“Develop good habits and make them your masters.” —Brian Tracy
Whatever your most important goal is, work on it first thing each day.
It’s sage advice that I always tried to follow. In practice, it’s meant one of two things: Either waking up each morning and writing, or waking up each morning and working out. The result is that I’ve regularly accumulated pages on my manuscript or regularly reduced inches on my waistline, but never both.
This year I resolved to change all that. What follows documents my efforts to exercise and write every morning before my “day job,” what obstacles I faced, and how I overcame them.
First came choosing a workout program. It had to be short while simultaneously using the time effectively. I chose P90X3 from BeachBody.com, which crams a ton of activity into a sustainable thirty-minute workout. I’d done P90X and P90X2 before, so felt I could handle it.
Next, preparation. I knew mornings would be short on time, so I’d do everything I could to streamline the next morning’s activities in advance. The night before I load up my water bottle and set out the clothes I plan to wear for the next day. I also decided to sleep in as much of my workout clothes as practical. The rest I keep at my bedside. It’s important to keep superfluous wandering-around-in-the-morning time to an absolute minimum.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to overcome was waking every workday morning at five-o’clock. This has meant going to bed early enough to ensure at least seven hours of sleep each I night. It’s also meant doing everything I can to make the process of physically getting out of bed as easy as possible. There’s nothing harder than getting out of bed on cold, dark Seattle mornings when you’re listening to the rain pattering on the roof.
I tackled the cold first by setting my thermostat to fire up auotmatically each morning twenty minutes before I plan to get up. This doesn’t make the air warm when I get out of bed, but it helps make the transition as easy as possible.
I conquered waking up on time by getting a FitBit Force, a watch/wrist band that comes with a vibrating alarm. This insures I don’t disturb my wife when it goes off or that I lie awake each morning trying to anticipate the alarm before it sounds. The FitBit also has the advantage of keeping track of activities such as steps walked, stair flights climbed, sleep, active minutes, etc. You can even use it to count water intake, calories consumed, & etc., through FitBit.com’s robust website and/or smartphone app.
I’ve made it a habit not to linger in bed after my wristband alerts me that it’s time to wake up. This is key to making it work. I had to use discipline and willpower. What it came down to for me is asking this question: How important is working out and writing? I imagined how much better I would feel about life if I went to work each morning having had a good workout and having written a few pages. I imagined how much satisfaction I get by feeling healthy and productive. For me, this is the cake of life. Everything else is frosting. The first morning I woke up early was surprisingly easy. The second morning was harder, but I shortly became habituated to it, like acclimating to a new time zone.
Each morning I get up, throw on sweat clothes, feed the cats, then head down to the basement for my workout. This practically takes forty-five minutes to accomplish. Afterward I shower, throw on the clothes that I laid out ahead of time, then head upstairs for my writing session. That leaves anywhere from seventy-five to ninety minutes to write.
The last hurdle was making sure the writing session itself is productive. Computers are great tools, but they’re full of distractions: email, Internet, and dozens of other activities that can suck time away from your daily dance with the muse.
I treat that first moment at the computer as a sprint. Okay, I say mentally, go! and then write as much, as fast and as focused as I can until my wrist alarm goes off at 7:45. I ignore email, ignore the urge to browse the web or take care of even tiny computer-related to dos. I use Scrivener as my word processor, which comes with a full-screen mode that shuts out all other distractions. From then on I make it my primary goal to stay as committed as I can for the entire writing session.
Having worked out, my blood is flowing. I’m sharp and alert and can get an amazing amount accomplished. Each morning it gets easier as mind and body learn what to expect.
This has been my routine so far this year and it’s been immensely rewarding and productive. I feel healthier and happier. Having written and worked out every morning, the rest of my waking hours are guilt free.
What is your most important goal? What are the hurdles getting in your way? How can you remove those obstacles? I’ve found a routine that works for me. You can find one, too.
Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.