Until recently, the first thing I did in the morning was turn on my computer. I would then begin a very predictable series of actions: check email, look at news headlines and maybe skim an article or two, check a few sites related to various hobbies, look at the front page of reddit (and click on most of the links), read social media feeds, check my calendar and task lists, check music sales numbers and blog page views, and so on. Probably 25% productivity/work related items, 75% entertainment & news (I consider 95% of the news I consume to be entertainment; only about 5% significantly affects my creative or work activities or worldview).
Luckily, the necessity of getting my kid ready for school would cut the internet browsing short. On good days, once she was off to school, I would disable the wireless connection on my laptop and transition quickly into my morning work (writing, music production, or sometimes work for clients). On other days, I would continue aimlessly browsing the internet, “doing” this or that, effectively wasting part or all my morning.
Sound familiar? Those of you who are self-employed (or unemployed) may relate more than those with the defined structure of a regular job.
When you choose to be self-employed, you gain a tremendous amount of freedom. You also take on the burden of managing your own time and tasks. It’s difficult! Ten years in, I’m still working on my systems. Not just systems for getting things done, but systems for capturing ideas, turning ideas into action, and staying motivated.
The other day I realized that the very act of turning on my computer often translated into giving up part of my free will. Unless I started with a very clear intention of what I was going to do, I would lapse into “habitual use mode.” I would lose track of my own agenda, and instead fall under the influence of other people’s agendas, including:
- people asking me to do things, or promoting things to me (most of my email)
- news and entertainment stories that major corporations think will capture and hold my attention (and draw my attentions to ads)
- advertisers wanting me to buy products and services
- the opinions of my friends, associates, and other people I follow via social media
These things are not “bad,” per se. I use my computer to track my tasks and calendar, and to communicate with my clients and business partners, and also with my family and friends. So checking various inboxes and my schedule is important. I enjoy seeing what my friends and acquaintances are up to, and what they find to be interesting or notable. Clients asking me to do things is how I make a living (mostly). Family, friends, artists on Loöq Records, and even random acquaintances asking me to do things; that’s not a problem either — usually I’m happy to help.
But on some level I knew that starting my day with the vastness of the internet and requests from other people was not healthy. My own intentions and goals were sometimes getting lost. So I decided to try a new routine.
The New Routine
1. Immediately after waking up (around 7am), meditate for a few minutes.
2. Take some free-form notes in a paper notebook, including dream fragments, ideas for various projects (including music, blog posts, and fiction-writing), priorities and to-do items for the day, random thoughts, etc. Go back and forth between note-taking and meditation until my mind is clear, my subconscious has had its say, and my intentions for the day are well-formed. Maybe my wife and daughter wake up before this process is complete, but even if I just meditate and take notes for a few minutes, it’s an entirely different way of starting the day than turning on a screen and going into reactive mode.
3. Morning routine (make coffee, brush teeth, shower, get dressed, get kid dressed, family breakfast, make lunch, etc.). You know the drill. POWER MORNING BOOM.
4. Around 8:30 am (kid is at school), turn on computer and phone, check messages, tasks, and calendar. Organize day and prioritize tasks. Put out any fires that need extinguishing, respond/complete tasks that take 2 minutes or less (flag or create tasks for everything else). If there is time, check social media and/or news sites, blogs, etc. (I allow myself to do more internet browsing in the evening; at night I’m less inclined to go overboard on internet use because I’m not procrastinating).
5. Start work, no later than 9am.
Even if I don’t manage to start work by 9am, the important change here is the order of things. Starting with a few minutes of meditation and note-taking sets me up to have clear intentions and goals for the day, and prevents me from slipping into a habitual/reactive mode.
What’s your morning routine? Do you look at your computer or phone immediately? What kind of “first action” best establishes your outlook and energy for the day?
If you decide to make a change in your routine, please feel free to share your experience and results here.