This post is part of a larger interest, called self-structure, where I look into ways to support personal growth by organizing how I live. While I stay away from going to extremes, it has always been important for me to explore how I can improve, scale my impact, and structure my days. In this post, we look at setting up the evening routine.
Your morning routine starts with the way you sleep. Waking up in a consistent manner won’t happen unless you structure your nights. There is no way we can function on a daily basis, in a hyper-performance environment, without taking care of our sleep. I wanted to believe otherwise — but nop, it is impossible. Some people promise the wonders of 4 hours a night. I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt and find a few months later that it was their worst experience ever. I need a complete 8 hours night of sleep to make sure that I keep my energy high, be a nice person, and make sane decisions.
In this podcast with Linka Lin, who works for the United Nations Development Programme in Bangkok, we discuss making life-changing decisions, keeping one’s energy high, and supporting the next generation of innovators.
Panels are high chances to engage with a broader audience and throw some new ideas to steer debates. At a recent one with Community Builders, we wanted to test an assumption. We paused our conversation and asked the audience to raise their hands if they saw themselves as an introvert.
This idea became important to me over the past few years. I have been reading these sorts of articles for some time now (here and here). But I’ve also met hundreds of Community Builders from different countries and cultures. The idea that “introversion actually helps people build strong communities” became a sort of theme in my head.
Our guess was right; most of the room raised their hands. We weren’t surprised, but they probably were — each of them assuming that they’d be singled out among others. I enjoyed seeing the organizers, my fellow panel speakers, and myself – all having our hands in the air.
We were a room of introverts, talking about building community. The one activity that forces you to speak with people and get them excited about your projects!
I have been thinking about this evening many times since and trying to understand what to make of it.
If Community Builders are introvert like me, how do I make their journey less painful than mine was?
Have a conversation on productivity, and you will encounter two enemies: “focus” and “procrastination.” Most of us struggle revealing our true potential despite our best intentions. These two keep lingering around.
Recently, my wife took a picture of my desk. It had five screens on it – a MacBook Pro, a monitor, iPad, iPhone, a small Tivoo. Every couple of seconds, one would light up and display a notification. Not a great place to focus and be creative. By the end of the day, I would feel exhausted by having worked according to somebody else’s timeline. Plus, impossible to focus on my big rocks.
There is always this task that I wanted to finish the following day. That can be an email that I couldn’t answer on the spot. Or something that required some added research to get every element. Instead of seating down and doing the hard work, I would push this to a different time. Was I hoping the impact wouldn’t be significant to others?
Starting using Pomodoro
As part of my desire to better structure my time at work, I started using the Pomodoro technique. It is a project management system to help break down work into smaller chunks. You focus for 25 minutes on that project, removing distractions and mono-tasking. Time’s up and you get 5 minutes of rest. Repeat until completion of your master plan.
The magic happens when you realize that with 25 minutes of focused work, you can deliver a lot. And by containing that max-productivity in a short interval, you stay in control. If I notice dozens of important notifications during my 5 minutes of rest, it’s easy to address them accordingly. I am using “Be Focused” to track the time and then focus on getting things done.
I started with the goal of running 4 Pomodoro cycles a day. That worked some days and failed many others. Today went well, and I closed 8. That felt like a pretty solid achievement. I could clear every digital inbox and as a result, found plenty of time to work on long term strategy projects.
Since asking this question to a friend at a recent conversation, I am haunted by this idea. As a kid, a fair amount of time was spent being bored. Holidays in rural France were boring. Maths classes were boring. Long weekends were boring. Being bored was natural, I would have all the space needed to let my mind go on the run. Hunting for random thoughts or resting my attention on vague ideas. That was the most common way to spend my time.
And as if I woke up from a long dream, I realized that I had not been bored in a long time. A really long time.
It was actually challenging to remember when was the last time I got genuinely bored. One, five, ten, fifteen years ago? No way to recall.
We have so many opportunities to do “something”. Something useful, or not. But I always have my smartphone reachable, mountains of articles to read, a stack of books to go through or catch up with awesome people. In previous posts, I have even written about following morning and evening routines. It is all about making sure to crunch as much productivity in the shortest period possible.
Around me, we start discussing about nurturing time to get bored. Appreciating and protecting these moments. We can aim at creating more value, but we shouldn’t stop cultivating boredom.
So, here is a challenge for you:
Would you sit back on your seat, put down your smart devices, stair through the window, and get bored a little while?
A few years ago, my own limits became clear. Work was overwhelming me – too many tasks, too many people involved. I wasn’t doing a great job at following up on projects.
The book Getting Things Done got me to realise that there are certain things a brain isn’t wired to do properly. That included memorising information, especially lots of bits and pieces of data. Instead, we’re naturally good at processing and making decisions.
This year, I read a lot — 38 books! Most likely a personal record.
I enjoy reading since I was young. First, reading science fiction and fantasy books — French ones that you never heard of. And as an undergrad student, reading business books was my thing. I saw each of them as a chance to accumulate some experience and opinion that I was lacking.
Starting in 2013, I have set yearly goals for myself. 2019 is no different but the most challenging and out-of-comfort-zone. Previous annual goals were inward-looking: I was working on myself by changing a habit for example. This time around, I will need to use everything I’ve learned and push myself.
A few years ago, I gave myself the goal to create a routine that I would stick to. The goal was to give my days a head start and make sure that I’d prioritize my health over work. It took approximately eight months to find what worked for me and start building that habit. It wasn’t a smooth journey but an important one. Since then, I have been casually helping founders and busy professionals to find a morning routine that would work for them.
Typically, somebody would reach out after one of my talks and share how they’ve been trying to get into a routine many times but unsuccessfully. The main reasons were 1/ hoping to get results by making significant sacrifices all at once 2/ lacking a structure they can stick to 3/ making this a social thing by announcing it everywhere.
Create a routine – build it for the long run
I have heard stories of professionals who would suddenly wake up at 4 am, workout for hours, meditate, and read the news. It often leads to a traumatic experience of the morning routine, the body cannot cope with such a sudden transformation.
The biggest challenge is to overcome the weakness of the mind. Fooling oneself is so easy. Creating a structure that doesn’t leave me a choice has been vital. For example, going to the gym every three days often end up being “any other day.” Whereas, doing some daily stretches doesn’t give you a chance to argue with yourself.
Some went on a full commitment by making it a social thing, probably missing the point that social pressure won’t work when it matters the most.
Getting into such a habit is accepting that results won’t be observable quickly. I wouldn’t see any improvement on my day to day without being consistent for at least three months. It’s also about starting things small, sticking to this new change, and increasing the intensity over time. Yep, it’s about committing to a new way of waking up in the morning and exploring this as part of a new journey.