The First Half-Hour of the Morning

calmA few days back, Lifehacker ran a post on the top ten ways to upgrade your morning routine. All of the suggestions in the list are good ones (except that thing about cutting out the caffeine; what on earth could they be thinking?), but I want to call attention in particular to numbers 10, 6, and 1; together they add up to this post, which I really did have in the works well before Lifehacker scooped me.

As their suggestions run, you might make the most of your mornings if you:

10. Save the Morning for Thinking;
6. Choose Your Most Important Task Over Email; and
1. Know Your Peak Performance Times.

What all of this adds up to for me is using the first half-hour of the morning wisely, as it sets the tone for my day.

This is a lesson that I’ve had to re-learn repeatedly. I’ll find myself, about mid-semester, having a hard time squeezing any writing into my schedule, and it will only slowly dawn on me that the situation is being worsened, if not created, by the fact that I’m starting my day in crisis-management mode, which is a mode I can never get out of once it’s set in.

On the other hand, if I start my day with thirty minutes of writing, I’m far more likely to be able to return to the project in some random free block of time later in the day.

So I discipline myself: I climb out of bed, brush my teeth, feed the cats, make the coffee, and then sit down at the computer — and do not open my email. Instead, I open whatever document I’m currently writing in and set a timer for thirty minutes. And I spend that thirty minutes focusing exclusively on that document.

Because whatever new crisis my email is going to bring me that morning isn’t going to get any worse in the next thirty minutes, but getting my focus back once I’ve allowed the crisis into my morning simply will not work.

Being an email/Twitter/blog junkie, I’m not going to pretend that this kind of discipline comes easily. It’s all too easy for the routine to slip, and for me to find myself reaching for the iPhone and checking my email before I even roll out of bed. But I know that my peak writing time is first thing in the morning, that I do my best work before the world and all its troubles have intruded into my thinking, and that, for the first half-hour of the morning, writing is far and away my most important task.  The more often I can protect that block of time, the better off I am.

How about you? What tricks have you found for structuring your day in order to protect your writing, reading, or thinking time?

[Image by Flickr user tricky™; / Creative Commons licensed]

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