31 Dec 2015, 08:32

Challenge #1 - Waking up at 630am - Finish

Today marks the last day of my first two month challenge and in short, it was extraordinary. As a quick recap, my challenge was to wake up at 6:30am each weekday for two months. I thought it would be hard but rewarding; in reality it made my life a lot easier. I assumed that I would be sleeping less but I actually ended up sleeping more, and being more productive both for that and because I had a solid 3 hour block to work on my priorities each morning.

It felt incredible to be able to throw a ton of time at whatever I wanted to work on, and I was able to see clear, defined progress in these areas. Namely – I studied a ton of CS fundamentals and Go code, built sample / side projects, and successfully recruited for a Golang backend role, something I’d been dreaming about for a long time (I’ll be joining the Eikon Messenger team at Reuters in the new year :)). In general, whenever something started bubbling to the top of the priority list, I’d throw a morning session or two at it and knock it out of the park.

I can’t say it was all rosy, but the downsides didn’t really hold a candle to the upsides. First though, the stats: I successfully woke up at 6:30am 97.7% of the days during the roughly 9 weeks that comprised November and December (I missed 1 day, the day after Thanksgiving). I didn’t record detailed stats for the weekends but I would estimate I still woke up at 6:30 about 35% of the time, and by 7:30 80% of the time. The remaining 20% usually involved a really, really late night out or situations where I had accumulated a small but consistent slept debt over a few days.

So what were the downsides?

  • There were 2-3 instances where I accumulated a consistent sleep debt (30-60min) each night for 3-4 nights in a row. Each time this happened it culminated in a pretty shot day where I didn’t get much done and had to clear my schedule that night to sleep early or wait until the weekend when I could sleep in. In the grand scheme of things these were few and far between.
  • As expected, there were one or two instances where I had to leave a social event earlier than I would’ve liked. This was actually less of an issue than I anticipated though – since I was sleeping more in general, I could choose to skip on the sleep if I really wanted to.

What were the upsides?

  • In addition to the big boost to productivity and momentum I touched on above: It was easier to fall asleep each night, and after the first two weeks I also experienced almost no “wake up pain” during the entire remainder of the challenge. This was a surprising net plus. FYI, When I say “wake up pain” I’m talking about the classic Rage-Against-the-Alarm-Clock sort of feeling. Before, this was a moderately common occurrence (whenever I stayed up late but couldn’t sleep in).
  • I also noticed that if I did stay up late I actually fell into a deep sleep quicker and still woke up on time and pretty well rested. I was shocked the first time this happened. My body knew what to expect and adjusted – something I had never experienced before.

What I’ll be doing moving forward

  • For starters, I’m definitely going to keep waking up at 630am. That Benjamin Franklin guy really knew what he was talking about.
  • Slightly tangential, but it was really important to pick ONE thing to focus on during my 3 hour block, and try to decide that the night before. There were definitely a few times I didn’t get as much done because I didn’t have a singular focus; I’ll be continuing to work on this moving forward.

Final thoughts / notes

  • I bought a Phillips light alarm clock to simulate the sunrise – helpful since about two weeks in the days were short enough that I was waking up in darkness.
  • Should you do it? I don’t doubt that there were probably several factors involved in the upside I saw, as they’re things I have been working on for a long time and certainly didn’t manifest entirely during the last two months. I also think my personality and social preferences have been converging to this point for some time and were necessary prerequisites. If you’re curious though… why not do a two month challenge and find out :)?
  • Lastly, some macro thoughts: I felt a big urge two weeks in to start working on something else. At that point I had sort’ve “figured out” the waking up thing and wanted to tackle something else. I even thought about overlapping (and staggering) challenges, so I could have more fun and get more of them done. About 3-4 weeks in though, I noticed my momentum for the challenge really slipping. If I was working on something else, it would have been really easy to forget that I was focused on waking up early and not push through the pain points. This was a pretty clear sign that two months is the right length for me, and reaffirmed my belief that a singular focus is paramount.

Up next, meditation challenge.

01 Nov 2015, 12:16

Challenge #1 - Waking up at 630am - Start

I came across my friend Sophia’s blog the other day. Each month she undertakes a different challenge – cutting out sugar, radical generosity, becoming a chess master – and then writes about her experiences. In many ways, I realized I already do this. I spent the last year and a half learning to code, I spent the last few months learning to swim with proper technique, and the last month and a half learning to be a “functional” cook. These were great, and I’m proud of the progress I’ve made in these areas, but there’s a fundamental difference between what I’ve been doing, and what Sophia’s doing. Sophia’s focus is singular and intentional. At every point in time she knows what her goal is, is actively measuring her progress, and is keeping herself accountable by making it public.

I’m working on and focusing on a lot of things at once – coding, working out, trying to read more, cooking more often, trying to wake up earlier, etc. For all but my top priorities that means sometimes I make progress and sometimes I don’t. What I’d like to do is overcome the initial activation cost for an activity, move up the learning curve, and then build that component into my routine so it can be maintained and refined over a long period of time.

So, I’m stealing a bit of Sophia’s ingenuity and adopting her format. I’ll pick one thing to work on at a time, write one post about what I hope to accomplish and then another describing how it went and what I learned. I’ll tweak Sophia’s format slightly – making each challenge last two months. As a general rule, challenges should be specific and measurable – nothing too broad or abstract.

Challenge #1

For the first challenge I’m going to focus on waking up at a set time. For the months of November and December I’ll be waking up at 6:30am every day. On weekends I don’t mind if that slips a little, but unless I was out late, I’ll still plan to wake up at 6:30am to help with the weekday routine. I’ve tried to do this on and off for the last few months unsuccessfully.

What I Hope to Accomplish

In my opinion waking up at the same time is the foundation of a set routine, and waking up early is an important part of my goal of having a few hours of personal time before I take calls for work. I’m hoping that by waking up at 6:30am every day I ensure I have time for and prioritize the things I hope to accomplish longer term. There’s also a bit of a snowball effect: when you start things off right, it’s much easier to build momentum.

I am cognizant of the fact that just waking up at a certain time doesn’t mean I’ll actually accomplish everything I want to, but I do think they’re correlated, and I’m curious to see how much of an impact waking up early has on accomplishing my other goals. Is there a snowball effect; am I more energized about my goals? Or am I just more tired? Do I miss out on social gatherings and feel suffocated? Or am I more relaxed knowing I’ve tackled my highest priorities before I leave the house.

Potential Issues

The tricky part of this challenge is that waking up at a fixed time means sleeping at a fixed time. I’m not the kind of person who can or is interested in reducing the amount I sleep, so if I’m not going to be flexible with when I wake up I absolutely have to be fixed in when I go to sleep. Easier said than done when NYC is the city that never sleeps.

Future Challenges

Admittedly, this challenge is a bit mundane, since it has only to do with building a routine for myself. I think this is a good foundation for accomplishing a lot of other things in my life, which is why I’m doing it first, but I think the others will be a bit more fun. Some things on the radar:

  • Meditating – studying and practicing meditation on a daily basis
  • Becoming a better chef – cooking 4 meals worth of food every Sunday
  • Reading – reading for 60 minutes before bed
  • Photography – getting a DSLR and learning the basics of photography and composition
  • Decreasing stimulus – cutting out TV, movies, etc. from my life
  • Removing sugar from my diet
  • Learning Piano? Tango? French?

Stay tuned :)