Our Morning Routines
This Mondays’s Ask Me Anything concludes our “How to Organize a Day, How to Organize a Year” podcast. Thanks to our First Look Access friends for the questions.
Cate Emond asks …
I recently quit my boring office job in order to pursue my writing and other creative projects full-time. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles in preparation and one piece of advice that seems pretty universal to all people who work from home is the importance of having a morning routine. I would love to know what your morning routine consists of (if you have one).
Steve: Here’s one, and Jeff I want to bring you into this one, too. This is from Kate Edmund, and Shawn you sort of touched on this earlier. She says:
I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and articles in preparation for something I’m working on—and one piece of advice that seems pretty universal to all people to work from home is the importance of having a morning routine. I would love to know what your morning routine consists of if you have one.
I think that’s a really great question. I’ll do mine, and Jeff, I would really be curious to hear yours too if you don’t mind talking about it. I’m like Shawn. I get up real early. I get up at like 5:30, 5:15 and I always will do something physical first. I’ll go to the gym or I’ll run or I’ll do something, but kind of get right out of the house right away. The theory of that to me is that it’s not so much physical as it is psychological. I’m sort of preparing myself for the day, for facing the resistance that I know I’m going to face when I get into work. So going to the gym or running or whatever it is, is something that I don’t particularly want to do, but that I know I will feel great once I’ve done it. So I’ll just kind of do that; that’s first thing out of the box for me. My friend Randy Wallace, who wrote Braveheart, he has a theory that he calls ‘little successes’. That’s what he wants to do to build from the start of the day until the moment when he actually sits down to go to work. So, I count going to the gym as a little success. At some point, I’ll even count taking a shower or brushing my teeth as a success. But, because every little bit helps. And, I literally say to myself “Okay, what have I done so far? Well, I’ve had a bowl of oatmeal, I brushed my teeth.” You need all of that that you can get.
Shawn: You do.
Steve: So I’ll go to the gym and then I’ll either have breakfast out or I’ll come home and I’ll have breakfast. I’ll go through my emails but I won’t take a lot of time on this, and then I have a few of my crazy little rituals that I do that I’m not going to tell you about. But then I will plunge in and just try to uh . . . So maybe by 10:30 or so, I’m starting to work. Two things here. One is . . . A guy gave me this advice years ago, and I’ve found that it’s really true. I never lie in bed in the morning. As soon as my eyes open and I can get my . . . Realize I’m on planet earth, I get out of bed. Don’t lay there thinking about stuff or dwelling on anything like that. The other thing is, when the day is over for me, the office is closed. I just turn my brain off completely. I’d never stew about anything overnight or worry about it. If I have ideas, if they pop into my head, I’ll put them on a tape recorder. But once the office is closed, it’s closed and I let the Muse work on it from then on. Jeff, I’d like to ask you, what’s your morning routine?
Jeff: Mine is much less organized than yours, Steve. I’m more of the ‘work when you have energy’ than wake up early in the morning. So I probably don’t get up until 9:00 every morning, but my bed is right next to my desk. The first thing I’ll do is I’ll go and stare at the email and I’ll reply to emails right away, and I tend to just jump right in, and I work and work and work until I absolutely can’t because I’m so hungry because I haven’t had breakfast. And then I’ll go and have breakfast and go back to work and work and work, until . . .
Steve: How long would that be Jeff, before you’d have to eat?
Jeff: Probably an hour and a half typically, but it varies a lot. Then usually halfway through the day, I decide, and this is if I’m working at home that day. I’ll decide “Alright, it’s time for me to get up” and I’ll walk around the lake or I’ll go and shower and make sure I at least get out of the house for the day because that often doesn’t happen. But then usually, I have in the evening, people are around and an active portion of the day from 4pm until 8 where I get absolutely nothing done because I’m just being bothered or distracted by whatever. And then I get what I call the ‘evening shift’ in, which starts at 8:30 or 9pm and usually goes until 2 in the morning.
Steve: So you’re working at that time.
Jeff: The best work I get done, and I’m sorry Steve and Shawn that I disagree with you.
Shawn: You’re young, you’re young.
Jeff: I have no children or wife or anything. The best work I get starts at 9pm or 10pm, or especially once east coast people are asleep. They don’t tend to bother you after 10pm, so then I can get a lot done.
Shawn: Are you meaning me, Jeff?
Jeff: Not you Shawn.
Steve: Here’s one kind of thought that may be sort of a wrap-up thought a little bit here. We got 115 or 150 questions or something on this, and at least I think you guys would agree, like maybe ¾ of them are kind of questions of, “How do I avoid distractions? How do I keep up my spirits for a long haul kind of a thing?” That sort of question, right? Of course you can feel Resistance just radiating out of those questions.
Jeff: Don’t those questions count as Resistance?
Steve: And, I don’t mean to be cruel or anything, I’m just trying to make an observation to help. In many of those questions, it seems to me like people are looking for a tip. You know what I mean? I hate that word, a tip. They’re looking for some cheap, easy thing that takes the pain out of what it is, out of the work. The bottom line is, like you were saying Shawn, there are many, many days when it really is hard, when it is a grind. The question is, “How much do you want it?” And, you have to be a little nutty to want what you want. I look at my two partners here, Jeff and Shawn, and they’re not looking for any tips, you know? Jeff is in it, he is committed full tilt, and so is Shawn, and so am I. And, um . . . When you have that attitude, a lot of the problems solve themselves. You just know that you just have to keep plugging and keep plugging and keep plugging.
Here’s one last thought here that when it does get to be a grind, when it’s really, really difficult, when your personal life is all screwed up and to sit down and try to do work just seems like the dumbest thing in the world, I found, oddly enough you do your best work at that time. You don’t even know it as you’re doing it. It’s like you look back on it two weeks later and see what you did and you go “Wow, that was great.” You know? If it’s not always smooth sailing, don’t lose fire. A lot of times when it’s rough sailing, rough sledding, whatever you say, the best stuff is coming out. And, I think there’s a reality to that because the underlying reality is, when we get better, when we make a move to the next level, to a higher level, that’s when we’re going to have a lot of emotional storm and drawing inside ourselves. In other words, at that point it hurts, it’s crazy, it’s hard, we’re lost, but whether we realize it or not, we just made an incremental advancement. That’s why the work comes out really good – sometimes, in those times.
Shawn: Thank you so much for listening. I think the major points to take away today are before January 1, it’s a good idea to sit down and kind of Foolscap your year, figure out what you want and what the payoff is, and build your year and your time around achieving that goal. If it’s writing a novel, figure out how long it takes you to write a specific number of words, divide it by 60-90,000 words if you’re writing a novel, and there you have it. That’s how many hours you’re going to have to put in, in order to get that first draft. We’re not talking about a finished draft, we’re talking about the first draft. If it’s writing a business plan, think about it in those terms, too. Think about what exactly the experience you want the people who are coming to your new restaurant or your new business to have, and then walk it back from there.
Steve: Look at the whole year in one piece. Visualize it from start to finish. It’s very important to realize, I think, that there are going to be rough spots there. There’s going to be places where you’re going to hit the wall, there are going to be places when you’ll be calmed at sea and there are going to be places when you’re going to be panicking and you’re going to say to yourself, “Why did I ever get into this thing? This was insanity. I’m out of my mind.” Mentally prepare yourself for those signs so that when they come, you take them in stride, keeping your eye on the ball, which is the final payoff, your goal that you’ve set for yourself to have that first draft or that finished PhD or that business plan or whatever, to have that done.
Thanks again. Thanks for listening, and that’s our “How to Organize a Day, How to Organize a Year” podcast.
I count myself lucky to be a “morning person” and at this point in my life I’m responsible only for myself so I have the luxury of being selfish about structuring my mornings. When I started a regular morning walking and exercise routine last summer, my productivity leapt forward. Coming in from a walk gives me an edge over Resistance – I can look it square in the face and say “don’t even think about messing with me today!” I have telecommuted for my job several days a week for years and learned early on that I have to get up and get ready for work, whether I’m driving to campus to teach a class or walking down the hall to my home office. I’m sure there are people out there who can work productively in their pj’s but I’m not one of them. Thanks for sharing your morning routines guys – each one is different, which is the point – we have to figure out what works for us and adapt as life circumstances change.
Your point about struggling through the storms is so wise, Steve. It’s very much like climbing: we meet plateaus and steeps. The plateaus aren’t where we’re supposed to stay, but the steeps take everything out of us. We get confused by that struggle. I’ve had two novels give me really serious trouble, so much so that quitting on them seemed like the only answer. But I didn’t quit (having read The War of Art, for one thing), and now those two books are among reader favorites. This weekend I was reflecting on why, and blogged about the difficulties hoping to encourage anyone in that kind of creative turbulence right now. There is a point to it, believe that.
Thanks for these Ask Me Anything Mondays. Great way to start the working week. http://sibellagiorello.blogspot.com/2014/03/unreasonable-acts.html
The “how bad do you want it,” mentality is a good one to have. But I’ve discover that its hard to get over the hump if your physical energy is below peak levels. I believe that a lot of people have the will to break through resistence. Yet they are unable to because they lack the fuel to accelerate forward.
For me, the most overlooked component of this equasion is water. Drinking copious amounts has made a huge difference in my endurance and focus. Resistence seems like its become less and less of an issue now that I’m properly hydrated.
Being properly hydrated is essential for us all (regardless of what we do) but it is “alive/energetic water” that hydrates our cells like no other water…and that can advance our consciousness. Talk about writing from a higher level…
Check out a unique “Structured Water” device that will blow your mind…and make you tingle for hours after a long bath! It is also portable…write by the creek!
Check out “Natural Action Technologies” and its inventor Clayton M. Nolte for this kind of water.
Passed this on after listening, really “listening”. OK.. day one using my elliptical since our move 7 months ago. Stop with the excuses.
Order, structure and discipline: These are the dullards the wise and hip creator must make peace with to get anything done.
Taking care of our physical and emotional health is just as important to our well- being as artistic achievements.
What a balancing act!
Steve, loved comment about little successes so much that I stopped reading there and cataloged my successes for the day — a long list and it isn’t noon yet. What an energizing tool; thanks for sharing.
My morning routine works great for me, but I want to try Steve’s advice of, “Once the office is closed, it’s closed.” I need to stop dwelling on “not writing” the rest of the day. Thanks, guys!
I hit the morning writing. If I leave the house for any reason, I could be distracted and lose the day. Checking email, news, and this site – hours can be lost. Best not to talk, or be online at all until work is done.
The Malaysia plane missing, the problems in the Ukraine – things like that I make exceptions and keep checking news. Being conscious of what’s happening in the multiverse is part of my spiritual practice and makes me a better writer. But once I start checking “just for a minute” well it’s always mush longer. Resistance and procrastination.
My discipline is maintaining core hours, from when I get up until at least 2. I eat at my desk. And I’m never, ever off work and keep pads and pens all around. I like my obsession. I do feel better though if I at least shut off machines, wifi and outside connections by 9.
I’m grateful but it is difficult: some of my best writing comes when I can’t sleep or when I’m sleeping a few minutes off and on. Words stream through my little brain and I must write them. The good stuff, but man, I’m tired.
I agree with Sharon on lost time with checking email, it can be a black hole if not well managed.
Like Steve and Shawn I rise early. I make coffee and work like I’m on fire for three hours. If I don’t have my java with cream and half rapadura and half stevia for sweetness, I don’t work well. My new ideas get written early and edited later in the afternoon.
I use lists to break through any type of rough spot be it a real or mental crisis. One of my mid- morning rituals is to write down the things I need to do in the next 24 hours. When I’m in crisis mode I also list little things like “take out the trash” among the important, difficult chores. The little things are easy to accomplish and I can pile a bunch of them up, accreting the good effect and giving me momentum. It has gotten me through a lot of hard times. Every time I cross something off I get a little smile and carry on.
Unwinding in the evening is a chore. I use yoga and meditation before bedtime and even that doesn’t always clear my head.
Great ideas everyone. Thank you!
Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls those little successes the Daily Private Victory. I love how it makes you feel like you’ve already won.
I also like that Covey did not title his book Highly SUCCESSFUL People, but instead Highly EFFECTIVE People.
In my experience, effective people tend to become successful, but the opposite is not always true.
This was great. I really got a lot out of hearing it the second time.
I just finished Dani Shapiro’s book Still Writing…it talks about “the pleasures and perils of a creative life.”
Short, powerful chapters like Steve’s War of Art….one chapter in particular talks about being able to endure, to sit there, when you’d really rather be doing anything else.
Thanks again, guys!
One thing that keeps ringing in my ears is, “How much do you want it?”
Thanks! For lots of writing resources check out: