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!
Have you ever emailed someone who is extremely busy, only to hear back several days (or weeks) later? Or perhaps you didn’t hear back at all? Busy people are difficult to reach via email, because you’re asking them to part with their most valuable resource of all: time.
In a guest post for OkDork, business coach John Corcoran shared how he got the attention of App Sumo founder Noah Kagan via email. The trick to capturing the attention of the busy executive was a sense of urgency:
I said the interview would take only 5-7 minutes of his time. If you’re asking for something, you want to make the commitment so small and the benefit so great, they can’t possibly pass it up. I think Noah probably realized it was likely the interview would run longer than 5-7 minutes, but it’s good to demonstrate your willingness to keep the time demand commitment short out of respect for your recipient’s time. And in fact, when I did interview Noah, I offered multiple times to cut off the interview but he allowed it to go longer.
In a study commissioned by author Dan Pink for his book, To Sell Is Human, workers reported that as part of their job, they spent 40 percent of their time trying to convince someone to part with resources of some kind (what Pink calls “non-sales selling”). And much of that is accomplished using email.
Corcoran says that when you’re writing an email, you want to make the commitment so small and the benefit so great that the recipient finds the offer hard to refuse. So instead of asking for half an hour of someone’s time, ask for a handful minutes. Instead of writing, “I’d love to grab coffee,” say “I could pop by your office for a couple of minutes.”
Almost half the people you’ll run into today are suffering from some level of sleep deprivation. This is largely because we don’t know when (or how) to call it a night. Tethered to our devices, work more often than not spills into the precious time that we need to decompress and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Do a nighttime audit of how you spend your time after work. For one or two evenings, don’t try to change anything—simply log everything that happens from the moment you arrive home until you go to bed. What you may discover is that instead of eliminating activities that you enjoy and are keeping you up late (say, watching television between 10:30 and 11:00), you can start doing them earlier by cutting back on something unproductive that’s eating up your time earlier on (like mindlessly scanning Facebook between 8:30 and 9:00).
As the story goes, Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett at a dinner. Gates’ mother (and dinner host) asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed to be the most important factor in their success. The two moguls gave the same answer: “Focus.”
Focus as a Noun.
When people speak of focus they usually mean having a single goal. It is a static thing, a thing you have. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Roger Bannister relentlessly pursuing his goal of breaking the four-minute mile, John F. Kennedy challenging NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade or, coming back to Bill Gates, a vision of a personal computer on every desk. The upside to this kind of focus is clear and compelling: you pursue a single objective and don’t get distracted along the way; you build momentum as many different people aligned behind achieving this one goal.
Focus as a Verb.
Focus is not just something you have it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Steve Jobs saying to Jony Ive day after day, “This might be crazy, but what if we…” until once in a while the idea took the air out of the room. It’s the constant exploration needed to see what is really going on and what the “noun focus” should be.
Focus is a powerful attribute, especially in a world that is tirelessly trying to compete for your time, energy, and attention. McKeown says that if we want to direct ourselves toward what’s essential, then we need to develop both kinds of focus. It’s the only way to confidently answer the question, “What’s important now?”
Introductions are crucial. As the adage goes, “first impressions are lasting impressions.” Neuroscientists even found that 7 percent of what people think of you is cemented upon meeting you for the first time.
This explains our aversion to name-droppers, ramblers or the people making it rain business cards at networking events – the “dirty” networkers. Bernard Marr, author of Doing More with Less recommends a simple adjustment to our personal introductions to make a good impression:
Instead of leading with what you do, lead with who you help. As in, “Hi, my name is Bernard, and I help companies identify and make the best use of their key performance indicators and big data.” Done. You know who I am, what I do, and more importantly, whether or not I can help you or someone you know.
Human beings make snap decisions – our brains are hardwired in this way as a prehistoric survival mechanism. However we can use this to our advantage by focusing on how we help others, rather than flaunting how well we’ve helped ourselves.
You can’t force inspiration, but how do you cultivate an environment where you are open to it? When the Los Angeles Hammer Museum’s breakout artist Jennifer Moon was looking for a new source of inspiration, she unexpectedly found it on her 5 a.m. drive from Los Angeles to Big Bear. She noticed the dreamlike, half-conscious state of mind was not only soothing and meditative, but allowed her mind to be open to new ideas:
When I’m driving and things come to me, it’s definitely not forced. The times when I try to force it, it usually doesn’t happen. Really, my only job as an artist is to remain as open as possible and as aware as possible, so for ideas to enter me I have to be open. That’s the only thing I really need to focus on.
As we learned from Moon’s experience, our mind requires moments of rest to collect, organize and connect the abundance of information from our busy lives. This information is supplied through new experiences; in Moon’s case, driving at 5 a.m. has a completely different ambiance than 5 p.m. And lastly, she found inspiration in the everyday. When on vacation, it’s easy to fully engage in every aspect of a new environment.
The challenge is to keep that wonderment alive in the day to day.
Architect David Rockwell, in his soon-to-be-published monograph What If…?: The Architecture and Design of David Rockwell, describes how he distills his creative process down into one phrase: “What if?”
A recent FastCoDesign feature quotes Rockwell on his penchant for curiosity:
The central question the firm asks on any project… is “what if?”—a query that opens up what could be cut-and-dry design projects (say, the firm’s umpteenth collaboration with chef Nobu Matsuhisa) to unexpected possibilities, like “what if a restaurant became a hotel?”
“I’m interested in hybrids—what happens when you sort of have various things rub up against each other and infiltrate each other?” [Rockwell] explains. “I think this is a time where barriers between what a hotel is, what an office is, what a restaurant is, what a cultural event is, those are all merging.”
This question powers each of Rockwell’s projects. For example, his current undertaking is something called Chefs Club, a Manhattan restaurant he’s designing that will feature a constant rotation of chefs hosted by Food & Wine. If it weren’t for wondering “what if?” Rockwell would not have opened his mind to the possibility of transforming an airport terminal into a “food theme park” or making the cavernous Kodak Theatre into an elegantly intimate supper club for the 2010 Oscars.
Sometimes in the creative process, the right question is the answer.