda-less Meetings
Meetings are only useful if people know why they’re meeting in the first place. An agenda provides focus and purpose. The lack of an agenda guarantees meandering conversations that dive into rat holes. They’re a waste of your (and everyone else’s) time.

32. Realize That You Are Responsible for Your Emotions
Your attitude isn’t controlled by the outside world. While truly sad things do happen, most of the time your attitude is the result of how you’re viewing the world, rather than what’s happening in it.

33. Remember That Everything Will Change
The nature of the physical universe is change. Nothing remains the same; everything is, as the gurus say, transitory. Whether you’re celebrating or mourning or something in between, this, too, will pass.

34. Remember That Rejection Is an Illusion
Rejection is an emotionally-loaded term that people unwisely use when they fail to achieve a goal that involves another person. Nobody feels “rejected” when he or she sets a goal to, say, run a four-minute mile, but then only end up running it in five minutes.

35. Set Achievable Yet Inspirational Goals
If you don’t believe your goal is achievable, you won’t take action to achieve it. Therefore, any goal that you set must be within the realm of possibility and tied to actions that you can actually take.

36. Set Measurable Milestones
Big goals are easier to achieve if you break them up into smaller chunks or milestones. Achieving milestones gives you more confidence, strengthens your motivation, and helps you build momentum.

37. Smile and Laugh More Frequently
Contrary to popular belief, smiling and laughter are not the result of being happy; they’re part of a cycle that both creates and reinforces happiness. Find reasons to smile. Never, ever suppress a laugh.

38. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
Everybody, and I mean everybody, starts out in a different place and is headed on their own journey. You have no idea where someone else’s journey might lead them, so drawing comparisons is a complete waste of time.

39. Stop Complaining About Not Having Enough Time
You get the same amount of time every day as everyone else. You may feel you’re short on time and that you desperately need more, but when the day started, you got your fair share: 24 hours. Nobody got any more than you did, so stop complaining.

40. Stop Listening to and Leaving Voicemails
A voicemail message consumes minutes of your time (more if you have to replay) to communicate information you could absorb from an email in seconds. Explain in your outgoing message that you don’t use voicemail and provide your email address.

41. Stretch Regularly
Your body is not well suited for sitting down for long periods of time. Quite the contrary, the human body evolved so that it’s optimized for running around in the woods, whacking animals with a stick.

42. Take a Walk After Lunch
Numerous scientific studies have shown that a walk after a meal improves your digestion, helps you regulate your blood sugar, and increases your mental acuity. It’s the best way to avoid that “heavy” feeling that often follows a meal.

43. Take Action Immediately After Setting a Goal
Once you’ve gotten your goals set into your mind, it’s time to take action. Approach each action with confidence that you’ll eventually succeed. The more action you take at the beginning, the more momentum you build.

44. Take Power Naps
Lack of sleep is disastrous to your health and numerous studies show that people are more productive at work after taking a quick nap. Don’t fall into the trap of working when you’re sleepy. You’ll get it done faster if you give your brain a break.

45. Take the Stairs
While stair climbing doesn’t consume all that many calories (about 300 if you’re average height and weight and climb five flights, five times a day), it does cause your heart to work harder, thereby improving your circulation and your overall health.

46. Take Time to Plan and Prioritize
The most common source of stress is the perception that you’ve got too much work to do. Rather than obsess about it, pick one thing that, if you get it done today, will move you closer to your highest goal and purpose in life. Then do that first.

47. Think of Rejections as Stepping Stones
When I wanted to publish my first business book, I sent the proposal to dozens of editors and got plenty of “rejection” letters. Rather than feeling discouraged, I started each day by laying out the letters on the floor and walking on them as if they were stepping stones.

48. Throw Out Things That Aren’t Useful or Beautiful
You’ll be spending about a third of your waking adult life at work. Why would you want to fill your work environment—and that part of your life—with objects that are useless and ugly?

49. Treat Setbacks as Success Signals
Most people treat setbacks as mini-failures, and often use them as an excuse to give up—and therefore fail. Learning what doesn’t work is an essential part of learning what does! Setbacks are a sign that you’re making progress.

50. Turn Off Background TV
Many people leave their TVs on as background noise while they’re doing other things. The entire point of TV is to make you dissatisfied with your life so that you’ll buy more stuff. Why subliminally program yourself to be a mindless consumer?

51. Turn Off Depressing News
So whenever there’s a news story that starts to make you angry or upset, change the channel—unless it’s 100% relevant to your life—or click to another page. Why torture yourself needlessly? You’re only draining away your own energy!

52. Turn Off Your Computer Alerts
Doing something creative, talking to somebody important, or absorbing complex information are all impossible if your computer and phone are chirping and beeping for your attention. Whatever it is, it can wait.

53. Use More Positive Words
When asked “How are you?” respond with “Terrific!” or “Fabulous!” or “I’ve never felt better!” rather than a depressing “OK” or “Getting by.” Rather than saying, “I’m enraged!” say “I’m a bit annoyed”—or, better yet, “I’ve got a challenge.”

54. Use Technology to Stay Focused
Set reminders in your email and calendar programs to keep you focused on achieving your goals rather than just noting activities that pop up throughout your daily life. Harness technology to focus your efforts rather than distract them.

55. Work 40 Hours a Week (or Less)
Workaholics may think they’re accomplishing more than the less fanatical worker, but in fact, long hours result in stressed-out people who get too sick to work and produce sloppy results that must be either scrapped or redone.

56. Write Your Goals Down on Paper
Talk is cheap, so goals aren’t real unless they’re written down on paper, by hand. This subliminally tells your mind that these goals are important and different, as opposed to a text email that you send to yourself, which is soon composed and soon forgotten.

57. Write Your Goals Out Every Day
The more frequently you write your goals down on paper, the more power they’ve got. When Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, wants to achieve a goal, he writes that goal down 10 times every morning.

Our company had just moved into a brand-new state-of-the-art building. It was constructed using green design principles with an open, organic feel and plenty of windows for natural sunlight. I was excited to move in!

Entering my new office that first morning, I noticed it was a bit too cool for my taste so I turned the thermostat up a degree or two. After unpacking a half dozen boxes and beginning my real work, I was still cold so I bumped the thermostat up again.

Throughout that first week, I continued to mess with the HVAC system to try to get comfortable. When I could stand it no longer, I called Maintenance. They explained that the system was computer controlled and that they would make an adjustment. I was satisfied that the problem was solved. It wasn’t.

After another week, I called back in desperation—“Please help me! I’m freezing!” The kind person on the line said she’d send a technician over immediately. When the technician arrived, he quizzed me on the situation. I told him I’d been freezing for two weeks and no matter how high I turned the thermostat, it just kept getting colder. He examined my thermostat and, without a word, he left!

As I sat there shivering, wondering why he had abandoned me, the technician returned to my office. Only now he wore a silly grin on his face as he yanked the Velcro attached thermostat box off my wall and disappeared again. He was gone 10 seconds and returned only to reattach the thermostat to the wall.

Reading the puzzled look on my face, the technician explained, ”Our HVAC controllers are wireless. It turns out that while you’ve been freezing for two weeks, the guy next door to you has been boiling. I just swapped your controllers—you should be fine now.”

It dawned on me–every time I had turned the thermostat up, the temperature of my next-door neighbor’s office had been going up. Because it was so warm in his office, he had been turning his controller DOWN. Literally, my office mate and I had been torturing each other as, little by little, we had each maxed out the one control we had our hands on.

Although comical in retrospect, there are many lessons in this true story turned parable. Here are five:

Lesson 1: Communicate
My own lack of communication prolonged my pain. If you see something in your workplace that isn’t right, speak up. Perhaps a critical tool is missing or doesn’t work, or maybe you or members of your team lack proper training. It’s possible that there aren’t enough hours in the day for the existing staff to get the job done.

Any impediments to getting your job done well should be productively communicated and now. Discuss the problem with your team. Come up with potential solutions. Present the problem and your recommendation to your manager. The best ideas and solutions come through understanding the problem. And, understanding the problem can only happen through communication.

Lesson 2: Adapt To Your Environment
I had a job to get done so I stayed with it. Because of the cold, I wore a jacket and then a parka (really). Sometimes our work environment is uncomfortable in other ways—high pressure, bad boss, demanding clients, uncooperative co-workers, etc. Whatever the challenges, you can’t just stay home. You have to try to make it work. If you’re overwhelmed, ask for help. If you’re under-skilled, get training. If you’re inexperienced, ask for coaching. Stretching yourself to meet the challenge will make you more capable, more productive and more valuable.

Lesson 3: Make Sure You Have Your Hands On The Right Controls
My high-tech wireless thermostat was impressive–it looked great and was designed well. It just didn’t control what I thought it did. Likewise, when we take action in our professional roles, we should be thoughtful and intentional in ensuring that we are focused on the right things and using the right tools for the job.

We should be purposeful in choosing what to focus on. The late Stephen R. Covey taught this powerfully when he said, “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.”

Lesson 4: Act Quickly When Things Go Sideways
If I had called for help on day one, I could have avoided two weeks of misery for my office mate and me. In our jobs, perhaps critical materials haven’t arrived or the progress of the work isn’t on track. If you know you’re going to miss a deadline, you have to make decisions and act immediately–get more resources, expedite the order for materials, find an alternative supplier, etc. We do what it takes to stay on track.

If nothing can be done to avoid missing a deadline, communicate with management and/or your client ASAP. It’s always better to be up front. Distrust is worse than missing a deadline. If you’re honestly doing everything possible and the project is still going to be late, reasonable people will want to know so they can accommodate the delay in their other plans.

Lesson 5: Communicate
I’ve made communication the focus of both lessons #1 and #5 because professional and personal effectiveness begins and ends with it. Regarding the fundamental importance of communication, renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking said:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking–Stephen Hawking

Effective communication is the most powerful activity you can engage in. It’s the most powerful skill you can develop. And it, along with honesty, are the most valuable character traits you can exhibit.