Quiet Days are the Second Hardest

TL;DR: Over the past year, I’ve been trying to increase the routine and rhythm in my day for one primary reason – increase and improve creative energy. Essentially, reduce my daily cognitive load for daily tasks thereby increasing the chances of ‘shower thinking’ throughout the day.

Everyday, immediately after I step out of the shower, I floss my teeth. Perhaps it’s not the most logical place in the day for dental hygene. But this is the place in my day where it stuck. For the past six months reaching for the floss at that point in my day has become so natural and routine that I’ve been able to build another behavior atop it – cleaning my glasses. With these small changes in my routine established, I’ve decided to implement some additional changes elsewhere in my day.

The first – wake up before 6:30am each day. As you might expect, this is significantly easier if you retire earlier. I’m sure that’s quite obvious to you. It was a small epiphany to me. Waking up earlier (usually between 5:30 and 6am depending on my Zeo) has reminded me how much I enjoy sunrises. The slowly brightening glow of morning – the chirp of the birds. Even in winter. Arising earlier has also confirmed that I’m a better father once I’ve had an hour to prepare myself for the day. Rather feeling the days have jerky, jarring stops and starts – my days now flow together. I know decisions I make in the evening have a direct impact my morning. Every minute past 10pm means another minute past 6am. Every minute past 6am is another minute I don’t have before the kids want breakfast. Means another minute I don’t have for preparing myself for the day.

Since last October, preparing myself for the day has meant Morning Pages. Three handwritten pages, stream of conscious. Each page takes about 15 minutes. Timed right, the morning sun starts to come through the kitchen window about half way down the third page – the same point the themes in my writing start to come together. There are usually a couple of small To Dos lurking in those pages. Without Morning Pages, I’m sure they’d just haunt me. Instead, they’re completed immediately after putting the notebook away.

Right now, I’m in the midst of training for the Get In Gear Half Marathon. Now, every other day commit to a short (3-5 mile) run before starting any client work. I tried evening runs and afternoon runs. Morning runs have been the most successful. By a long shot.

To track all this I picked up a giant all year calendar from NeuYear.net and a handful of thin whiteboard markers.


Then I went at it all Giles Bowkett-style.

All habits that are yet to stabilize are up there. The index card clipped to the top declares 8 habits and 8 colors. Lines marked across days I complete them.

Things that have been easy to instill that I’m still tracking:

  • going to be earlier
  • waking up earlier
  • writing morning pages
  • inbox zero (yes, suprisingly easy sustain inbox zero. More on that later)

“Quiet Days” – defined as not ever, never, directing attention to audio or video media created by someone else. It’s one of the more difficult challenges. Hell, I haven’t marked it off once yet – that’s how difficult I’m finding it. My theory is that every time I turn on the radio (or Pandora, or watch a TED video, or or or or) I’m choosing to not let my ‘shower brain’ offer a clever solution to a problem it’s been working on. Small meditations while driving are amazingly helpful, and so much more peaceful than the fall of civilization presented on broadcast radio. The challenge is in breaking my long-term habit of listening to punk rock and drum-n-bass while working on my hardest problems. The music hurts as much as it once helped. Once I get the first success, I’ll know how to get the second and the third. Yet, even without having a single day crossed off, “Quiet Days” are still the second hardest.

The hardest habit is writing daily for the book project. The mark is 1000 words a day. A humble goal. There are very few marks on the calendar. Fewer than a dozen across 10 weeks. That’s not progress. Writers know this. This isn’t news. Writing is hard work. This is exactly why I’m building routines into my day. The book project is why I’m changing everything else around my. To increase the creative energy I can commit to writing.

Late last year, I read ‘The Power of Full Engagment’, I’ve probably mentioned it to you in a very impassioned tone. It’s good. Here’s what I took away from it: “you’re probably spending your creative energies on things you can do without thinking. Work those things into a routine – and you’ll have the creative energies to do meaningful work.”

The promise is so compelling. Results?

While it’s only 10 weeks into the new year, I’m seeing significant increases in my creative energies. I’m procrastinating far less, I’m feeling more calm, and I’ve sketched out some fresh ideas for projects that have been collecting dust for years. It feels good to move those project forward. And I’m starting to sense the early stages of new projects, new directions, new challenges. Ones that I knew I wouldn’t have noticed with all the cognitive load of determining when I should floss my teeth or clean my glasses.

There. One thousand words.