As a tourist in the land of mornings, I appreciated this book. It’s much more about starting your day on a positive note than it is “rah rah, get up at 4:30 AM.” After reading My Morning Routine, it seems that there is a strong correlation between people choosing to own their morning and people who actually get enough sleep.
Much like Mason Currey’s book Daily Routines, this book includes a very broad range of behavior. Sixty-four people are interviewed from all walks of life. Not only is it a fascinating peek into the intimate lives of others, it’s also a solid demonstration that not everybody has to do the same thing in order to succeed.
Having battled sleep issues since the age of seven, I will probably never consider myself a “morning person.” I fell in love with an extreme lark, though, and I’ve gradually learned to shape a morning routine. My husband and our dog both wake up bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 5:30 AM, without an alarm, seven days a week. He has his routine down to 27 minutes, and he prefers that I’m not up and around at that time because it makes him want to hang out and talk to me. I sleep until 7:30 or 8, and I need at least 45 minutes to get ready. If I haven’t had a shower and eaten a big hot breakfast, I’m useless. Walking into walls, virtually drooling on myself, that kind of useless. This is why I make my bed every day, to give my vestibular system a chance to get me vertical. I support my chronotype by organizing my stuff, my schedule, and my to-do list in the evening. I know not to plan any creative or mentally challenging work early in the day, just as I know not to expect my mate to make decisions or have important conversations late at night.
The diversity of habits in My Morning Routine, and the reasons for them, are sometimes astonishing. One person sets an alarm to wake up early, even if she hasn’t had much sleep, and then spends the early morning hours reading. ?!? Another person cuts articles out of a newspaper with scissors, (rather than bookmarking the digital version?), because it feels crafty. Another person plays jazz piano, and another rides a bicycle 45 miles to work a couple times a week. Someone else plays ping-pong with a ping-pong robot. That just cheered me right up!
A great feature of My Morning Routine is that it includes sections called Reversals. They show that for every habit that works for many or most people, the exact opposite seems to work for others. An example of this is hitting the snooze button. Snoozing makes most people more groggy and tired, but for a few others, it can create a pleasantly creative subliminal state.
I started developing a morning routine as a way of pushing away from stress and chaos. I would wake up feeling so physically terrible that I needed to do anything I could to make my life easier. I used to be late everywhere, always, and it left me feeling miserable, anxious, and incompetent. Adding more formal structure to my day has, paradoxically, been freeing and relaxing. Even on travel days, I can wake up knowing that I have a handle on things and that I’m not going to be launched immediately into crisis mode. Out of everything I do, being able to start the day with enough time for a fancy breakfast has become one of the highlights. If you’re like me, SO Not a Morning Person, maybe considering some of the ideas from My Morning Routine can bring some fresh perspective and a little hope.
I remember being little and going to sleep so excited to begin again.
I also try not to pointlessly stay up late.
If the day were to end after my routine, would it have been a successful and fulfilling day?
Sundays are my “delicious” days.
Remember: Done is better than perfect.
I think the most apt metaphor for my mornings is that of being shot out of a cannon.
The hardest thing to do is to make decisions. Action is easy. Take action toward something that you know is important and valuable to your life, and you’ll find it satisfying and absorbing. Most likely, you’ll also find that it’s a fairly automatic process. Almost everything we need to do in life is routine once the decisions have been made. I always say that we’ll do anything if we want to and we know how. When we’re stuck, it’s either because we don’t really know what to do next, or we’re not really committed because we haven’t really decided whether we want it. Once we have all that figured out, all that’s left is turning the crank.
Turning the crank is doing a rote task over and over again.
Turning the crank is doing something relatively mindless that needs doing.
Turning the crank is executing on something with a consistent level of quality and output.
Turning the crank is production, rather than design or strategy.
The great thing about turning the crank is that it leaves the mind free to focus on other things. Something is getting done almost without your realizing it. Sometimes it feels like the work does itself.
Everyone knows the feeling of turning the crank. We just don’t always realize that that’s what we’re doing. Driving a familiar route is turning the crank. Playing an addictive game is turning the crank. Binge-watching TV is turning the crank. Eating favored snack foods is turning the crank. Ordering the same drink over and over is turning the crank. We’re absolutely fantastic at turning cranks! We just don’t always turn the cranks that can move life forward. We prefer the cranks that keep us running in place on a treadmill, exhausted, burned out, but doing something predictable that doesn’t use extra decision power.
I turn the crank on my laundry system because I accept that I will want to wear clean clothes most days for the rest of my life.
I turn the crank on my personal hygiene system because the alternative is repugnant to me.
I turn the crank on my meal system because I’ve got it going on. I know what to do to cook stuff I like to eat, that my husband likes to eat, that we can eat every day without weight gain or health problems. (Example: he has a sensitivity to limes, of all things).
I turn the crank on our mail system because it keeps the desk clear, and because it prevents predictable crises. (Example: some of my airline reward points will expire soon if I don’t use them).
About 80% of life is maintenance. This can be unutterably boring and stultifying. It can feel too unfair for words. You mean I have to fold laundry EVERY DAY??? UGHHHHHH! The stuff that makes the maintenance list is the stuff that gets worse when it’s ignored. We do the maintenance because when we abdicate and avoid it, it winds up taking longer. It’s usually also stickier, greasier, smellier, dustier, more depressing and annoying in every way if it gets put off. Future Me, you’d better appreciate this.
The point of turning the crank is to free up mental bandwidth. Automate every possible thing. Anything that can be put on a System 1 basis, where it can be done without conscious thought, frees up focus and awareness for more interesting things. The most important of these is strategy, and after that are creative output and entertainment. It’s also possible to turn the crank in an emotional or spiritual state such as gratitude, satisfaction, awe, compassion meditation, harmony with nature, ecstatic musical appreciation, or all sorts of other mindsets. Just because there’s a toilet brush in my hand / doesn’t mean that this isn’t my jam.
We tend to miss these rarefied states because we’re usually boiling with resentment, steaming with annoyance and frustration, trudging in dejection, or maybe even fuming with rage that we have to waste our precious time doing these horrible tasks. SO UNFAIR! It’s only when we accept that spending 80% of our time on boring, unfulfilling chores is the lot of humanity that we’re able to tune in to other frequencies.
I turned the crank today. I woke up and wrote, formatted, and posted an article for this blog before I had even had breakfast. That’s one of the main cranks that I turn, and I haven’t missed a business day in over three years. Then I read and reviewed a book, which I also formatted and scheduled. Turn the crank. I went to the gym, coached my clients, and caught up on email. Turn the crank. Listened to eight podcast episodes, or another way to put that would be that I changed the sheets, washed three loads of clothes, cleaned the bathroom, ran the dishwasher, vacuumed the bedroom, sorted the mail, cleaned the birdcage, and walked the dog. Turn the crank. Did two tasks for my volunteer position. Turn the crank. Wrote out my strategic plan for the next 13 weeks. That’s the crank that turns all the other cranks.
Turning the crank feels like competence. It’s a game, if you want it to be. When I was a kid, I hated washing dishes because I “had” to do it. Now I just shrug and do it, because it’s my kitchen, my home, and my rules. I hated cleaning my room, quite frankly because I didn’t know how to do it and I had stuff I had no authority to discard. Now I just shrug and do it, or more accurately, there isn’t really anything to clean.
I turn the crank because it’s a major part of how I do what I want, almost all the time. I choose. I choose to have a certain emotional state and a certain energy level. I choose to have a certain amount of mental bandwidth, which I then apply to various interesting projects, also of my choosing. It’s not acceptable to me to live in chaos and entropy, and neither is it acceptable to me to put my attention and precious mental focus on rote tasks. I let my hands do the tasks while my mind is free. It’s because I turn the crank every day that my mind is released from duty.
The more I study productivity and positive psychology, the more I think that pop culture has everything backwards. How many trillions of articles are there going to be about these topics before everyone starts to realize? Common tactics don’t work. What we need is more strategy. Then we can finally speed up, bounce right over these little speed bumps, and move on to the next thing.
The thing about “getting organized” is that it’s far too vague to mean anything. How do you know what it looks like? I know my clients don’t. They punish themselves with guilt and shame, meanwhile living out the same frantic calamities day after day. The real problem is that they just don’t know what to do. When they start to realize that their problems have simple root causes, they’re always so surprised and relieved! We start with a pain point, like “always being late” or “not being able to find stuff” or “mixed up about money.” Changing just one keystone behavior can completely eliminate all the problems it causes, thereby ending the need to “get organized.”
Those keystone habits?
Almost all household tasks take about five minutes, except for putting away laundry, which is more like 10-15 minutes per load, and cooking, which can be under thirty minutes for dinner and 5-10 for breakfast and lunch. Not a very big time investment for living in a relaxing environment and eating nice meals!
That’s a major part of “weight loss.” I put that in quotes because it’s something that athletes only think about if they’re competing in a sport with weight classes, like boxing or wrestling. Right now, in fact, I’m thinking in terms of weight GAIN because I’m actively trying to put on ten or fifteen pounds of nice solid muscle. Weight loss is a problem for average people because the Standard American Lifestyle is ineffective. It’s ineffective for financial independence, physical fitness, health, ability to stay off pharmaceutical drugs, and also minimalist housekeeping. Whenever you look around and find that 70% of people are in the same situation you’re in, it’s a cultural issue, not an issue of “motivation” or “willpower” or whatever else. Stop “losing weight” and start trying to figure out how to beat the system, the system that is failing us all.
This is how I lost weight.
2, 4, and 5 were permanent. 6 is seasonal but ramps up every year.
I haven’t had to think about “weight loss” for four years. I just put on my clothes. The fit of my favorite jeans tells me more than a scale will. I maintain a capsule wardrobe all in a single size, out of the eight sizes I’ve worn in adulthood. Regaining a lot of body fat would mean replacing my entire wardrobe, and I’m too stingy to pay for that.
When you’re “organized” and you don’t have to “lose weight,” there aren’t that many things to put on a to-do list. I used to love writing lists to clear my head when I felt overwhelmed by life. Usually they would include basic household chores. I teach my clients an exercise I call the “101 List,” in which I ask them to walk around their homes looking for tasks that need doing and trying to write down 101 separate items. It’s a great help for a chronically disorganized person who hasn’t yet set up any systems.
That’s the secret, though. Well, one of two. First secret: Build systems and put everything on autopilot so you don’t have to think about it anymore. Basic tasks should not be eating up your mental bandwidth or taking up any more time than they deserve.
Second secret: Don’t write lists; schedule reminders. Put these things on your calendar. Then ACTUALLY DO THEM at the time slot that you decided would work the best for you.
The problem with writing out to-do lists is that it’s like a pressure valve. It makes you feel accomplished, and then you can relax. (This is obviously true in the case of people who add tasks to their list just to cross them off). This is great if you do the things, and if writing out the list helps you to fall asleep more quickly that night. It’s bad if writing the list is the thing you do INSTEAD OF doing the things. The existence of multiple lists in various stages of completion will indicate if this is an issue.
What I finally learned was that most of my energy did not go toward what was important to me. I beat myself up for being disorganized, feeling guilty and ashamed, when my real problem was not understanding what to do about it. I thought I was procrastinating, when my real problems were managing my energy level and mental focus, and of course battling my chronic disorganization. The better I got at managing my schedule and my stuff, the easier it became. That’s when I started to be able to help other people, which is important, because all of us have better things to do than to spend our lives trying to Get Organized and Lose Weight.
Postponed decisions are the root cause of procrastination. Many of us who would never procrastinate on anything else will procrastinate about social engagements. One of the easiest ways to solve a problem of indecision is to waffle about it until the date has passed. Until this happens, there’s an open loop, a loose end that takes up at least part of our mental bandwidth. That feeling of nagging incompletion is really unpleasant. If it weren’t, the decision would be fast and easy to make, like the decision not to eat your least favorite vegetable. We get stuck in the doorway, unable to decide a Yes or a No. That’s where policy comes in.
Policy means two things. It means you never have to make a decision about that type of matter again. It also means you don’t have to put any thought into your response. It’s simply something you do, or something you don’t do.
It’s easy when you know how. For instance, you don’t donate money to causes that you don’t support, such as the rival political party. You also wouldn’t go to a random event rather than something important. If a tractor sale conflicts with my brother’s wedding, well, I guess I’m not buying a tractor that weekend.
There are clues here about how policy choices are made. It has to do with your personal values.
Your values are yours to decide. Not your relatives, not your friends, not your neighbors, not even your spouse. Other people may be shocked or disappointed, but they don’t have to wake up and be you every day. You do. You’re the only one who has to meet your own eyes in the mirror.
The reason this is important is that we have to decide how to spend our time. If we fritter away our time on anything that anyone ever asks us to do, then there won’t be any left to support our values. It’s not so much that most things are going to conflict with our values, as that it’s all the neutral penny-ante stuff that eats up our schedules. Weeks, months, years can go by, and we may never have found a minute for what we thought was so important.
Every minute I spend talking to a troll on the internet, every minute I spend reading anonymous comment threads, is a minute I’m not talking to my grandma. The time I spend with casual acquaintances is time that’s not available for my closest loved ones. I’m basically letting random people steal from the most important people in my life.
This is how policies are made. We decide which types of situations are always going to be a Yes, and which types are always going to be a No.
Graduations? Whose kids?
Birthday parties? Whose?
Festivals? Street fairs? Carnivals?
Karaoke night? Trivia night? Movie night?
Town hall meetings? School board meetings?
Helping someone move?
Visiting someone in the hospital?
Multi-level marketing “parties”?
Always means always. When it’s always Yes, this means this is a top-ranking event, and anything else that conflicts is going to be a No. I once got two wedding invitations for the same day, one for a close friend and the other for my younger brother. That was not a decision. It was policy. If it had been the close friend and a more casual friend, then that also would not have been a decision. There are only 52 weekends a year, and not everything gets to be a Yes.
Saying No to the casual or random stuff is the only way to say a full and complete Yes to the important stuff. We cherish our loved ones by being there for them, and that means the other seven billion people in the world will have to wait.
There are other ways to say Yes besides going somewhere in person. We can send a gift. We can call. We can send a card or a letter. We can send flowers. We can send a charitable donation in someone’s name. We can do a favor. We can offer another get-together on another day. If this truly is someone who values the friendship, it will work out.
Sometimes, we find that the relationship is more casual on that person’s end than we had realized. When this happens, it’s good. It’s a good sign when someone is willing to be honest and set clear boundaries. It helps us to relax and refocus our attention on our inner circle.
One quick and easy way to make a decision about social engagements is to consider how you found out about it. If the first you heard about it was through the mail, it’s probably a No. The people who are closest to you probably would have told you that they were getting married or having a baby shower before the invitations went out. Communication has changed so much over the past couple of decades that the old ways are more or less vestigial remnants at this point.
Here are some rough guidelines on how to start setting social policies:
“Everybody’s invited” social media invites: probably No
If it’s on a work night: probably No
If it involves out-of-state travel: probably No
If it’s in another city: depends on what, where, and when
If it’s a “buy stuff” party: definitely No
If it’s child-free: Yes, because I don’t have kids at home
Wine tasting: definitely No
Sportsball: definitely No
Restaurant: depends entirely on the menu
If it runs past midnight: No
Backpacking trip: probably Yes
Basically, if it’s not awesome it’s a No. On a scale of one to five, with five being awesome, the two- and three-star events are going to be a No. Pass. I’m not doing anybody any favors by reluctantly showing up and being a wallflower at an event that doesn’t enthuse me. I’ll make you soup when you’re sick, I’ll help you move, I’ll come to visit you in the hospital, but I’m not going to come over and order out of your catalog.
There are about eight people on my Always list, and another half-dozen on my Yes, If Possible list. They know who they are. In order to be totally available for my Always people, I have to cut other events. That means calendar time, and it also means money. My savings buffer includes enough for a round-trip plane ticket.
Until the day when we can make clones on demand and appear to be in two places at once, we have to make choices. Choosing Yes to too many things means that suddenly, there’s no money and no time for the big stuff. Say No more often to say Yes when you really mean it.
Not everyone who is alive at the same time is experiencing the same era in history. As examples, may I present the Amish, modern hunter-gatherer societies, and anyone who is still using a VCR. It’s possible for different people to use time differently and get different results. Anyone who shares a bathroom with a teenager knows how true this is. Let’s explore how the same hour can be perceived and used by people in different slipstreams.
An example of slipstreams would be lanes on a freeway. Slow traffic keeps right, speed demons keep left, and if there are center lanes they tend to be inhabited by those who want to avoid a lot of merging and tailgating. Everyone on that stretch of freeway is traveling in the same general direction, and they’re going to arrive at different times.
Another example would be a group reading menus in a restaurant. One person walks in already fantasizing about his favorite dish. He orders quickly and turns his attention to the conversation. Another person dithers over what to order, fretting and fussing and focusing only on the food. These people are in completely different slipstreams. The decisive person may be decisive for any of a list of reasons: He may get the same thing all the time because he loves it or he’s super-picky or he’s not terribly interested in food. He may be impatient or he may be bursting with news. One way or the other, he has a priority that is more important than this one particular plate of food. The indecisive person is stressed out and worried, either about missing out on the best dish or getting stuck with something yucky. A chronically indecisive person feels this way all the time, and that’s what makes this a different slipstream.
We get stuck in the slow lane, the slow slipstream, all the time. Sometimes we can’t figure out what to do. Sometimes we don’t know what we want. Sometimes we’re afraid of what comes next. Sometimes we want to be let off the hook, to avoid being stuck with extra responsibilities or higher expectations. Sometimes we simply don’t realize our own power.
I’ve worked with people who’ve spent years “clearing clutter.” I’ve also met people who’ve gotten rid of almost everything they owned over a weekend. You can spend the same hour flipping through old school papers (that you then keep) or hauling a dozen boxes out to a truck and driving them to a donation center.
There are people who have struggled with debt for decades, and others who have buckled down and paid off the same amount in just a couple of years. You can spend the same hour reading a book on your couch or running up $300 of credit card debt buying things at the mall.
We sometimes see this in romantic relationships. Some people meet and get married six months later, while others may be engaged for years without setting a date. Some people break up and never see each other again, while others reunite and break up again over and over.
Other common areas where we see people in different slipstreams are in advanced education, writing a novel, starting a business, doing research, and completing projects such as reconditioning a classic car or knitting an afghan. We do things at our own speeds, sometimes cruising along in one area while puttering in another. Every hour that passes is either an hour that goes toward that goal, or an hour that goes to something else.
I’m training in martial arts right now. The classes are divided into Beginner and Advanced, and test windows come up every two months to advance to a new level. There are all ages at this gym, from tiny tots to people in their sixties, but age doesn’t differentiate people as much as their fitness level does. For instance, we all jump rope together for three minutes during warm-up. I always trip on the rope several times. I may skip 200 times in three minutes, breathlessly, with a lot of stumbles and false starts. Next to me is a guy my age, an avid cyclist, who does all kinds of rope tricks and whose calves look like they were carved from wood. He probably skips at least 500 skips in the same three minutes. Same hour, different intensity, different calorie burn. Many of our classmates take two classes a day. I’m training at my own beginner level four times a week, while others are showing up ten or twelves times. They’re in faster slipstreams, and they’ll make much faster progress than I do.
In a one-hour period during my (slow, awkward, uncoordinated, amateur) fitness career, I have walked, bicycled, run, done yoga and water aerobics and ballroom dance, ridden an elliptical machine, or even tried a bootcamp in the mud. Each of these activities is its own slipstream, a route to radically different results. Within each discipline are also various slipstreams, where people choose their own rates of effort and learning. This realization is why I chose such a physically demanding school this year. I want to be in a faster slipstream. In fact I’m pushing my limits in hopes that I can also level up and handle two classes a day.
We often feel judged or criticized for our progress in life. There’s always a naysayer or a critic to make snarky little comments about every single thing, from our work schedule to our housekeeping to our physical appearance. What we don’t always realize is that we have the power to choose where we want to go and how quickly we want to get there (and the power to ignore naysayers). Sometimes it’s simple lack of information, like when I thought I would have to wait an extra year to finish my bachelor’s degree because the math class I needed was already full, but then I got the requirement waived. Sometimes we burn energy in envy or jealousy, focusing on how other people have results that we don’t. Ultimately all we need is that click, that feeling of decision and resolve, that we’re going to focus on moving forward as quickly as possible.
What would be different today if you had already accomplished everything on your to-do list? If you already had everything the way you want it, from your job to your house to your relationships to your body to your cooking or artistic skills? What would you do next? Is it possible that you could jump forward and do that thing right now? How can you shift into a faster slipstream and get to your goal all the quicker?
I am a creature of appetite. I always want to max out on experiences, engage in multiple conversations, stay up too late, use three electronic devices at once, read absolutely everything, fill every moment, and, of course, eat all the things. Learning to be an endurance athlete, adventurer, and martial artist has taught me a lot about physical appetite, which I will share with you as soon as I finish licking my fingers.
The main thing to understand is that food is not optional. I mean, duh, it’s not optional for living organisms. For endurance sports, if you don’t eat enough, you bonk. (To be distinguished from ‘boink’ which is not something you generally want to do when your blood sugar crashes). Bonking is what happens when the glycogen stores from your muscles are depleted. It feels really, really bad. Most people are probably acquainted with the feeling of being hangry, which is basically being hungry enough to be irritable and start verbally abusing people. Bonking leads toward total physical collapse. You’re out of gas and you’re stranded at the side of the road until you fill your tank.
The thing about endurance sports is that it gradually conditions your body, training your muscles to store more glycogen. This is handy when you want to walk, bike, run, or hike somewhere while carrying heavy gear. It’s not so convenient when you quit feeling hunger signals in the way that you once did. You have to learn how to eat when you’re not hungry, just like you have to learn to hydrate when you’re not thirsty. If you ever actually feel thirsty, like your mouth is dry, then you’re well into a state of dehydration. It’s the same with food. On a fifteen-mile hike or a twenty-six-mile run, you’re not just traveling on your breakfast, you’re traveling on your dinner from the night before.
This is where ox hunger and wolf hunger come in.
These terms come from Ancient Greece. We talked about it one day while I was studying Classics. Those of us who did not grow up in an agricultural area often have to have these things explained. Ox hunger was considered more desperate than wolf hunger, because a wolf snarfs its food down quickly, while an ox ruminates, grazing and chewing all day long. From a human perspective, the ox can never get enough to eat. It never feels full, even as it reaches a massive size.
This is actually turning into a weird metaphor for me, because I identify with the herbivorous diet of the ox, while still wanting to point to a shift in how I structure my meals.
When I was obese, I felt hungry all the time. I always cleared every last morsel off my plate. I regularly drank 40 ounces of cola or more every day. It wasn’t uncommon for me to eat an entire can of Pringles while writing a paper. I’m 5’4” and I’ve been known to eat half an extra-large pizza in one sitting. My activity level was basically nil, because I had a lot of issues, from chronic pain to migraines to a full catalog of sleep disorders. I felt like a mess.
Now I’m 15-20 years older. I probably eat about the same amount of total calories, although it would be hard to say because I wouldn’t have kept a food log back then for a thousand dollars. Right now I’m at twenty push-ups and a five-mile running route. Since my top weight, I’ve lost about fifty pounds of fat and I’ve put on about fifteen pounds of muscle. I’m hoping for another fifteen. The difference between being a middle-aged fit person and a young fat person is 90% food and 10% activity, mainly because you can never find the energy to do anything physical until you learn something about appetite.
Everything is upside down and backward, and that’s due to timing.
The typical food pattern of an adult with a full-time job goes like this. Oversleep, rush to work with little to no breakfast, slam some coffee and something sugary. Eat a cruddy lunch over your keyboard or your seatbelt, maybe even something terrible like a bag of microwave popcorn with a diet soda, or a candy bar. Perhaps graze on office snacks like cookies or candy. Run a bunch of errands and wait to figure out dinner until you’re practically faint with hunger. Eat the dinner. Then eat something sweet like a bowl of cereal or ice cream right before bedtime. Add sweetened, caffeinated beverages or energy drinks throughout the day just to make it harder to get any decent rest.
This food pattern is the perfect plan IF you want the maximum emotional volatility, lowest energy levels, most sleep issues, and an eventual case of pre-diabetes.
As an athlete, my biggest annoyance is crashing, which is what I call the stage right before bonking. I get really moody, slow, and dumb. On a hike, for instance, I’ll take my pack off to get my lunch and then forget what I was doing. I’ll start unzipping different compartments of my pack, staring at my blow-up lantern or something, feeling all weepy and pathetic, until I finally remember: FOOD! If I don’t eat enough for breakfast before my kickboxing class, suddenly I can barely do my jump squats, much less kick anything properly. It feels like it shaves off half of my strength, speed, stamina, prowess, mental focus, emotional equanimity... and IQ.
This is how I eat if I want to have a fun day.
Drink a glass of water as soon as I wake up. Eat a big bowl of porridge with oats, quinoa, extra dried fruit, nuts, and coconut marmalade. Also eat a protein bar. Walk two miles to martial arts class and crunch out something like fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups, fifty jump squats, three minutes of jumping rope, fifteen minutes of circuit training, and round out the hour with a couple of hundred kicks and punches plus some wrestling. Drink more water. Leave class and eat a snack. Walk two miles home. Immediately eat a huge lunch and drink more water. Work. Eat afternoon snack. Work. Eat dinner by 7 PM at the latest so I can go to bed around 10. Stop eating for the day. Drink last water at 8 PM.
Timing is everything. Learning to plan WHEN I eat has helped me to get ahead of the hunger curve, so I’m fueling the next few hours rather than catching up on the last few. It helps that the 500 calories of soda I used to drink every day is now represented by real, solid breakfast food instead.
What I’ve found is that the bigger my breakfast, the stronger and faster I am during my workout. Part of the appetite for this big breakfast comes from closing the kitchen after dinner, which I do because it’s how I manage my parasomnia disorder. I’ve eaten 80% of my calories for the day before dinnertime anyway. I can get a full, restful night of sleep and start over ready to kick butt the next day. I’m no longer the ox, large and slow and stationary, chewing and chewing all day long. Whether I’ll ever be a lean, fast, and scary wolf-girl remains to be seen.
I’ll always say that we can get more mileage out of taking a foot off the brake than we can in pressing harder on the gas. Whatever annoys you the most, wherever you find your biggest pain point, work on reducing or eliminating it. That’s how you get to Easy World. For some reason, taxes seem to be high on the list of universal annoyances. It doesn’t have to feel that way.
There are two reasons that taxes seem to bother people: the fact that we have to pay them, and the effort involved in doing the work. I’ll offer some perspective on both.
If it weren’t taxes, it would be something else. In Ancient Rome, people were expected to personally maintain the pavement of the road in front of their house. As far as I’m concerned, paying taxes is a sweat-free, comparatively easy and low-maintenance way to participate in an advanced society.
Oh, you want to argue about that? Big hair, don’t care.
What I’m talking about here is *my* perspective. From where I sit, I simply don’t give a care about taxes. The only times I’ve cared are the two occasions when I was erroneously assessed taxes for income that I didn’t actually earn. I would enjoy writing checks that large if I had the earnings to match! I found that the IRS has terrific customer service, and I wouldn’t necessarily mind if I ever had to talk to them on the phone again.
We pay more in taxes now than I used to earn. A LOT more. If it keeps going at this rate, which I hope it does, then we’ll eventually pay more in taxes than I earned at my highest-grossing day job. I look forward to the day when I have a ten million dollar tax bill. Come at me! C’monnnn, taxes!
Big money equals big money problems. Only, it doesn’t have to be a problem.
I choose to see all my bills, including my tax bill, as manifestations of abundance. My rent would make you cry, but dolphins are my near neighbors. On the other hand, I don’t have a car payment because I don’t have a car, and my utility bills are small because I live in a studio apartment. On yet another hand, my phone bill is atrocious because I have a billionaire phone.
That tickles me. It tickles me that I have the same phone I would buy as a billionaire. It also tickles me that we do our taxes at the beginning of every spring, again just like billionaires.
I could choose to continue to let money bother me and stress me out. I used to. I used to cry myself to sleep at night, thinking there was no way out and it would always be that bad. I cried the first time I did my own taxes. I misread the tax tables and thought I was paying on my gross, rather than taxable income. I called my mom, sobbing because I “owed” thousands of dollars I didn’t have. “That can’t be right,” she said, and because she is an accountant she offered to look over my work. Imagine my surprise and delight when it turned out, forty-five minutes later, that I was actually getting... a refund! That’s the feeling of lightness and joy that we can all feel when we think about money.
Money is nothing more nor less than a convenient way of storing and transferring energy.
I cried when I was in debt. It was dreadful. Then I determined that I would be debt-free before I pass from this world, and if I did nothing else, at least I’d be able to pay for my own funeral. (Shortcut: I am a whole-body donor and those expenses are included). I put my head down and hustled. I checked my accounts every day, I focused, I earned side income every chance I got, I read library books and worked on domestic contentment, and I got free. I sawed the shackle of consumer debt off my ankle. Now the other side, the student loan side, is nearly free as well. Soon I’ll walk tall, walking the walk of perfect financial freedom. That’s something we all can have, with a little focus.
Part of why taxes are easy for us is that our lives are unencumbered. We don’t owe back taxes; neither my husband nor I ever have. We don’t own a house. The complications mostly come from me and my weird ways of earning money, from royalties and dividends rather than a salary. We take the standard deduction because we don’t have enough reasons to itemize. We just get the software, and my hubby spends not quite an hour clicking through. We have our refunds direct-deposited and we’ve usually already put them in our IRAs before our friends have even bothered filing.
If you need and want to Get Organized with your taxes, set it up now so that you can make it easier for yourself for next year.
How would it feel if you loved money and you found that every financial process in your life was hilarious and simple? What if doing taxes made you want to do a happy dance? What if doing your taxes made you want to rush down the sidewalk, skipping, flinging flower petals in the air and hugging the mail carrier?
Or what if, you know, what if it just wasn’t all that hard?
Today is the day. Today is the day that you can transform your feelings about taxes. If you so choose, you can dial up a different emotional reaction. What is it going to be? Easy, I hope.
Relief is the best feeling you could have right now. Am I right? If you’re like most people, you have a secret shame, something you’ve been putting off. You dread facing it. Even thinking about it makes you cringe. You’ve been procrastinating and delaying and foot-dragging, and the longer you wait, the worse it feels. Let today be the day that you free yourself from that horrible, yucky feeling. Start with a stuck list.
Let’s make a list of everything that’s bothering you. Category by category, we’ll figure out your aversive tasks and why they feel so sticky and hard to do.
An aversive task is something that makes you want to run away. You just don’t want to do it. The funny thing is, that type of odious chore is different for everyone. Some people hate making phone calls, others don’t mind. Some people hate filing, others think it’s fun. Pick a chore and someone hates it, someone doesn’t think twice about doing it, and someone else actually enjoys it. Tell yourself that the thing itself isn’t really that bad, it’s just the emotions that it brings up for you.
What is on your stuck list?
Chances are, most stuff on your list can be done in under five minutes. Isn’t that great?
Also, just thinking about it makes you a little nauseated. Wouldn’t it be better to put it all behind you? Take a deep breath and imagine your victory.
Look at your list. Categorize each item by how it gets done. Is it:
A phone call?
A physical task?
Something waiting on someone else?
A conversation you need to have face to face with someone?
Secretly a major project that you don’t know how to do?
Now write down the thoughts and feelings you have when you think about doing each of these things.
A blank space of not knowing what to do or how to do it
Now write down why you aren’t doing each item.
Don’t know how
Don’t like So-and-So
Hate doing this
Need more information
Believe it will take HOURS AND HOURS
Need to make a decision
Overwhelmed and overcommitted
Do you notice any patterns?
Overcommitting, never saying ‘no,’ feeling indecisive, or avoiding confrontations are the types of patterns that affect everything, all the time. Looking at the root emotional cause and figuring out some strategies can eventually help you to free yourself from the icky, heavy feeling of procrastination.
I tend to procrastinate business calls until I absolutely can’t avoid them because I hate talking on the phone. I always put housework and exercise first. That’s my task pattern. I’m quick to research things when I don’t know much about them, because it makes me feel curious, but I’m slow to open an email if I think it will trigger a bunch of bureaucratic nonsense. The things I procrastinate the most are clothes shopping and getting my hair cut. Another person might procrastinate sorting mail or cleaning out the car, and maybe always put personal phone calls first. It all depends on what you think is fun versus what you think is dreadful, boring, annoying, or loaded with emotion.
Here’s my stuck list.
An email to my screenwriting mentor - guilt, don’t know what to do
Redesign of a product that can’t be manufactured according to current specs - frustration, don’t know what to do
Jeans shopping - annoyance, hate doing this, believe it will take hours and hours
Finding a new avian vet since apparently there isn’t one within ten miles - need more information, need to make a decision
The first two items could trigger weeks or months of demanding work. Since I don’t have a clear image of what that looks like, I feel stuck. Jeans shopping will probably take two hours. Finding a new bird vet might be impossible; I might have to take half a day to bring her to her old vet. I don’t really “feel like” doing any of these things right now, so I’ll fake myself out. I’ll pick one, which will immediately make one of the other items on the list feel less difficult in comparison. I’ll feel like I’m getting away with something.
Trick yourself, if that’ll work for you. Ask someone for help or advice, because admitting your secret shame and exposing it to daylight helps to rebuild your dignity and pride. Set a timer and race against it. Play music and keep working until the playlist is up. Set aside one weekend day as a Get Stuff Done Day.
Keep your list somewhere you can look at it. Try to complete one item every day until the list is gone. Every time you look at, think about, or handle the list, remind yourself of how amazing it will feel when all that stuff is done. Soon you’ll never have to think about it again. You can be free of the dread and frustration and guilt and shame that comes from procrastinating. You can start today. Just get started.
I wake up without an alarm. That’s because my upstairs neighbors are up and walking around at 6:00 AM. (Our previous upstairs neighbors were up and running the washing machine at 7:00, so is this an upgrade?).
Productivity bloggers are constantly bragging about how early they get up, and all the productive things they do at 5:30, or 5:00, or even 4:00 in the morning. Sometimes I believe them, and sometimes I don’t. I’m skeptical, because when I first wake up, I’m useless.
I’m an extreme night owl. It runs back at least three generations in my family. My most alert and productive time of day is 10 PM, and it has been since I was about thirteen years old. Waking up early is challenging for me, and having done it over a longer period of time hasn’t really made it all that much easier.
Since I set my own schedule, I can work whenever I like. Sometimes, I feel like I’m doing good work after midnight, and I’ll stay up until 2 AM. I pay for it, though. It turns out that the rest of the world doesn’t stop just because I decided to work an odd shift. No matter how tired I am, no matter how late I stay up, the rest of the world goes on doing the things it does.
TIME TO WAKE UP
I’ve tried and tried and tried to sleep later into the morning. Where I live, even when it’s quiet, it’s too hot and bright. Usually it isn’t quiet.
Birds (crows, gulls, mockingbirds, sometimes roosters)
Where we live right now, there are some Baby Boomers who like to play their stereos out the window. You can tell, partly because of their musical tastes, but mostly because they’re the last generation that feels entitled to just blare their music all the time without using headphones.
Anyway. It is what it is. The truth is that most of the world is diurnal, and for those of us whose natural rhythms are out of sync, failure to adjust is personal stress and pain.
It’s my choice to adapt myself to the world, rather than indulging in frustration that the world won’t adapt itself to me.
I’ve tried earplugs and white noise generators and eye masks and herbal teas and prescription sleeping pills and meditation and changing my diet and hot baths and a whole lot more. I once went into my doctor’s office with a huge tote bag full of all the sleep aids I had bought and shook them out onto the examination table. “Wow, you must be really frustrated!” They sent me to a psychiatrist to rule out a brain tumor. The only thing that has really worked has been to just... sigh... go to bed earlier.
It took years. The other night, I went to bed at 9:00 PM and was asleep half an hour later. Ten years ago, there’s no way I could have done that. I would have gone to bed and lain there for at least three hours, possibly five. The hardest thing about the journey to early mornings is that it takes so long. Tiny increments.
What happens is basically that your digestion system starts doing the work for you. If you wake up and eat and drink on a schedule, very quickly your body adjusts and wakes you up. Or, rather, your bladder does. If you stop eating and drinking for the day at a certain hour, you can fall asleep and stay asleep without that bladder alarm going off at inconvenient times. This is the main reason that “morning people” can wake up without an alarm. There IS an alarm, it’s just an internal one.
Eating and drinking on a schedule also regulates your sleep and appetite hormones. Any other hormonal issues should also be supported by this.
Every time I talk to someone with an insomnia or parasomnia problem, it turns out that they eat meals at different times every day. They don’t have a “lunchtime” or a “dinner time” and they often don’t eat breakfast, either. They tend to be workaholics who grab snacks whenever they get a chance. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this could contribute to erratic sleep patterns.
Natural daylight and exercise are natural to animals. Why are squirrels so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed? Well, I’m pretty sure they’re born with the tails. Animals and birds that live outdoors wake up hungry, and if they want to survive, they need to start scurrying. I think about this a lot as I force my sleepy self out the door.
I take a morning fitness class at a gym that’s a little over two miles away. I walk there. I don’t do much in the morning before I go, partly because my morning routine involves NOT DOING as much as possible. If you want to “be on time,” you have to rule out almost everything except getting dressed and locking your door behind you.
What do I do?
My schedule is different each of the seven days of the week. That’s due to the class schedule at my gym and my scheduled club meetings. What changes for me is which bag I grab. On weekends and Wednesdays I take a shower first and wear regular clothes. That’s all. Keep it pared down.
I do all the activities that the “morning people” write about. I keep a journal, I meditate, I read and write for several hours a day, I talk to clients and work on my business. I’m extremely organized with my finances, my stuff, my housekeeping, my nutrition - basically everything else about my life. I just don’t do any of that stuff when I first wake up. Are you kidding me?
I work with chronically disorganized people. The reason I write about my skepticism about mornings is that I know almost all of us share this in common. We aren’t alert or cheerful or driven before the sun comes up. Most of us are chronically late because we don’t have much of an internal sense of time passing, and when we’re tired we are mentally scattered. We have to recognize that the only way for us to have a streamlined morning is to consider “wake up early” to be a monumental challenge, all on its own.
Pro tip: If you want to transition to become a “morning person,” do all of the organizing and support toward that in the afternoon or evening. Set yourself up to simply be able to wake up your body. That’s plenty to be going on with.
Procrastinating is due for a disruption. I think it’s much more complicated than it appears, and that a lot of the time, we bash ourselves with those feelings quite unfairly. What if what we’re doing isn’t really procrastinating?
Over a quarter of Americans are chronic procrastinators, which is way more common than being a smoker or a diabetic. The prevalence has also gone up nearly 40% in the past quarter century. This increase can probably be blamed almost entirely on the advent of cable television, followed by the internet, streaming video, online gaming, social media, et cetera. We certainly know how to entertain ourselves!
Procrastinating means “putting forward to tomorrow.” The interesting thing about it is that we define it for ourselves. Everyone procrastinates on different stuff, and what’s difficult for one person is easy or fun for someone else. We may feel like we are procrastinating on doing stuff even when we don’t have an external deadline or standard that we need to meet. Even when we are being our own boss, choosing our own projects, and doing stuff based completely on our own initiative, we can still judge ourselves for being “lazy” or for procrastinating. Isn’t that a little weird?
Putting something off until tomorrow isn’t always procrastinating. Let’s think about this. Usually, it’s a sign of good planning! We can’t do every single thing the minute the thought crosses our minds. At least, that’s what the receptionist at my dentist’s office tells me. Sometimes, choosing to do something later has no impact at all, like if I delay watching a TV episode or decide not to have a PBJ sandwich for lunch until later this week. It’s only the stuff we believe we really, really should be doing right now that counts as procrastinating. We’ve chosen something that, rationally, we think is the most important, best, and most urgent use of our time. Then we’ve made a decision to do something else instead. That’s extremely fascinating from an existential standpoint!
Even more interesting, rather than find a way to take action, we fill the time either trying to distract ourselves with mindless activity, mentally flogging ourselves, or wallowing in self-criticism, anxiety, dread, and other helplessly negative emotions. Procrastinating usually feels terrible.
On top of the horrid feelings that go with stalling, delaying, foot-dragging, indecision, mental paralysis, and looming deadlines, and am I stressing you out just describing them? Along with all of that come the ramifications. Missed opportunities! Missed deadlines! Regret! Shame! Failure! Disappointment!
Nobody would choose this.
Nobody would rationally choose procrastination. It borders on logical fallacy. If you can only procrastinate by putting off something urgent and important, then procrastinating is deliberately sabotaging your own circumstances. I happen to think that there’s actually something else going on.
Let’s get a little deeper into it.
I work with people who are chronically disorganized. Some of my people have issues with hoarding or squalor, but while those three conditions tend to overlap, some people only deal with one. That’s because the root emotions are different for each person, sometimes astonishingly so. The big difference for the chronically disorganized is that they just do not know what to do. They don’t have any systems, or, rather, the systems they have are far more convoluted and time-consuming than necessary. While my people struggle mightily with following a schedule and being on time, they aren’t choosing to do it. They just lack planning skills, and their inner sense of time passing is set differently. I say “they” when I really mean “I.” People like my clients and I feel a minute as more like 90 seconds. It’s fair to say that chronically disorganized people suffer the same results as chronic procrastinators, even though they may never have made conscious decisions to procrastinate.
It’s not that we put something off until later, it’s that we never technically planned it in the first place!
Procrastinating is often little more than not knowing how long something was going to take, not realizing how many steps were involved, not being aware that it’s already too late to get something done.
Another way to get the same results as a procrastinator without really procrastinating is to be a people pleaser. A lot of people are almost totally lacking in boundaries, and will thus say “yes” to everything in a sincere attempt to be helpful. It’s like having a leaky boat. A pleaser will always “overpromise and under-deliver” because the promises aren’t even really promises, and they’re made so quickly that it would be impossible to even remember them all, much less follow through. This warm, friendly sort of person will not meet deadlines because the point of the commitment was to demonstrate caring and connection, not to actually DO a THING or to show up to an event. The desire to make someone else happy was real. The over-accommodating person who continually promises too much is not procrastinating, but really more turning an emotional dial to ‘please love me.’ Action, production, and execution aren’t even part of the image. This person does not know just how much frustration, disappointment, confusion, and sometimes pure rage is being inflicted on anyone who believed the over-commitment would be kept.
Work projects tend to be procrastinated when the procrastinator doesn’t really know how to approach the project. Most people can do even the most boring or annoying work tasks, grumbling and muttering but cranking them out. The stuff we procrastinate at work tends to be either administrivia, which we rationally judge is not relevant to our work goals, or large-scale projects with longer deadlines. We just don’t know how to break these projects into manageable chunks. We don’t know how to create longer, uninterrupted blocks of time. We don’t know how to delegate or negotiate. We don’t know how to communicate with our supervisors and admit that we don’t know exactly what we’re doing. We don’t know how to shift gears into System II thinking and get into the zone of focus on demand.
We often think we’re procrastinating on personal projects like “getting organized” or “losing weight” or other loosely-defined objectives. If we knew what to do, I think we’d be doing it! We have the internal sense that our lives would be easier if we did these things, that we’re missing out on something that works nicely for other people. It’s not that we’re procrastinating, it’s that we have no idea where to start.
We don’t know Future Self. Future Me feels like a total stranger, an annoying old person who is constantly asking me for more money. Thinking about the needs of me, myself at some later point in the timeline just feels like such an unfair burden. Why should Future Me get everything? What has Future Me ever done for me? We don’t know how we’re going to feel later on. If we’re well acquainted with the helpless, horrible feelings of chronic procrastination, we may simply feel that going into a shame spiral is a fitting punishment for being a useless, procrastinating loser failure. As though negative self-talk or self-punishment ever actually helped to accomplish anything or meet deadlines?
Isn’t the point to get something done? A specific thing? Add “insult myself” to the list for later, because doing it now is actively interfering with the stated goal.
The main reason we procrastinate is that we don’t know what done feels like. We can dimly imagine the relief of getting out of this rut, this hell of our own making, this trap that we’ve thrown ourselves into. What we can’t imagine is the thought process or the course of action that actually led to the doing of the thing.
One thing that helps is to write out a list of everything you don’t know. Every question you have about the project, every place where you’re stuck, every piece of the job that frustrates or confuses you. Sometimes there is an answer. Sometimes, in the most interesting work, the answer is something you create on your own! Usually, clarifying the questions helps to make at least tentative steps toward a course of action.
Another thing that helps is to just get started. Tinker around the edges of the project in some way. Open a file folder. Write an outline. Draw a mind map. Try to figure out any two-minute steps that could be done without thinking too hard. Go through the motions and the stuck feeling can start to dissolve.
Fighting procrastination is a skill that can be learned. It is possible to get rid of this tendency. It is possible to learn enough skills in project planning and time management so that it quits being a problem. The dread of putting off something important always feels so much worse than actually doing the work. Just get started.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.