#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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Learn Faster While Also Helping Others

 

Researchers have found that the best way to learn something is to teach as you learn. Over at PsyBlog, Jeremy Dean explains why:

People recall more and learn better when they expect to teach that information to another person, a new study finds…

The likely reason why this fairly simple trick works is that it tends to automatically activate more successful learning strategies, the kind routinely used by teachers…

The authors explain: “When teachers prepare to teach, they tend to seek out key points and organize information into a coherent structure. Our results suggest that students also turn to these types of effective learning strategies when they expect to teach.”

If you want to learn a new language, how to program, or anything else for that matter: find a friend to teach as you learn. You’ll retain more information, be better equipped to use it, and help someone else out too.

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Science Says You Should Only Check Email at Designated Times

Elements designed by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

Elements designed by Ivan Colic from the Noun Project

Over at The New York Times, researcher Daniel Levitin shares why you should give your brain a much-needed reset by only checking email or social feeds during designated times:

If you want to be more productive and creative, and to have more energy, the science dictates that you should partition your day into project periods. Your social networking should be done during a designated time, not as constant interruptions to your day.

Email, too, should be done at designated times. An email that you know is sitting there, unread, may sap attentional resources as your brain keeps thinking about it, distracting you from what you’re doing. What might be in it? Who’s it from? Is it good news or bad news? It’s better to leave your email program off than to hear that constant ping and know that you’re ignoring messages.

The science Levitin refers to here is that which he conducted with his collaborator from Stanford, professor of neuroscience Vinod Menon. The researchers discovered that part of the brain called the insula is responsible for switching our thoughts from high-focus to unfocused, depending on the task at hand.

When the insula is balanced evenly, we can be extremely focused for productivity or letting ourselves get caught in wild daydreams to boost creativity. The problem, Levitin explains, is when our insula is imbalanced, either by overwhelming distractors (like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, or co-workers) or by a lack of energy caused by a poor night’s sleep, for example.

Dedicating portions and set times of your day for checking email, social networks, meetings, or other common attention-sucking tasks can give your brain the much-needed structure it needs.

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Some of the Best Designed Offices in the World

Airbnb's San Francisco Headquarters via officelovin.com

Airbnb’s San Francisco Headquarters via officelovin.com

We’ve discussed before how much our working environments can have an outsized effect on our output. Luckily, Officelovin is collecting photos of their favorite offices in a variety of industries and locations. The beautiful photos provide plenty of inspiration for both home offices and company workplaces alike.

Some of our favorites include Bitium’s industrial wall shelves:

Bitium's Santa Monica Offices via officelovin.com

Bitium’s Santa Monica Offices via officelovin.com

And Bulldog Drummond’s lounge area, that looks like a real living room:

Bulldog Drummond's San Diego Office via officelovin.com

Bulldog Drummond’s San Diego Office via officelovin.com

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Tackle Your Passion Project With The 90-90-1 Rule

Wake up by A.M. Briganti from The Noun Project

Wake up by A.M. Briganti from The Noun Project

The daily grind can quickly overshadow our passion projects; emails and meetings tend to displace things like writing a book or training for a marathon. How can we strike a balance and dedicate time, attention and energy to that one special project that needs our focus? Robin Sharma encourages us to use the 90-90-1 Rule.

For the next 90 days, devote the first 90 minutes of your work day to the one best opportunity in your life. Nothing else. Zero distractions. Just get that project done. Period.

Sharma urges us to not give our peak hours to meaningless work:

Just stop doing any fake work first thing in the morning. Check your email after lunch. Make your phone calls in the afternoon. Surf the Net in the evening.

A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology concluded that on average, it takes more than two months (66 days, to be exact) before a new behaviour becomes a habit. Sharma’s rule tacks an extra month onto the 66 days, guaranteeing that the habit sticks. Give the best hours of your day to moving forward on something meaningful.

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The Best School Supplies

From thewirecutter.com

From thewirecutter.com

Even if you’re not heading back to college or putting your own kids on a school bus this fall, there’s something about September that brings out an itch for new office supplies. But with thousands of options out there, and a high-price not always equaling a higher value, how do you know what’s the best bang for your buck? You ask The Wirecutter, whose writers tested everything (with “over 50 hours spent on fresh research”) to compile a detailed list of the best pens and notebooks, to dorm life products like eye masks and shower caddies, to tablets and USB battery packs. A few of our favorites include the best pen:

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The 0.7 mm uni-ball Jetstream is the top everyday pick of several widely-read pen aficionados—including our own Tim Barribeau, who wrote our guide—and costs only $9 for a three-pack. It’s “widely lauded for being super smooth to use, extremely fine, and requiring very little pressure to use,” Tim says. Every expert he’s spoken to so far has recommended it, and Amazon reviewers, who have given it 4.5 stars over 49 reviews, like its good color and constant flow, saying it’s a good pick for left-handed writers, too.

And the best travel mug is a great pick as well:

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If you want to carry your coffee around, the $32 Zojirushi Stainless Mug will keep it hot all day. In our testing, it beat out six other models, keeping coffee at least 20 degrees hotter after eight hours than its closest competitor. You can drink out of it one-handed—no fumbling for the lid latch here—and it still locks easily and efficiently, meaning it won’t spill in your bag on the way to class.
We also love that you can use it for cold liquids, too; no, that’s not the intended use, but when we tested it with cold liquids, the temperature rose only 4 degrees, the best performance of any of the models we looked at.

Others we love include their choice for best USB battery pack, headphones, and portable coffee maker.

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Tim Brown: How to Be a Creative Listener

listen

Listen designed by Rémy Médard from the Noun Project

International design firm IDEO created a four-part podcast series on Creative Listening for the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. In a total of 30 minutes, you can learn key habits for better listening:

How to utilize your intuition: Sometimes too much information is just that. It can be overwhelming and logic can only get you so far. That’s when you need to trust your gut and ask, “What’s really important here?” “What’s going on behind the surface, the unsaid versus the said?”

How to hone your interpretation skills: Industry jargon and wordy explanations often mask the true value of something. Learning how to distill a message down to its essence, into simple, understandable language isn’t “dumbing it down,” it’s giving it wings. . .

And finally, learn how to amp up your curiosity: Curiosity pushes us beyond what we know and challenges us to look at long-held beliefs in a new light. Staying curious—always asking “Why?” like an earnest preschooler—is a critical muscle that needs to be continuously flexed if you want to have new, game-changing ideas.

By actively listening, you can find valuable information to inspire new ideas. The podcasts are rich in examples where innovative ideas have come to light because they listened to more than what was being said. As writer G. K. Chesteron noted, “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”

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