One of my hobbies is optimizing my life. I love finding productivity methods and other tricks to make life work a little better or to make things go more easily. I’m always looking for some new thing that will improve my life. But there’s a lot of advice I resist because I don’t really want it to be true—and then I finally give in and try it and find out that it works even if it’s not fun. So, here are the things that I have found to be true, even though I hate that they’re true:
1) My day goes better when I set an alarm in the morning, even though I work for myself and don’t have to be at work at any particular time.
Not only do I get an earlier start (though not much earlier; we’re talking 10-20 minutes), but I’m more alert and less groggy, and I fall asleep more easily at night. I’m not entirely sure why it works this way for me. It may have something to do with the kind of alarm clock I have. I have a light alarm clock that wakes you up with light. Half an hour before the time you set, a light comes on, dim at first and gradually growing brighter. If you haven’t turned it off by the time you set the alarm for, it will play some kind of sound. I almost never make it all the way to the sound. Usually I wake up about 10 minutes after the light comes on. I love this clock because it makes me feel like I naturally woke up at the time I wanted instead of being startled out of sleep by the alarm. It’s possible that the light does something to reset my circadian rhythms and that’s why setting an alarm makes me sleep better at night.
Anyway, I kind of hate this. I’d rather just sleep until I wake up every morning, but I have to admit that my days go better when I set an alarm. One other good thing is that it makes weekends and holidays, when I don’t set an alarm, feel different from my weekdays.
2) Exercise first thing in the morning gives me more energy all day.
I really resisted this. I thought if I didn’t eat breakfast as soon as I got up, I’d feel awful. I thought I didn’t have the time. But once I started walking in the morning, I had to admit that it made things better. Ideally, I go walking outdoors, but when weather, or sometimes time, doesn’t permit, I may do yoga or even just do some jumping jacks, windmills, or other exercises. Even if it’s just five minutes of movement, it really helps set up the whole day, and I hate that. I’d rather lie in bed and then drag myself to the kitchen for breakfast.
3) When writing is the first thing I do in my workday, I get so much more writing done and am more productive all day.
I resisted this one for decades. I thought I needed to ease my way into my day, and it was important to check my e-mail, in case there was some important information I needed to know. I’d sit down at the computer and start by reading e-mail, then social media, message boards, etc. Then I’d draft my blog post and make another round of social media, etc. I’d post my blog, check around again, and then lunchtime! Finally, I might start writing after lunch. There was no way I’d be alert enough first thing in the morning to write anything worthwhile.
Well, I finally gave it a shot, and it was amazing how well I could write first thing in the morning. Doing that before I started all the other stuff gave me a lot more focus. I reduce temptation by putting my computer to sleep at night with the browser minimized and my current document up on the screen, so that’s the first thing I see when I wake up the computer. I think keeping with this routine has improved the quantity and quality of my work. And I kind of hate it because I really would prefer to spend the morning drinking tea and surfing the Internet.
If your schedule doesn’t permit writing first thing in the morning, this applies to the beginning of any writing session. Do the writing first, the other stuff later. It’s amazing. And terrible.
4) Having a schedule makes the day go better.
One of the things I love about working for myself is setting my own schedule. I do what I want, when I want to. Except I don’t. Strangely, I’m bad about not getting around to doing things I want to do, often because I’m sidetracked by other stuff. I’ve learned that making a schedule makes me more likely to get to all the stuff I want to do. A lot of that has to do with how willpower and decision-making work. You really do run out of energy for making choices, especially late in the day, so if you make all the “what should I do today?” decisions early, then all you have to do later in the day is follow the schedule. My work routine has fallen into habit well enough that I don’t have to make a formal schedule unless there’s a change I have to accommodate, but where I really benefit from this is on weekends. Having a plan means I actually get to the fun stuff instead of just puttering around and then hitting Sunday night and wondering what happened to the weekend.
5) You see more progress when you do something daily.
I am pretty good about writing daily (except I give myself weekends off). It’s everything else that I tend to do weekly. I’d take an exercise or dance class that met once a week and not do anything in between. I had choir practice but wouldn’t sing the rest of the week. But last year, I started doing daily yoga, and it’s amazing how much a difference that made compared to the once a week class I used to take. I’ve been doing daily Norwegian lessons on Duolingo for a couple of years, and I feel like I’ve made more progress with just 15 or so minutes a day than I did in all the years I took Spanish classes in school. I need to get back to doing music this way. I’ve just about lost my singing voice after two years of barely even speaking, so I should start doing daily voice work so I can eventually get back to choir. This also works for housework, doing small things daily instead of doing it all on the weekend (or not doing it at all).
These all work for me, but may not necessarily work for everyone, since we’re all wired differently. But since I was absolutely certain they wouldn’t work for me until I tried them, it’s worth giving it a shot and seeing if these things work for you.