Habits: Avoiding the snooze button

When I started thinking about how to improve my routines, one of the first issues I identified was how I started my day. I wrote:

Getting up: this has wildly fluctuated recently, but my alarm goes off at 6.50, and I am normally out of bed around 7.20. I would really like to reclaim this half hour from the snooze button to give me more time in the morning.

Snooze button: worst idea ever? Image by Cory Voglesonger via Flickr

Snooze button: worst idea ever? Image by Cory Voglesonger via Flickr

As I thought about it afterwards, this phrase really jumped out at me, and I decided it would be the first change I would tackle. It seems like a small thing, but hitting snooze never has the pay-off I think it will. Much as it’s nice to doze for a little while before getting up, it actually just made both me and my fiancé more stressed – we end up rushing our morning to try to make up for the indulgence. So my first move was to eliminate this half hour wasted in the morning, with the aim to be less rushed and still get into work nice and early.

It’s easier said than done to avoid being swayed by the snooze button when you’re only half awake. I used the trick I’ve used before to great success, though it feels pretty brutal the first few days – I put the alarm out of reach, on the other side of the room. My alarm (I use my iPhone) is irritating enough for me to want it off as quickly as possible, and so it forces me to get out of bed as soon as it goes off. Once I’m up, it’s easier to go straight to the bathroom and wake up in the shower.

We tried it all last week and, unsurprisingly, it worked. I was out of bed at 6.50 am every day, and we got into work much earlier than before, which is what we prefer. It worked for A. as well, as once I’m up, he’s much less inclined to stay in bed as well.

There were one or two unexpected side effects as well. Because I knew that I was going to actually get up at 6.50 am, I was rather more aware of bedtime, and I think we were better at heading to bed earlier. I think we both got a decent amount of rest all week. Secondly, and perhaps as a result, once I was up, I found I woke up fairly quickly. I definitely felt more alert on the mornings where I didn’t indulge in a lie-in. Which is a paradox: I’d have guessed that more time in bed would make me feel more rested, but in reality, unless it’s quality sleep time, it seems to make me more lethargic.

So, a great change to have made, and we’ll keep up with it. If any of you are struggling to get up in the mornings, I highly recommend the ‘put alarm out of reach’ strategy (though it needs a better name!)


Habits: Comparing Franklin and Lewis

One of my fascinations, and an inspiration for starting this project, is the daily routine of other people. It’s interesting to see how others lay out their day, what they prioritise, how much time they leave for certain activities. Two of the most popular are the daily routines of Benjamin Franklin and C.S. Lewis, both of which I read about some time ago, and both of which stuck with me. I thought it would be a good idea, as I think about my own daily routine, to consider why both of theirs seem to have struck a chord.

First, Franklin. His daily routine has been discussed by a number of bloggers, and his ‘moral perfection’ plan inspired Gretchen Rubin in her Happiness Project, which is also one of my inspirations. Here is the ideal day he lays out for himself:

From Autobiography, 1791

From Autobiography, 1791

What do we have? Three hours for getting up, breakfasting and preparing for the day; eight hours of work in total; two hours for dinner; four hours for supper, entertainment and relaxation, and reflection; seven hours sleep.

Meanwhile, C.S. Lewis describes his ‘ideal’ daily routine based on the time he spent at a place called Bookham:

I would choose always to breakfast at exactly eight and to be at my desk by nine, there to read or write till one. If a cup of good tea or coffee could be brought me about eleven, so much the better…  At one precisely lunch should be on the table; and by two at the latest I would be on the road…  The return from the walk, and the arrival of tea, should be exactly coincident, and not later than a quarter past four. Tea should be taken in solitude, as I took it as Bookham on those (happily numerous) occasions when Mrs. Kirkpatrick was out; the Knock himself disdained this meal. For eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably… At five a man should be at work again, and at it till seven. Then, at the evening meal and after, comes the time for talk, or, failing that, for lighter reading; and unless you are making a night of it with your cronies (and at Bookham I had none) there is no reason why you should ever be in bed later than eleven. (Surprised by Joy, 1955: extract found at Daily Routines.)

He gives us a little less specific detail than Franklin, but we can still see that we have four hours of work in the morning, and two in the evening, an hour each for breakfast and lunch, a two-hour walk in the afternoon, and four hours in the evening for supper and entertainment. He goes to bed a little later than Franklin did, but also rises later – he doesn’t tell us exactly when, but my guess would be not before seven if he has breakfast at eight, making eight hours of sleep.

It’s interesting to see how they compare. Franklin has two extra hours of work, and also ‘looks over accounts’ during his lunch hour, while Lewis has lighter reading after he returns from his walk for an hour before he settles to work again at five. Both have four hours in the evening to enjoy a meal and relaxation, but Franklin adds a longer period of reflection in the morning, while Lewis suggests that the time for solitary reflection is during his afternoon walk.

It’s striking how balanced both these days seem to be. In each twenty-four hour period, there is a healthy dose each of work, rest and fun – exactly what we might consider a balanced life to be. When I read something like this and compare it to my own current daily routine, I rather despair of myself.

But hang on. Review both Lewis and Franklin again and think about what is missing. There is no mention of housework, cooking, running errands, preparing meals, tidying up, speaking to family or friends, nor the myriad of other tasks that can consume a significant chunk of my day. Let’s not forget, both Franklin and Lewis had staff – people who took on household chores so they didn’t have to.

Much as I would love to think that employing a housekeeper or two would be the solution to all my problems, it’s clearly not an option. But it puts a rather different perspective on these idealised days. How would their routines look if they lived the life that I live? It may not be realistic to strive for a day like theirs, because the list of things I have to fit into my day, and the balance of life in the modern world, has shifted. It’s worth keeping this in mind as I try to craft a new routine, one that brings balance to my life as it is now – not a life as it would have been fifty or two hundred years ago.


Habits: A typical day

One of the biggest inspirations for Project Renaissance was my realisation that I do many things habitually. Some of these things are good things: I clean my teeth, I shower, I eat breakfast.

Other things – not so much. I have a lot of bad habits around internet and media consumption, which is a huge time and energy suck. I have some bad habits around work and procrastination, which probably started out as avoidance tactics, and have become habitual.

Habits are powerful things: we do so much unconsciously, and having a habit for something allows you to bypass the decision-making part of your brain, leaving more mental bandwidth for other things. The habits we develop, therefore, have a huge impact on how our life works on a day-to-day level.

I think there’s a lot I could do to increase my happiness and satisfaction in life if I change some of my habits. So the first thing I want to tackle is to break down my daily routines and look for things that I do every day, both bad and good, and how I can shift my routines to incorporate more good habits and eliminate some of the not-so-good ones.

My current daily routine (such as it is), looks something like this: (this is for weekdays)

  • Getting up: this has wildly fluctuated recently, but my alarm goes off at 6.50, and I am normally out of bed around 7.20. I would really like to reclaim this half hour from the snooze button to give me more time in the morning.
  • I wash my hair every other day, otherwise it’s just a quick shower or a wash, dress, apply a touch of makeup (5 minutes only!). If I’ve washed my hair, drying and styling takes about ten minutes extra.
  • I head downstairs, feed the cat if my fiance hasn’t done so already, put on a pot of tea, make my lunch, and have breakfast. Sometimes I watch BBC Breakfast while I’m finishing my tea.
  • I clean my teeth, and am normally ready to head out of the door to work any time between 8 and 8.45.

Because of the nature of my work, I don’t have defined office hours, but my fiance normally stops by the office to pick me up around 5.30 to 6.00 pm. I would really like this time to become a bit more consistent, but at the moment, that could be tricky.

  • Once we’re home, normally around six, the cat gets fed and watered, and we normally have a cup of tea straight away.
  • I do all the cooking in our house, which normally occupies me for anything between ten minutes and half an hour on a week night.
  • By the time we’ve eaten and cleaned up, it’s normally about eight o’clock.
  • Bedtime has varied wildly recently as well – if the TV is on, I normally can’t help watching the new at 10 pm, and go to bed after that. It’s a rare night that I get to bed before 10, and normally is any time between 11 and midnight.

Typing it all out like this is enlightening. There are lots of issues to address, but the first things that strike me:

  • Getting up and going to sleep: I think I would feel a lot more settled if these times could be a bit more consistent, at least during the working week.
  • Ditto for leaving for work and arriving home. I think I need to define a morning, homecoming and pre-bed routine.
  • My main chunk of interrupted leisure time is after dinner. I want to use this time better.
  • Similarly, there is often a little bit of time between coming home and starting dinner. I actually have no idea what I normally do here, but it’s time that could perhaps be used more fruitfully.

We don’t have many regular evening commitments, except for a Wednesday evening dance class, and a bi-weekly German conversation group I try to go to when I have the energy.

There is a lot I can work on here: time to ponder where to start!

What about you: what’s your daily routine like, and how would you like to change it?