As explained in my May 2013 issue editor’s letter, I believe I’ve changed my life for the better simply by training myself to wake an hour earlier than before, so here are the details. It works because I’ve gained time in which to support and sustain myself, making me better able to manage everything else. In other words, I made time to prioritise those things that I recognise as being important for my well being, but are often neglected due to the everyday pressures of a busy 21st century working life.
The key to waking an hour earlier was to sneak the alarm clock hands back just five minutes a week. Thus, over three months, an hour would be gained. This is the big picture, but of course there were other details that contributed to the success of my scheme. More than I had room to detail in my letter, and so because I received a lot of feedback on this, I have tried to outline them here…
1 Increase your waking time slowly. This is how it becomes ingrained as a habit. If you set the clock back by an hour from the off, you may well be able to bounce out of bed fuelled by enthusiasm for the first couple of days, but inevitably the sudden change in waking pattern combined with early cumulative tiredness will conspire to bring about a day when you simply can’t manage it, and once the pattern is broken, it very quickly becomes harder and harder to get back into the groove. Trust me, I have been a dedicated night bird for all of my adult life. The idea of being a morning person was an absolute anathema. But I did it, by doing it slowly.
2 Have a list, or a goal. There’s no point waking early if you end up pottering about doing nothing of any significance. It could be that you have a basement to clear, as I did, odd jobs around the house to finish or simply a desire to get fit or tend your garden. The only thing that matters is that you’re clear about what you wish to achieve in your new found hours, before you fall asleep, and that you remind yourself of that intention. I keep a running list in the Notes app on my iPhone and just move to the top the thing I decide to do first thing. And the goals can change too. Ultimately I want to use the time to write. But first there was a lot of stuff to finish around the house that was distracting me (possibly an excuse, but never mind). It’s incredibly satisfying to see my list getting shorter and my writing time coming closer.
3 Plan your progress. I deliberately set myself 90 days to get to the place where I was doing things for myself. While it’s essential, to have a clear intention from the beginning of what you wish to achieve, it’s often not possible to action it all straight away, as not only do you have old habits to displace, but inevitably backlogs of undone tasks to clear. In my case it was an overwhelming email inbox, and some elements of household organisation. As my extra time grew, I first prioritised the in-box clearing because this gave me immediate feelings of accomplishment. And then I listed all the undone little jobs around the house and set about tackling them one by one. There’s still some outstanding but a huge amount has been done, or delegated, already!
4 Improve your shower. No matter how ingrained the habit of waking early becomes, there will always be mornings when it feels like a horror. On these days I find getting straight into the shower is an absolute blessing, and I’m cheered every time by my decision way-back-whenever to design in a generous marble-lined walk-in shower with a big 16″ rainfall-style head. It’s remarkable how after just a few minutes under the water you start to feel refreshed and awake. Zesty smelling shower gels also work a treat.
5 Go to bed earlier. As the old adage goes, you can’t burn the candle at both ends. I’ve worked out that eight hours sleep a night enables me to feel something that approaches rested. The medically suggested average is a minimum of seven. So if I’m getting up at six, I need to be dosing by ten. At first I thought this would be impossible, but I soon realised I was rarely accomplishing anything of value late at night, certainly nothing on my lists, and with the advent of tv on demand, I don’t have to miss anything good on the box either. It’s also made me extremely selective about any evening events I attend (especially if they don’t include dinner!), as I’m acutely aware of the knock on affects of the lost hours in bed. And contrary to popular belief, sleeping in on the weekend doesn’t balance out a weekday sleep deficit. Regularly skimping on sleep is akin to walking around every day with a backpack full of bricks, adding a new one for each hour lost, which as you can imagine, pretty soon starts to impair your wellbeing. The only way to shed the bricks is to regularly get sufficient kip.
My favourite things to do in my new found hour…
1 Write. Predominantly pulling together my thoughts for my book. With quiet, concentrated time, I can write very quickly. Once my working day has begun, this is impossible. Finding time to write was my primary motivating goal.
2 Cook. I prepare meals using a slow cooker. Coming home to a house that regularly smells of delicious hotpots or stews is a joy. A house that smells like home. It also means I save time in the evening as there’s no meal to prepare, just one to eat. And I freeze any leftovers as individual portions to take to work for lunch the next day. Win win!
3 Read. Sometimes the papers, sometimes a novel, in print or online, it doesn’t matter, the point is having the time to do it, and enjoy it.
4 Bathe. Showers are great to wake and wash, but to truly relax one must be submerged in bubbles. And you can only truly feel the indulgence of this, when the house is quiet, and you know you’re not going to be disturbed. Plus you can read in the bath too, which is highly acceptable multi-relax-tasking.