The 20 20 20 Formula for Productive Mornings

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 5 AM Club" by Robin Sharma. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the 20 20 20 formula? How can splitting your first waking hour into twenty-minute periods help you increase productivity and set the mood for the rest of the day?

The 20 20 20 formula describes the three 20-minute periods that make up the first hour of your day. The first period is dedicated to exercise, the second to reflection, and the third to personal growth and enrichment activities.

Read about the 20 20 20 formula.

The 20 20 20 Formula for Success

Goals are only as powerful as the efforts made to achieve them. Now that you understand the foundational components of the Victory Hour, you are ready to learn the steps for focusing on those components to create an exceptional life. The 20 20 20 Formula describes the three 20-minute periods that make up the 60-minute Victory Hour. Move through these periods in the designated order to prepare your brain properly and harness the power of the 5 AM Club. 

Period 1: Exercise from 5 a.m. to 5:20 a.m.

The first part of the 20 20 20 formula is what you need to do after jumping out of bed. Engage in vigorous physical activity. You can go for a jog, do jumping jacks, take an exercise class, or dance. Do whatever activity suits you, but it must make you sweat. 

The reason physical activity first thing in the morning is so important is that it activates positive chemical reactions in your brain that benefit the rest of your day.

  • Exercise increases the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is a powerful chemical that can repair damaged brain cells, increase the rate of neural connectivity, and increase cognitive functioning. It also generates new brain cells.
  • Exercise releases dopamine, which sends pleasure signals to neurons that increase energy and motivation, and serotonin, which improves your mood. 
  • Exercise helps lower your cortisol levels, or the hormone associated with fear. Cortisol is at its highest when you first wake up. The power of this fear hormone has the ability to stifle your creativity and motivation. 
  • Exercise stabilizes your amygdala, or Ancient Brain. This dampens your fight or flight reflex and allows you to respond to negative situations with greater composure. 
  • Exercise jump-starts your metabolism, which helps break down energy that fuels your brain and body throughout the day. 
  • Exercise strengthens your body and creates a landscape of overall good health.

When you sweat first thing in the morning and activate all of these benefits, your psychological perspective will improve. You’ll be calm, focused, and more productive. 

Period 2: Reflect from 5:20 a.m. to 5:40 a.m.

Reflection is important to ground your spirit and harness the power of your Mindset, Heartset, Healthset, and Soulset. You might reflect by sitting quietly, meditating, or journaling for these 20 minutes, but a combination of all three is recommended. Taking the time to reflect each day has a number of benefits for your day and life:

  • You stake claim to a moment of peace before the responsibilities and hardships of the day ahead begin. 
  • You have time to think about who you are and who you want to become without the distractions and pressures of the external world butting in. 
  • You free your mind of worries by setting your intention for the day ahead both behaviorally and emotionally.
  • You are able to contemplate the possibilities of the future and create dreams and goals for a beautiful life. 
  • You create what is known as “residual wisdom” through your meditations on who you want to be and what you want your life to look like. Your visions for the future become anchored in your awareness, which resonates throughout the rest of your day and helps you make good choices. 

When you take the time to be still and allow yourself to focus on what you believe, what you feel, and who are you, you strengthen your connection with your true self. And engaging with your true self allows you to discover your true genius. 

Take some time during these 20 minutes to allow your mind to soar like a child’s mind. Imagine the impossible, dream of greatness, and visualize yourself achieving your dreams. Use part of the time to write in a journal. Use the journal to create a blueprint for your day ahead. Write down what you hope to accomplish that day so you have a map designed with love to follow. 

Or use the journal to release your thoughts. Don’t stop to think, just allow the flow of your mind to take over. Write about what you’re grateful for, what ambitions you have for your life, and any fears, guilt, or other negative emotions holding you back. You must feel your emotions to heal from them. Simply naming your bad feelings and writing them down can bring them to the front so they can be released. As you release these toxic elements, you create more space inside for your four empires to rule. 

Then, find a few minutes to quiet your mind and focus on your breath. Meditation is considered one of the best ways to bring internal peace and unlock hidden parts of your soul. You tap into your inner light that realigns your energy toward goodness and strength. 

When you take the time to reflect in the morning, you start your day calm, stable, and spiritually powerful. From this foundation, you can attract great things to your life and impact others for the better with your positivity. 

Period 3: Grow from 5:40 a.m. to 6 a.m.

If you want your life to grow, you must take time to grow your mind. The final 20 minutes should be devoted to enhancing your knowledge of the world and your craft. Deepen your knowledge to increase your aptitude for success. While others are sleeping, you’re taking steps to improve your mind and skills, and those steps will give you a head start each day. Improving your knowledge base is important for many reasons:

  • You increase your level of accomplishment the more you learn about your craft. 
  • You become more valuable to both your specific business sector and the world by producing higher-quality work.
  • You draw greater opportunities to your life as you increase your abilities. 
  • You draw greater rewards to your life by increasing your productivity and value.

You don’t have to go back to school or study like a doctoral student to grow your knowledge base. Read books about people in your field or great influencers of the world. Seek out information that enriches your understanding of leadership and innovation. Gather information in the self-help realm to strengthen your internal empires. Watch videos or documentaries about icons and their journey to stardom. 

Whatever you can do to enrich your awareness of the world around you, your place in it, and the work required to succeed, the more powerful you will be when you turn toward the day’s work. Be curious and hungry for knowledge. What you put into life is what you get out of it.

Holistic Benefits

The magic of the 20 20 20 Formula is the way it creates intention for your day and creates ripples in your sense of self that lead to tidal waves. The more you engage with the full routine, the more you build on the positivity of the day before. The successful days accumulate into a successful life, and you become more powerful and capable than you thought possible. 

You must follow this routine in order every day. You can customize it to suit your needs, such as exercising for 30 minutes if you prefer. But make each period at least 20 minutes long and keep them short enough to not exhaust your body or mind, which can lead to burnout. The periods are designed to be short enough to maintain focus without feeling burdensome.

One important aspect of the 20 20 20 Formula is to keep your focus on optimization. Your decision to join the 5 AM Club is a decision to grow and transform into the best version of yourself. You can’t continue to grow if you become complacent in your morning ritual. Push yourself to change your activities with an eye toward higher achievement each morning. 

When you continue to reach for more peace, awareness, and knowledge, you keep your growth trajectory moving in the right direction and reduce the influence of ego, which develops from a false sense of mastery. Never settle for where you are. Keep moving the boundaries of your abilities to reach extraordinary levels of personal and professional excellence. 

This process is organized and ready to use the first day you decide to form the habit of waking early. All the hard work of understanding how to optimize the Victory Hour has been done for you. You now have no excuses for wasting your precious time of opportunity.

The 20 20 20 Formula for Productive Mornings

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robin Sharma's "The 5 AM Club" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The 5 AM Club summary:

  • What the Victory Hour is and how it can change your life
  • Why an early morning routine activates your creative and productive potential
  • Why the first hour after you wake up is your most productive

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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