What does your day look like? When do you get things done? (Talking your own projects here.) Have you ever thought critically about how you organize and prioritize your time? Take a minute jot down your response before proceeding. I’m not saying what I do is the “right” way, but there may be some takeaways you can apply to your own life to improve your own workflow. I’ve definitely lived and learned the hard way.
One thing is for sure: there's no typical day in my life. I like to keep things interesting and keep myself on my toes, I suppose. I tend to get bored and uninspired if I do too much of the same thing. As with my adventures in French bureaucracy, I like a good challenge. A good friend and I joke about how I’m such a freelancer, and she’s such an office person. Everyone has their own style Over time, it’s been about discovering how I thrive.
I’ve always rebelled a bit about having too much of a schedule or plan. Likely out of fear that it’d take away my creativity. Something I learned in grad school was that I enjoyed the freedom of being able to schedule my own time. I also was busy enough that I had to make sure things got done. The combination of grad school and living in Paris made me a night owl, something I’d never been before. But the work got done. So it’s been surprising to me more than anyone to see myself seeking out schedule and structure in my professional life like never before.
To kick things off, let me remind you when I started out, I really had no idea what I was doing. It’s actually only been in the past 6 months that I’ve really started to think more consciously about how I structure and use my time. 7 years into my business, everything remains a constant work in progress.
I used to love working late nights and would really hit my groove sometime between 10pm and midnight, and would often go to 2am. Funny for a girl who was in bed by 10:30pm and up at 5:50am all through university! I didn't mind my night owl tendencies and got stuff done, but I also became the queen of snoozing. Again, not a problem as life in Paris tends to start a bit later, but it never made me feel great about kicking off my day. It was a bit of an internal battle, and I've always been one to hold self-inflicted guilt. In short: it was not the best start to my day and most of my day felt like an uphill battle trying to overcome the slow start.
A NEW ROUTINE
These days I've been working on creating more structure for business/life. Despite more lessons learned and experience under my belt, I find I need to build in even more “recovery” time. Work takes brain power. But one little tweak to my day, has completely changed how I work, and how I feel about my days.
Inspired by something I learned at a Deep Writing workshop this past spring, I've started a morning routine. My alarm goes off at 7:10am—early for me, but not by most standards. I get out of bed, make a tea, take my vitamins, and head straight to my desk (or sometimes couch) with my computer. I’m in my PJs as I write this post, but in doing so, I’ve minimized my distractions in getting here and making this post happen.
Don’t get me wrong, this shift wasn’t easy. It took a lot of internal re-wiring to break through my years of less than ideal habits. Ahem, snoozing. (Which is something I can look forward to on weekends still).
FIND TIME OR MAKE TIME?
There are a few things that are making my morning sessions a bit easier:
1) I'm super jazzed that I'm working on my own projects. After ~5 years of putting my work on the sidelines while clients got priority and most of my energy, I have renewed focus. Knowing I’m using this time to feed my own practice for once feels good.
2) As much as I rebelled against having structure for so long (the perk of doing my own thing), I realized that structure is a way for me to be better at what I'm doing, and want to be doing.
3) This simple habit of getting up and going straight to work means I'm making a lot more progress. It's not that everything I write is earth shatteringly brilliant. But it does mean that every little bit adds up.
4) It means that by 8am I'm already feeling jazzed about my day. The rest of the day can be complete crap, and I can feel like I accomplished something already.
People often ask me if I do “morning pages” inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. It’s a morning practice where you journal a few pages every morning, sometimes with prompts, other times more stream of conscious. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my bookshelf to read). In a workshop I participated in, it was pointed out that my time would be spent working on actual work. When you write every day, you’ll get to your end goal much faster. Instead, I work on a different post each day.
Reminder; Do what works for YOU! You never know until you try.
I was most definitely skeptical about this idea of a morning practice, but it was a comment from a fellow workshop participant that really made it sink in. She was older than me and had participated in the workshop in previous years. She addressed the group and said, “Look, I'm not a morning person. I rebelled against this for so long. But it totally changed my life." I happened to be sitting next to her, and figured I’d at least give it a shot.
In perfectly published end results we see online we don’t always see the RESISTANCE along the way. But we ALL experience it. The simple acknowledgement that it's not easy, and she too was skeptical, was what I needed to hear. Trying it was also a refreshing change of pace from the guilt and annoyance at myself for putting things off and not getting anything done.
Even with this new goal, the new habit didn’t stick for long. My summer got crazy, and I lost the good habit I had created. As I was transitioning out of a long term client project back towards nurturing my own practice, I knew I would need those good habits to carry me through. Fast forward, and five days a week I consistently wake up early to write.
In the process I came up with a pretty obvious—yet not so obvious when it’s right in front of us—realization that my morning practice was only truly effective on days where I got enough sleep. For years I could get away with 6 hours of sleep, the more I read, I’ve come to realise 8 hours is right for me. It’s still hard for me to get into bed before midnight, but I’m happiest when I get in bed closer to 10pm and can curl up with my book.
It’s always helped that I have horrible phone reception in my bedroom, so looking at my phone in bed hasn’t been a bad habit that I’m trying to break. But I have learned in the mornings, not to look at my phone. On my way to my living room I leave my phone on the kitchen table as I go to sit down and write. The more we eliminate distractions, the more we can get done.
It’s a lot of the little tweaks that make my writing more effective as I experiment. Most of the time when I sit down in the morning I never know exactly what I'm going to write. I do have a big list of ideas I can refer to if I need to. I think as a next step my goal is to be more intentional about making a plan for what I’m going to work on, even if I only decide the night before. Plans can always change, but it helps to have the intention.
For the month of November (NaNoWriMo) I’ve been extra ambitious and am working towards publishing one thing a day on one of my multiple channels. I definitely can’t keep this up for long term, but now, the bursts of having a challenge are keeping me on target and helping me further engrave good habits. As much as possible, I’m trying to ride the wave of feeling good about the state of where my business is going. I know if I break these habits, it’s going to be harder to get them back, and I’ll play mind games in the process.
I fully realize mornings aren’t for everyone, but for me, it’s been more helpful than I ever imagined. Being open to trying something new was more important than thinking I have all the answers. I still have my late night writing bursts, and love getting into the zone. But the thing is I no longer wait for the “perfect time” or for inspiration to strike, it’s about taking action and getting things done. The little tweaks to my day have had the biggest impact. And when you start your day off on the right foot, it feels pretty damn awesome!
Really, the secret to success is figuring out what works for YOU. I'm curious, what's a routine you've discovered that works for you? How do you work best? Have you ever thought about this before? Share your secrets in the comments below!
A few resources which helped me or I spotted:
BJ Fogg’s “tiny habits” free email training teaches you how to anchor things to existing behaviors to get things done (picked this up in my UX studies). (I now make sure I always do my dishes before I go to bed so I don’t have any distractions in the morning when I make my tea before I sit down and write.)
The book Designing Your Life (which I wrote about here) includes an exercise for mapping how energy changes throughout a day or week. From there you can consider how you can remove or rearrange elements to create a space where you thrive.
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is all about the resistance we face every day as creators from procrastination to self-doubt, or self-sabotage.
The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna is a pep talk for anyone who’s chosen “should” for far too long.
Deep Writing Workshop with Eric Maisel is the workshop I participated in that planted the seed about creating a distraction free morning practice. I did the in person one, but Eric offers an online version too. He also is a prolific author with books to help drive creativity forward.
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