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.
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:
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!
Ikea’s design manager Marcus Engman believes that transparency between development teams is a great source of inspiration. In an interview with Dezeen Magazine, he explains process behind Ikea’s designs:
We try to be much more transparent so everybody sees what everybody else is doing – because I do believe that that is a good idea, because then you get inspired from each other. So we have a huge space for product development. It’s like 4,000 square metres, where all of the products are, physically. So it starts out from the first initial meeting, then you put up the drawings – the ideas – on a physical space, and then it turns into prototypes. We have our own prototype shop there, with craftsmen for every kind of skill, and 3D printing and everything too.
The company produces 2,000 new products every year along with maintaining and improving their existing 10,000 product line. With a designated space for the development of every single product, each team can see what the next is working on. Inspiration from others can come in many forms: maybe it’s a new material they are exploring or a way they solved a packaging problem. Take a lesson from Ikea and open up your development process to your peers. Inspiration can be found in all stages of the process, not only the end result.
Traveling is at the top of every ‘How to’ list for finding new ideas and inspiration. However, travel for the sake of travel can quickly become a chore-like task when you’re simply checking off landmarks from a city guidebook. Bonnie Reese, a previous design researcher at Frog, recommends making your own “must-see” list based on personal passions instead of the more general ‘Must-See’ recommendations of travel guides. For Reese, that includes hitting up pools and public bathhouses wherever she travels:
Another less academic passion of mine, is bathing in foreign countries – whether for a swim or a wash. I always bring a swimsuit and read up about where to go for a swim or soak. I dove off the diving platform in the Olympic pool in Berlin with a line of impatient teenagers behind me chattering away in German, watched a Turkish mother battle over combing her toddler’s hair in a local bath in Istanbul, swam laps with older women in the middle of Paris, and sat naked for hours with local women in an outdoor spring in the mountains of Japan. My love of a good swim and a hot bath is the farthest thing from an intellectual pursuit but it always yields unique insights and a pleasurable experience. There’s no better way to contemplate cultures than sitting naked with the locals.
By mixing personal passions with travel, you deepen your experiences and open yourself up to new ones not found in any tour book. On Reese’s trip to Mexico City, she found herself visiting a barn-like structure hidden behind a school on her quest to see as many Diego Rivera’s murals as possible. She never would have discovered this secluded location if it wasn’t for her interest in art.
Visiting textbook locations will still provide an excellent source of inspiration due to the simple change of surroundings; however, more is to be discovered if you commit to a mini mission. For the coffee snob, it could be as simple as finding the best cafe near your work. For the cinephile, it could be exploring your local neighborhoods where movies have been filmed. If you really want to be inspired by your travels, you’re going to have to jump in the water. Nothing inspiring ever happened poolside.
For some of us, the idea of being a “lifer” can be nauseating. You’d much rather do your best work and move on. But the paradox of doing your best work, of being exceptionally good at your job, is that you can be stuck doing it for years longer than you actually should. To avoid developing career intertia, Jayson DeMers, Founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, encourages us to ask ourselves, “What did I learn from yesterday?”
No matter how simple or complex your day was, you must have learned something. Did you master a new skill or learn a new process? Did you find something out about your organization that leads you to better understand your position within it? Did you have an experience that will help you in future, similar situations? Find at least one thing that you learned from the previous day and consider it. On one level, this is going to help you reinforce the new ideas and skills that come to you on a daily basis. On another level, it’s going to help you look for new opportunities to learn. Since you know you’ll be asking yourself this question, you’ll be driven to force yourself to learn something new every day, and you’ll therefore be improving yourself every day.
Millennials value the growth and thrill of professional challenges. Typically in your first year, you learn the ropes. In your second, you hit your stride. And in your third, you make your mark. Beyond that, if you’re not learning, then you’re not growing. Don’t wait for a year-end assessment to determine your next career path. Assess your trajectory every day, or you’ll slip into a pattern of doing the same thing day-in-and-day-out with little or no forward/upward mobility.
If your workplace isn’t fostering innovation, challenging you and providing you opportunities to learn, then don’t feel bad about cutting the cord. Your future self will thank you for it.
“No” can be a time saver, a boundary builder, a reputation protector, and a frustration preventer. But how do you say no gracefully, respectfully, and firmly? Email templates are great, but what about if the ask is in person on the spur of the moment — how do you avoid the automatic guilty yes? Memorize this one-line, knee-jerk response:
“Let me check on something and get back to you.”
This answer breaks the time-worn habit of agreeing to projects or tasks before you have time to truly consider if it’s something you can and want to do. It allows you to acknowledge the request while buying time and the mental space to formulate an informed yes or no down the line. You can use it with colleagues, clients, people you meet at conferences, and even your manager. Take control of your time and your to-do list by saying no to saying yes.
Your IQ (or intelligence quotient) is the abstract capacity at which you are able to process information. While IQ is certainly important for life and work, it turns out that cognitive intelligence isn’t everything when it comes to success.
Just as important as your IQ is your CQ (curiosity, or creativity, quotient) and EQ (emotional quotient). Having exceptional ability in one quotient—like intelligence—is great, but having a good balance between all three areas (ICE) is what helps propel those we call “geniuses” to excel.
Over at the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic explains why curiosity and emotional intelligence are just as important as cognitive intelligence:
…People with higher EQ tend to be more entrepreneurial, so they are more proactive at exploiting opportunities, taking risks, and turning creative ideas into actual innovations…
CQ leads to higher levels of intellectual investment and knowledge acquisition over time, especially in formal domains of education, such as science and art…. Knowledge and expertise, much like experience, translate complex situations into familiar ones, so CQ is the ultimate tool to produce simple solutions for complex problems.
In other words: IQ is about managing a lot of information in the short term, while CQ deals with overall knowledge and risk-taking, and EQ entails the ability to perceive and control emotions. Having a high IQ allows you to process rich, complex information better, but the ability to adapt to uncertainty and produce simple solutions for complex situations are all due to high levels of EQ and CQ .
Having the right blend of all three areas—intelligence, curiosity, and empathy—means being able to understand problems, generate novel solutions, and execute on ideas. If you’re lacking in any one area, you can increase your likelihood of having a successful career by making up for it in one of the other areas.
This is greats news for those of us who may have less-than-ideal IQs; since IQ is something research shows we can’t always improve throughout life, while empathy and curiosity can be developed.
To develop your CQ you can’t take things for granted. You must use the feeling of boredom as a flag to explore and learn, and most importantly, to never stop asking questions. To quote Albert Einstein, “The important thing is not to stop questioning… Never lose a holy curiosity.”
To develop your EQ is a little tougher, but still do-able: when people are talking to you, listen intently, try to imagine what those around you are thinking and feeling, and focus on outrospection whenever you find yourself stuck on a problem or situation.
Intelligence certainly matters, but without curiosity and empathy it’s just not as powerful. Focus on building all three areas in order to really thrive and succeed.
Parkinson’s Law states that work “expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” This could likely explain why you sometimes work more than 60 hours per week, when in fact you could easily shave off 20 or so hours by managing expectations with your boss/client. Instead of flinging yourself into the workweek with unrealistic expectations of clearing everything off of your to-do list, let the people who depend on you know what you plan to accomplish. Robbie Amed, author of Fire Me I Beg You, suggests writing two emails every week to manage your workload:
Email #1: What you plan on getting done this week
Email #2: What you actually got done this week
Subject: My plan for the week
After reviewing my activities here is my plan for the week in order of priority. Let me know if you think I should re-prioritize:
Planned Major Activities for the week
- Complete project charter for X Project
- Finish the financial analysis report that was started last week
- Kick off Project X – requires planning and prep documentation creation. Scheduled for Thursday.
Open items that I will look into, but won’t get finished this week
- Coordinate activities for year-end financial close
- Research Y product for our shared service team
Let me know if you have any comments. Thank you!
And here’s what Email #2 looks like:
Completed this week
- Completed X Report
- Started the planning for the big project
- Finished the month-end analysis and sent to financial controller for review
- Created a first draft of the project charter, which is currently being reviewed by Project Manager Z
- I have some questions about the start date of Y Project, but should get confirmation by Tuesday morning
- We need X Report signed off by EOD next Wednesday. Can you follow up with Jane to get this signed off?
That is all for now. Have a great weekend.
This model works even if you’re part of a team that has weekly progress meetings. By managing expectations, you no longer need to work 60+ hours (even if it’s just for the optics). Under-promise and over-deliver.