#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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Being Wrong Can Be the Best Thing to Happen to You

By Cristina Pagnoncelli

By Cristina Pagnoncelli

Making a mistake, screwing up a major project, or seeing your business fail sucks. Being wrong on any scale is a blow to your self-confidence, makes you question the path you’re on, and cripples your motivation to move forward. But there’s another way to think about failure: it’s inevitable. James Clear writes over on his blog:

For some reason, we often expect our first choice to be the optimal choice. However, it’s actually quite normal for your first attempt to be incorrect or wrong. When it comes to complex issues like determining the values you want in a partner or selecting the path of your career, your first attempt will rarely lead to the optimal solution.

So if failure is unavoidable, what does that mean for reaching success, and how do you reframe it as productive? Clear has collected a handful of helpful learnings from his failures over the years as an entrepreneur, writer, and photographer. When you’re next mired in a mental miasma over a serious misstep, consider his reflections:

Choices that seem poor in hindsight are an indication of growth, not self-worth or intelligence…. If you know enough about something to make the optimal decision on the first try, then you’re not challenging yourself.

Given that your first choice is likely to be wrong, the best thing you can do is get started. The faster you learn from being wrong, the sooner you can discover what is right…. The best way to learn is to start practicing.

Break down topics that are too big to master into smaller tasks that can be mastered…. If you want to get better at making accurate first choices, then play in a smaller arena.

The time to trust your gut is when you have the knowledge or experience to back it up. You can trust yourself to make sharp decisions in areas where you already have proven expertise. For everything else, the only way to discover what works is to adopt a philosophy of experimentation.

So not only is being wrong a great thing, given that it more often than not represents an opportunity to grow, it’s an essential stepping stone to success. You can decrease your failure rate by dividing huge ideas into smaller, actionable mini-ideas, and by getting lots of practice experimenting, but you won’t be able to skip straight from lightbulb to history-making glory.

The trick here is that you have to work out the mental muscle that can recognize failure, learn from it, and leverage those learnings into moving forward. Being wrong is only awesome if you use your error in the right way. As economist and Financial Times columnist Tim Harford writes in his book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure:

Success comes through rapidly fixing our mistakes rather than getting things right first time.

So screwing up isn’t bad. You just have to make sure you’re listening closely to yourself and the feedback of those around you to gauge when, why, and how a failure went down in order to spin it into gold.

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The Danger of Assuming What Your Client Wants

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by Duncan Beedie

If you want to fill your customer’s needs, you have to listen to what they want. Donna Carpenter, owner of Burton Snowboarding, learned this firsthand when she became President of the company in December 2011. She focused on making Burton the brand of choice for women snowboarders, though after they hit a rapid growth spurt in the ’80s and ’90s, Burton had become male dominated and lost their female customers’ voice. In an interview with Edition F, Carpenter explains:

…We had a children’s snowboard for boys that had robots on it. A woman in our soft goods department then said, ‘I know there’s a demand for a girls’ snowboard.’ So we went to graphics and said, ‘You have to give us a girls’ snowboard.’ They just turned it purple and it still had robots on it. We laughed and said, ‘No one is going to buy it. A girl doesn’t want it, because it has robots and a boy won’t buy it, because it’s purple. And then you’re going to say girls don’t want snowboards.’ So we insisted that they put little girls’ graphics on the board like butterflies. It exceeded pre-season projections by 250 percent. Everyone wanted to have it. But the guys didn’t know how to do it. They just said, ‘We’ll pink it and shrink it.’ That doesn’t work. Women consumers see right through that. They don’t want that.”

For Carpenter, understanding her client meant also having that same demographic hold leadership positions within the company. In this manner, Carpenter was able to have her own customers readily available and on staff to provide insights and understanding. According to IDEO, human-centered design is about hearing from your users in their own words, not assuming you know what they want. Carpenter’s research found that not only do female snowboarder not want purple robots on their snowboards, but that they approach the sport in a completely different way. Male customers compartmentalize their sports, whereas women view it much more holistically. They were interested in the sport as a lifestyle, which required marketing to tell a completely different story.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to partner with your direct client on a permanent basis. However, IDEO recommends that interviews can unlock the same understanding. In their design kit The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, they stress writing down exactly what the interviewee says, not what you think they might mean. It is also important to observe their body language and surroundings, especially if you have the opportunity to interview them in their home or office. You can learn so much more about a person’s mindset, behaviour, and lifestyle by talking to them in their daily surroundings. As with all research, come with an open mind and without preconceived notions. The goal is to design to the actual needs or desires of your client, not your perception of what they are.

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Overwhelmed? Use the Four D’s to Move Projects Forward

By Mikhail Vyrtsev

By Mikhail Vyrtsev

You’ve got the same 24 hours as Beyoncé. Yet somehow she accomplishes far more in a typical day; at any given time, she’s effortlessly moving multiple priorities forward (albums, tours, media, shows, business, philanthropy, marriage, motherhood, and more). Even Beyoncé knows that she doesn’t have the capacity to do everything herself, alone, though. There’s only so much that you, as one person – with the mere 168 hours afforded to you each week – can accomplish by yourself. 

Jackie Bavaro
, Product Manager at Asana, suggests that there are four ways to spend less time on priorities that you simply don’t have the capacity for: delete it, defer it, delegate it, or diminish it:

Delete it: …It can feel scary to say no, but picking the work you won’t do is just as important as picking the work you will do. If a teammate gave you a responsibility that you don’t believe is the best use of your time, make sure to let them know that you won’t be doing it anymore. Try showing them your pie charts to give them context on why you would like to delete this task, rather than just saying ‘no.’

Defer it: If you don’t have time now, but will in the future, deferring a responsibility is an excellent option…Setting a reminder makes it easier for you to not feel stressed about the work while it’s deferred.

Delegate it: For responsibilities that still need to get done, evaluate if it can be reassigned to another teammate. Delegation works best when you can hand a responsibility over completely — now the teammate you delegated to can own both the ‘boring’ and cool parts of the project, and can take pride in seeing it through to completion.

Diminish it: When you really want to own a responsibility yourself, you can find ways to reduce the time you spend on the work. You can reduce the scope of the work, for example, only tackling the highest priority pieces. You can also stop working when your output is good, rather than perfect.

There’s simply no immunity from the paralyzing procrastination that comes with staring up at daunting tasks, no matter how focused and driven you are. The larger and more intimidating the priority, the more likely you are to conjure up excuses to slow your start. And the more time you spend trying to prioritize things, the less time you actually have to move them forward. 

The (desired) byproduct of being good at what you do, is that you’ll get more to do. Beyoncé can only sing, dance, and be a boss within the same finite temporal constraints as yours. But even she has to turn things down or hand them off. Then, and only then, can she focus on moving her enterprise forward. No matter the size of the project, when relevant tasks come onto your plate that you simply don’t have the capacity for, remember the Four D’s: delete, defer, delegate or diminish.

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These Are The Most Valuable People In Your Network

By Antonio Rodrigues Jr

By Antonio Rodrigues Jr

Common sense might suggest that the most valuable relationships in your network are the people you have the most distinct connections to—your “strong ties.” They’re the folks you’ve worked with closely, share an industry with, known for a long time, or enjoy a mutual trust with.

But if you think creatively, you could see how it might be that your “weak ties,” or those you used to consider strong ties but have lost touch with, could also be considered your most valuable relational assets. Due to your close proximity, your “strong ties” might not offer any information that is novel to you. They probably share your knowledge base and viewpoint already, whereas those weak ties are more likely to have been exposed to fresh insights you haven’t yet encountered.

Adam Braun, founder of Pencils of Promise and Director of the Global Education Platform (i.e. an experienced networker), discusses a third idea: the power of “dormant ties.”

We often focus our efforts on building strong ties where we perceive the greatest value, but science suggests that surprisingly the value lies in your weak and dormant ties. I recently observed this when my wife fractured her toe while we were traveling internationally. I posted this photo on Instagram about her injury, and within 5 minutes I received texts from two different people. One is an old college friend I hadn’t spoken to in months who’s now a doctor and immediately offered a second opinion on her x-rays.

This happened before my own family saw the post, and got me thinking about the phenomenon that details the strong power of weak ties….

So next time you’re in a jam or perhaps looking for your next job, recognize that the true power is in connecting with your weak and dormant ties. Although our gut tells us, “I let that friendship go for a reason,” the science says you should reach back out and reconnect.

Social psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant, author of the super-popular Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, discusses dormant ties in detail in his book. Unlike weak ties, dormant ties are built on a strong foundation so that reactivating them is not as awkward or uncomfortable as with weak ties. It’s probably less weird to ask for advice from an old friend you’ve lost contact with over the years than from someone you only slightly know.

Grant draws an important conclusion that takes Braun’s understanding a crucial step further. The key is that to liberate the power of dormant career connections, you’ve got to be a giver, or a generous and other-oriented person. Takers, those who think only of themselves in their careers, won’t be able to cash in on dormant or weak professional relationships by virtue of not reciprocating past favors and support:

Dormant ties are the neglected value in our networks, and givers have a distinctive edge over takers and matchers in unlocking this value…. Givers have a track record of generously sharing their knowledge, teaching us their skills, and helping us find jobs without worrying about what’s in it for them, so we’re glad to help them when they get back in touch with us.

Whether you believe in karma or not, when it comes to networking, what goes around comes around.

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The Secret to Happiness is Regular Audits

By Mauro Gatti

By Mauro Gatti

London School of Economics professor and happiness scholar Paul Dolan knows a thing or three about crafting a happy life. He’s discovered through his research that the best way to design a happier, more content, and fulfilled existence for yourself is to deliberately and regularly audit your activities and resultant feelings, and then bend your routine around those activities that make you happy.

Doland recommends taking one day every week or every month to simply observe yourself:

It’s about tuning in to what you are doing, who you are doing it with and how it makes you feel. How much worry, stress, anger, joy or contentment do you experience on a given day?

Your happiness audit should assess not only major elements of your life, like your job and relationship, but also seemingly inconsequential aspects like how you occupy yourself on your commute and what you eat for lunch. Check in with how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. You’ll find that certain, perhaps surprising, things give you more pleasure than others, just as some detract.

The solution, according to Dolan, is to deliberately make it very easy to do the things that make us happy. Dolan believes we can structure our time and design our surroundings in such a way that we can quickly make a habit out of doing things that make us happy. These changes are small and incremental, but this is precisely why he thinks they work so well.

Happiness seems like such a complex, unattainable construct. But when you tackle your quest for it with a careful and practiced self-awareness, it doesn’t seem so unreachable.

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Even Google Can’t Compete with Real-World Experience

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by Giordano Poloni

In our modern age of Google, we have immediate access to any information we could possibly desire. Unfortunately, this can cause our minds to become lazy. We excuse ourselves from learning because we always have the option to look it up. But when we constantly have to stop what we are doing to look something up, we interrupt our flow of thoughts and our inspiration is halted.

Marc Hare, British shoe designer of Mr Hare, knows that the best way to fuel inspiration is through knowledge, and that knowledge is best gained through experience. In an interview for The Creative Class, Hare explains the difference between really knowing and experiencing a subject versus simply relying on available knowledge:

You can panic. When you are trying to find out about something, you might skim through something and I think there are a lot of people out there who might have read just a Wikipedia page and constitute that as knowledge on the subject. It really isn’t. Art is a really good example of that. You can read through the history of an artist and you can see examples of their work but until you go and stand in the gallery in front of that piece of work and actually immerse yourself in it, and bath in the colors, understand the scale and see historically why it’s relevant, you don’t really know about it.

Hare encourages us to get offline and so do numerous researchers. While access to online material proves to be convenient, it doesn’t take hold in your mind. Human development author Joseph Chilton Pearce estimates that the average learner only remembers 3% of a standard 45 minute lecture. That’s just over a minute. This is because verbal presentations only stimulate 5% to 20% of the neurons responsible for long-term memory. However, if we learn something through experience, we stimulate 95% of those same memory forming neurons.

As Hare suggests, one way to learn is by actively going and doing. Instead of simply reading about an artist’s work, travel to see it in person. Instead of watching an online video about a painting technique, join a workshop and try it for yourself.

If there is no feasible way to experience your desired information in person, professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas Art Markman has a trick to internalize it. Once you have finished reading or listening to the information, explain it back to yourself so that you fully understand the topic. Just because you read it online, doesn’t mean that you will remember it. As Hare reminds us that the internet “…doesn’t teach you everything, it just gives you access to everything.”

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