One of the most influential books I read on maternity leave was Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make The Most of Their Time.
In the book, Vanderkam gave a number of successful women diaries to keep. For one week they logged every activity from the first shrills of the alarm, or cries of their babies, through to the last moments of consciousness.
From those diaries, Vanderkam distilled her findings, culminating in the New York Times Bestseller book (link above.)
There are many fascinating practices that came up again and again across these women. I am sure you can guess many of them – in fact, Vanderkam reviewed some of them in this article for CBS.
Everybody wants to have better mornings. I know a bad morning for me, is being in a reactive place – not being prepared and then waking up to my baby or toddler’s voice, then scrambling to get coffee in me, lunch prepped, breakfast ready and then out the door. Why is it bad? I feel rushed. Scrambled. Unorganized. I forget things.
A good morning is having some time to wake up before anyone else, slowly reboot my brain with some reading and social media scrolling, and then get some idea of the things I need to get done in the quiet moments because I’m not a good details person. I’m calm and grounded when the kids get up, and focused on what needs to be done. Not all over the place.
That is so much easier said than done, hey?
There are countless articles on the web, advising you on what the most successful people do in the morning. They all start like this “The 10 most important things that…” “Twenty ways to change your day” etc etc.
My hangup has always been – and always will be – “We already know! SO HOW DO WE ACTUALLY DO THIS EVERY DAY AND IMPLEMENT IT WITHOUT FORGETTING?”
It turns out, that to take new actions, we must first know ourselves inside and out.
You cannot reprogram yourself without 100% total awareness of what you were doing before.
I spent a week doing what Vanderkam calls the 168 hour challenge. I logged my days from wakeup to pass out. I’d put “go to sleep” – but most days, I’d literally collapse into bed with a blissful sigh, absolutely pooped after a baby or toddler wakeup at 10pm – just when I thought I was in the clear!
In recording just one week, I was astounded at the patterns I could see. In reflecting upon those patterns, I was astounded at the lessons I learnt and the newfound motivation to adjust my daily practices and incorporate new ones that I had studied (but never implemented.)
I learnt what I needed from my mornings. What I needed to set my energy up right for the day. I learnt that with a monkey brain, I needed to set clear intention and focus in my first few moments of the day. I learnt what my natural tendencies are, when my discipline and focus are missing.
Everyone is different. Where I am trying to slow down my energy in the morning, others may be trying to improve it. So take the log here with a grain of salt.
The point of this entire post is to encourage you to journal your day and reflect.
Then, set some new intentions. Try them out with the new motivation you will have.
Try out new things. Scrap what doesn’t work. Keep what works.
There’s a reason this entire process took a year. It’s constantly trying things out, reflecting and going back to the drawing board, researching some more, and adopting other techniques. It’s not about a perfect 100% dialed in day; it’s about the journey to get there, the constant little improvements, day by day, week by week. Then, a year later, you realize that a whole chunk of your day has shifted.
It’s about the bravery to break out of unconscious routine and habit, and choose to implement new things with the type of intention that propels you toward your life goals.
I bring to you a before and after – a peek into my own day (this is just a 1 day sample.)
Here’s a typical “unconscious day” before I studied and learnt from this book, followed by a “conscious day” where I have successfully implemented a few of the “successful women strategies” as well as other daily routines outlined by people like Tim Ferriss (see his 24 hours schedule here.) Once you listen to hundreds of hours of podcasts, you realize successful people tend to have very similar morning routines and daily habits.
BEFORE – APPROX 1 YEAR AGO
7:10 AM – wake-up to the sounds of my toddler. 10 minutes lying there thinking it’s too early. Scroll Facebook.
7:20 – Realizing I have to leave for work in only 20 minutes. Why didn’t I get up earlier? I could have worked out. I should have gotten up. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
7:25 – 7:45 – Get coffee machine on, get toddler up and half dressed
7:45 – 7:55- Realize I need to leave in 20 minutes. Berate myself. Get snack ready for toddler, coffee made and get my underwear on.
7:55-8:10 – Get mascara on, baby awake. Go get him up and dressed, prepare some milk. Get back to getting dressed.
8:10 – Remember I haven’t made any lunch.
8:10-8:15 – Quickly throw together some breakfast food, get my handbag and get my toddler dressed / brush her hair.
8:15 – Look for shoes, car keys, other random things I need.
8:25 – Couldn’t find car keys, or coat, or something else I need. Hop in the car.
8:25-8:50 – Drive to work, get there in the nick of time.
9-5:30 – Work at the University. Wind up staying a bit late and feeling guilty about it. Don’t take a lunch break or my morning and afternoon breaks – maybe a random 30 minute break (I am bad for this and it’s a habit I am trying to break.)
12:00 – Buy lunch briefly and go back to work, eating lunch in front of computer.
5:30 – 6:15 – Drive home with a podcast, stress a bit about not being disciplined about leaving on time.
6:15-7:45 – Intentional, present family time with the kiddos.
7:45 – 8:15 – Bedtime preparations, get kids in bed.
8:15 – 8:45 – Husband and I make dinner, eat late.
8:45 – 9:30 – Have a glass of wine, relax and chat.
9:30 – 10:00 – Clean kitchen or complete a short tidying up task so house is clean for morning.
10:00 – 10:30 – Tuck in, read non-fiction.
10:30 – lights out. Spend next 30 minutes thinking about the non-fiction I just read.
AFTER – CURRENT STATE
**Note: This is an ideal day here- in any one day I don’t check off every one of these things. I am at about 60% success rate at this point in the game. For every one item dialed in, I miss the other one. This is a work in progress (and a fun project at that!) – but after trying each one of these components, I know now what an ideal day looks like, and what to work towards, and it ALL starts with how that first 2 hours goes in the morning, before I even get to work.
5:50 – Get up naturally without need of alarm (if I go to bed at 10pm and keep a routine – this takes a lot of discipline!) I’ve been experimenting with programming thoughts before bed to have my body wake me up – it WORKS. If you trust it….
5:50 – 6:10 – Lie in bed, slowly wake up with scrolling through Instagram (I only follow accounts whose images represent goals, lifestyles or lessons I want to learn.) Good inspiration.
6:10-6:30 – Make lunch while coffee brewing. Make the bed if husband is working (watch Admiral McRaven’s speech on making the bed every day for reference to the importance of this task and how it sets you up for a good day.)
6:30-7:00 – Drink coffee in living room and cross off some to-dos with my businesses I am building on the side. Last week, this time was for my Kickstarter campaign. other weeks it might be packing an order I received through my Etsy Store. *A less “dialed in” version of this would be 20 minutes of Facebook and only 10 minutes of work, lol.
7:00 – 7:20 – Get dressed and actually do some decent makeup beyond mascara.
7:20-7:30 – Specifically assign myself 10 minutes to find shit like my car keys and sunglasses, which I know I constantly misplace. See, I haven’t improved on it, I just build this time in now and ALLOW myself the time / acknowledge this as a regular event.
7:30 – 7:45 – Assemble breakfast and lunch for the day.
7:45-8:30 – Run on a nice trail somewhere along the commute to work. Also listen to a favourite podcast for inspiration and to set my frame of mind for the day.
8:45 – Arrive at work with time to change out of running clothes; enjoy a nice americano and a green juice / hard boiled eggs (my go to breakfast.)
8:45-9:00 – Take the time to write down my to-dos and goals for the day in a little journal I carry around. This helps me control the bazillion ideas I have each day, and maintain a focus. I repeat this practice at the end of the day before I leave the office, making a note of a small success that day.
9-5:00 – Work at the University
12:00-1:00 – Take lunch. TAKE the break. Get outside. Do.Not.Work. Ideal is excercise or listen to the Headspace Meditation App.
5:00 – 5:30 – Before leaving office, reply to personal emails,plan social events, life administrative stuff like budget checks, iCal updates (my husband and I share one.)
5:30 – 6:00 – Commute home with another (easier listening) podcast, intentionally focus on leaving work at work.
6:00 – 7:00 – Fully present time with the kids, relieve husband while he preps dinner. Best case scenario is to go outside in garden or to park or walk along ridge.
7:00-7:30 – Eat in various stages depending on who wants to eat and who does not lol. You know life with toddlers 😉
7:30 – 8:15- Kids ready for bed: Bath, teeth brushing, bottles for baby, set up beds, put on pjs, etc. Each of us takes one kid, gets them down at same time. Intentionally focus on breathing and clear mindedness while rocking baby to sleep; not on kindle.
8:15-9:00 – Cup of tea and talk time with husband in living room. Also: Myofascial rolling while talking a few times a week.
9:00 – 9:30 – Clean kitchen, tackle a few house tasks. Somehow the physical activities shut down the brain for bed
9:30 – 10:00 Reading fiction (so I can’t think about it) or another Take 10 session from headspace app.
10:00 Lights out.
Evernote Observations from Keeping This Log:
-How much time I was wasting scrolling through social media before. I still love social media, but filtered it so that the accounts showing up are inspiring or help me proceed towards goals.
-How precious free, solo time is and the need to get up before my family to get set on the right foot.
-That email can wait.
-That a small habit like a green juice, making my bed, or a good cup of coffee actually does set the vibe for the rest of the day. Small, seemingly mundane tasks have a powerful ability to shape our mindset.
-Morning is a prime energy time.
(When are your energy flows? Worth noting in your time log)
-The best business ideas for me, happen in the car.
-I use my phone and check emails a lot less often, this has helped with focus and not jumping among too many tasks and diluting energy / effectiveness.
-That there are 168 hours in a week, after sleeping and working, that leaves me 72 hours to decide intentionally what to fill that space with, and how.
Now, here’s your homework:
Spend one day in your typical cycle. Record what you get up to.
Then, design an ideal day and make it your goal to execute that one ideal day, with the purpose of writing about it – either privately in an email to yourself, your journal, in Evernote, or in your phone notes.
The moment you record your day, reflection happens and a world of motivation opens up. You can’t help but notice where the obstacles and opportunities are, and you can’t help but become intentional with this one gift we have; time.