#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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Kill The Dreaded Status Meeting

Designed by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

Designed by Julien Deveaux from The Noun Project

We’ve all been to the notorious status meeting, where in a round-robin fashion everyone says what they’re working on. According to research by Atlassian, you’re highly likely to daydream during this meeting, do other work during this meeting or just miss it entirely.

Author of Read This Before Our Next Meeting, Al Pittampalli, suggests that in an effort to skip the status meeting and get right to work, that we kill the status meeting altogether, and only have meetings that support a decision that has already been made:

If a decision maker needs advisement pre-decision, he should get it from others via one-on-one conversations. Only after a preliminary decision is made can a meeting be convened. A meeting might be necessary for either of two reasons:

Conflict: The relevant stakeholders can debate the decision, propose alternatives, suggest modifications, or have concerns addressed.  The decision is ultimately resolved.

Coordination: If a decision demands complex collaboration from different people, teams or departments, stakeholders can convene to coordinate an action plan.

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Not Every Side Project Needs to Make Money

rollingpin

Rolling Pin designed by Julien Deveaux from the Noun Project

In an interview with Explore Create Repeat, graphic designer Adam J. Kurtz talks about the importance of having a side project:

I do think it’s important for everyone to do “things” on the side. Regardless of your chosen profession, career, or job, I hope that everyone enjoys other hobbies and activities and hopefully you have the resources to take them as far as you’d like to. If you love baking, bake a whole lot of cakes sometime and Instagram that sh*t. If you’re super knowledgeable about pizza and love bringing friends to your favorite spots (like Scott Wiener, who I met recently) then maybe you start a pizza tour.

For makers, side projects are not about generating extra money or developing new skills, they simply cannot stop creating. For Kurtz, making stuff is his life, his therapy and his hobby. It’s a way to experiment and combine multiple interests without an end in mind. When you work full-time in a creative field, sometimes you need to be reminded about the joys of simply creating. Kurtz reminds us that “everyone can do anything, we just forget.”

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Why Innovation Starts With Enthusiasts

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What’s the secret to good business? “Create more value than you capture,” says Tim O’Reilly, the entrepreneur and deep thinker behind O’Reilly Media.

A key figure in the rise of the open-source and maker movements, O’Reilly knows a thing or two about launching world-changing ideas. That’s why we interviewed him for our new book, Make Your Mark.

Here’s a glimpse of O’Reilly’s take on how creatives can build businesses that really make an impact:

Where do you think great business ideas come from?

Innovation starts with enthusiasts. The reason why it starts with enthusiasts is that they are focused on the right priority, which is the change they want to make in the world, versus say, a business idea that will get funded. Their perspective is: How cool would it be if we could all have our own computers? How cool would it be if I could put up information for free on the Internet and anybody could access it? How cool would it be if I could build an assistive robot for my grandmother?

What should entrepreneurs be thinking about if they really want to make an impact?

Aaron Levie of Box tweeted something great about Uber recently. He said, “Uber is a $3.5 billion lesson in building for how the world should work instead of optimizing for how the world does work.”

Being able to see the world in a fresh way is the essence of being an entrepreneur. You have an idea about the way the world ought to be. You have a theory about why and how you are going to connect the dots.

Read the full interview with O’Reilly—and 20 more insights from creative visionaries—in our new book on building a creative business: Make Your Mark.

Bonus: Use promo code “MAKEURMARK” to get 20% off pre-orders through Nov 17th, 2015.

Get  “Make Your Mark” now –>

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Authentic Ways to Network

Network by XOXO from The Noun Project

Network by XOXO from The Noun Project

So you want to build make some connections in your creative community? Fantastic. But if your first instinct is to attend a networking event and distribute business cards, think again – traditional networking aka “dirty networking” actually makes people feel physically dirty and is an ineffective way of making a name for yourself.

Building social currency is about being honest and authentic, and showing that you value others. In their Social Capital Building Toolkit, Harvard University researchers Thomas H. Sander and Kathleen Lowney, share some high impact and more natural ways to build social capital, including:

Food/Celebrations. ie. host a start-up open house or celebrate your agency’s anniversary.

Joint activity around common interest or hobby. ie. organize a team of friends or colleagues and play agency ball.

Doing a favor for another. ie. help another company move into their new office or volunteer space for a meetup.

Discussion of community issues. ie. talk about poor trash pickup or organize a town-hall about bike lanes.

Undertaking joint goal. ie. create a meetup or collaborate on bringing an event to your city.

Intentional relationship building (“one on ones”). ie. set up coffee dates with people you want to know.

To enjoy all the benefits of social currency, you first have to build it. Then be patient and let your relationships mature organically.

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Collaborate on Information, Not Ideas

info

Information designed by Mister Pixel from the Noun Project

In an essay recently published on MIT Technology Review, Isaac Asimov states that meeting with other creatives is important, not for the creation of new ideas, but to share information that leads to new ideas:

No two people exactly duplicate each other’s mental stores of items. One person may know A and not B, another may know B and not A, and either knowing A and B, both may get the idea—though not necessarily at once or even soon. Furthermore, the information may not only be of individual items A and B, but even of combinations such as A-B, which in themselves are not significant… It seems to me then that the purpose of cerebration sessions is not to think up new ideas but to educate the participants in facts and fact-combinations, in theories and vagrant thoughts.

New ideas are often the result of making connections between two or more unrelated items. For this to be possible, you need to have a good background knowledge in a particular field and a wide variety of items available to connect. Asimov suggests meeting colleagues in a relaxed environment to discuss a particular subject and throw around all types of odd connections. To get the best ideas, make sure your participates are “willing to sound foolish and listen to others sound foolish.”

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How to Find Your Purpose & Live It

hagy-purpose

Illustration by Jessica Hagy.

“Whether you’re a leader doing the hard work of articulating a purpose for your organization, or you’re an individual ready to live a more directed life,” says Keith Yamashita. “The first step in living your purpose is distilling it.”

Once you find your purpose, it acts as a comfort and a compass for every decision—big and small—that you make about how to spend your time.

Kicking off our brand-new 99U book Make Your Mark with a bang, Yamashita dives right into the key questions you should be asking to uncover your purpose.

To define your personal purpose, start with these questions:

  • How will the world be better off thanks to you having been on this earth?
  • What are your unique gifts and superpowers?
  • Who have you been when you’ve been at your best?
  • Who must you fearlessly become?

At the intersection of these four questions lies your personal purpose. The questions are deceptively simple, and you might be tempted to rush through them. To really do the task justice—and to do yourself justice—you have to peel away the layers of your self-conception. You have to get beyond that image you’ve made for yourself that you so strongly defend. And you have to get at what is actually true. The tension among your answers reveals as much as the commonalities. Lean into it. This process may take days. It may obsess your thinking for weeks. For some, it takes years to unfold. There is no magical timeline. Move at your own pace.

You can find Keith’s complete essay—and 20 more insights from creative leaders—in our new book on building a creative business with impact: Make Your Mark.

Bonus: Use promo code “MAKEURMARK” to get 20% off pre-orders through Nov 17th, 2015.

Get “Make Your Mark” now –>

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