Until about a few months ago, I was that person who rushes around in the morning, trying to get ready as quickly as possible to ensure I arrived to work early. Once there, I would get a jump on my day, before starting the actual full work day, too nervous about arriving or filing a piece late to stop for a cup of coffee.
I’ve always followed rules, and one of the rules of being an adult, as we know, is that you’re never late or unprepared for work, lest you perform sub-optimally. Arrive at 9:03 without having read the news of the day and thought of three new pitches, and you might as well start looking for a new job. As someone who works at a site about productivity and efficiency, it feels especially important to always put my best foot forward.
But here’s a secret many before me have discovered: There’s a better way to live. No one really cares if you’re early every day. I’m not sure when exactly this dawned on me, but in the past few months, I’ve more or less rejected all of the advice on what you “should” be doing with your mornings, as I mentioned in our video on our upgrades of the year. Call it productivity overload, but instead of using up all of my mental energy each morning, I’m easing into my days instead.
In many ways, it’s the least revolutionary thing I could possibly do. Yet in this period of optimization and life hacks run wild, it feels like a borderline rebellion. Rather than setting my alarm clock for 5 a.m. in order to get morning pages in, run a 5k and cook a three-course meal before arriving early to a full day of work, I’m, quite simply, chilling.
I don’t mean I’m meditating or engaging in some other type of “self care” that’s really just become more work, another item to check off the to-do list. Typically it means I:
As I said, this non-routine routine isn’t ground-breaking, and yet it’s made a noticeable improvement in my mood. Here’s where I’ll caveat: I live alone and have no children, working at a job with regular hours. That gives me the freedom to structure my days however I want. Why wasn’t I taking advantage of that before?
I’m not really sure when it became habitual for me to rush, arrive everywhere early and only focus on work and everything else I needed to accomplish in a given day, but realizing that no, I actually don’t have to live that way, has been no less than a revelation (another revelation: realizing I could just take something off of my to-do list that had been on it for months and it didn’t matter one bit). It turns out when your mornings are low-stress—even enjoyable—you have a much better work day.
There are exceptions, of course. Sometimes I have a tight deadline to turn around, so I’ll work from home before getting ready and going into the office, or I’ll get to work early so I can turn everything in on time. Sometimes, 7:30 turns into 7:45 turns into 7:55 and I need to rush things. And there are still times when my head will tell me I need to “go go go!” and I remind myself to take a deep breath and relax. But in general, I follow the same routine.
That’s not to say I still don’t have my productivity and optimization hang ups (it’s impossible not to). I’m constantly writing and updating to-do lists, trying to learn new skills to “better” myself, and thinking of the next task I need to accomplish. But as I’m working on cutting out that internal chatter, giving myself an hour or so in the morning to stop worrying and prepare for the world has been, ironically, the biggest productivity boost of all. I feel better throughout the workday, so I accomplish more. That workday productivity buzz gives me more energy after work, and I can workout or go to the movies or to a museum, or what have you. When I was rushing all day long, I quite literally didn’t have much energy left by the end of the work day.
But that’s just a side effect, not the purpose. The purpose is to feel better and enjoy my life more. Take in little moments before engaging with who-knows-what in the wider world for the majority of the day. It’s clearing out the mental clutter that can occupy our minds for so much of the day, and taking an hour or so just to be—no optimization necessary.