Lately life has been a real balancing act. I thought I was busy when I was juggling being a performing artist with being a staff songwriter, but add being a Mom into the mix and it’s a whole new cup of tea. How do you cook, clean, parent, exercise, come up with song ideas, build demo tracks, manage your social media & promotion platforms, play gigs, have date nights and me-time, AND do all that around the edges of a full-time co-writing schedule of 4-5 songs per week? Well, it turns out the answer is time management…so I read some books, started some new habits, and frankly it has been really life-changing!
It all started when I read an article about the human brain. Adopting a new habit takes a great deal of energy, the article said, but you can adopt a SET of new habits that happen one after another in a “string” with the same amount of energy as adopting a single habit, because your brain interprets the string of steps as one action.
I had a long list of “wish I had time for” habits. They included meditation, reading, journalling, exercise, networking, and eating better…but that seemed like an overwhelming pile of stuff to tackle when I looked at it as a bunch of different goals. So I took the article’s advice, and decided to string the new habits together into a set.
The trick, though, is to make the set into a habit that you carry out daily…and the easiest way to ensure that is to do it right at the beginning of each day, every day that you can. (Let’s face it: our days get crazy, and things we plan to do later in the day don’t necessarily always get done.) So…every weekday morning, I have started setting my alarm for an hour before my toddler wakes up. Yes, that gets me up before the crack of dawn, and I HATED dragging myself out of bed that early at first, but trust me…now that I’ve been doing it for a couple months, I actually love it! I know it sounds crazy, but it makes my life SO much easier and more focused that the benefits far outweigh the inconvenience.
Then I start my habit string: I go to the bathroom and say some affirmations and a gratitude prayer in the mirror, drink a glass of water, and take my vitamins. Then I sit and do a 20 minute meditation that culminates in a silent visualization of what I’ll be doing in the day ahead. I then read for about 15 minutes (I’m hooked on reading book summaries on Blinkist – if you’re a non-fiction fan you can take in the wisdom of a whole book each day that way). I finish by journalling a quick entry in my diary. (I like to make a bullet list of 3 things I’ve learned in the past 24 hours, plus 3 things I’d like to do differently because of them.)
Then, it’s time to tackle my “Most Important Thing” (aka “MIT”) for the day. My MIT is something that I pre-plan for the next morning at the end of each day. Sometimes it’s a networking email, sometimes a promotional task, sometimes it’s scheduling a song demo or dreaming up a song idea. I don’t do my morning routine on weekends, but I still tackle a non-business-related weekend MIT which usually involves stuff like planning family social events, budgeting finances, or meal-planning a grocery list of healthy foods for the week. But whatever it is, it’s just ONE thing…a tiny, bite-sized move in the right direction. It might not seem like much, but in reality, taking baby steps towards your goals in a daily, focused way is a time-management trick that raises your productivity level well beyond the busy-but-scattered lifestyle most of us live.
Exercise is also an element of my weekday morning routine. Generally I hit the YMCA gym before my writing session, but if my day is too crazy for that, I fit about 15 minutes of yoga in at the end of my “me-time” habit string in the morning. And take it from a woman who has NEVER stuck to an exercise program, I’m feeling pretty darn good about the fact that I’ve been exercising at least 5 days a week for 2 months now. That’s about the equivalent of hell freezing over for me.
After that I’ll re-hydrate while checking my email inbox – generally I do this once a day now, instead of 50 times like I used to, which was completely unnecessary and just made me a slave to my iPhone – then I’m off to my cowriting appointment, and when it’s done, a healthy dinner is pre-stocked in my fridge (from the weekend meal-planning session…and my morning visualization of the day would have reminded me to pull out the chicken to defrost before work). Then the evenings are all mine: all I have to do is plan tomorrow’s MIT and try to get to bed 8 hours before my morning alarm’s gonna go off. I have late shows a lot, so it doesn’t always happen…but that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world if I miss my morning routine here and there, but it makes me feel so good that I keep wanting to get back to it at the first opportunity.
I think the reason I’m loving this new routine so much is what it does for me during the rest of the day. I feel…GOOD. Accomplished. Positive. Focused. And especially – with my Type A mind that likes to send me on “why aren’t you working” guilt trips – I feel guilt-free. I know I’ve worked towards my goals each day and tackled the most important step on my to-do list. So instead of being half-present while I’m half-worrying about what needs to be done, it allows me to be relaxed and fully IN the moment when I’m out for a bike ride with my kiddo, having dinner with friends or watching a movie with my hubby.
Maybe you’re not a type A-er at all, and this could all sound crazy to you. But I really urge you to give it a try for a week and just see how it makes you feel! (And if you’re curious to learn more, just Google “morning routine” and see how many super-productive people from creatives to billionaires to gurus rely on a morning habit string.)
Here are a couple references I’ve found very helpful:
“The Miracle Morning” book summary: http://niklasgoeke.com/the-miracle-morning/
*”The 4 Hour Workweek” book summary: http://www.deconstructingexcellence.com/the-4-hour-workweek-summary/
*the Deconstructing Excellence website is a great resource for other book summaries too!
I also love Tim Ferriss’ podcast for interesting conversations about habits, lifestyles, meditation, health, and entrepreneurial thinking: http://tim.blog/podcast/