Waking Up at the Same Time Every Day and the Power of Routines

alarmclockThis post is part of the startup edition series.

I never used to be a “routine” person.

My whole life, I’ve been more of the “play it by ear” type.  Having worked for myself, from home for most of my career, it became all too easy to keep winging it.

I’d work when I felt productive.  I’d wake up when I naturally woke up.  I’d eat what I feel like eating.  Some days I’d go to a coffee shop to work.  Some days I wouldn’t put pants on and work from my bed.  I didn’t plan and I didn’t do the same thing two days in a row.

But recently I’ve found that having no routines has caused some difficulties preventing me from living the way I’d like.  The main issue is that when you don’t have routines, you find yourself making a lot of decisions from the second you wake up. It creates a great deal of decision fatigue early in the day which in turn affects your ability to think and focus for the rest of the day.

So I started experimenting with new morning routines.

I believe it’s important not to try to change too much all at once.  I didn’t want to overwhelm myself and I figured if I could focus on one simple habit, other good habits will follow.  In “The Power of Habit“, Charles Duhigg, calls this the keystone habit.

Waking up earlier, at the same time every day became my keystone habit.

I have a really bad snooze habit.  Snoozing is even worse than sleeping in because you’re not actually getting a good sleep when you’re snoozing every 10 minutes. Then you start your day off with a failure and you get a late start. Whenever I would wake up early and have an active morning, I’d feel a lot better and would have a more productive day.

So I figured if I can wake up at the same time every week day, without snoozing, I can start to build a routine to getting my day started on the right foot and make a positive change in other areas as well.

I’ve tried a lot of different alarm clocks to solve the problem to no avail. I decided that I’d try to come up with a new response to my alarm going off.  Instead of just laying in bed, I would immediately put my running shoes on.  That would be my routine.  I started with 8:30am, then once I had that down, I went to 8:00am.  Now I try to wake up at 7:30am every day.

It’s still a work in progress but it’s definitely had a positive impact on my day-to-day.  I’ve since started experimenting with other routines.  Here are a few of them:

1. Not opening my phone until I start working

As I mentioned, my new routine would be to get out of bed and put my running shoes on.  The added bonus of that is that it also replaced another bad habit I had.  I used to pull out my phone and start tinkering around the social medias.  I found that it immediately put my mind into multitasking mode and would kill another 20 minutes laying in bed. Now I don’t use my phone or computer until I’ve written down my priorities for the day and I start working.

2. Run, do pushups, sit ups and meditate every morning.

Starting with something physically challenging makes me feel good and it gets my mind in the right place.  I clear my mind every day and try to give myself some much needed perspective on what’s next.  I run about 3-5 miles.  I use calm to help me meditate.

3. Write a blog post every day.

Writing every day has a lot of benefits both personally and professionally.  If you want to join our 100for100 challenge, you can learn more about it here.

4. Cook all 3 meals every day.

I used to eat out 3 meals a day. In order to eat healthier and save money, I now cook all 3 meals (with occasional exceptions for social engagements). Starting an online cooking school helped me learn the core concepts of cooking and now I’m helping other people do the same.

5. Go to sleep before midnight.

Waking up early means going to sleep early.  I need at least 7.5 hours of sleep to feel refreshed in the morning.

6. Read for at least 15 minutes every day.

A big part of this was sacrificing some TV. I love TV but I don’t have time for both TV and reading.  So aside from football and occasional shows, I cut a lot of TV and read for at least 15 minutes before I go to bed.  Sometimes I read during a break from work.  Sometimes I kill half a book on a weekend if it’s really good.

I also got a library card. That shit’s free.

7. Stop leaving tabs open.

I was a tabcoholic.  I’m trying to get better at that.

8. Take walks every day in between 2 hour chunks of work

Walks feel good and help me think through problems.  And it gets me out of my apartment when I work from home.

9. Play basketball 3 nights/week.

I just love the sport.  I’d play more if my body could take it.

10. I just started a garden, which I’ll have to water every day.

Nothing like watching something grow.  And then eating it.

 

Your turn.  What are your routines and habits?  What are you experimenting with?

 

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38 comments
Heather
Heather

I should also add that I sometimes make rules for myself, which seem to work fairly well. For example, no Internet or TV unless I'm on the treadmill (with ipad or phone). This tends to help, a bit. I also rent history dvd's and watch them when I feel I need the TV on...

Heather
Heather

Oh my gosh. This might as well have been written FOR me, specifically. Thank you so much! I have the exact same problems and goals, and this reinforced what I've been thinking I need to do!

On my best days, I wake up at 7:30. I don't open my phone or computer, and I immediately exercise on the treadmill for an hour & meditate for 20 minutes. Every M, W, F I go into my home gym to do weight training for an hour. ideally, after doing all of these things, I go into my home office and read one if the thousand books on my "to do" list and/or study whatever I am working on (eg the real estate market, Spanish, a class Im taking, etc.), or (weather permitting) I will do gardening or grocery shop, etc. At 2:00 I meditate for the second time (20 minutes).

Lately, however, I have not been on a routine, and I feel much less productive and a lot more scattered. I get up whenever I want (usually 8:30-ish), and i make myself a protein shake and look at my news/gossip/FB sites for too long. Then, head swirling w/what I've read, I attempt to meditate. I do cardio for an hour...Then I usually waste more time on the computer...then I may meditate again or read...or maybe I will turn on the TV and clean/cook and wait for my husband to get home.

This article reminds me that it only takes a few steps at the beginning of your day for the rest to fall into place. If I can just keep the morning routine, and stay "present/mindful," l will feel much more productive and focused.

AviRandhawa
AviRandhawa

Right on. I've been trying to cook at home and be healthy while I save some money. Now I make lunch the night before and bring it to work with me. Second thing on my list is to wake up early and get to work by 9 am so I can add extra hours to my day BUT it is just so hard. I've set my alarm for 7:30 am for the last two weeks and I keep snoozing it until 9 am which is ridiculous. I am also cutting down on coffee. I used to drink Starbucks at least twice a day and now I have set my coffee budget to $16 a month which means 4 cups of starbucks in a month! 

TonySheng
TonySheng

This is great Spinks! What do you do when you miss parts of your routine? I just had a bad week (blogged about it) and I found it really instructive in surfacing deeper issues that I needed to address. It was a check engine light kind of moment.  

cloverdew
cloverdew

@prtini @DavidSpinks Nice post! I want to be more intentional about routines, as well. Especially the cooking thing. And reading.

Ben R
Ben R

The old adage "freedom ain't free" is very clear in this, and mimics the thrust of Nadia's post too.  Decisions have an innate opportunity cost in the form of bandwidth, which you have to consider.

I'm a big fan of momentum builders.  Starting the day off with a win helps your productivity and self-esteem/confidence so much.  One has to put pressure on themselves to make decisions, which in turn leads to burn out earlier and erodes at the sense of control you have over your life.  Self-discipline is the best gift you can give yourself.  Follow through with the goals you set, and you're off.

How do you go about setting routines?  For me, they have to have  an element of joy in them, not just a "should", as in "I should eat healthier, although I hate vegetables."

jessicamalnik
jessicamalnik

Great post, @DavidSpinks. I can definitely relate to many of your struggles. I am a nightowl too- and I've always been more productive in the evenings and night. I am also lucky that I only need about 6 hours of sleep to really be "on." So, the whole going to bed at 1:30am or 2am and waking up 7:30am or 8am thingie, generally works decently for me. 

That being said, I definitely could learn a few things from you via working out. I love how energized I feel after working out but I am so bad at sticking to a workout routine.  Any tips? 

thomasknoll
thomasknoll

Interesting! 

1. I have the opposite approach to waking up. I don't set alarms, I set a timer (actually http://www.simplebots.co/ ) for 6 hours and 15/20 minutes when going to sleep (15 minutes if I think I'll crash quick, 20 minutes if I'll need to calm my mind first). So, regardless of time I finally go to bed, I'm going to fully complete 4 REM cycles.

2. I've been building routines using http://lift.do It "just works" for me.

AlexaScordato
AlexaScordato

The tab thing is a problem for me. Here's my situation right now: http://screencast.com/t/TCSJZ5xO 

Womp womp.

Nailed it: "Snoozing is even worse than sleeping in because you’re not actually getting a good sleep when you’re snoozing every 10 minutes. Then you start your day off with a failure and you get a late start." 

Love this list and am trying to do something similar on my end. 


stifflerdean
stifflerdean

I'm having a difficult time getting into a normal routine each day. I see the benefit of it, but my main problems are this:

1. I like working late at night. Everyone in my house is asleep, there are no distractions from people contacting me on Social Networks, Phone, Email or Other. It's silent out. I can take a walk and just listen to the night world around me.

2. I really like getting a lot of emails, social network messages and tasks sit before me right away when I start to work. Rather than getting distracted as I get 30 emails throughout the day, I wake up and immediately all 30 are there and ready for me to respond to. 

3. That said, I work with people who have such a variety of schedules that it's hard to keep any routine going that allows me to work with them when necessary. Some stay up late, some wake up early, some sleep all day and others sleep all night. By staying sporadic, I can schedule meetings any time to fit their calendar, and then just sleep when I get my own chance.

While I hate it when I lose productivity because I'm tired, or don't respond to an important email I get around 11 AM because I went to sleep until 2 PM, I also feel like I have some excuses to just keep going with the flow.

But, I'm already pretty sure I'll change my tone when I mature a bit more and have actual employees working for me and a customer base that keeps me busy quite a lot more than it currently does. Might as well start getting in the groove with it.

AviRandhawa
AviRandhawa

@DavidSpinks so far I've tried couple things, I put my alarm on my iHome which is on my dresses so forces me to get out of bed and I get out of bed to turn it off but then fall back into bed telling myself "Only ten more minutes" :P I've tried going to sleep early but I still end up snoozing my alarm couple times before I get out of bed. I think determination is the only way. The day I tell myself "I'll wake up around 7:30 am"- I snooze but the days I say "I HAVE TO WAKE UP AT 7:30 am"- I do a lot better. 

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@AviRandhawa Awesome! What have you tried to change your snooze habit? I struggle with it every day so interested to hear what you're experimenting with.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@TonySheng Loved your post. I definitely mess up my routine sometimes. Like right now, I'm awake at 12:30 and I know that means it's going to be 10X as hard to get out of bed at 7:30 tomorrow. I think it's important to be forgiving.  

Evan's points are spot on with how I try to approach it (maybe because we just read the same book). You WILL face challenges. They're inevitable. If you can plan for it, and figure out a rational response to dealing with it they won't have as large as an effect on you.

evanhamilton
evanhamilton

@TonySheng I think that's an excellent question. I just finished reading The Power of Habit, which was amazing. One story is about how Michael Phelps basically has a videotape in his head of the process of winning a race. This includes problems cropping up. In fact, his coach made him do laps in a totally darkened swimming pool to prep for the possibility that he might get water in his goggles someday. And, sure enough, he got water in his goggles at the Olympics and managed to still win the race blind.

I thought the story was amazing exactly because of what you mentioned - if my routine gets messed up my whole day can often be ruined. I haven't figured it out yet, but I need to do the Phelps thing and build backup routines in case things go wrong.

prtini
prtini

@cloverdew I hear you on cooking. I need to be better about it, too. Probably helps if I'd grocery shop more regularly!

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@Ben R totally in line with nadia's post on minimalism.  I almost think of routines as a minimalist approach to actions.  

Self-discipline is everything, I'm learning.  And to be brutally honest with myself, it's something I need to improve a great deal.

All my routines are things that I really want, and enjoy.  They're also provide value on more than one level. For example, running every day also helps me clear my mind and explore new ideas.  Cooking helps me relax and focus on using my hands.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@jessicamalnik can you find value in the workout beyond the workout itself?  For example, I love running because I clear my mind and it gives me perspective.  I love basketball for the competition and strategy.  Working out becomes more than just getting in shape.  It helps me in other areas, making it easy to stay motivated.

Might be helpful? 

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@thomasknoll That rise alarm clock looks cool.  What would you say it helps with specifically?

I tried to use lift once.  Didn't stick.

JPedde
JPedde

@DavidSpinks That book "power of habit" threw me for a loop too. Been implementing a lot of what you put in that past

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@erangalperin As long as my knees hold up.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@stifflerdean Totally feel your pain man.

Thing is, 1 and 2 are both routines, they're just different from my routines.

I used to be the night owl as well.  I'm still really productive at night.  But I don't like the way I feel and how I spend my time when I go to sleep at 2 and wake up at 10-11.  So I'm forcing myself to adapt.  I've found now that when I get up earlier, I am more productive during the day than I used to be.

I guess the point is, if your routine is working for you, great.  If you think you need to change something, then you might find that there are other routines that will work well for you, and that can affect other areas of your life.  Are you really only productive at night?  Or is that just a result of your current habits?

On 3, sounds like everyone else has a routine except you ^_^.  It's okay to not be "on" all the time.  In fact in my experience, you'll burn yourself out really quickly that way.  You can still be available and responsive.  I've been making a conscious effort to have less meetings and to keep all my meetings within the same time frame every day.  Another rhythm that helps me be more productive.

On the last point of maturing and having employees, maybe you're right.  I have felt like I've matured a lot through my startup experience and these experiments with routine is a result of that.  Every great CEO I've seen seems to have a very specific routine.  

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@AviRandhawa Have you tried inserting a new response to the alarm? Like for me, it helped to put my running shoes on right away. Maybe it's to SHOUT OUT LOUD to get the blood flowing. Or to clap 3 times. Something to break the routine of alarm --> snooze --> sleep.

Linda Summer
Linda Summer

I have found setting the alarm across the room helpful so you have to actually get out of bed to turn it off. I used to do this when I was younger and was responsible for opening a restaurant at 5:00am. Once I am out of bed it is easier for me just to get on with the day.

cloverdew
cloverdew

@prtini Same here. I need to get more into a routine on the weekends... grocery shopping, down time, cleaning, etc.

thomasknoll
thomasknoll

For years I've just used the timer on my phone. The only reason I switched to rise was because it was free for a day. But, I prefer the alarm sounds over the ringers on my phone, and it has a progressive volume which is nice and less jarring. The main thing is using timer instead of alarm.

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks

@JPedde nice nice. Yea I'm really enjoying it so far. About halfway through.

AviRandhawa
AviRandhawa

 @DavidSpinks Thanks, these are good tips, don't wanna scare my roommate by shouting in the morning but I will definitely try claps tomorrow morning and let you know how it went!

DavidSpinks
DavidSpinks moderator

@cloverdew @prtini I know of a cool company that helps you do that ;)

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