The Happy Engineer Podcast

111: Morning Victory – 5 Habits of Mediocrity Engineering Leaders Must Avoid

In this episode, learn from a recent conversation with Mark, an engineering leader facing burnout. His turnaround began by taking control of his life from the moment his feet hit the floor.

The fact is, you probably have habits that hinder your progress.

From snooze buttons to social media, I’ll show you how these 5 behaviors negatively impact your mindset and productivity. If you replace these bad habits with good ones, the results you can create in your career will compound over time.

Don’t underestimate the power of a mindful morning routine. There may be 1000 good options for what to do, but these 5 bad options you must avoid.

So press play and let’s chat… It’s time to start your day on the path to success!

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The Happy Engineer Podcast






Previous Episode 110: Start Anything You Believe Deeply with @CauseHacker Jim Carter iii | CEO & Founder | AI Specialist




Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Hello, my friend. Welcome back to the Happy Engineer Podcast, and I hope you’re excited for today because we’re going to do a little audit on how you’re starting your day. And it’s not one of those morning routine conversations where I’m gonna give you the prescription on exactly what you should do and how to have the most amazing, successful day and wake up at 4:00 AM and do these three hours worth of exercises, and then you’re gonna be absolutely crushing it in your career.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:25] We might do one of those episodes later. I do love morning routines, but today we’re hitting the opposite. What are those five things that you absolutely must not do? If you want the best chance possible at consistently showing up every single day at your best, experiencing the, the momentum, the progress, and the success that you want in your career and in your life, and this topic came up in a conversation.

[00:00:53] With Mark the other day, mark was telling me about his career. He’s an engineering leader. He’s doing very well, but he started to unpack what was going on and being honest. He’s experiencing that downward trend toward burnout. He’s not loving the work that he is doing right now. He’s been at this same level for several years.

[00:01:12] He had a new boss come into his department recently. How many of you can relate, right? It’s like new boss not getting along so well. That’s making it a little bit tougher. Projects are getting a little bit tougher. He’s taking on more work and it’s this downward spiral towards a situation where he is now dreading waking up and going to work.

[00:01:33] And said, well, where do we begin? You know, this is starting to impact him. He’s not experiencing, the energy that he needs at home when he gets done with work. And then that creates conflict with his spouse and he’s not feeling like he’s being the father that he wants to be for his kids. And I mean, you can imagine.

[00:01:50] How this spirals and snowballs into these rock bottom burnout situations that get the headlines on LinkedIn and social media. Well, mark and I started doing what I would call triage, right? Where do we need to begin just to turn this thing around and looking at some low hanging fruit and places we could start to get that ship on the right track.

[00:02:11] And so, I was asking Mark questions, you know, tell me about what’s really happening day by day. What are some habits or behaviors you might need to change during the workday? And then something he said really triggered me. He said, Zach, from the moment I get to work, it’s like everything’s already off track.

[00:02:29] I’m immediately thrown into firefighting. I feel like I’m overwhelmed. I’m constantly in a hurry, and it’s, it’s just bad from the very moment I arrive. And so I got curious. I said, well, tell me about. What you’re doing before you get to work, what’s actually happening in the mornings. And Mark described his morning routine, if you can even call it that.

[00:02:52] He basically said, well, if I’m being honest, I’m so burned out right now that I hit the snooze button as many times as I can. And finally it’s like I just have to get up, or there’s no way I’m gonna get to work on time. I grab a cup of coffee, I down it, I put my clothes on and just, get in the car and drive to work and get after it.

[00:03:10] I thought, oh man. Okay. So Mark and I had this discussion. About some behaviors and things that were blocking him in the morning from having any shot at success. So let me share with you the five things that I have seen, not only in my own experience, but in coaching hundreds of other engineering leaders.

[00:03:29] And in looking around at what other super well-known coaches and leaders have said across the board, these five things are total no-nos if you wanna crush it every single day. So let’s get started. Number one. That snooze button. I know you love it. I love it too. Sometimes the old Zack used to really love that snooze button.

[00:03:53] But listen, the snooze button is dangerous, and I highly encourage you to put your alarm on the other side of the room and when the alarm goes off, get out of the bed. Shut it off. Go straight to the restroom, splash your face with cold water and get up and start the day. Here’s the reason I believe this is most important.

[00:04:17] That alarm, that time that you decide the night before is the time that you want to wake up in the morning represents the first commitment that you have made to yourself for the day. The first contract that you have made, the first thing you are holding yourself accountable to to start the day, and when you go hit that snooze button and go back to sleep, essentially you’re saying that that commitment to yourself, Is not important that you can just let it slide and wait nine more minutes to get up that you can choose whenever and however, and, and just be lazy and procrastinate, if you will, first thing in the morning.

[00:05:00] That is not the tone or the energy or the intention that you wanna start the day with. So give it up. Don’t hit that snooze button when the alarm goes off, get outta bed and get started. Number two. Do not log into social media and start scrolling. This one seems completely obvious to me, and not just from the time wasting aspect of it, but again, here’s the key.

[00:05:29] It’s not it, it’s inherently bad to wanna check up with your friends or consume some social media. I, I understand all the counter arguments, but look, you don’t wanna start your day in the energy and mindset of comparison. you’re putting into your mind the best of someone else’s life. You’re imagining what other people are experiencing, and you’re beginning the day on someone else’s agenda instead of focusing on your own life.

[00:05:59] The only comparison that matters first thing in the morning is, are you going to be a better person today than you were yesterday? Are you gonna be the husband today that you want to be and correct the mistakes from yesterday? Are you going to step up and make that 1% improvement in whatever area you’re focused on for your vision and goals today versus yesterday?

[00:06:22] That’s the only comparison that matters. So get out of social media. Stop wasting that time and stop living from a spirit of comparison to others as your first point of the day. Again, it’s all about starting with the right energy, the right intention and momentum, and social media is not it. Number three, don’t check your email.

[00:06:46] This is very similar to social media, but it’s a little bit different in this way. First, lots of engineering leaders will tell me, yeah, but Zach, I need to see if anything has come into my inbox. I need to check and see if my boss sent me any priorities or if there’s something on fire that I need to go put out the fire.

[00:07:06] And it’s really important that I get quickly into that inbox and check on what’s gonna be going on today. Well, here’s the thing. You can make any excuse you want, but if the first thing you’re doing when you wake up is grabbing your phone and checking your email, Then the first thing you’re doing for the day is establishing your priorities off of someone else’s priority.

[00:07:30] Bear with me. Your inbox is nothing more than a sophisticated management system for other people’s priorities. Okay, we can dig into that more later, but I just want you to realize that digging into email, opening up that inbox does not give you the chance to first get clear and decide for yourself what is my priority today?

[00:07:56] You know your priority better than anyone else, so don’t check your email first thing. Number four. I know this one’s gonna probably rub some people the wrong way. Don’t go sucking down coffee and caffeine right when you wake up. I know, I know. Waking up to the smell of coffee. It’s so good. Believe me, you can ask Joe Lee.

[00:08:20] You can ask Max. You can ask Kaylynn. All the people on my team here at Oasis of Courage, Lee, Deb, doesn’t matter. Like you can ask them. They’re all gonna tell you. Zach loves his coffee. And I do. I, I love a good cup of coffee. Might even be getting close to coffee snobbery at this point. But hey, you know, don’t judge me.

[00:08:40] But here’s the thing. Starting your day with coffee, we can set aside the health issues with doing that. There’s plenty of research about coffee, you know, minutes after waking up is not a great way to begin the day, biologically speaking. But outside of that, I also want you to recognize what that represents in your mindset.

[00:09:02] How many people say that they can’t get anything done and they can’t start their day until they have their first cup of coffee, essentially. Bringing a mindset that I don’t have energy without this external thing, without this addiction to caffeine. you don’t want to begin with that kind of mindset.

[00:09:22] Alright, so I love my coffee, but my day starts with water. Athletic greens and a protein shake. That’s what I want in my body first, and what it represents to me is that my priority is my health and vitality, and that I drink coffee out of passion and pleasure, not because quote unquote, I need it to start my day.

[00:09:46] So waiting, you know, 60 to 90 minutes is the range that I’ve heard, and I think Dan Pink talks about that in his book when go check the research for yourself on the health side. I’m not gonna claim to be a nutritionist or your doctor today, but I just encourage you, if you habit, is to wake up and go straight in and grab that cup of coffee and start drinking.

[00:10:05] I challenge you to look at what that represents in your core values and beliefs. And switch that mindset. Last one. This one is huge. Do not start your day in a hurry. This one is, it’s tough. It’s really tough because I understand, especially if you have a big family, you’ve got kids, you know, you’re getting people on the bus.

[00:10:30] You’re, you’re, you’re making lunches. There’s all these other responsibilities, and you wake up in the morning and it’s just this mad sprint, this mad dash to get everybody taken care of and, and get off to work and, and kids off to school. And yes, it’s tough. I really, really encourage you to give yourself the gift.

[00:10:50] Of some space for a slow, meditative, focused, intentional time in the morning, and partner with your family and the people around you, however you need to, to remove some of those activities from the morning to prep the night before for as much as you can and to create more ease. And a slower pace in the morning because when you start your day from a place of being in a hurry, from a place of feeling behind before you’ve even begun, that energy will go with you throughout your entire day, and you will never feel like you are on top of things and in a great place if that’s the way that you start.

[00:11:38] So I really do encourage you do what it takes to slow down in the morning to make some intentional decisions that opens the door for you to now execute a morning routine. That is great. So look, there’s a thousand things you could do that makes your morning awesome. I, we could talk morning routines all day long, but I absolutely believe that these five are crucial for you to avoid.

[00:12:03] If you want to have the best chance at success, don’t hit that snooze button. Put your phone somewhere else. Don’t check social media, don’t check your email. Don’t go sucking down caffeine first thing, and don’t be in a hurry. Now for those who’ve coached with me and worked with me, you know, I don’t like only talking about the don’ts, but in this instance, I think we need to be quick and easy on the audit and just say, Hey, am I exhibiting some of these bad habits?

[00:12:35] And I. Which ones do I need to take out? But your homework is not just to audit for these five, but if you’re doing one of them, remove that and ask yourself, what will I put in its place? What is the habit I will choose in instead? What is the positive behavior or action that I will fill instead of doing that?

[00:12:57] So, If you’re drinking coffee first thing, we’re gonna remove that bad habit, but you must install a good one as well. So ask yourself, if I’m taking this away, what will I do instead? That’s your homework to go replace these five behaviors with something better. I hope this serves you and I’ll tell you for Mark with a couple of these small changes.

[00:13:21] Getting rid of that snooze button, waking up at a set time, slowing the pace down a little bit, asking for support from his family around. You know, hey, I need a little bit of time to myself to go get my head clear, set my daily goals and intentions, and begin my day on a positive note. That small shift.

[00:13:42] Gave him that boost of energy, that boost of clarity that he needed to then be able to go do the heavy lifting of making significant changes in his career in life. But sometimes it really is as simple as starting with these small shifts in changes in our own behavior that opens the door to now doing the real work that we all want, and how to get the promotions, how to break, to this next level in your career.

[00:14:09] Go audit your morning, get it done. Don’t overthink this and be an engineer. Run the test. Maybe you disagree with me on these. You think coffee first thing is the best. You probably find some research study that shows that I’m wrong, but I just challenge you to run the experiment, be an engineer, collect the data, give yourself 21 days of not doing any of these five things, and then report back to me.

[00:14:34] How did it go? I would love to hear what changes you’re making. You know, you know how much I enjoy getting feedback from you, so send me an email, shoot me a note, hit me in the dms, leave a comment on LinkedIn, but tell me how you’re doing and where else have you found the do nots in your morning routine?

[00:14:54] I’d love to hear what number six, seven, and eight might be for you, things you’ve learned in your own growth journey. All right. That’s it for today. Be like, mark, make the right changes to improve the way you start the day. Because how you do anything is how you do everything. And we wanna begin just like we want to execute and show up in our being all day long.

[00:15:16] Let’s do this.