What does wild success look like? Kaizen and life; tweaking mornings

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

“What does wild success look like?” I often ask that question when I want to clarify what we want to do and how we want to get there. I ask myself that question as well. If I could be wildly successful at whatever I want to do, what would life look like? Sketching a picture of what I want or writing about how it feels helps me figure out what kind of life I’d like to grow into, and the vision helps me figure out what I need to do to get there.

Sometimes I think about grand things, like the kind of difference I’d like to make. Sometimes I focus on the mechanics and the details – what does the day feel like? What are my routines? Who do I talk to? Both perspectives help me flesh out my sketch.

Sure, there are erasures as I change my mind, smudges as I blend different colors together, and lots of different versions of wild success depending on what I’m thinking about or how I’m feeling, but it’s a terrific tool for thinking long-term.

For example, here’s something I scribbled down on my iPod Touch while on the subway:

I wake up at 5:00 AM to opera, light, colors, cats, kisses, or whatever gives me a great start to my day. I exercise a little to get my blood flowing, and I have a healthy breakfast of steel-cut oats or fresh fruit. Then I gear up for a morning of creative work, settling into a comfy chair or setting up on the kitchen table for a four-hour session of brainstorming, writing code, and preparing articles and presentations. I snack on fruit and nuts along the way. I have a light lunch or head out to lunch with friends. Then I tackle more routine tasks: responding to mail, following up, editing and formatting documents, testing code, taking care of chores, reviewing delegated work, and other things. I make dinner and enjoy it with people I love, and spend the rest of the evening reading or enjoying people’s company. After tidying up and taking care of other things, I go to bed, happy with the work I did that day.

There’s more to it than that, and there are multiple versions too, but this is the one we’ll focus on for this blog post.

One of the advantages of envisioning wild success is that you often realize that it’s not too difficult to make it happen. The routine I’ve outlined doesn’t look too different from my typical day working at home. Because I’ve sketched the different components of my “ideal day”, I can start testing those parts to see if I can fit them into my life and if they really do contribute to happiness.

For example, I’ve been testing out this early-morning wakeup thing. I know that waking up and rushing through my morning routine is Not Fun. I also know that I enjoy creating “flow” space to do creative work in the early morning, and that I enjoy making breakfast for W- and J-. So an early morning wake-up time makes sense to me. But there are a couple of things I need to figure out in order to make this really work:

  • I don’t like waking up and bearing a grudge against the alarm clock. I’ve heard that gentler wake-up systems that use light and music to ease people into wakefulness are helpful. Dawn simulators (daylight alarm clocks) are a bit pricey and I think I’ll get more use out of an iPod clock radio with speakers, so I’ll go for that instead. Gradually waking up in the process of making breakfast seems to work too.
  • I feel guilty about disturbing others when I set the alarm clock very early, particularly as I’m also prone to hitting the snooze button. The way to deal with this is to fill my mornings with stuff that makes me want to jump out of bed. =)
  • My timing is not quite right. If I wake up really early and go to bed really early, I might get too out-of-sync with the rest of the folks. If I wake up early, but not early enough, and I need to go to the office, I don’t get as much flow time because it gets broken up by breakfast and the commute. I prefer commuting during daylight because it’s a bit warmer and brighter then. Given that, there are a couple of ways I can tweak my timing:
    • I can let myself wake up naturally, have breakfast and go to work, and then have a late lunch (buoyed by a morning snack). This gives me flow time.
    • I can wake up at 5, stumble through breakfast, eat something quickly, and work from home in the mornings, coming into work in the afternoon if needed.
    • I can wake up at 5, stumble through breakfast, eat something quickly, commute to work, get lots of stuff done, come home early, and enjoy people’s company at dinner.

So if I want to wake up even happier and have even more productive mornings (which is difficult if I feel tired or stressed), I can tweak my life so that:

  • I experiment with ways to wake up gently
  • I wake up with a clear idea of things to look forward to and some activities to do as my brain warms up
  • I never commit to anything in the late evening so that I can go to bed whenever I feel like it

Then I’ll be a little bit closer to figuring out what a wildly successful day looks and feels like… =)

What does your ideal day look like?

Photo © 2009 david.nikonvscanon (Creative Commons Attribution License)

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  • http://coevolving.com David Ing

    I’m really a night person, but have discovered that I can only effectively write until lunch on most days. Thus, while I’m on a leave doing some really serious writing — with only weeks to get it done — I’ve shifted my whole sleep schedule. I’m in bed 2 to 3 earlier than is natural for me, which means that I’ve generally been waking up that much earlier.

    This unfortunately isn’t playing well with my wife, because the computer is in the bedroom. In the late sunrises of winter, she’s been complaining that it feels like she should wake up, because the 22″ LCD monitor is so bright that it feels like daylight.

    Since I travel so much, I used to have two completely different schedules. On the road, I would get up early and exercise in the hotel fitness centre before breakfast, ensuring that I actually had that on my schedule. When back at home, my exercising was less regular, with bike rides in the afternoon or badminton in the evenings.

    It’s easier to maintain a regular schedule when there are fewer people impacted by these shifts. When I’m on the road, I claim to not have a real life, so everything is flexible.

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    … Move the computer out of the bedroom? The clackety-clack of keys probably doesn’t help, either. ;)

    Waking up really early during business trips was easy for me, too. I suspect it was because I didn’t have as many fun things to occupy my evenings with.

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