I’m moving this week, and for various reasons this has meant that my stuff went elsewhere without me and I’m temporarily living in a barren, dustbunny-haunted war zone that bears only the faintest resemblance to the cozy little apartment I was living in a few days ago.
This is hardly an ideal state of affairs, but it’s taught me a few things – or rather, since I’ve also been too busy to work much on the blog and had no prior ideas when I sat down to write, it has forced me to observe a few things in hindsight, to be recounted here for your edification and amusement.
#1: Dedicated Workspaces are really helpful
As I’ve written about before, my preferred way to start the day is to get up, drink some water, and knock out 30 minutes of work. This is a lot harder to do when you have no place to work where you live. My productivity has definitely taken a noticeable hit since all my laptop-friendly surfaces disappeared into a moving truck.
Nothing surprising there, however…
#2: …it is definitely possible to work from coffee shops
A lot of people glamorize working from coffee shops, something I never quit got. There are more distractions, and I like the amenities of my carefully laid out personal workspace, such as a second computer monitor, a box of sundry office supplies, and a space to lay down and close my eyes during breaks.
That being said, coffee shops and other public spaces have some advantages. For one, the other people, while they can be distracting, also keep you from feeling lonely – something even a true introvert like myself experiences sometimes. Some of these people are even good for interesting conversations during work breaks, which again is good for preventing loneliness and might even make you a friend or two.
As to coffee shops being distracting, it turns out I largely formed that opinion before I had developed and refined my focus methods. With a good pair of noise cancelling headphones and the techniques I teach in YouX2, I’m finding that public places aren’t nearly as distracting as I once thought.
#3: Shake up your routine to establish new habits
I’ve known this for awhile, but the past few days have underscored it. If you want to form new (good) habits or break old (bad) habits, it’s often helpful to change your location and/or routine. A lot of habits are triggered by things in your daily life, so if you make that something significantly different, it will be easier to not default to old habits, and they will begin to weaken.
The reverse of this is also true. I can’t quite put my finger on why it works this way, but new surroundings are like a blank canvas, and it’s much easier to add new habits and routines to your life and have them stick right after your surroundings change.
I’ll talk more about this in the next two points, but I’m using the transitional period to squash some bad habits that (somewhat ironically) creeped into my life during the stress of my recent course launch, such as checking my phone compulsively and reading stuff before bed that will potentially delay sleep.
#4: … and walk away from it for a bit to see what you really need
This point is really just an extension of the previous one, but worth examining in more detail. Previously I talked about adding or eliminating specific things, with the assumption that you know what those should be ahead of time.
The thing is, when you’re in the patterns of your everyday life, you don’t necessarily known what to keep or discard. Stepping away from as much of it as possible will make clear what stuff, both physical stuff and psychological stuff (habit, etc.) you need to be happy and productive.
Once you’ve identified these things, you can keep or eliminate much more effectively.
Now, a lot of what you eliminate is not stuff you should necessarily feel bad about having in the first place. A lot of bad habits are not so much intrinsically bad as they are useful in some contexts and counterproductive in others.
A lot of your bad habits probably started as something that was useful at the time, and only became bad because you kept them too long.
More on that next.
#5: Avoid distractions at the very beginning and end of the day
The beginning and the end of each day are particularly important. The beginning because it sets the tone for the rest of your day, the end because it determines how well you sleep, which will strongly affect the next day.
Maybe even the next several days.
During the YouX2 launch, I reacquired several bad habits. The first was checking my phone/email as soon as I woke up. Note that this wasn’t a bad habit at the time – I HAD to keep a close eye on things while that was all going on.
However, after the launch was over, this was something I needed to ditch, mostly because compulsively checking email at the beginning of the day makes it a lot more likely that I will compulsively check email during the rest of the day, as well as random websites I follow, all of which subtly degrade my focus.
Now that I’ve used the change in routine to ditch this, my mind is noticeably clearer.
The other bad habit I picked up was reading engaging (if relatively mindless) fiction at the end of the day, before bed. Now, in a high stress period this can make sense, because if your mind is racing from the events of the day, you may need an hour or two to cool down before you can sleep, and an engaging read may actually take you to a more relaxed state than you were previously in.
However, when your life goes back to being calm, the prolonged cooldown before bed is generally unnecessary, and that same type of reading may actually wake you back up, and keep you reading when you should be sleeping to get an early start on the next day.
So, to wrap it up, I am very eager to have a normal setup again. The current one is uncomfortable and not much fun. But learning experiences rarely are.
A more fun way to accomplish a lot of the same things it just to take a short vacation somewhere. It doesn’t have to be distant or expensive, just some place out of your day-to-day.
I’ve used long weekend trips to Boston for this purpose in the past and it worked quite well because it’s fairly easy to get to, not overly expensive (compared to where I live) and scenic.
Your physical setting can have a large impact on your mental world, so be sure you’re using this to your advantage whenever possible.