Follow Through and Make it a Daily Habit

Have you ever fallen off track while trying to install or maintain a not-quite-daily habit such as exercising 3-4 days a week or getting up at 5am on weekdays? This article will share some simple ideas to help you maintain such habits more easily.

If you perform a certain task every day for weeks on end, it’s usually pretty easy to maintain. However, once you take a day or two off, it can be harder to start up again on your next “on” day. For example, if you get up early every weekday and then sleep in late on Saturday and Sunday, waking up Monday morning often feels harder, and you’re more likely to oversleep. Before you know it, you’ve blown your positive habit completely, and somehow every day has become an off day.

1. Make it daily anyway.

The first solution is to turn almost-daily habits into daily habits. Sometimes it’s no big deal to continue the habit even when it isn’t necessary, and the upside is that you’ll have a stronger habit with less risk of losing ground.

For example, I like to get up early 7 days a week. I find this much easier to maintain than getting up early 5-6 days per week. If I get up at 5am every single morning, it’s really no big deal. But if I stay out late one night and sleep in until 7am, it’s always harder to get up at 5am the following morning. Every once in a while I’ll stay out past midnight and sleep in late, but my default is to get up with the alarm at the same time every morning.

Even though I don’t need to get up early every day, the habit is beneficial for me every day, so there’s no reason to limit it to weekdays. Although it might seem harder to do it 7 days instead of 5-6 days, it’s actually easier to be consistent.

With close to 100% daily consistency, a habit will typically maintain itself on autopilot, so you don’t even have to think about it anymore. But with 80-90% consistency, the contrast between your on and off days is always in the back of your mind. Do I have to get up early tomorrow, or can I sleep in late? Do I need to exercise tomorrow, or can I skip it? If you have a lot of almost-daily habits, this can be a big cognitive burden and quite a distraction. Maintaining good habits becomes much more difficult than necessary.

2. Use placeholder habits.

Another option is to create an alternative, placeholder habit for your off days.

Suppose you want to exercise 5 days a week, and you really want to keep those off days. Instead of doing your regular exercise, you could schedule an an alternative activity for the same time.

Instead of doing your usual workout, you could use your off days to go for a walk, read, meditate, write in your journal, etc.

I recommend that you use placeholder habits that are similar in some way to the original habit. For example, on your off days for exercise, you could still do something physical like walking, stretching, or yoga. This turns your physical development into an everyday practice, even though you’re doing different activities each day.

3. Chain Habits.

When you chain a series of habits together, they become easier to maintain. As soon as you begin the first habit in the chain, the rest of the sequence will tend to take care of itself.

My usual morning routine involves getting up, hitting the gym, showering, getting dressed, eating breakfast, etc. It’s a pretty stable pattern. But sometimes when I feel I’m at risk of overtraining, I’ll skip my workout without substituting anything. When this happens I can just jump to the next link in my morning habit chain, which means I’ll get up and then shower.

I find that when I occasionally skip habits that are part of a longer daily chain, it’s fairly easy to put them back in again as long as I continue to maintain the first and last links in the chain. As long as I get up early and go to the gym or get up early and then shower, my not-quite-daily exercise habit remains pretty solid. But if I mess with the first link in the chain and don’t get up at my usual time, the whole sequence is more likely to be blown.

So the idea is to put your not-quite-daily habits in the middle of a chain of daily habits. If you maintain the overall chain, you’ll probably find it easier to maintain the middle links as well, even though you sometimes skip them.

4. Make specific commitments.

If there are certain habits you won’t perform every day, decide exactly when you will perform them.

“I’m going to exercise 3-4 days per week” is too vague and wishy-washy. “I’ll do a 30-minute workout at the gym every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday morning at 6:30am, alternating between weight training and aerobic conditioning” is much better. The more specific your commitment, the better.

Block out time on your schedule, and add these commitments to your calendar. Be sure not to schedule anything else for those times.

It’s very easy to fail when you give yourself too many outs and don’t really commit. On any given day, there should be no question as to whether you will or won’t perform your habitual activity. Ditch the mights, maybes, and shoulds. Either you will or you won’t. Decide in advance what it will be.

5. Turn habits into appointments.

If you have a hard time maintaining irregular habits, find a way to turn them into appointments that involve someone else. It’s easier to ditch a habit if you’re only accountable to yourself, but most people are less willing to skip appointments that would leave someone else hanging.

Get a workout buddy. Schedule early AM phone calls with another early riser. Plan home organizing time with your roommate(s) at the same time every week. Schedule regular babysitting for date nights with your spouse.

Your accountability will be greater when you involve others in your not-quite-daily habits.

Theses are just some of the tactics you can use to improve your ability to maintain irregular habits. For a list of specific habits that will give you some ideas, see the article Guide to Top 10 Ways to Optimize Your Routine Days.

Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public

Original title of this is “How to Maintain Not-Quite-Daily Habits”.

How to Deal with Cold, Sleepy and Boring Days

Marvel IcemanNot everyday is an energetic and bright day to wake up and go to work. Once in a while we open our eyes in the morning feeling all sleepy, the weather is nice and cold, there isn’t any deadline or deliverable throughout the day at work and we find ourselves dragging our feet to work.
How do we deal with this? Do we call in sick and spend the day at home? Do we come in late for work an hour or two? I strongly advice against either of the two because this can start a lazy habit were we’ll have a more difficult time dealing with in the future.
What to do in this situation?
1. It’s funny because sometimes I try to convince myself that I am sick. I do have a fever thermometer on bedside and when I feel I am sick, I grab it and test my temperature.
2. If the thermometer says you have a fever, then we can’t do anything about it but call in sick. Otherwise, I tell myself it’s all in the “mind”.
3. Think of something that inspires you. It could be any of the following:

1. A simple quote
2. The thought of your family
3. Anything that inspires you in the workplace

4. Push with force. Remember, you are not sick. It’s all in the mind. With one big push, get up.
5. Go straight to a routine that stimulates you. What gets your mind going? Checking the latest items in ebay? Checking the latest discounts? Any physical activity? Going to the bathroom?
6. Once your mind is stimulated, go ahead and get yourself a nice shower
7. You should be awake by now, go ahead and get yourself a good breakfast.
Always remember, cold, boring and sleepy days always come. Don’t use this time to get into a lazy habit but rather use it to exercise discipline and self-control.
You are not sick, it’s all in the mind.

Using Overwhelming Force to Achieve Your Goals

When you want to make a change in your life, especially a big one, you’ll typically meet resistance along the way. An effective strategy for rendering such resistance powerless is the strategy of overwhelming force. This is a military strategy of course, but we can co-opt it for our own personal development as well. Instead of merely dipping your toes into the change you’d like to make, you dive into it headfirst. Instead of undercommitting resources, you overcommit.

Too often when people attempt a big change, they undercommit their personal resources. Instead of a quick victory, they end up with a quagmire akin to Viet Nam, where they have to keep putting in more and more energy just to maintain the status quo.

For example, suppose you want to lose 50 pounds. You make some moderate dietary and exercise changes. For a while they work well, and you lose the first 10 pounds. But then you get stuck at 40 pounds overweight. You keep maintaining the same diet and exercise levels, but because you’ve undercommitted your resources, your total long-term effort is much greater than it needs to be. Exercising while 40 pounds overweight, month after month, perhaps even year after year, is very hard and takes a tremendous effort and discipline to maintain, especially when your results are minimal. Simply going through your daily routine with that much weight on you will make your life much harder than necessary. My daughter weighs about 45 pounds, and to carry her around for any length of time would be very difficult. I couldn’t even imagine going for a 5-mile run with her on my back. So even though the strategy of overwhelming force requires a greater up-front investment, in the long run it can save you a great deal of time and energy.

Think of all the personal resources you can use to apply overwhelming force to one of your goals — your intelligence, intuition, skills, talents, time, money, family, relationships, reputation, assets, environment, etc. If you find that you’re stuck in a stalement vs. the resistance working against you (whether internal or external), then perhaps it’s time to apply to the strategy of overwhelming force and just get the job done. Bring enough of these additional resources online until you reach the point where you not only feel you’ll overcome all resistance — you feel certain you’ll squash it.

Ask yourself, “What would it take for me not only to achieve this goal but to absolutely dominate it?” What would you consider overkill? Imagine your goal as if you’re planning a battle that you MUST win, regardless of the cost. Write down what you think it would take to be certain of success.

If you think you have an effective kill strategy for your goal, but it isn’t working too well, perhaps you’ve underestimated the resistance. Don’t feel bad if you find yourself in this situation — great military leaders have been punished by this mistake as well. Accept that your kill strategy may in fact be underkill, and what you think of as overkill may be just what you need.

Once you see your overwhelming force strategy written down on paper, you may be thinking, “Wow… this would work, but it would take a lot of work to get it going.” The goal may be more “expensive” than you first realized, and some sacrifice may be required. So this is when you have to decide whether the goal is actually worth doing. Is it worth the price to you, or is it truly too expensive and not worth the effort?

Once you figure out what it will really cost to achieve your goal, you can then decide whether you’re willing to pay that price or not. Often we fail to achieve goals quickly because deep down we feel the price is too high, but we don’t want to accept that. So we try to cheat by undercommitting resources, hoping the goal can be achieved with far less effort. In a handful of situations, we get lucky and achieve the goal more cheaply. But in most situations, we waste tremendous time and energy pursuing goals that never get achieved.

Imagine what your life would be like if you could achieve most of your goals on the first try because you applied overwhelming force. Your first diet took you quickly to your goal weight. Your first attempt to quit smoking lead you to become a permanent nonsmoker. Your first attempt to find a fantastic job succeeded. No rework, retesting, repeating, recommitting, revamping, re-anything. Applying the strategy of overwhelming force can even be fun too, such as when you have the goal of getting pregnant. ;)

You might recognize that this is another application of the principle of facing reality as explained in the previous podcast.

Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public

Original title of this is “Overwhelming Force”.

The Power of Connections on the Principle of Love

One of the conscious growth principles I’ve been teaching for years is the principle of Love. This principle states that you’ll grow significantly faster — and enjoy the process of growth much more — when your life is rich in supportive, encouraging connections.
People violate this principle constantly — and to their detriment when they do so. Partly that happens because they don’t understand this principle deeply enough.
Consider two scenarios:
Scenario A – You wake up on a typical weekday morning, alone. As you open your eyes, you see several piles of clutter, including bills, reminding you that you need to sort through them. Your roommate hears you get up, pops through the doorway of your room, puffs some smoke from a cigarette in your direction, then glares at you and says, “Hey lazy ass, you’d better hurry up or you’ll be late. By the way… Greg is coming over tonight. I know you don’t like him, so just deal with it.” You go to the bathroom and brush your teeth, noticing how dirty the place is.
Scenario B – You wake up on a typical weekday morning. Your lover is lying in bed next to you, and s/he cuddles up against you, embraces you tightly, and says, “It feels so good to cuddle you. I love you. Mmmmm… And you really turn me on, sexiness! [Snarl]” S/he massages you a bit, which generates some feel-good endorphins. As you get out of bed, you notice a shelf full of books and pictures that inspire you. You go to the bathroom and see your list of goals taped to your mirror, so you review them as you brush your teeth.
What’s the difference between these two scenarios? Essentially it comes down to each person’s alignment with the principle of Love.
Which situation would you prefer? The second one seems like a nicer one to experience, but there’s a more subtle difference that might be harder to accept. The second person is likely to grow and change much faster than the first.
In the first case, the person is wallowing in unsupportive connections. The cluttered environment, the unsympathetic roommate, the messy bathroom — these will typically build stress, which reduces the person’s inner resourcefulness and promotes stagnation. It’s hard to feel motivated when your day begins like this. Imagine how the rest of the day is likely to turn out if this is how it starts.
In the second case, the person has created an environment that’s positive and supportive. From the lover’s touch to the positive books and pictures to the list of goals, this person is likely to start the day with uplifting, motivating thoughts. Imagine how the rest of the day is likely to turn out.
Which scenario does your life resemble?
Neutrality Sucks
Perhaps you’re in the middle somewhere. You might think that’s a neutral situation. Maybe you don’t have much positive support, but the negative stimuli aren’t present either. Generally speaking, that’s still a negative situation growth-wise. A lack of positive support will slow you down tremendously. It’s not enough to avoid the negatives. You need to add the positives. Otherwise you’re still likely to stagnate. Neutrality is just another form of stuckness.
Positive support is like gravity. It pulls you in the direction of positive growth. It might take some work to set it up at first, but it usually takes little effort to maintain. Without that gravity helping you out, you’ll have to push yourself constantly, and that isn’t very sustainable. You want to give yourself every advantage, and this includes creating a super-supportive environment.
Each scenario maintains itself. You can expect that the following days in each timeline will look essentially the same. The clutter will probably still be there the next day. So will the inspiring books and pictures. Neither person has to work at it — the continuity just happens.
Unconscious vs. Conscious Connecting
Which scenario you experience is a matter of choice. But it’s not about choosing between A or B. It’s about exercising your power to choose vs. not exercising it. It’s about being conscious vs. unconscious.
No one really chooses the first scenario or even a neutral scenario. It’s just something you fall into. In the absence of direct conscious intervention, these types of scenarios happen organically.
Scenario B, however, is no accident. This scenario happens because someone deliberately chooses to create it.
Even the presence of a supportive lover isn’t an accident. It’s a choice. Sure there may be a lot of action steps and some courage required to make it happen, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a very achievable part of the picture if you make it a priority.
Alignment with the principle of Love is one of the key differences between unconscious and conscious growth. When someone is truly on a path of conscious growth, the telltale sign is that they’ve deliberately sculpted their environment to support their highest and best vision of themselves. Whatever doesn’t fit that vision gets cut.
If you took a highly conscious person and put them into scenario A, what would they do?
Get a new roommate or move to a new place. Clean up the clutter and dirtiness. Make new friends who are supportive and invite them over. Write out some goals and post them. Decorate the place with some inspiring pictures.
A truly conscious person could make these changes within a few days max. The conscious person would be unwilling to tolerate an environment that doesn’t support his/her vision. Their standards would be higher than that.
Create an Environment That Supports You
If you think you’re strong enough to be immune to the effects of your environment, then let’s put you in prison for a year and see how well you thrive there.
If you look at the most conscious people on earth, you’ll see just how refined their environments are, both physically and socially. Having a home base that’s super-supportive gives them the strength to handle less friendly situations without getting overly discouraged. Such people surround themselves with positive, loving support.
Start with the easy stuff. Change some elements of the physical space you live in.
This can be really simple, so don’t overcomplicate it. Google a picture of a place you’d like to travel to, print it out, and literally tape it to your wall. How long will that take? A few minutes perhaps. You can fancy it up later.
Take the piles of clutter, and stick them in a closet or drawer somewhere, so they don’t serve as a constantly stressor each time you see them. Pull out a small bit of the pile each day, and sort through it little by little. Or set aside a chunk of time to go through the whole thing as fast as possible. Don’t let clutter become a negative visual stimulation that broadcasts, “You can’t have what you want because you’re overwhelmed as it is.”
Make a list of qualities you’d like to have in friends, lovers, coworkers, etc. Post it where you can see it. Spend 10 minutes a day imagining that you’re already there. You can do this while lying in bed as you drift off to sleep.
Don’t hang out with people who disempower you. Not only will they discourage you, but they’ll turn away the very people who’d otherwise support and encourage you. Supportive people are repelled by negative-minded people.
Don’t leave your social and environmental support to chance. It’s too important. These daily influences matter. Put yourself in the advantaged position of scenario B. You’ll grow much faster in that situation, and you’ll enjoy your life more as well.
Make it so. :)
Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “The Power of Connections”.

The PowerPoint "Vaporware" Crap

I know a lot of people who have made their way up the corporate ladder through the power of PowerPoint slides. It ain’t difficult to throw in big numbers, powerful & promising visions sprinkled with colorful fadeaways. Sadly, most of these presentations remain as PowerPoint slides and if ever they become a reality they almost always fall short of the PowerPoint slides earlier presented.
I once heard a client executive who couldn’t contain himself and tell everyone in the crowd that the PowerPoint presentation was amazing but it was the same presentation given to him a year ago (dates updated & a little brush up here and there) were none of it materialized. He went on saying that until he see a software demo, everything presented to him were all “vaporware”.
I couldn’t agree more. Executives and companies are taking notice, as such, Demo & Finovate, tech conferences, have banned boring presentations and have opted for fast-paced product demos. YEAH. Finovate CEO Eric Mattson has this to say: “It’s not about bullet points or the company, but what have they built? If you show your product to us, and we go, Wow, we can grasp that in seven minutes, and we want that, then the customers will want it too.”
While I do not expect to see executives dishing PowerPoint slides, because for most of them, its the only skill they have, I want to see them spending 10% of the time on slides and the remaining 90% on what have they actually produced.
Executives can go on yapping on the thousands of hours of training conducted, the ton loads of certifications they have, but in the end “what have they built?” as a result of these trainings and certifications? An html page? An html product page? Or a patent worthy software application that could benefit people leaps and bounds? Where is the product? Show us the product! Enough with the slides.

Guide on Getting Up When the Alarm Clock Goes Off

When your alarm wakes you up in the morning, is it hard for you to get up right away?  Do you find yourself hitting the snooze button and going right back to sleep?
That used to be part of my daily awakening ritual too.  When my alarm would blare its infernal noise, I’d turn the damned thing off right away.  Then under the cloak of that early morning brain fog, I’d slowly ponder whether or not I should actually get up:
It’s nice and warm under the covers.  If I get up, it’s going to be cold.  That won’t be too pleasant.
Oh, I really should get up now.  C’mon legs… move.  Go, legs, go.  Hmmm… that isn’t how I move my legs, is it?  They don’t seem to be listening to me.
I should go to the gym.  Yeah.  Hmmm… I don’t really feel like working out right now though.  I haven’t even had breakfast.  Maybe I should have a muffin first.  Banana nut.  Now that’s a good muffin.
Maybe I’m trying to get myself up too early.  I’m still sleepy, aren’t I?  Maybe getting up with an alarm is unnatural.  Won’t I function better with more sleep?
I don’t have to get up right this minute, do I?  Surely I can relax another five minutes or so.  The world isn’t going to end if I don’t get up right now.
I’ll bet my wife is toasty warm right now.  She told me she hates it when I try to snuggle her at 6am, but so what…  she loves me enough to forgive me, right?  I know… I’ll start massaging her back and shoulders first.  She can’t resist a good massage, even so early in the morning.  Then I’ll transition to a head scratching.  Yeah, that’ll do it.  And then slide right into the spoon position.  Won’t that be a pleasant way to start the day?
[ Scootch… scootch… Zzzzzzzz ]
Two hours later…
Me:  What time is it?  I don’t even remember the alarm going off.  That was a good snuggle though.  Oh well, guess I’ll have to skip exercise today.
Wife:  Why do you keep setting your alarm if you aren’t going to get up when it goes off?
Me:  Oh, did you think that was my wake-up alarm?  It’s actually my snuggle alarm.
OK, so I wasn’t really intending for it to be a snuggle alarm.  I had intended to get up when it went off, but my foggy brain kept negotiating me right back to sleep.
Fast forward to present day…
My alarm goes off sometime between 4:00 and 5:00am… never later than 5:00am, even on weekends and holidays.  I turn off the alarm within a few seconds.  My lungs inflate with a deep breath of air, and I stretch my limbs out in all directions for about two seconds.  Soon my feet hit the floor, and I find myself getting dressed while my wife snoozes on.  I go downstairs to grab a piece of fruit, pop into my home office to catch up on some emails, and then it’s off to the gym at 5:15.
But this time there’s no voice inside my head debating what I should do.  It’s not even a positive voice this time — it’s just not there.  The whole thing happens on autopilot, even before I feel fully awake mentally.  I can’t say it requires any self-discipline to do this every morning because it’s a totally conditioned response.  It’s like my conscious mind is just along for the ride while my subconscious controls my body.  When my alarm goes off each morning, I respond just like Pavlov’s dogs.  It would actually be harder for menot to get up when my alarm goes off.
So how do you go from scenario one to scenario two?
First, let’s consider the way most people tackle this problem — what I consider the wrong way.
The wrong way is to try using your conscious willpower to get yourself out of bed each morning.  That might work every once in a while, but let’s face it — you’re not always going to be thinking straight the moment your alarm goes off.  You may experience what I call the fog of brain.  The decisions you make in that state won’t necessarily be the ones you’d make when you’re fully conscious and alert.  You can’t really trust yourself… nor should you.
If you use this approach, you’re likely to fall into a trap.  You decide to get up at a certain time in advance, but then you undo that decision when the alarm goes off.  At 10pm you decide it would be a good idea to get up at 5am.  But at 5am you decide it would be a better idea to get up at 8am.  But let’s face it — you know the 10pm decision is the one you really want implemented… if only you could get your 5am self to go along with it.
Now some people, upon encountering this conundrum, will conclude that they simply need more discipline.  And that’s actually somewhat true, but not in the way you’d expect.  If you want to get up at 5am, you don’t need more discipline at 5am.  You don’t need better self-talk.  You don’t need two or three alarm clocks scattered around the room.  And you don’t need an advanced alarm that includes technology from NASA’s astronaut toilets.
You actually need more discipline when you’re fully awake and conscious:  the discipline to know that you can’t trust yourself to make intelligent, conscious decisions the moment you first wake up.  You need the discipline to accept that you’re not going to make the right call at 5am.  Your 5am coach is no good, so you need to fire him.
What’s the real solution then?  The solution is to delegate the problem.  Turn the whole thing over to your subconscious mind.  Cut your conscious mind out of the loop.
Now how do you do this?  The same way you learned any other repeatable skill.  You practice until it becomes rote.  Eventually your subconscious will take over and run the script on autopilot.
This is going to sound really stupid, but it works.  Practice getting up as soon as your alarm goes off.  That’s right — practice.  But don’t do it in the morning.  Do it during the day when you’re wide awake.
Go to your bedroom, and set the room conditions to match your desired wake-up time as best you can.  Darken the room, or practice in the evening just after sunset so it’s already dark.  If you sleep in pajamas, put on your pajamas.  If you brush your teeth before bed, then brush your teeth.  If you take off your glasses or contacts when you sleep, then take those off too.
Set your alarm for a few minutes ahead.  Lie down in bed just like you would if you were sleeping, and close your eyes.  Get into your favorite sleep position.  Imagine it’s early in the morning… a few minutes before your desired wake-up time.  Pretend you’re actually asleep.  Visualize a dream location, or just zone out as best you can.
Now when your alarm goes off, turn it off as fast as you can.  Then take a deep breath to fully inflate your lungs, and stretch your limbs out in all directions for a couple seconds… like you’re stretching during a yawn.  Then sit up, plant your feet on the floor, and stand up.  Smile a big smile.  Then proceed to do the very next action you’d like to do upon waking.  For me it’s getting dressed.
Now shake yourself off, restore the pre-waking conditions, return to bed, reset your alarm, and repeat.  Do this over and over and over until it becomes so automatic that you run through the whole ritual without thinking about it.  If you have to subvocalize any of the steps (i.e. if you hear a mental voice coaching you on what to do), you’re not there yet.
Feel free to devote several sessions over a period of days to this practice.  Think of it like doing sets and reps at the gym.  Do one or two sets per day at different times… and perhaps 3-10 reps each time.
Yes, it will take some time to do this, but that time is nothing compared to how much time you’ll save in the long run.  A few hours of practice today can save you hundreds of hours each year.
With enough practice — I can’t give you an accurate estimate of how long it will take because it will be different for everyone – you’ll condition a new physiological response to the sound of your alarm.  When your alarm goes off, you’ll get up automatically without even thinking about it.  The more you run the pattern, the stronger it will become.  Eventually it will be uncomfortable notto get up when your alarm goes off.  It will feel like putting on your pants with the opposite leg first.
You can also practice mentally if you’re good at visualizing.  Mental practice is faster, but I think it’s best to run through the whole thing physically.  There are subtle details you might miss if you only rehearse mentally, and you want your subconscious to capture the real flavor of the experience.  So if you do use mental practice, at least do it physically the first few times.
The more you practice your wake-up ritual, the deeper you’ll ingrain this habit into your subconscious.  Alarm goes off -> get up immediately.  Alarm goes off -> get up immediately.  Alarm goes off -> get up immediately.
Once this becomes a daily habit, you won’t have to do anymore daytime practice.  This type of habit is self-reinforcing.  You only have to go through the conditioning period once.  Then you’re basically set for life until you decide to change it.  Even if you fall out of the habit for some reason (like an extended vacation in a different time zone), you’ll be able to return to it more easily.  Think of it like muscle memory.  Once you’ve grooved in the pattern, it will still be there even if you let some weeds grow over it.
Any behavior pattern you experience when your alarm goes off will become self-reinforcing if you repeat it enough times.  Chances are that you already have a well-established wake-up ritual, but it may not be the one you want.  The more you repeat your existing pattern, the more you condition it into your subconscious.  Every time you fail to get up when your alarm goes off, that becomes ever more your default physiological response.  If you want to change that behavior, you’ll need to undertake a conscious reconditioning program such as the one I described above.
Beating yourself up about your bad wake-up habits will not work — in fact, you’ll just condition these mental beatings as part of the very routine you’re trying to change.  Not only will you not get up when your alarm goes off, but you’ll also automatically beat yourself up about it.  How lame is that?  Do you really want to keep running that dumb pattern for the rest of your life?  That’s exactly what will happen if you don’t condition a more empowering pattern.  For good or ill, your habits will make or break you.
Once you establish your desired wake-up ritual, I recommend you stick with it every single day – 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  And for the first 30 days, set your alarm for the same time every day.  Once the habit is established, then you can vary your wake-up times or occasionally go without the alarm if you want to sleep in, but until then it’s best to keep the pattern very tight.  That way it will become your default behavior, and you’ll be able to stray from time to time without serious risk of deconditioning it.
I’m confident that once you establish this habit, you’ll absolutely love it.  I consider this to be one my most productive habits.  It saves me hundreds of hours a year, and it keeps paying dividends day after day.  I also found this habit extremely valuable during my polyphasic sleep experiment.
Think about it — if you oversleep just 30 minutes a day, that’s 180+ hours a year.  And if you’re at 60 minutes a day, that’s 365 hours a year, the equivalent of nine 40-hour weeks.  That’s a lot of time!  Now I don’t know about you, but I can think of more creative things to do with that time than lying in bed longer than I need to.
I encourage you to give this method a try.  I know it seems silly to practice getting out of bed, but hey, what if it works?  What if you knew with total certainty that if you set your alarm for a certain time, you would absolutely get up at that time no matter what?  There’s no reason you can’t create that for yourself over the next few days.  Practice makes permanent.
And if you want some tips on establishing the habit of getting up early, I encourage you to read these two articles:

Make it so.  You won’t regret it!
Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off”.

Steps on becoming an Early Riser–Part 2

Last Monday’s post Steps on becoming an Early Rise–Part 1 obviously struck a chord with many people. That post has generated more links than I can count, sending more new traffic to this site than any other post or article I’ve written. And the traffic logs indicate that the surge was decentralized (not attributable to a mention in any one major source).
You can get an idea of what that post did for StevePavlina.com’s traffic at Alexa (note the big spike at the end of May 2005). Alexa isn’t very accurate, but it’s good enough for noting general trends.
Last Monday I did a Google search on “how to become an early riser” (in quotes). It returned zero results. Now look at how many results it returns.
OK, so this was an instalanche. But why? Getting up early is a relatively benign topic, isn’t it? At least I thought it was at the time I posted it.
Since this appears to be a topic of interest, even though I don’t fully understand why, I figured I’d do a follow up post to add some more detail.
First, on the subject of going to bed when you’re sleepy… to do this correctly requires a mixture of awareness and common sense.
If you’re doing stimulating activities before bed, you’ll be able to stay up later and stave off sleepiness for a while. In college I used to participate in poker games that went until dawn, and then we’d often go out to breakfast afterwards. I can easily stay up later than my normal range of bed times if I work, go out with friends, or do other stimulating activities.
But this isn’t what I meant by noticing when you’re sleepy. I mentioned the test of not being able to read more than a couple pages of text without losing concentration. This doesn’t mean waiting until you’re about to drop from exhaustion.
The onset of sleepiness I’m referring to is when your brain starts releasing hormones to knock you out. This is different from just being tired. You actually feel yourself getting drowsy. But in order for this to happen, you need to create the right conditions for it to occur. This means giving yourself some downtime before bedtime. I find that reading is a great way to wind down before bed. Some people say reading in bed is a bad idea… that you should only sleep in bed. I’ve never had a problem with it though, since when I’m too sleepy to keep reading, I can just put the book down and go to sleep. But read in a chair if you prefer.
Another test you can use is this. Ask yourself, “If I were to go to bed now, how quickly could I fall asleep?” If you think it would take more than 15 minutes to fall asleep, I say go ahead and stay up.
Once you set a fixed awakening time, it may take a bit of practice to hone in on the right range of bedtimes for you. In the beginning you may see some huge oscillations, staying awake too late one night and going to bed too early another night. But eventually you’ll get a feel for when you can go to bed and fall asleep right away while allowing yourself to wake up refreshed the next day.
As a failsafe to keep yourself from staying up too late, give yourself a bedtime deadline, and even if you aren’t totally sleepy, go to bed by that time no matter what. I have a good idea of the minimum amount of sleep I need. 6.5 hours per night is sustainable for me, but I can do 5 hours in a pinch and be OK as long as I don’t do it every night. The maximum I ever sleep is 7.5 hours. Before I started waking up at a fixed time each morning, I’d often sleep 8-9 hours, sometimes even 10 hours if I was really tired.
If you consume caffeine during the day, it’s likely to mess with your sleep cycles. So the original post assumes you aren’t drugging yourself to stay awake. If you’re addicted to caffeine, then break the addiction first. Don’t expect natural sleepiness to occur at the right time if you’re screwing with your brain chemistry.
The idea of the original post was to explain how to develop the habit of arising early. So the advice is geared towards creating the habit. Once the habit is established, it runs more subconsciously. You can be doing stimulating activities like work or playing video games, and you’ll just know when it’s time for you to go to bed, even though it may be a different time each night. The sleepiness test is important for developing the habit, but subtler signals will take over afterwards.
You can always sleep in late now and then if you need to. If I stay up until 3am, I’m not going to get up at 5am the next morning. But I’ll return to my usual routine the next day.
I recommend getting up at the same time for 30 days straight to lock in the habit, but after that you’ll be so conditioned to waking up at the same time that it will be hard to sleep in. I decided to sleep in late one Saturday morning and didn’t set my alarm, but I woke up automatically at 4:58 am. Then I tried to sleep in, but I was wide awake and couldn’t fall back asleep again. Oh well. Once the habit is established, it isn’t hard at all to get up, assuming you’re going to bed at the onset of sleepiness.
If you have kids, adapt as needed. My kids are ages 5 and 1. Sometimes they wake me up in the middle of the night — my daughter is in the habit of doing this lately, popping into the bedroom to tell my wife and me about her dreams or sometimes just to chat. And I know what it’s like when there’s a baby waking up every few hours. So if you’re in that situation, I say that the rule is to sleep when you can. Babies aren’t very good at sticking to schedules. :)
If you can’t get yourself out of bed when your alarm goes off, this is likely due to a lack of self-discipline. If you have enough self-discipline, you’ll get out of bed no matter what. Motivation can also help, but motivation is short lived and may only last a few days. Discipline is like a muscle. The more you build it, the more you can rely on it. Everyone has some discipline (can you hold your breath?), but not everyone develops it. There are a lot of ways to build discipline – you can read the whole six-part series on self-discipline to learn how.  Basically it comes down to taking on little challenges, conquering them, and gradually progressing to bigger ones. It’s like progressive weight training.  As your self-discipline gets stronger, a challenge like getting out of bed at a certain time will eventually become trivially easy.  But if your self-discipline has atrophied, it can seem an almost insurmountable hurdle.
Why get up early?
I’d say the main reason is that you’ll have a lot more time to do things that are more interesting than sleeping.
Again, I’ve gained about 10-15 hours per week doing this. That extra time is very noticeable. By 6:30am, I’ve already exercised, showered, had breakfast, and I’m at my desk ready to go to work. I can put in a lot of hours each day of productive work, and I’m usually done with work by 5:00 pm (and that includes personal “work” like email, paying bills, picking up my daughter from preschool, etc). This gives me 5-6 hours of discretionary time every evening for family, leisure activities, Toastmasters, reading, journaling, etc. And best of all, I still have energy during this time. Having time for everything that’s important to me makes me feel very balanced, relaxed, and optimistic.
Think about what you could do with that extra time. Even an extra 30 minutes per day is enough to exercise daily, read a book or two each month, maintain a blog, meditate daily, cook healthy food, learn a musical instrument, etc. A small amount of extra time each day adds up to significant amounts over the course of a year. 30 minutes a day is 182.5 hours in a year. That’s more than a month of working full-time (40 hours per week). Double it if you save 60 minutes a day, and triple it if you save 90 minutes a day. For me the savings was about 90 minutes/day. That’s like getting a free bonus year every decade. I’m using this time to do things that I previously didn’t have the time and energy to do. It’s wonderful. :)
Read the original: Steps on becoming an Early Rise–Part 1
For help getting up with an alarm, read:  How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off
And if you really want to take sleep to the next level (less than 3 hours per day), read:  Polyphasic Sleep
Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “How to Become an Early Riser”.

Guide to Top 10 Ways to Optimize Your Routine Days

Many years ago an old friend and I were discussing the meaning of life.  He said, “I don’t think the point of life is to accomplish a certain level of external success.  I believe we’re actually here to acquire and enjoy experiences.”

That conversation took place about 15 years ago, and this idea has remained with me ever since.  It’s a Zen-like philosophy because experiences imply living in the present while accomplishments dwell in the past or future.  Reading this particular article is an experience, but you probably wouldn’t consider it an accomplishment… although reading some of my longer articles might qualify.  ;)

We’ve been socially conditioned to value accomplishments and events more than everyday experiences.  Graduation day is more important than some random Tuesday in the middle of the semester.  The day you get hired or promoted is more important than an uneventful work day.  Your wedding day is more important than the day you saw a forgettable movie.

Accomplishments and events are certainly experiences too, but most experiences don’t qualify as either.  You’ll likely spend most of your life experiencing non-events.  It would be amazing if your accomplishments amounted to even 1% of your experiences.  Saturation tends to reduce the occurrence of salient events.  The time you spoke your first intelligible word was a major accomplishment, but speaking that same word isn’t such a grand achievement today.  Regardless of how much you accomplish in your lifetime, you’ll probably still perceive most of your days as typical, normal, or routine.

If you’re going to spend most of your time experiencing rather than accomplishing, then perhaps it makes sense to focus on the quality of your daily experiences and not merely on the heights of your accomplishments.  It’s nice to have a truly fantastic day where you accomplish something wonderful, but what about your normal days?

When you realize most of your life will be consumed by normal days rather than extraordinary ones, you may feel motivated to raise the overall quality of these normal days.

In the pursuit of a better normal day, here are ten changes I made that yielded strong positive results.  Hopefully this list will trigger some ideas you’ll be able to apply as well.  The overall concept is far more important than my particular menu of habits.

1. Getting an early start.  Last year I successfully conditioned the habit of getting up at 5:00am every morning.  Later I experimented with polyphasic sleep but stopped after 5.5 months when I felt it wasn’t serving me well enough.  Today I get up at 4:15am every morning, including weekends.  I used to be a night owl, but I love the positive effect that rising early has had on my life.  As you can imagine, the initial adaptation was very challenging, but like most ingrained habits, it’s trivially easy to maintain.  Getting an early start to every day makes me feel energetic, alert, and productive.  I have the time and energy to do things I couldn’t previously do.  This has been one of the most empowering changes I’ve ever made because it yields tangible rewards every single day.  If I could go back in time and install a new habit in my early 20s, this would be it.  If this habit interests you, be sure to read How to Become an Early Riser and How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off.

2. Physical exercise.  I’ve gone through a variety of different workout patterns over the years.  My current pattern is to hit the gym for 60-90 minutes first thing in the morning.  I do three days of cardio workouts and four days of weight-training each week.  If I feel burnt out or if my progress slows to a crawl (symptoms of overtraining), I might take a day or two off or substitute a long walk instead.  This habit yields massive benefits.  Perhaps the most noticeable is that my mental clarity is much greater, and I can concentrate deeply for hours at a time.  I think the minimum recommendation of exercising 20 minutes 3x per week is way too little.  For me the major benefits don’t really kick in until I do at least 150 minutes of aerobic/cardio exercise per week — below that level I tend to stagnate instead of seeing my fitness level improve.  This habit combines nicely with being an early riser, since I return home from my workouts before most people are awake.

3. Audio learning.  While exercising I normally listen to personal development audio programs and podcasts.  Sometimes I also listen while doing routine physical tasks like cooking or driving.  I started this habit during college, and it has served me well for the past decade and a half.  It doesn’t consume any extra time to do this, and it makes physical tasks more enjoyable.  I use an iPod Nano, a major improvement over the Walkman cassette player I used in college.  I also bought a $30 FM transmitter last year, so I can play my iPod on my car radio too.  By listening to inspirational and educational material every day, especially during my morning workout, I not only learn new ideas I can apply, but I also feel more positive throughout the day.

4. Meditation.  After my morning workout and shower, I usually meditate for about 30 minutes.  I prefer active visualization as opposed to trying to turn off all thought, although I sometimes enjoy the latter too.  If the kids are already waking up when I get home, I delay the meditation until later in the morning, but I almost always do it before starting my workday.  I get some of my best ideas while meditating, and I also use this time to visualize my goals and intentions.  Plus I enjoy it.  I don’t recall having any illnesses in the past year, so perhaps the combo of daily exercise and meditation keeps my immune system strong (both are known to be significant immune boosters).  The rest of my family has gone through a few illnesses that haven’t touched me.

5. Relaxing workspace.  Since I spend the bulk of each workday in my home office, I’ve fashioned it into a peaceful and enjoyable place to work.  With its trickling fountain, bamboo plants, scented candles, and new age music, it serves as my private sanctuary.  When I start work each day, I go through a 60-second ritual of turning on the fountain, lighting a few candles, and playing some music.  I typically feel very relaxed and peaceful throughout the day, regardless of the type of work I’m doing.  Transform your workspace into your favorite place to be, and watch the positive effect it has on your productivity.  I’ve designed mine primarily for relaxation and focus, but you can design it around any state you wish.  Use trial and error to see how various changes make you feel, and keep the ones that produce positive results.  The basic idea is that when you feel good, you’ll be more productive.  For details on how to improve your workspace, read Creating a Productive Workspace.

6. Self-employment.  I have to credit self-employment as a major factor in the quality of my normal days.  Being in control of my time is wond
erful, and I can’t imagine ever wanting a regular job.  If you think about it logically, isn’t it a bit silly that people think having a job is more secure than owning your own business?  Maybe that’s true when you’re just launching the business, but once the business is stable and profitable, there’s no comparison.  I can’t be fired or laid off, and I start out at the top, so there’s no need to worry about promotions.  If I ever need money fast, there are plenty of short-term value-producing ideas I can implement in a weekend to generate extra cash.  I can work on whatever interests me without having to request permission from some authority figure.  Earning money based on your results is much more flexible and less risky than earning money based on your time.  The biggest risk isn’t going broke; if you go broke, you’ll recover soon enough — that’s really no big deal.  The far greater risk is that you’ll miss opportunities, and that’s what most employees do every single day; their ripest value-generating ideas die on the vine.  No one benefits when that happens.  Even if you’re an employee, I highly recommend starting your own small business.  It’s important to have an outlet where you can fully express your greatest value and get paid fairly for it too.  For specific advice on how to do that, listen to Podcast #006 – How to Make Money Without a Job and Podcast #009 – Kick-start Your Own Business.  If you visit the audio section of the site, you can play them directly through your browser.

7. Effective communication management.  Due to the popularity of this web site and the personal nature of its topic, the sheer volume of feedback I receive can be overwhelming at times.  At first I diligently kept on top of it, believing that every query deserved a response, but soon I questioned the wisdom of that approach.  My long-term goals started to fall by the wayside as the influx of communication became dominant.  I had to decide where my primary loyalty should be:  with the individual readers who request help or with my ultimate vision.  It became clear that I couldn’t justify spending hours every day processing email.  I know some people run their lives through their email inbox, but through trial and error I’ve learned that approach doesn’t work for me because excessive communication inhibits my ability to concentrate and knocks me off course too easily.  Consequently, I severely limit the amount of time I spend on email.  Helping someone via email is a gooduse of my time, but it’s definitely not the best.  In order to write this article you’re reading now, dozens of emails I’ve received will go unanswered, but this article will be seen by thousands.  But more importantly I’ve noticed that when I limit the influx of external communication, I’m better able to hear the subtle guidance of my inner voice.  If you have a problem with focus and clarity in your life, could it be that you’re getting bounced around by an overload of communication?

8. Reading.  The simple habit of reading every day keeps my self-education moving forward.  It’s one of the reasons I’m able to churn out article after article without experiencing writer’s block.  I favor books because the quality and organization is usually superior to what’s found online.  9 out of 10 books I read are non-fiction, but occasionally I enjoy a good fiction book too.  I quite enjoyed Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series.

9. Deep conversation.  My wife and I have daily conversations about topics such as spirituality, the meaning of life, and the best ways for us to serve the greater good.  Since we work from home on weekdays and often go out on weekends, we have no shortage of time together.  I enjoy talking to my wife more than anyone else, and I feel fortunate to have found a woman who shares my passion for learning and exploration.  While many people aren’t into questioning what lies beyond the physical world on a daily basis, I find this practice extremely worthwhile.  It keeps me from getting sucked back into the socially conditioned patterns of fear and worry.  It doesn’t have to be your spouse, but I highly recommend finding a partner with whom you can discuss your most important life issues in an intelligent and supportive manner.  Many people crave this deep connection, but they allow fear to hold them back.

10. Journaling.  I’ve written about this previously in Journaling as a Problem-Solving Tool.  I keep two kinds of journals.  First, I use a computer journal to do long-term planning, problem-solving, and asking and answering personal development questions.  Sometimes my personal journal entries become seeds for future articles.  Thanks to its search capabilities, I can quickly look up solutions to previous problems I’ve encountered.  Secondly, I use a spiral notebook as my daily work journal.  I write my daily to-do lists in that journal, and I make notes throughout the day as I work.  About once a week, I process the paper journal items back into my master to-do list.  This ensures that ideas I get throughout the day are considered in light of my long-term goals, so I don’t let great ideas fall through the cracks, but nor do I get knocked off course by random thoughts throughout the day.  Both forms of journaling allow me to see what real progress I’m making in my personal and business growth.

The pattern to these habits is that they serve to keep me conscious.  They empower me with the energy, resources, and awareness to pursue my greatest aspirations without slipping into low-awareness living.  This framework enables me to choose how I spend each day instead of having those decisions made by forces outside my control.  None of these practices are particularly complicated, but most of them took a serious effort to install.  However, once they’ve been conditioned, they run on autopilot.  Now I just take them for granted as my current baseline.

Decide now to install just one new habit that will change your life for the better.  Then immediately begin a 30-day trial to condition it, and do whatever it takes to make it to day 30.  If your past efforts have fizzled, then use the strategy of Overwhelming Force to ensure that you succeed this time.  The ultimate payoff for this temporary effort is enormous.  Once you install several new habits, your normal days will become far more extraordinary.

Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public

Original title of this is “10 Ways to Optimize Your Normal Days”.

Steps on becoming an Early Riser–Part 1

It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.
– Aristotle
Are morning people born or made? In my case it was definitely made. In my early 20s, I rarely went to bed before midnight, and I’d almost always sleep in late. I usually didn’t start hitting my stride each day until late afternoon.
But after a while I couldn’t ignore the high correlation between success and rising early, even in my own life. On those rare occasions where I did get up early, I noticed that my productivity was almost always higher, not just in the morning but all throughout the day. And I also noticed a significant feeling of well-being. So being the proactive goal-achiever I was, I set out to become a habitual early riser. I promptly set my alarm clock for 5AM…
… and the next morning, I got up just before noon.
Hmmm…
I tried again many more times, each time not getting very far with it. I figured I must have been born without the early riser gene. Whenever my alarm went off, my first thought was always to stop that blasted noise and go back to sleep. I tabled this habit for a number of years, but eventually I came across some sleep research that showed me that I was going about this problem the wrong way. Once I applied those ideas, I was able to become an early riser consistently.
It’s hard to become an early riser using the wrong strategy. But with the right strategy, it’s relatively easy.
The most common wrong strategy is this: You assume that if you’re going to get up earlier, you’d better go to bed earlier. So you figure out how much sleep you’re getting now, and then just shift everything back a few hours. If you now sleep from midnight to 8am, you figure you’ll go to bed at 10pm and get up at 6am instead. Sounds very reasonable, but it will usually fail.
It seems there are two main schools of thought about sleep patterns. One is that you should go to bed and get up at the same times every day. It’s like having an alarm clock on both ends — you try to sleep the same hours each night. This seems practical for living in modern society. We need predictability in our schedules. And we need to ensure adequate rest.
The second school says you should listen to your body’s needs and go to bed when you’re tired and get up when you naturally wake up. This approach is rooted in biology. Our bodies should know how much rest we need, so we should listen to them.
Through trial and error, I found out for myself that both of these schools are suboptimal sleep patterns. Both of them are wrong if you care about productivity. Here’s why:
If you sleep set hours, you’ll sometimes go to bed when you aren’t sleepy enough. If it’s taking you more than five minutes to fall asleep each night, you aren’t sleepy enough. You’re wasting time lying in bed awake and not being asleep. Another problem is that you’re assuming you need the same number of hours of sleep every night, which is a false assumption. Your sleep needs vary from day to day.
If you sleep based on what your body tells you, you’ll probably be sleeping more than you need — in many cases a lot more, like 10-15 hours more per week (the equivalent of a full waking day). A lot of people who sleep this way get 8+ hours of sleep per night, which is usually too much. Also, your mornings may be less predictable if you’re getting up at different times. And because our natural rhythms are sometimes out of tune with the 24-hour clock, you may find that your sleep times begin to drift.
The optimal solution for me has been to combine both approaches. It’s very simple, and many early risers do this without even thinking about it, but it was a mental breakthrough for me nonetheless. The solution was to go to bed when I’m sleepy (and only when I’m sleepy) and get up with an alarm clock at a fixed time (7 days per week). So I always get up at the same time (in my case 5am), but I go to bed at different times every night.
I go to bed when I’m too sleepy to stay up. My sleepiness test is that if I couldn’t read a book for more than a page or two without drifting off, I’m ready for bed. Most of the time when I go to bed, I’m asleep within three minutes. I lie down, get comfortable, and immediately I’m drifting off. Sometimes I go to bed at 9:30pm; other times I stay up until midnight. Most of the time I go to bed between 10-11pm. If I’m not sleepy, I stay up until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. Reading is an excellent activity to do during this time, since it becomes obvious when I’m too sleepy to read.
When my alarm goes off every morning, I turn it off, stretch for a couple seconds, and sit up. I don’t think about it. I’ve learned that the longer it takes me to get up, the more likely I am to try to sleep in. So I don’t allow myself to have conversations in my head about the benefits of sleeping in once the alarm goes off. Even if I want to sleep in, I always get up right away.
After a few days of using this approach, I found that my sleep patterns settled into a natural rhythm. If I got too little sleep one night, I’d automatically be sleepier earlier and get more sleep the next night. And if I had lots of energy and wasn’t tired, I’d sleep less. My body learned when to knock me out because it knew I would always get up at the same time and that my wake-up time wasn’t negotiable.
A side effect was that on average, I slept about 90 minutes less per night, but I actually felt more well-rested. I was sleeping almost the entire time I was in bed.
I read that most insomniacs are people who go to bed when they aren’t sleepy. If you aren’t sleepy and find yourself unable to fall asleep quickly, get up and stay awake for a while. Resist sleep until your body begins to release the hormones that rob you of consciousness. If you simply go to bed when you’re sleepy and then get up at a fixed time, you’ll cure your insomnia. The first night you’ll stay up late, but you’ll fall asleep right away. You may be tired that first day from getting up too early and getting only a few hours of sleep the whole night, but you’ll slog through the day and will want to go to bed earlier that second night. After a few days, you’ll settle into a pattern of going to bed at roughly the same time and falling asleep right away.
So if you want to become an early riser (or just exert more control over your sleep patterns), then try this: Go to bed only when you’re too sleepy to stay up, and get up at a fixed time every morning.
Edit (5/31/05):  Due to the (mysterious) popularity of this post, I’ve written a follow-up with some extra detail and clarifications: How to Become an Early Riser – Part II. And if you really want to take sleep to the next level, read about my experiences with Polyphasic Sleep, where you only sleep 2-3 hours a day by taking 20-minute naps every few hours, around the clock.
Edit (5/29/06):  Be sure to read the related article How to Get Up Right Away When Your Alarm Goes Off.
Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “How to Become an Early Riser”.

The Need for a Productive Workspace

How would you like to permanently boost your productivity by making some simple changes to your work area? If you’re going to spend so much time at your desk, then make sure it’s going to be a pleasant experience.

How does your workspace make you feel?

If you’re at your desk right now, take a moment to clear your mind, and think about how your work area makes you feel. Take a deep breath and get a sense of the subtle energies you pick up. How does this place make you feel?

Do you feel stressed? Worried? Relaxed? Peaceful? Fired up? Motivated? Energized? Drained? Happy? Depressed? Overwhelmed? Busy? Important? Insignificant? Bored? Excited? Rushed? Angry? Creative? Aroused? Come up with a few words to describe the feeling you get from your environment.

I recommend you leave your work area, go someplace else for a few minutes, and then re-enter your work area so you can pick up a fresh impression. Notice how your feelings change very subtly as you enter your place. What do you notice about this change?

Get a second opinion

If you have a hard time sensing your work area objectively, get a second opinion. Grab a coworker who has a fairly different work area than yours, and invite him/her to sit down at your desk. Ask him/her how it feels to enter and to sit in your work area. Get several opinions if you like. Have some fun with your co-workers, and hop from desk to desk to see how each person’s work area feels. Sit in each chair and imagine what it would be like to work there for a day. Whose work area do you like best? Whose do you like least? Maybe even rate each one on a scale of 1-10.

Notice how each environment makes you feel. Also notice that no two are quite the same.

What’s different about the work areas you rated most highly? What did you like about them?

What if you don’t like how you feel?

If you realize your work area makes you feel lousy, that’s OK. Changing the way your work environment makes you feel isn’t too difficult. There’s always a way to improve it.

All you really need to do is follow this simple rule: If it feels right, it is right. If you use that as your guiding principle for making changes to your work environment, there’s no need to bring in a feng shui expert. I spent a good bit of time studying feng shui and ultimately felt that this simple rule covered about 80% of what I wanted to remember.

Imagine your ideal space

Identify how you’d like to feel in your work area. What mental state would you consider the very best to have as your daily default? Pick two or three words to describe it. When I did this, I chose relaxed, peaceful, and focused.

Now picture what kind of work environment would help to create the feelings you’ve selected, even if it doesn’t seem realistic to work in such a place. For example, if you chose to feel peaceful, what’s the most peaceful place you can imagine? Create a mental image of the ideal place for you to work.

Alter your space

Now take your imagined ideal space, and project it onto the reality you have to deal with. Maybe you can’t work on a mountain lake, but perhaps you can bring part of that vision into your real space. Make a list of simple changes you can make to your work area. If you’re not sure they’ll work, that’s OK. Think of these changes as experiments. If you don’t like them, you can always undo them.

One by one take some time to implement these changes. Add a poster, a fountain, a candle, a plant, or some photos. After making each change, notice how your feelings change. Remember to follow the rule, “If it feels right, it is right.” If a change feels wrong or neutral, then undo it and try something else.

I want to emphasize that the rule is, “If it feels right, it is right.” Note that I’m not saying, “If it looks right, it is right.” How your environment makes you feel is more important than how it looks.

Commanding position

The most valuable idea I got from studying feng shui was the concept of the commanding position. This is the position where you feel supported from behind (and optionally on the sides too) and open in the front. For example if your house has a mountain or hill behind it, then your home would be in the commanding position, much like a highly defensible castle. In workspace terms, the commanding position ideally means that you work facing the entrance to your work area and have a wall right behind you.

The commanding position creates a feeling of security. It makes it easier to relax when you work. When you have your back to the wall and you face the entrance to your workspace, your focus is forward, and a forward focus contributes to high productivity. You never have to concern yourself with someone approaching you from behind. If part of your focus is on what’s happening behind you, you’ll be more distracted, and your productivity will suffer.

I used to work with my desk against the back wall of my office, so my back was towards the door. That just seemed an efficient layout for my office. But after studying feng shui, I decided to give the commanding position a try and rearranged the furniture so that my back was to the wall and I could see the door. It made a noticeable difference even before I’d made any other changes. I felt more comfortable and relaxed. There’s something about the feeling of being supported from behind that makes it easier to work productively.

If you think of the layout of a top executive’s office, it’s almost invariably in the commanding position. The person sits facing the entrance to the room. You don’t walk into an executive’s office and see their back.

If you’ve never worked in the commanding position, find someone else who has their office setup this way, and go sit at their desk. Notice how different it feels versus if your back is to the entrance and you have to worry about people coming up behind you. Even if you have a door behind you with a lock, the commanding position is still better.

If you make only one change to your work area, this would be the one to make. Once you’ve tried it for a few months, you’ll never want to go back.

My experience

Several months ago I altered my home office with the intention of creating the feelings of relaxation, peace, and focus. It wasn’t difficult to do, and I made most of the changes in the first week. I gave myself a budget of $200 for the alterations, but I spent less than half of it. I wasn’t sure these changes would make any difference, but it was worth a try — even a small increase in productivity would be worth it. When I made these changes my office was designed with functionality and efficiency in mind, so I wanted to keep those benefits while changing the way the location felt to me.

Currently as I sit at my desk, I’m facing into the middle of the room, so I can see the door. On the wall behind me is a poster of a mountain forest (which further reinforces the commanding position). I count nine scented candles within reach of me, some in decorative candle holders with small rocks. The room smells of cranberry, since that’s the candle that’s burning right now. There are three plants in the room: a medium-sized one on my filing cabinet and two small bamboo plants. The bamboo plants are next to a small fountain, which creates background sounds of water splashing over rocks. Behind the fountain and bamboo plants is a small mirror, which has the visual effect of doubling their presence. Relaxing music is playing through my PC speakers (currently I’m listening to Enya’s new Amarantine CD, which is one of my favorites). There are a few decorations around the room: a small stuffed yellow bear, a dragon sculpture, a turtle sculpture, a couple stone gargoyles, a miniature zen rock garden, and a crossbow. I keep my office organized and uncluttered as well, which contributes to the feelings of relaxation, peace, and focus.

When I sit down at my desk, switch on the fountain, light a candle, and put on some relaxing music, it often feels like I’m about to get a massage rather than go to work. Because the environment is so peaceful and relaxing, it’s hard for me to feel stressed or overwhelmed. I look forward to going to my office because it’s a nice place to live, not just a productive place to work. I’m sure I’ll continue improving it over the years ahead, but I’m pretty happy with the results so far.

When my wife sat down at my desk after I made the initial changes, she remarked at how different it felt. In fact, she became instantly jealous. Eventually she decided to work on transforming her office too. For Christmas I gave her a fountain and some scented candles to get her started. She set them up on a corner of her desk, and even that small change gives her work area a very different feel.

If you don’t like it, change it

If you find yourself too often feeling stressed, overwhelmed, bored, unmotivated, frustrated, etc. at work, perhaps your environment is reinforcing is these negative states. Take those feelings as a signal to make some changes and create a more balanced and comfortable work area for yourself. A few simple changes you make today can serve you for years to come.

And don’t just read about it, think about it, or talk about it. Go do it! You’ll be glad you did.

Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public

Original title of this is “Copyright information for this article is found here — Steve Pavlina Releases his Work to the Public
Original title of this is “Creating a Productive Workspace”.