Where do you go when you wanna get some serious work done?
Is it a cafe? A meeting room? The library? At home after everyone has gone to bed?
Notice how almost NOBODY says “the office?”
I mean, it’s weird right? Our companies spend millions of dollars building these awesome offices for us: We have ergonomic chairs, high-speed internet, shared drives, good coffee, etc, yet somehow nobody seems to think that our offices are the best places to get serious work done.
Why is that?
The Revenge of the Ping
Partly, it’s because of what I call The Revenge of the Ping.
Technology is supposed to make us more efficient, but it’s also made us slaves to communication.
In the past, our parents would write a paper memo (remember those?), send it off to a colleague in another office, and wait 2 weeks to hear back.
Today, we’re reachable via WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook Messenger, and the ubiquitous, never-ending waterfall of email. That’s why our generation feels a lot more burned out than our parents’: Because we’re spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with this barrage of communication.
Don’t get me wrong – technology is definitely a good thing. But we need to figure out how to get some actual work done amidst all this craziness.
You know, the Big, Important Stuff: The projects, the systems and the Time Assets that could really make a difference for our companies and careers. Things that are really important, yet no one seems to be able to find the time to do.
Everyone knows that it’s almost impossible to squeeze the Big Important Stuff during regular work hours. Our workdays are shredded into tiny little pieces: A meeting here, a phone call there, a few quick emails, and before you know it, it’s 6.45pm and you’re wondering where the heck the day went.
Productivity gurus will say, “Just ignore the unimportant stuff!” But we all know that’s not realistic. (Try telling your boss that you didn’t answer his urgent email because you’re “de-prioritising” email for now)
So how does one find the time to get the Big Important Stuff done, and still meet the demands of our regular workday?
A Simple Schedule Shift
Since he couldn’t leave late, he had to come in early. So he started getting into the office at 7am, and always – always – left by 5.30pm. Try calling him at 5.31pm and you’ll go straight to voicemail.
That might just sound like a simple shift in work hours, but it made all the difference. With that simple schedule shift, he realised that he could get more work done in less time.
Why is that?
Because that golden period of calmness in the morning was the perfect work environment to do his important work without any interruptions. No email, no phone calls, and no meetings.
And so that gave me an idea: What if, instead of doing the usual come-in-at-9-am-and-stay-indefinitely-late routine, I could get into the office early, like 7.30am?
Since the workday officially starts at 9am, that would give me a solid 1.5-hour block to work on the Big, Strategic Stuff before my colleagues even step into the office. I could spend that time to build my Time Assets, sort out my processes, and tackle difficult projects without any interruptions.
Testing Out The 7.30am Routine
And so since the start of January, I’ve been trying out the 7.30am routine. I don’t always succeed, but I try my best. (Sometimes, it’s just too friggin’ hard to get out of bed. You guys know what I’m talking about, right?)
So far, it’s been working pretty well. I’m a morning person, so working at 7.30am is when I’m at my freshest and most productive.
To make the most of it, I try to avoid email and focus on deeper projects like my Time Assets and client presentations.
I really enjoy the peace and quiet of the morning – sipping a coffee, saying a prayer before I start work, and really getting into a quiet, focused mood. And there’s a whole host of other side benefits too:
- Less people on the MRT
- No waiting for the coffee machine
- No awkward “good morning” conversations in the elevator
- Free MRT rides!
I also give myself permission to leave work on time and not feel guilty about it. Otherwise, it just means extending my work day to 12 hours a day, which kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? (Also, research shows that productivity starts falling above 50 hours a week, so it’s never a good idea to work beyond that).
It’s a little too early to tell if this new routine truly helps my productivity and work, but I’ll test it out for now and see where that takes me.
Wanna Try It Out?
Like everything else I blog about, don’t take my word for it. Test it out for yourself and see if it works for you.
If you do decide to try it out, here are a couple of tips:
- Wake up earlier in gradual increments – don’t try to change your wake-up time by 2 hours overnight. That will almost certainly fail.
- Don’t check email in the mornings (as tempting as it might be)
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish. Because you’re tackling harder projects, there might be some days when you don’t make any progress. That’s perfectly normal.
- Personal finance tip: Sign up for Travel Smart Rewards to earn some moolah for travelling during off-peak hours!
I know it might sound crazy and ambitious and weird (“You mean I have to wake up at the same time as my cousin in Primary School?”), but give it a shot. The results might surprise you.
If you wanna do this with me, email me and let me know! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Here’s to more awesome mornings!
Credit: Idea in this post came from the TED Talk “Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work” by Jason Fried