It was just over three weeks ago that I decided my new productivity experiment would be to get washed and dressed as soon as I got up every morning, and to head over to my unofficial office (i.e. a bench overlooking the sea inside a shopping centre) to do some work. Here’s what I said:
I’m going to get washed and dressed straight away every morning, and I’m going to come here. Because today I already feel like my day is off to a brilliant start and it’s only 9.30am. I’m not saying I will write every morning, because I might not, but there’s a good chance I will do something worthwhile, something… worky. Because my brain goes into work-mode when I sit here. It will be harder to do on the windy and rainy days, which are frequent here, but I’m pretty sure sitting here in the peace and quiet, feeling good about myself, will make it doable.
This is the third experiment I’ve done. I started out calling them 28-day challenges, but then the second one was five weeks and this one was only three, and ‘challenge’ didn’t sit right with me either. So right now they’re just productivity experiments.
My first experiment saw me attempting to exercise first thing every morning. I sucked big time at that. My second – more successful – experiment was to do some stream-of-consciousness writing every morning, in the cosy comfort of my pyjamas. I did manage to do this almost every morning. I’d decided part of the reason my first experiment failed was because I didn’t want to get up and dressed straight away every morning. But, turns out, sitting around in my pyjamas writing every morning didn’t feel that great either. Couple of problems with it:
1) Staying in my pyjamas didn’t make me feel very good, regardless of the fact that I was doing something ‘productive’. 2) I got so bored of myself writing – whining – every morning, repeating myself over and over. I do like this kind of writing, but every morning is too much. I’m more of a once-a-month kind of gal with this, and I have been for over a decade.
So – what to do? I didn’t want to get dressed or not get dressed first thing in the morning? Great, Karen. Nice deduction. I love it when what you want defies physics. So I figured that maybe the problem wasn’t getting dressed first thing – maybe it was exercising first thing. What I was looking for was a way to start my day that didn’t me feel like shit, but was easy enough – pleasant, even – to do. So was this it? Getting dressed and ‘going to the office’ every morning? Turns out, it was. I bet you can smell the work-for-myself-so-fuck-convention irony from there. Anyway, here’s how it went:
I Did It Almost Every Morning
Aside from a couple of exceptions, I got up every weekday morning, usually between 7.30-8.30am, brushed my teeth, splashed water on my face, threw some clothes on and headed out the door. My exceptions were either when the work I had to do that morning required the internet, or when I woke up ‘too late’. I realise now that the latter excuse is just that: an excuse. But there’s a good reason for it…
The Earlier I Went, The Better It was
In the shopping centre I frequent the shops don’t open till 10am, except for a couple of coffee shops. This means the earlier I go in, the more peaceful it is. Arriving just after 8am is ideal, because I can grab a cup of tea from Starbucks (where, incidentally, I now get a discount because ‘I work in the shopping centre’ and because I’ve been going in often enough for them to recognise me). There’s usually an elderly women sat in there reading, either a book or a magazine. I enjoy trying to sneak a peek at what she’s got her nose in this time.
As the clock creeps closer to 10am, the tourists start flowing in. People come and sit on the other benches nearby. The people are noisy. The tannoys start announcing stuff. If I arrive around lunchtime, I’m screwed, because the benches will be taken up by people who’ve bought sandwiches from Marks and Spencer and want to sit and look out over the sea as they eat. (How dare they sit in my seat? Don’t they know I have work to do!)
On Beautiful Sunny Days I Sat Outside to Work
We had a rare bout of gorgeous days in Edinburgh as soon as I started this experiment, so I sat outside some of the time. Obviously, that was awesome. Witness exhibit A:
I Got A Lot of Work Done
I would usually do some writing, and on one occasion I banged out three blog posts in the space of two hours. I also did some brainstorming, planning and editing. Those are really the only kinds of work you can do without an internet connection anyway. On one morning I found it hard to get going, but every other morning it was easy. IT WAS EASY. Magic. I got so much more work done than I usually do, which is good, because I had a fuckload to do before my three-week trip to the US (which is where I am – almost – as I write this. I’m in Heathrow right now, but by the time this is published I’ll be in California. I’m going to preemptively say OMG IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL AND WARM HERE).
I Usually Got Some Reading Done Too
I got into the habit of taking a book with me, which I’d sit and read a chapter or two of before heading home. This means I got more reading done than I normally do. Bonus. I’d never read until I’d done my work though.
I Got Hungry
I don’t normally eat breakfast – just wait until I’m hungry. But being as I wasn’t at home when I got hungry, I felt myself getting irritated at EVERYONE on my walk home. Not good. This didn’t always happen, but it happened enough for me to want to do something about it. Cue: boiled eggs. I decided to keep a bunch of boiled eggs in my fridge and grab one each morning on my way out the door to tide me over until lunch. This seemed to do the trick.
A Natural Daily Routine Seemed to Form
While I’m not a fan of having a strictly regimented daily routine, I do like it when my days have a sort of order to them and I feel like I’m accomplishing stuff. After I got home and had my lunch, I’d usually sit at my desk and do internet-related jobs such as scheduling blog posts, answering emails, writing my newsletter, social media, and so on. After a couple of hours of that I’d be ready for a break – and considering I’d already had such a productive day so far, I felt no hardship about going for a long walk mid-afternoon. I only did this a couple of times, but it was awesome. I went to the beach. Yay beach! Home from the walk, I’d make some more food, then I’d either do some more work or do something for fun. Whatever I felt like doing, really. There was a nice, natural rhythm to my days, which I enjoyed.
I Made a Conscious Effort to Go to Bed Earlier
Because I knew I would enjoy these morning forays to my unofficial-office-with-a-sea-view more if I got there early, I found myself consciously deciding to go to bed earlier – because I wanted to. Not because I felt like going to bed earlier should be something I did (an experiment I have tried and failed in the past) but because of what it meant about the following day. This was good. A couple of times I stayed up on my computer till midnight, which disrupted my sleep, and I would wake up around 8am not feeling fully rested, and decide to go back to sleep instead of getting up. Nicht gut. So, knowing this would happen, I naturally found myself getting into bed earlier.
Short version: I LOVED IT
So, the main thing I’ve taken away from all this is that I LOVED DOING IT. It felt good for several reasons: I got washed and dressed straight away in the mornings; I went OUTSIDE first thing every morning (very important for people who work from home to remember to leave the house every day); I got some nature in me first thing every day (some mornings instead of heading straight inside, I’d walk around the corner to a little outdoor area that goes right up to the water (pictured above) – I’d breathe in some o’ that glorious sea air before getting to work; and I’d actually get shit done, setting me up for a good day.
This is something I can see myself sticking with. Which is incredible, because it’s very rare I find a habit I enjoy so much I don’t want to stop. But that’s the key to success, isn’t it? Finding something you like doing is by far the easiest way to make a habit stick. That’s why I failed with the exercise-first-thing experiment – because I didn’t like doing it. This probably depends on the type of person you are, but if you’re a rebel like me and you find it almost impossible to do things unless you want to do them, you MUST focus on doing things in a way you enjoy. And that’s what I’ve found here. And, on top of all that, it’s lead to some good knock-on effects, such as going for a walk in the afternoons and going to bed earlier.