#labrat: Become a Morning Person

Rat Race designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project

Rat Race designed by Luis Prado from The Noun Project

My name is Sasha, and I am not a morning person — but I wish I was.

Every new study seems to be on the infinite benefits of waking up early, with endless examples of historical geniuses to prove it. They all seem to get their best work done in the early hours. And while some studies claim that there’s a gene needed to be an early riser, more say that it’s just a matter of resetting your internal clock. 

So, for a week starting on Monday, November 4th, using a set of specific rules and lessons learned previously (see our article on “The 1-Step Plan for Super Productivity”), I am going to do what my mother swears is the impossible; I’m going to become a morning person. And if any of this is feeling awfully familiar to you as well, I want you to join me. If you’re game to take part in the experiment, bookmark this page and follow us on Twitter, and use #labrat on your tweets so others will be able to find you. I’ll be updating and tweeting daily, so why not give it a try? We can do this, or cry through it, together.

Taken from those linked articles above and a bunch right over here, here are the rules:

  1. Must wake up at 6 a.m. You hardcore people can go earlier, but any later and to me it’s just normal wake-up-for-work that the masses have, not real “get sh** done” time.
  2. No snooze button. Not even once. If you are like me and will often hit it, or even turn off your alarm entirely, in your sleep, this will mean putting your phone or alarm clock across the room so you have to get up to turn it off.
  3. Must be exposed to sunlight. This can be difficult if you live in a place surrounded by outside lights at night, but getting natural light in the morning is key. You can also buy “dawn simulator” alarm clocks to fake it for you.  For the sake of my sanity (I live in NYC), and this experiment, I purchased this one.
  4. No working allowed in the bedroom. No laptop or cell phone left next to your bed. If your cell phone is your alarm clock, just put it at the farthest point of the room from you before you go to sleep.
  5. A strict-bed time. Since I’m getting up at 6am, in order to get eight hours, I am pledging to be in bed by 10pm. Oof.
  6. A routine starting an hour to half an hour before bedtime, so you can make the most of your early morning. Deciding and planning out what you’ll be working on with your extra time (this is super important!), laying out your clothes for the next day, as well as some down-time before turning off the lights. No blue-screens allowed though, many studies show that looking at laptops or TV screens before bed can make it harder to fall asleep. If you’re gonna read, you’re gonna have to do it the old fashioned (though better for reading comprehension) way — paperback! 

Note: You’ll have noticed through reading any of the links above, that most suggest waking up a little bit earlier every day until you hit your desired time, and that you need a full month of sticking with it (weekends included!) to properly switch your cycle over. For experiment’s sake, and because I’ve never been one to “ease” into anything, we’re just going for it.

Make sure to check back here starting on Monday for daily updates all week and a final conclusion on Friday! Follow #labrat on Twitter to see how others are keeping up and offer some encouragement, though something more along the lines of a cup of coffee would be very much appreciated.

Monday: Failed miserably. It start by missing my bedtime. I ended up turning off my alarm in my sleep and going back to bed! New plan for tomorrow: switching out phone alarm for a fake-dawn simulator one.

Tuesday: Woke up on time, no snooze button! It was a slow drag through the morning though. I felt like I was operating with only 20% of my brain on (for some reason it took me around 45 minutes to make and eat breakfast). I did get some work done though, and the major thing I noticed was feeling of no pressure. There’s a lot of freedom with that. I wasn’t hurtling through the street to reach my subway stop or grimacing at every slightly-slower moving human — I was one of those people strolling, taking my time to really look at the surrounding shops and people on my walk. The only downside is I just got to work but feel like half the day is already over, with 8.5 more hours to go!

Wednesday: I started this AM using a fake dawn-simulator alarm clock (this one here). It was really wonderful. I woke up naturally, on my own, with 5 minutes left before my alarm was set to go off. I tried to snooze for those last 5, but found myself wide-awake. Unfortunately I had to leave earlier for work today, so I barely got anything done on my side project, but still started the day at work feeling great.

Thursday: Stuck to my “bedtime” Wednesday night. I dragged myself there, muttering about how this was dumb and I wasn’t even tired, and yet ended up falling asleep minutes later. This morning was a bit of an outlier though, because I had to get some blood work done at my doctor’s before work, which meant fasting from midnight until then. Waking up was fine (up at 5:45am), but trying to stay awake with no coffee or food did not go well. To summarize: I fell asleep on the kitchen table. This seems obvious and like common sense, but today’s lesson is that for morning people, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. 

Friday: I feel like I’m finally getting into the swing of it. I was in bed by 10pm and read ’til around 10:30pm. Woke up 5 minutes before my alarm went off and, inspired by a #labrat tweet I saw yesterday about staying offline, I didn’t even look at my phone or computer until almost 8am. I sat in front of the kitchen window and enjoyed my breakfast while reading a book. Probably the most relaxing weekday morning I’ve had yet.

Here’s how today went for other lab rats:

 cheatinlabrat

advicelabrat

sunriselabrat

drawinlabrat

beardedlabrat

nyclabrat

1stdaylabrat

mydtdlabrat

 sketchinlabrat

sketchinlabrat2

Conclusion: Though I only got one work-week of this experiment in, the “extra” time I had was surprising. The separation between that, of work and creative side projects, was refreshing too. I do think the bedtime (and thus the start time) has to be pushed back a little bit for myself, as 10pm can be hard to stick with. I also wish I had been able to do it the gradual way, of moving up fifteen minutes every few days until you hit your desired start time. Regardless, as a previously sworn night owl, there’s been something really inspiring about seeing the sun rise and get brighter as I wake up; a kind of lightness that I carry with me for the rest of the day.

If you’re coming to this #labrat a little late and just reading this now, please still feel free to join! There’s a large amount of other lab rats using the #labrat hashtag on twitter with their updates, which I’m always looking through, and I’ll still be checking the comments section as they come in. You can do it!

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DesignStudio: Design from the Start

DesignStudio

DesignStudio, responsible for the recent Airbnb rebrand, believes if you really want to benefit from design thinking, it needs to be incorporated from the start of the project. Co-founders Paul Stafford and Ben Wright found that all too often large agencies were not consulting designers until the last 20% of the project.

We didn’t understand why design wasn’t at the forefront; why designers weren’t in the initial meetings…One of our founding principles was that design and designers were always in the project from start to finish. Design thinking is a bit of a buzzword but we didn’t set up on that, it just kind of made sense for us.

As their studio grows, Stafford and Wright are focused on hiring designers as oppose to account managers to avoid the disconnect additional hierarchy can cause. Designers will still have the support of client services and project managers, but they will always be directly involved in the projects. Wright explains, “I think for designers that’s a huge motivation, stripping away account directors and allowing designers that ownership.”

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The Seven Step Method to Better Meetings

Notes designed by Ema Dimitrova from the Noun Project

Notes designed by Ema Dimitrova from the Noun Project

Brainstorming meetings can be disastrous, often eating up time and leading to poor decisions. Google Ventures has a way to avoid the pain of traditional meetings with a seven step method.

Over at Fast Company, Jake Knapp explains:

The next time you need to make a decision or come up with a new idea in a group, call timeout and give the note-and-vote a try.

1. Note: Distribute paper and pens to each person. Set a timer for five to 10 minutes. Everyone writes down as many ideas as they can…

2. Self-edit: Set the timer for two minutes. Each person reviews his or her own list and picks one or two favorites…

3. Share and capture: One at a time, each person shares his or her top idea(s). No sales pitch. Just say what you wrote and move on…

4. Vote: Set the timer for five minutes. Each person chooses a favorite from the ideas on the whiteboard…

5. Share and capture: One at a time, each person says their vote…

6. Decide: Who is the decider? She [or he] should make the final call—not the group…

7. Rejoice: That only took 15 minutes!

The “Note and Vote” technique works by circumventing the usual suspects that cause brainstorming meetings to go awry: personal feelings, fear of being unheard, and building ideas off one another rather than focusing on originality.

Knapp also explains that this approach forces your meetings to be run in parallel (where everyone is contributing at the same time, without shouting) whereas traditional meetings are run in a serial fashion.

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Where Do You Fall on the Creativity Spectrum?

The Creativity Spectrum from Kevan Lee at Buffer

The Creativity Spectrum from Kevan Lee at Buffer

We often hear the advice “just start,” but it comes without a clear explanation as to how. Visualizing the gap between mediocre and great work in this way makes it evident that the only way to get on that scale is to overcome the bigger gap between nothing and something.

Over at Buffer, Kevan Lee gives us an answer by taking creative author Shirky’s notes to create The Creativity Spectrum.:

What holds you back from creating something?

For many of us, it’s fear. Fear that something might not be good enough, unique enough or novel enough.

Overcoming this fear is a huge and important step… Author Clay Shirky noted the importance of the simple act of creating—creating anything, even a silly thing—in his book Cognitive Surplus: “The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

The message is clear: to create great work requires that we create any work to begin with. Because until we have something to work with, great work isn’t even on our scale of possibilities.

Lee provides plenty of other creative insights in addition to this one over on the Buffer blog.

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6 Coffee Alternatives That Are Better for Productivity

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Designed by Claire Jones for the Noun Project

Regardless of where you fall on the “is coffee good or bad for you” debate, there will come a workday when you can barely keep your head up at your desk, and coffee is not an option. Maybe you’ve already had two or three cups with no real effect, or maybe you’ve been trying to quit but still haven’t found a good alternative yet.

As part of Fast Company‘s “Coffee Week” coverage, Lisa Evans offers a number (6 in all) of other options. Here’s a few of our favorites: 

Green Tea: This beverage has become known as the healthiest coffee alternative thanks to its high concentration of antioxidants and its link to lower risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Green tea does contain caffeine, but a smaller amount than your regular cup of coffee, so you don’t end up with the same jittery side effects. Not only can green tea boost mental alertness, studies show it can also make you smarter. One recent study published in the journal Psychopharmacology found green tea is effective at improving memory and cognition.

Eat Some Chocolate and Have a Laugh: That cute cat video your aunt emailed you may be just what you need when you feel a dip in energy. Researchers from the University of Warwick showed boosting employee happiness by offering chocolate and showing stand-up comedy videos improved productivity by 12%…

Raise the Heat in the Office: That chill you feel in the office may be causing your productivity to drop along with your temperature. Cornell University researchers found employees working in offices with low temperatures (of 68 degrees) committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive than employees working in a warm office (of 77 degrees). When the body’s temperature drops, it uses up energy to stay warm. This leaves the brain with less energy to concentrate or to be creative. If you can’t raise the office temperature, be sure to pack a sweater or get a space heater.

And if what you’re really jonesing for are the sweet, soothing sounds of a coffee shop while you work, there’s always Coffitivity.

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Do Elite Colleges Produce Risk-Averse Students?

Statue of John Harvard aka the "statue of three lies" at Harvard University.

Statue of John Harvard aka the “statue of three lies” at Harvard University.

Extracurriculars, straight A’s, volunteer work. . . Getting into top-flight colleges demands a ridiculous amount of free time, dedication, and energy, which are exactly the kinds of things that stifle learning. So does that mean that the Ivy Leagues are now producing students who are better at following orders than experimenting?

The New Yorker takes on the issue using William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life as a backdrop:

They’re meant to do it all, and they do. But they don’t know why, or how, to find fulfillment in the absence of new hoops to jump through.

Learning is supposed to be about falling down and getting up again until you do it right. But, in an academic culture that demands constant achievement, failures seem so perilous that the best and the brightest often spend their young years in terrariums of excellence. The result is what Deresiewicz calls “a violent aversion to risk.” Even after graduation, élite students show a taste for track-based, well-paid industries like finance and consulting (which in 2010 together claimed more than a third of the jobs taken by the graduating classes of Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton). And no wonder. A striver can “get into” Goldman Sachs the way that she got into Harvard. There is no résumé submission or recruiting booth if you want to make a career as a novelist.

If our brightest minds are mainly falling into fields like finance, what does that mean for the next generation of leaders?

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The Case Against “Doing What You Love”

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Cartoon by Rachel Nabors

Web developer Rachel Nabors followed her passion and was a full-time comic book artist. But an unexpected surgery and a lack of health insurance debunked her plans and gave her a new outlook on creative work. Now? She believes that “do what you love” is bad advice.

My first love, comics, gives me an edge in this industry. If I’d just gone straight into web development because it seemed like a money-maker, I wouldn’t be half as excited about what I can do or as interesting to others in my field. I and my community are better for the years I spent making comics, even if it wasn’t a successful career choice.

But, if I’d kept “doing what I love” in the industry that didn’t love me back, I would have never realized that there are other, more profitable, things I love.

Rather than telling you to do what you love, I’d like to say this:

Don’t do something you hate for a living.

There is no glory in suffering. Because you can grow to hate something you love if it puts you in a bad position, this advice gives you permission to move on to greener pastures if what you love is making you cry at night. Whatever you love should love you back. And if it’s not working out, it’s ok to find something else to love.

We all have more than one true passion in us — sometimes it just takes time to find it.

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