We’re starting a new series on the Buffer blog today with great tips and insights from Joel, CEO here at Buffer. Joel will share his ideas and insights about lifehacking, building a business and working on company culture. Here is #1:

Today it’s a little over three years since I first had the idea for Buffer, and with the year and a half before that which I worked on my previous startup, I’ve started to notice a few patterns amongst the ups and downs that come with building a startup.

One of the most important things I’ve learned during this time is that I perform the best when I’m happy. It really does change everything. If I’m happy then I’m more productive when hacking code, I’m better at answering support, and I find it easier to stay focused.

I’ve found that there are a few key habits which, for me, act as great rituals for enabling me to be consistently happy. They also act as anchor activities to bring my happiness level back up quickly whenever I have a period where I’m not feeling 100%. So here are 6 of the things I do:

1. Wake up early

One of the things I love about running my own startup is that I have complete freedom to experiment with my daily routine.

Through experimentation, I’ve found that waking up early every day makes me feel most invigorated and happy. It gives me a great start to the day, and this almost always leads to a great rest of the day. Over time, I’ve found I crave that “early morning” feeling, a time I can do some great work and be super focused. Gretchen Rubin from The Happiness Project mentioned something similar a recent article:

“I get up at 6:00 a.m. every day, even on weekends and vacation, because I love it.”

Waking up early every day requires discipline, especially about what time I sleep. Right now, I have a sleep ritual of disengaging from the day at 9:30pm and sleeping at 10pm. I now love all aspects of this ritual and with it in place I awake at 6am feeling fresh.

The power with your mornings is that you will have about 25,000 of them in your life, so there’s a lot of room to experiment.

2. Exercise daily

“We found that people who are more physically active have more pleasant-activated feelings than people who are less active” – Amanda Hyde

In the last three years, I’ve gone from dabbling with exercise to it becoming something I do every weekday without fail. At first I had no idea what to do at the gym, so I asked my brother, who’s a personal trainer. I then went a few times with a good friend and soon I was hooked.

Over time, I developed this into a daily ritual so strong that I feel a pull towards it, and by doing it consistently I feel fantastic and can more easily take on other challenges. I recently discovered that exercise is a keystone habit which paves the way for growth in all other areas. I’ve also found that it helps me to get high quality sleep each night.

3. Have a habit of disengagement

“The richest, happiest and most productive lives are characterized by the ability to fully engage in the challenge at hand, but also to disengage periodically and seek renewal” – Loehr and Schwarz, The Power of Full Engagement

As I mentioned earlier, a key way I am able to wake up at 6am is through my ritual of disengaging in the evening. I go for a walk at 9:30pm, along a route which I’ve done many times before. Since the route is already decided and is the same every time, I am simply walking and doing nothing else. This prompts reflection and relaxation.

Various thoughts enter and leave my mind during the walk, and I’ve found this to be very healthy. Sometimes I think about the great things I enjoyed that day. Other times I will realise a change I should make in order to be happier day to day. I also feel calm and relaxed by the time I return from my walk, and I can therefore go straight to bed and fall asleep sooner than if I been engaged in my work and had closed my laptop only a few minutes earlier.

We’ve talked before about the power of being either fully engaged or disengaged when we’re doing something, which ties in exactly with this.

4. Regularly help others

One of my most fascinating discoveries about myself so far this year, is how happy it makes me to help others. For some time I had been consistently meeting founders to help them with their startups without realising that it was making me so happy. Then when I read Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard I connected the dots of when I was happy and the activity I was doing: helping others.

I read Ricard’s section on the link between altruism and happiness and everything clicked. Since then, I’ve been consistently helping many startup founders and it’s brought me much happiness through both the challenge of finding ways to help each person, and the feeling that comes when I help the other person discover ways to make faster progress with their current challenges.

In fact, Adam Grant highlights in his latest book, that spending just 100 hours a year on helping others can significantly increase our happiness.


5. Learn new skills – the power of novelty and our brains

“Being in the moment, focusing completely on a single task, and finding a sense of calm and happiness in your work. Flow is exactly that.” – Leo Babauta

One thing I’ve found during my time working on Buffer, is that a key reason I’ve been happy for most of that time is that I’ve consistently had new challenges to take on. It may seem odd that new challenges can equate to happiness, but it is the times when I’ve slipped into a few weeks of working on something I already know well, that have led me to feel less happy than I want to be.

I think a key part of why learning new skills can bring happiness, is that you need to concentrate in order to make progress. The “flow” state has been found to trigger happiness. In addition, when learning something new you are able to learn a lot in a short space of time due to a steep learning curve. For example, in the last two weeks I’ve started learning Android development from scratch and I’ve personally found incredible the amount I know now compared to nothing two weeks ago.

Looking more scientifically at novelty and the brain, there’s also a significant connection showing how our happiness increases. We’ve written about this before here, which might be an interesting read for you.

6. Have multiple ways to “win” each day

Since the above activities are habitual, many days of the week I actually accomplish all of them. If I succeed with all five, I have a truly amazing day and feel fantastic. I have goals for Buffer, and I have goals in my weights routine too. In addition, I try to schedule one or two meetings or Skype calls to help people each day. I do this based on learning from around a year ago through an interview Tim Ferriss had with Matt from 37signals. I’ve mentioned it before on my blog, but it’s so good that I want to repeat it:

“If your entire ego and identity is vested in your startup, where there are certainly factors outside of your control, you can get into a depressive funk that affects your ability to function. So, you should also, let’s say, join a rock climbing gym. Try to improve your time in the mile. Something like that. I recommend at least one physical activity. Then even if everything goes south — you have some horrible divorce agreement with your co-founder — if you had a good week and set a personal record in the gym or on the track or wherever, that can still be a good week.”

So if I start my morning with a gym routine, work on the new Buffer for Business we just launched for example during the day and help two people during lunch, I have 4 chances to have a great day. It almost always works.

Are there any key activities or habits you’ve found bring you happiness? I’d love to hear from you.

If you’re looking for follow-up posts to this one, you might also like “10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science” and “What happens to our brains when we exercise and how it makes us happier

Photo credit: iko

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Written by Joel Gascoigne

Joel is the founder and CEO at Buffer. He is focused on the lean startup approach, user happiness, transparency & company culture. Say hi to him anytime @joelgascoigne.

  • Great post Joel. I have a startup called actionplanr.com, a productivity app to help people make things happen and get more done without all the stress. My routine is very similar to yours. I exercise everyday. I go to bed early and get up early. And I help people because it makes me happy too. I view my startup much like an endurance athlete, a long-term perspective and taking care of my body by feeding it healthy foods and giving it the daily exercise it needs, along with rest is crucial to my success. For me, it all starts with feeling good — mentally, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. If I am not feeling great in one of those areas, my work suffers. So, everyday I do activities that nourish and support those areas of my life.

  • Great list! As the song says, “Don’t worry, be happy!” 🙂

  • Mary Patry

    Thank you! your message could not have come at a better time!

  • Sandy Appleyard

    I exercise regularly and disengage by reading each night before bed, but a couple other things that work for me are meeting at least 3 of my planned goals each day (even if they’re little ones), make sure I spend at least a half hour of good, quality time with my kids (reading with them, doing an activity or playing), and of course, writing something (a blog post, editing, writing a short story or working on my latest book WIP). But what makes this all come tumbling down is if I don’t get enough sleep. That is a deal-breaker for me.

  • That 3rd one is money. I actually just wrote about this on my blog: slowing down (disengaging). Grinding and accomplishing things is definitely important… but reflecting is equally vital! It’s good to see the path you’ve taken and realize how you want to proceed. Nice.

  • HollyBolton

    Great post! For several years now, a friend and I have been sending each other emails of five good things from each day. In addition to providing a time to reflect on the positive aspects of each day, it helps me view my life through a lens of gratitude, with a heightened awareness of the positive things going on in my life and in the world.

  • Love the habit of disengagement Joel. A big deal in our over-connected society. I try to do the same thing at the end of every day, and *try* not to work on the weekend. That one doesn’t always work out, but the former lets me recharge my batteries so I’m good to go at the start of each day.

  • Hey Joel, great post, very inspiring. I now really feel I should take it up a notch with my personal goals. I would add however the aspect of team happiness. At Soomla, we have a tradition of going out for a ~weekly beer night. It helps keep us happy as a team and fosters friendship over just being co-founders / co-workers. The following work day is always a happier one. Otherwise, great stuff, always happy to read your posts.

  • Bea

    I’m new to buffer, as of yesterday. This is a great post. I’m beginning to work on a healthier lifestyle. I’ve been a shift worker these last 33 years, and wow is it an unhealthy way to live! I have the opportunity just now to work day shift and I am incorporating better habits day by day. A work in progress.

  • W. Mason Preddy

    I enjoyed your post, Joel! These are all great points. I have one I would like to share. It is very simple. Simply start smiling more. First, the world would be a much BRIGHTER place if we all just smiled more. Second, our bodies release a magical chemical into our bodies when we SMILE. Those magical chemicals are called endorphins. They are responsible for making us feel good & help in making us feel HAPPY. Even if your day is going so bad you need to “fake it”, you can do that & it still works. Simply take a piece of licorice or a pencil & carefully place it in the back of your mouth. Doing so imitates a “smile” & just like magic, your body will release endorphins to make you feel better. Endorphins would probably be illegal if our bodies didn’t already make them naturally or be very expensive to purchase. No black markets here though. You can achieve feeling happy simply by smiling. Of course if you have to “fake it” (& I do hope your day gets better : ) adding a kind gesture like holding the door for a stranger or letting someone into traffic & smiling at the same time will feel even better & of course more genuine. Start making SMILING more a habit. Start or StaySm:)ing! folks! Enjoy! Mason

    *Disclaimer: To be transparent, I do own a teeth whitening biz. However, no promos or hype here though. What I have shared here is completely true. Enjoy!

  • Many thanks for writing this article! I enjoyed reading.


    First of all let me thank you for a great app that I use everyday , like a year ago. That buffer . It is simply so awesome , I don’t know how you guys do it. Plus I came to realize that you are a great writer too. This is simply amazing. how do you do it ??
    Great article sharing it ..Thanks

  • kevinjgallagher

    Love this post Joel. The morning is defiantly the best time of the day and rising early really makes a difference to my day. Will try all six points.

  • Typo: missing space before “mentioned it before on my blog, …” (sorry, professional trauma).

    Great article

    • Belle

      Fixed! Thanks for the heads up on that one 🙂

  • Azalea Pena

    Joel, I have to agree with you in so many points. I’m a believer that success can only be achieved if you’re happy doing something. Those points you’ve made are really really simple, if we look at it. But somehow, not many people can apply this in their lives. They either pressure themselves too much with work or business, or they just do what they need to do without that “happiness” factor. Although I believe that every person will have a different routine for achieving happiness with success, this is still good insight. My favorite is the habit of disengagement. Being engaged with work is just a habit that is hard to break and many of us do not know how it affects us everyday. So, thanks a lot for sharing this. May we all be happy while doing what we do.

  • Fantastic list. I rise early and workout regularly to stay clear-headed. If I don’t it’s easy to fall into a funk.

    And focused time to unplug and serve others is definitely key to happiness. “It is more blessed to give than receive” and all that.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Caroline Picard

    … and a mindful life of gratitude and thankfulness.

  • Théo Blochet

    A great post about happiness, yet not a single mention of “family” in the whole post. Not that I am especially a family guy, I just find it interesting to notice. Could one conclude startups and family worlds are often not compatible ?

    Anyhow, great thoughts as usual. Early mornings are also something I love. And exercising, something I would like to love. But this is another story.

  • Great list Joel! Yes, I find going to the gym daily helps me big time. I am now addicted to it. Also, love taking walks and need to start doing it more, but it’s cold this time of year 🙂

    I am a morning riser myself and it does make a big difference. I am now starting to meditate right before bed. I reflect on the day, the next day/week/month/year. I have a vision that I walk myself through and it’s a great way to “unwind”.

  • Love this post Joel.. and really all your post. Always very helpful tips to implement in my own startup! Please keep sharing . . .

  • Soul Sister

    Great post. My tip is that I wave out at least one car at each opportunity. On my way to work. I started when I realised how bad I felt whenever I didn’t let someone through. Now I get to work with a nice rosy glow inside 🙂

  • Thank you for the interesting article. One time I thought about it and came to the same general that to your conclusions. http://djanga.ru/2013/12/2-bordo-aquitania/ But for me there is one more thing. We need to try to make a big deal, but small portions. And always bring to a logical conclusion begun.

  • Great Post Joel. Thank you for sharing, I started feeling happier even after just reading your post 🙂

  • Great post on happiness and life! I like to see life as a bunch of cogs within a wheel. One may be your health or exercise, another may be your job or business and one may even be your relationships.

    I feel that I am happiest when each of these are turning together. If I am slacking on exercise, the rest of the cogs seem harder to turn, for example! But I love how you separate all these things and see them as individual ways/goals to achieve happiness that day!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Hans Peter Bech

    Playing music is a great way to disengage. I play in three bands, which gives me the opportunity to exercise band culture with different people (no one is the boss, but each member spontaneously takes charge of a song or an element of a song. The drummer always do the count down though :-)). Band culture is an excellent way to learn how to produce great results with no formal management structure.

  • Larry Peterson

    Joel, Great read! An valuable mentor once told me two things to do to be happier: A. Plan a time to read about new ideas, that make you think in different ways. B. Plan time to enjoy a fulling hobby.

  • Andrew Kissling

    Good stuff Joel. I totally buy in to your suggestions, all of which I’ve been engaged in for several decades. Gretchen’s book is a must read for… well, for anyone.

    Another happiness key I’ve discovered is to be genuiniely kind, nice to and warm towards everyone I engage with, every day, from the checkout attendant, to challenging customers, to staff. There’s something wholesome and sustsining about making this a habit.

  • Silvana Di Gregorio

    WONDERFUL!. It is true. I’ll try every day, is not easy, sometimes you can sometimes not , but It is possible!

  • Isaac Zakar

    Awesome Joel! Very helpful insights! Even though I follow my own everyday checklist I loved the “power of disengagement” you suggest! Thanks for sharing! Keep it up!

  • ann

    what is soul sister going on about she is like a god e.gour body will realeas a magical chemical please speak english!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ASA


  • ASA

    Thanks! Really helpful.