Timetables, lists, and not wearing pajamas all day.
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
I hate timetables, lists, schedules, rules, and not wearing pajamas at all times. I especially hate when people tell me I should write a list, create a schedule, follow a "rule," or the ultimate insult, tell me I should get dressed instead of just living in my Pj's. During this "save a life, stay at home" period, I have had such a great time, eating what I want, sleeping when I want, and doing my uni work when I feel like it, gaming, building Leggo #heaven! It was the perfect existence, at first.
Towards the end of last week, at about 1 pm and blurry-eyed from sleep, I stood on the scales and saw that I had stacked on 7kgs in 2 weeks, ouch! My gaming time had steadily increased, and unsurprisingly my study time had decreased at the same rate; they knew me by name at the drive-through, and I hadn't touched a pot or pan for a fortnight. Hmmm, I thought, maybe I need to make a plan?
Apparently, a cluttered desk makes getting started way harder.
Princeton University Neuroscience Institute used fMRI to study the effect clutter has on a student's brain. It found that continuous visual reminders of disorganization, drain a person's cognitive resources, and reduce their ability to focus. The study also found that when participants cleared the clutter from their workspace, they were better able to process information, which resulted in increased productivity. Other studies have found in general, clutter in the home can contribute to an individual's feeling of being overwhelmed, so were more likely to procrastinate and eat more.
So, I decided to clean my desk.
It turns out a daily routine helps to clear the fog and motivate you to get going. So I know I said lists and schedules make me sick, buuuuuuut, it turns out they really to help (damn it). The Harvard Business Review often publishes articles outlining the benefits of such a routine, and I thought if they do it at Harvard, maybe I should give it a go?
I set my alarm for 7:30 am, got up, had a shower, got dressed and coffee'd, and was ready to go by 9 am and guess what? I got a heap of work done!!! A quick Google reveals that throughout history, the most successful people (we're talking geniuses of their field), almost all had daily routines. Take a closer look, similarities between these routines start to show up.
So, what are some of these similarities?
Declutter and remove distractions – I covered this above so let’s move on!
Accountability - The English novelist and civil servant Anthony Trollope who wrote dozens of novels, series, short stories, non-fiction books, and articles in both English and Irish languages, only wrote for three hours per day. His process required he write at a rate of 250 words every 15 minutes, and if he finished the novel he was working on before his three hours where up, he'd immediately start a new book. Ernest Hemingway also tracked his daily word output on a chart "so as not to kid myself." BF Skinner started and stopped his writing sessions by setting a timer, "and he carefully plotted the number of hours he wrote and the words he produced on a graph."
Decide on a daily time to go for a walk - A daily walk or other exercise is essential for multiple reasons. Exercise relieves stress, makes you feel more relaxed and able to focus on the work at hand, and also makes you feel physically better. Importantly, physical activity helps to take your mind off work and gives you a mental break. Mental concentration, like a muscle, fatigues with continued practice, and a break from deep thought through daily exercise, is a great way to do that. Set a specific time and place for your physical activity, this helps to create a routine that is easier to keep. Charles Dickens famously took three-hour walks every day, and what he observed along the way often directly made it into his writing. Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, and Erik Satie all took similar daily walks, famously gaining creative inspiration along the trail and took notes to use in their work later.
Divide important work from “busywork” – It’s so easy to get drawn down the rabbit hole in to work that isn’t something you really need to do. I get lost in emails, phone calls, and research which may be necessary, but not really when looking at what is due now. Dividing the day in to “real” work and “busy” work is a great way to overcome this temptation. I allocate 20 minutes in the morning to look over emails and draw out anything which is a priority and answer it, check social media and the news and then its over to real work for 2 hours, a break, 20 minutes email and social media and then back to work again for the next 2 hours.
From now on, I am up, and out of bed Mon-Fri at the same time I would be if I was going to work every day, 7:30 am, and work/study begins at 9 am. Lunch is at 12:30 -1:30 pm, an exercise break at 3:30 - 4:30, and work finishes for the day at 5:30 pm. I do struggle to stop myself from reaching for my phone, YouTube, social media, and so on, but I have found the Pomodoro Method, my saviour, for real, sustained, work from home.
Next week's blog will cover the Pomodoro method in detail. Until then, I'm going to get excellent at skipping rope and writing assignments!