J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

This cat's day is shot.

Your Computer is a Gateway to Other People’s Agendas

This cat's day is shot.

This cat’s day is shot.

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.

 

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10 Comments

  1. My first priority in the morning is my coffee. I used to look at emails and read stuff while drinking my coffee but now I read whatever book I’m currently reading. It makes me feel more sane.

  2. This is so so true. After open 20 tabs on different subjects and interests, i stop browsing only after I am mentally exhausted.
    From now onwards, before sitting in front of the computer, I am going to fix my time and agenda.

  3. My routine is similar to yours: quick scan of e-mail and put out fires while getting everyone out the door, then an hour of writing before going back to e-mail. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way because I also do consulting work, which often gets in the way of my fiction writing (but does pay the bills).

    I’ve started saving most of my social media stuff for the evening, since my brain doesn’t need to be quite as sharp for that.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot. What gets me is also that of my tasks of things I have to do, most of them require me to go to the computer, even simple tasks, like looking up number or address, etc. And I’m so cognizant of advertising. It’s a problem in education because kids are being sent to the computer and targeting ads are popping up and then there’s social media and other stuff, right there. It takes a tremendous amount of self control just to accomplish a simple task — for children or adults. I may switch to doing social media only on my phone, keeping the computer more task oriented. I will change the timing of it, though.

  5. Boo

    Trying now to start the day 30-60 minutes starting with Bach Preludes and Fugues on the piano between sips of espresso, moving on to the hard stuff as the caffeine takes effect. And at least a few minutes of meditation before I’m out the door.
    The mail and RSS feeds (I stay off social media) tend to be on-the-train activity.
    Unfortunately, it can be difficult to maintain this regimen, as the temptation of an extra 30 minutes of sleep sometimes wins.

  6. so glad to have this topic addressed. cyberspace rules my life.., and mostly gets me nowhere! though there are some sites that have turned my head productively. and there’s nothing like remembering who and about what I need to be in touch w/ and being able to complete those contacts via email and quickly after 10 or 11pm.
    however.., my start to my day: often i first [often] meditate…, it can take an hour at least. I have a few ‘obligations’, healing prayers, glitches in my life i attend to cleaning up and it’s not an overnight job. then a few more rituals: the first tea offering, a Buddhist practice.., make my 20 oz of decaf green tea w/ lemon. then the pondering of whether to juice some kale, or make a kale smoothie. then I think seriously if briefly about getting 15 minutes of outside exercise. and I may, but too often it’s too cold, too wet, my knee hurts.., or I note something between here and there that needs to be done. Mostly I too often wander back to have tea in front of the laptop.., and read how bad it is to sit all day, ad other should and should nots. if it’s cold, I start a fire in the stove. if there’s no wood, I do get to go outside and pitch logs to the door for 15 minutes. if there’s wood in the house, then I come to a stop trying to start the fire, and then hover over it to warm up. sometimes I do some yoga.., unless there is an outside chore to get to.., I too often can get to a blur of nowhereness and being online supports this. I hope this pushes me elsewhere. thanks. by!

  7. Thanks for the responses everyone. I’m about a week in to my new routine and so far so good. It’s “sticking” because I have something to do right away that replaces computer time (as opposed to just trying to *not* do something). Word count is up too (for writing projects).

  8. Hmmm-mm. I filing this away for a year or so from now when I’ll be retired but will certainly still work at something. Having a job that you actually go to does structure your life quite a bit. My day starts with coffee on the back porch listening to the birds wake up (a form of meditation…;-)…….), followed by a little exercise, a big breakfast (while checking e-mail, etc.), then off to work where I’m inevitably a few minutes late every day (and somehow get away with that). Obviously I find a few distractions along the way (Bookworm) that are the root cause of the lateness – haven’t been able to cut those loose. I do notice that on the weekends, my days are pretty unstructured. Hope I don’t fall into the retired person’s ultimate trap – “Oh, I can just do that tomorrow.” Having some sort of structure is definitely good for me.

  9. Thank you so much for articulating a point that I have been longing to express! As an adjunct professor, a volunteer, and a person with a full time career in marketing, I was beginning to believe that I was not generous enough in spirit for the communication onslaught that is the 21st century. I don’t check email first thing in the morning and I also take “email free weekends” (which are a delight.) But both of these things sometimes make me feel guilty and irresponsible. Your post re-enforced why it is so important to continue to protect the hours that I take to advance my own creativity and dreams, oblivious to the requests for recommendations, the links to follow, and the tasks to complete for others that arrive 24/7. Thank you.

    • great example to follow;-) my dtr in law apologizes for not being online to be current w/ my email; I am so grateful that she tends to her life and my grandson instead of the blue square!

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