Updated on 11.05.15

The Secret of the Launchpad

Trent Hamm
space shuttle ready to launch

The secret to a productive morning is preparing for take-off the night before. Photo: NASA

One of the most important things I ever did with regards to launching The Simple Dollar and making it successful was to adopt a pretty strict and intense writing schedule right off the bat and stick to it. In the early days, that manifested itself as several short posts a day – six posts a day at first, then later four. I stuck to that schedule like glue.

Over time, I came to find more value in longer, more detailed articles where I could spell out multiple principles at once and combine them into a single picture, so I cut the post-per-day count down to two and eventually down to one article per day, albeit a long one. In fact, my daily word count today is higher than it’s ever been for The Simple Dollar.

For the past several years, I’ve published a minimum of six articles per week on The Simple Dollar. I have never missed a post, with the only delays coming as a result of server issues or other things. My average daily word count is somewhere around 2,000 words.

Two thousand words per day. Every single day. For several years.

My firm belief is, more than anything else, that my consistency was the reason The Simple Dollar reached any level of success. People could check the site each morning and find something new to read that came from my keyboard, something that often (or at least sometimes… or occasionally…) contained something worth thinking about.

The same thing was true at my previous job, but in a different context. I made it my goal to write at least one noteworthy software patch or feature addition every single work day, a pattern that I kept up for multiple years. While I feel that I sometimes wrote some really good code, it was that consistency, that constant march toward improvement both in the software itself and in my own performance that others could rely on, that made me successful at my job.

Here’s the catch, though: that kind of consistency and solid performance is hard. Doing it for one day or one week or one month isn’t too bad, but for several years without stopping? That’s not easy.

Yet it is that consistency and reliability that made me successful at my previous job and I believe it also contributed greatly to the success of The Simple Dollar. It’s exactly how I would approach any future jobs I might have and any side businesses I might launch as well, with as much strongly consistent quality as I can muster.

There are a lot of tools I’ve used to maintain that level of consistent professional success. I use Getting Things Done (with a few modifications, like this) to maintain my to-do lists. I keep a pocket notebook as an “external brain” of sorts so that I don’t lose track of things. I use Google Calendar diligently to keep track of all kinds of appointments. I use brainstorming techniques and have article writing down to a fine science that works for me.

But there’s one tool that I find comes through for me time and time again, and I call it the “launchpad.”

To put it in its most simple terms, my launchpad is the physical and informational setup I use to get me started on my work tasks almost immediately when I first sit down to work in the morning. Since I tend to be most productive when I first sit down in the morning, my launchpad helps me start my day as productively as humanly possible.

So, what exactly is my launchpad? It takes two forms – an electronic launchpad and a physical one.

My physical launchpad basically takes the form of my backpack, along with some physical items that I sit on top of it or next to it. I keep my backpack right next to my bedside table so that I can find it quickly in the morning.

The contents of my backpack are pretty straightforward – my laptop, a charger for that laptop, some research materials (that change fairly regularly), a few basic toiletries (a toothbrush, etc.), some pens, a few backup pocket notebooks, a larger notebook for brainstorming, and so on. Basically, if I were to grab this backpack, I could set up my work environment anywhere I go. It’s pretty much a portable office in there.

On top (or next to) that backpack are several other things. I keep my everyday carry items there – my keys, my cell phone (and there’s a charger right there to keep it charged), my wallet, my pocket notebook, and a pen. I also keep my morning medication (Synthroid, which I have taken daily since birth) there, too, as well as my Kindle and/or my current library book (since I read before bed most nights but also want it in my daily carry bag).

I also keep any additional physical items that I know I’m going to need the next day right on top. If I know I’m going to need a copy of a budget or something, I’ll put it right there the night before.

Most nights, I’ll also put my clothes for the morning right there as well.

The real key is that I prepare all of these things in the evening beforehand. I don’t go to bed without my launchpad ready to go. That way, I can get up and all of the materials I need for what I’m going to do that day are sitting right there.

It’s my “launchpad.”

The second thing that I do is prepare my work as much as I can to immediately jump in and be productive tomorrow. I’ll open documents, integrate notes, and get everything as ready as possible for my writing tasks the following day as the last task of the previous day.

For example, let’s say that I need to get two articles finished tomorrow. The last thing I’ll do before putting my computer to sleep for the evening is to open up a document for each of those articles, copy and paste my notes straight into each document, save and name them appropriately, and even prepare things for actually submitting my article.

I’ll open up my to-do list manager, make sure everything I’ve done today is marked off, and make sure everything I intend to do tomorrow is marked with tomorrow as the due date, then I leave that to-do list right there, front and center, with the open documents so that when I wake up my computer from sleep mode in the morning, it’s all ready to go.

This is my “electronic launchpad.”

What this all does is transform my morning. When I wake up, my clothes are sitting right there, as are my everyday carry items and the Synthroid that I take immediately after waking up. It’s all right there, ready to go.

As I go through my typical morning routine – waking up, breakfast, getting the kids off to school – all of the pieces I need are already in place. This makes the whole routine so much simpler. (I’m actually working with the kids to get them to set up their own “launchpads,” but it hasn’t caught hold yet.) I don’t feel as though mornings are overwhelming or stressful – they’re just a series of simple tasks that I’m already prepared for that I simply execute.

The morning routine goes by. I’m not stressed or overwhelmed. I just execute without stressing out or thinking much at all.

Then, I sit down to work. I wake up my computer from sleep and everything is ready to go. I can immediately dive into writing. I’m feeling well rested. I’m not feeling bedraggled from the morning routine with my children. And, right there, everything is ready to go.

It’s because of this “launchpad” system that I’m able to jump right into productive work quickly and usually get a lot of work done by mid-morning.

What happens when I don’t have a launchpad in place? My morning routine is completely disheveled and often stressful. This leaves me already somewhat out of whack when I sit down to write in the morning, and if my “electronic launchpad” wasn’t set up, I’d have to spend time figuring out what my first step is, debating about that, and then putting those pieces in place.

In short, I’d burn a lot of time and focus and energy in the morning – during that prime period when I’m at my most effective in terms of actual work – before I ever put a single word down.

Having a launchpad simply makes me far more productive in a given day. I set up the launchpad each evening when I’m thinking already about what I need to do tomorrow and I put things in place to make those first steps as easy as possible. Because of that, my first steps in a given day are as easy as possible and I walk easily right into professional productivity.

Without this launchpad, I would have most assuredly missed some articles over the last several years – probably many articles. Without this launchpad, I would have never been able to try my hand at a lot of different initiatives.

You can do it, too. Just spend 10 minutes at the end of your workday setting everything up so that the start of your next day is as easy as possible. Spend 10 minutes before bed setting everything up so that the start of your next morning is as easy as possible. Do that and you’ll find yourself saving even more time the next day, handling your morning routines with far less stress, and be as ready as possible to do something great, and it’s those great things that lead to more opportunities and more income.

Good luck!

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