I’m somewhat known for being a night owl. In the past my productive hours have been from 11pm or thereabouts until 3am. No one bothers me, nothing interesting is happening, I just put my head down and write.
Well, now I’m a morning writer.
This doesn’t mean I get up with birds chirping and wide eyes and enthusiastically tackle what I’m up to with a grin and a cup of coffee.
First off, I’m not allowed to have any stimulants due to my heart. It’s a drag, but my last bottle of caffeine happened in November 2008. I’ve been clean since then. It kinda sucks.
Secondly, I still hate mornings. This morning while eating breakfast outside the local coffeeshop Emily looked at me and laughed. “You’re not enjoying the beautiful morning at all, are you?”
Okay, so let’s back it up. A year ago I started tracking my sleep patterns with an app on the phone, and then when I got a new FitBit Charge HR, it started giving me intel automatically.
At the time, Emily was teaching at a school that was a fifteen to twenty minute drive away and had a very early start time. The twins were going to Kindergarten. So I was writing from roughly midnight to three, then they were getting up at five thirty or sixish. I would wake up at noon. But I was struggling with being tired a lot still.
What I found out after studying my sleep was that the whole family getting ready for an hour would wake me up just enough to disrupt sleep patterns for an hour or two, then I’d fall back asleep after everyone was out of the house. I was actually losing 1-2 hours a day to this. So I was getting 7 hours a day, maybe less if I stayed up later to really jam on writing. My app and FitBit were guessing that I was averaging 5.6 hours a night.
I would crash on weekends and basically sleep all day.
Emily recently changed careers to come join me running the various things I do. I guess I haven’t mentioned it before. But so far, six weeks in, it’s been great to have her pitching in. There are so many projects I could use her help on. This means that we were able to enroll the twins locally, to the school just a couple blocks away. A germ of an idea occurred to me over the summer: a whole new schedule change.
Knowing that I was losing a couple hours a day had been bugging me. So I decided to pivot everything into a morning schedule. I’d tried on in the first few months of 2014. I went to bed at 12-1am, I got up at 9-9:30 and I wrote until noon. It had been very effective until it fell apart due to exhaustion. I now know that’s due to those ghost 2 hours of little sleep.
I decided to wake up with everyone.
So, starting on the first day of school I set my alarm to get up with the kids. Because, walking them to school on the first day, how could I not? We got ready, shared the bathroom, ate breakfast, all together.
They were excited to be able to hoof it.
Like an alcoholic taking a last drink before their first AA meeting, I’d stayed up late the night before.
After walking the twins to school, Emily and I took the poodle out for a continuing walk, swinging through town near the local coffee shop and then back home for a full mile’s walk.
Once home I sat down at the computer and got to business. I worked until noon, then took a break for lunch and touching base with Emily about the day. After lunch, I turned to my freelance work.
My first day of that was August 31st. It’s been rather effective.
For one, I begin every day with a one mile walk. So I’m getting my exercise in right away and getting the cobwebs out of my head. No matter what else happens, I’ve seen my kids off to school, gotten a hug, gotten a walk. There are worse ways to start a day.
Secondly, by writing when I get home right away I get the other really important part of my day out of the way: writing fiction. Usually by 10am, I feel like if the rest of the day exploded into uselessness, I’d still have walked and written. Thus: I win.
Combined with my social media break and GTD approach to email I’ve been more productive than I ever have been. And importantly, consistency productive.
But is it sustainable?
I don’t know. I’ve been aiming for 7 hours 20 minutes of sleep a night minimum. I’ve been failing that here and there, but last week I had a string of 8 days in a row of 7.5 hours of sleep minimum, which is really good. I’ve been getting into bed between 11-midnight. I have fallen down a few times. Twice when company was over (I’m social, I can talk all night), one of those times I stayed up until 3am. I was a mess the next day and felt hungover for 48 hours after. My FitBit helps, it vibrates on my arm at 11, reminding me I need to turn in. If it wasn’t for that, I’d never realize. I do feel very tired around midnight now, which is new, but I’ll still accidentally power through that easily if I don’t have alarms to remind me to go to bed.
The hardest thing has been to fight my desire to ‘stay up and push on getting things caught up on.’ I’m juggling more work in my professional life than I ever have. Fitting it all in has been challenging. But with this schedule, I feel like I’m starting to get caught up (I’m certainly right on track for this current novel deadline) finally. But I still, each night, have this old instinct to want to just stay up and power on.
But I am forcing myself to leave things undone and just trust that the schedule will catch me up.
The morning schedule also solved a problem I’ve always had in the past: working while traveling. While in Baltimore I was up each morning before eight and getting my writing done before I was scheduled to be speaking. If I keep protecting my mornings I expect a boost there. I’m also getting up early on the weekends and not sleeping in, then working on projects for a couple hours.
This is week 6 of the new schedule.
In the past, I was never able to make mornings work at all. I spent six years trying to make this happen when at a day job. I spent my mornings unable to get my brain to speed, and I scheduled all important work and focused on getting things accomplished in the afternoons knowing that I’d barely be able to answer emails.
But we change sometimes. I often experiment with changes and track the results just to make sure I don’t follow old habits blindly. In this case, my morning routine seems to be lending itself toward better results, while my productivity in the late hours was falling off (I have records and charts that show this). How productive? A 60% boost in daily average word count and a 40% boost in rewrites and copy edits.
I still find the late hours conducive to creativity and take notes and drum up ideas in the hours just before bed.
So, crossing fingers this holds for the whole year…