First seen on Graham Allcott’s weekly newsletter ‘Rev Up for the Week’.
The idea of Rev Up for the Week is to give you one productive or positive idea for the week ahead. I had a request last week from someone who was struggling to make the transition from home relaxing to home-working on a Monday morning. You know, the actual revving up for the week, at the start of the week. So here are a load of down-in-the-weeds geeky details about how I get myself into work mode early on Mondays.
Like me, you’re a human. That means you’re lazy, dumb, self-sabotaging and illogical. You operate most of the time on a kind of weird auto-pilot that doesn’t do what’s best for you. There’s often a gap between the things you know you should be doing and the things you actually do. Sometimes you even, deep down, know beforehand that you have a plan to derail what the more perfect version of you wants. Ridiclous, isn’t it? But don’t worry. I do this too. And we can use all of this knowledge to good effect.
Yes, you work from home. Yes, you’re glad you don’t have to commute anymore. Yes, commuting is horrible when it’s all traffic and sweaty trains. But there’s one important thing about commuting: being on auto-pilot means that the commute tells your brain “OK, in 30 minutes, you’re going to be in work mode”. There’s a value to this (I’ll explain the science of this in number 2). So start the day with a commute to the office. Leave the house. Go for a walk around the block. Walk the dog if you have one. Walk around your nearest green space or woods if you’re lucky enough to live near some. Buy coffee on the way back if that helps. But commute at the same time every day, in the same way, every day.
This little ritual is also a great moment to be mindful, think about your intentions for the day, and get your mind in the right spot for purposeful work. Half the week I do my own commute as a quick run around the block, the other half the week I’m doing the school run. On the days I do neither, I notice it just takes me a while to get going.
Wear your best business suit, not your PJ’s.
OK, I never wear a suit, but I always shower in the morning and get dressed for work. The reason this is important is that our brains use signifiers to understand ourselves. Psychologists have come up with the term ‘enclothed cognition’. Experiments have found that when you’re dressed in a scientist’s lab coat, you think more like a scientist and feel more intelligent. In fact, in certain experiments, people wearing the exact same white lab coat but who were told it was for a painter not a scientist, performed their tasks less well. So clothes, and your perception of self, makes a difference to your work.
Have a morning ritual, at a set time.
For the same reason, personal ceremonies can be a great way to tell your lazy, scatter-brained morning self that you’re switching gears. For years, I did Julia Cameron’s creativity exercise, the morning pages. It doesn’t take long, but it’s a brilliant way of getting a lot of your ‘mental gunk’ and worries out of your head and literally onto the page. You could light a candle, meditate, sing a song, eat some toast, smoke a cigarette, turn on the dishwasher… It doesn’t matter so much what the thing is… what matters is again that it signifies to the brain that a transition is taking place. It puts some walls around your home and some walls around your work. Agree a time with yourself. Repeat this every day at the same time.
The more you do these things consistently, the more they become integral to your routine, and move from being a conscious effort, to an unthinking autopilot move that helps your lazy brain get into gear.
When I was a kid I loved Michael Jackson. The coolest thing in the world was the opening riff of “Bad”, which I’d sing and dance to in my bedroom. When I went to uni, I bought a CD alarm clock, and each morning, I’d be jolted awake to the vaguely sinister “Duh duh duh DUH!” at the beginning. My love for it was slightly ironic by this point, but it filled me with a heady mix of nostalgia, purpose and the definitely feeling that I was very much… awake.
When I do early starts for my writing (usually a couple of days a week), I always wake up to Speech Debelle’s third album on my Sonos. The first song is a much gentler and more nourishing transition from sleep to consciousness (because, well sadly, I’m not 21 anymore) and if I’m then dozing for half an hour, it culminates in ‘The Work’ which is a bit of personal development anthem for me. If I’m still in bed when this one comes on, it takes me seconds to be inspired to swap the warm duvet for the challenges ahead. I’m sure you have an album that might perform a similar function.
If you want to go for a run as soon as you wake up, put your trainers and tracksuit at the end of your bed, so that it’s the first thing you see. If you want to spend less time scrolling on your phone first thing, then leave your phone charger and phone in the kitchen overnight. What’s that you say? Your phone is your alarm clock? That’s not an excuse. Alarm clocks are seriously cheap these days. If you’re developing a habit, think about the ‘if/then’ of the beahviour chain. Think about what adds or removes friction. Your brain is on auto-pilot and is lazy. If you make the easiest option for your brain to be the thing you want, that’s what you’ll do.
Embrace the magic of the early mornings.
I’ve come to realise that the best time for me to write is 5 til 9, not 9 to 5. That’s 5am til 9am. Somehow (for me personally!) my energy is just different at that time of day. I have more focus but am weirdly a bit more lucid or loose, meaning I’m more creative and my brains just seems to join the dots between stuff better that way. Thinking about the behaviour chain for this, it involves…
- Speech Debelle on my Sonos alarm at exactly 5am.
- Put on some clothes, grab a tea and try and be at my desk before I’m fully awake
- Then I work until around 9am (with no internet on, usually) and have 9-10am blocked out as my time to go for a quick run, eat some breakfast and shower.
I don’t do this every day. When I’m writing, it’s probably 2 days a week on a good week (I can’t do it when I’m on dad duties anyway), so it’s not a daily routine. But it’s always valuable. It does mess with my sleep patterns a little bit, but hey, you can’t have everything perfect. It’s a downside I’m willing to eat. I like the structure of these days. And yes, I ‘clock off’ by about 4pm those days, and often have a quick little nap in the late afternoon.
Kill the internet
Finally, I’m a big advocate for blocking out the internet at certain times, so that you don’t have an easy default to ‘fill the space with’ when you’re not giving yourself what you need. I use Freedom to block out websites and an app on my phone called Quality Time (Android) to do the same thing there. The added bonus with these apps is that they get you thinking about time and attention. I generally segment my attention into three modes – Create, Collaborate and Chill – and these apps really help me think about what I want to have access to, what qualities I need to have in my attention, my media consumption and so on.
So that’s it. Seven ideas to help you get started first thing on a Monday. And then again on a Tuesday, or any other day. The key, I think, to all of this is to find a small number of things that work and then try and get them to a stage where they ‘just work’ without you having to ‘work them’.
The aim isn’t to replace lazy autopilot with conscious brilliance. It’s to find better things for your lazy autopilot to stumble into.
I also want to be clear that I regularly spend an hour in bed scrolling. Sometimes don’t go for a run when I should (and I’m training for a bloody half marathon at the moment!). I sometimes miss my alarm. I have good days and bad days. There are good periods where it’s all wonderful and I have weeks that fall in a funk. But these are the things that either keep me on the horse or help me get back on.
I hope it helps. And if you know someone else who is struggling with these transitions, particularly in this seemingly permanent state of languishing WFH lifestyle that we’re all in right now, then share this with them!
A question for you…
What’s the one (or maximum two) things that you’re going to try this week to make your lazy autopilot serve you better?