It has been irritating me a bit that I find it hard to start my work day. I drop the kids off at school, come home and I should get straight on down to work. It’s not like I haven’t got a lot to do – I have. And I love my work and I’m super-motivated. But somehow I still find it hard to get going.
My days start early. I’m up with my smallest at 5:15 a.m. for a bit of Dora the Explorer and we head into a marathon two-plus hours of getting three boys up and ready for school. No idea why it takes that long but it does. I finally drop kids off at various places and head back home at about 8:15 a.m.
If I was telling a different story I’d say that when I get home, I open up my computer pop my head down and do lots of work.
But – *sigh* – I don’t.
What really happens is this. I pop the kettle on and start my computer. While they are both warming up, I pick up a few stray clothes. That takes me to the laundry, where I pop a load on and tidy up a bit. Then I remember the tea and go back to the kitchen to make it. While doing that I check my phone, read a few emails and wander down a couple of internet rabbit holes. When I reach a digital dead-end, I trundle off to my computer. Every day, I promise myself that as soon as I sit down I’ll get straight into the work. But I don’t. I take a quick look at Facebook, my emails (again), my to-do list (in case it has magically changed), back to Facebook, quick detour on to a few articles and … Well, let’s just say, by the time my tea is stone cold I’m ready to start.
It drives me crackers. I’m short on time, and yet I’m too undisciplined to start work sooner. And nothing – NOTHING – I’ve tried seems to change it.
But now I’ve discovered that this half an hour of faffing is actually really good for me. Oh my. Who would have thought? Faffing is ‘tuning in’ time and we all need it.
It turns out that we can’t just swap from “home head” to “work head” without some sort of transition. We all need routines and rituals to get us started. It’s kind of like tuning our minds into work.
If you work outside your home and have a decent ( 20 minute-plus) commute, your travel time tunes you into your “work head”. But if you don’t travel to work, you need to do something else to tune up.
Oh, happy days! That’s a license to spend our first twenty minutes of the work day tinkering about.
What I’ve learned is this:
1. We all need ‘tuning in’ time so don’t fight it.
2. Most of us need between 20 minutes and half an hour.
3. We develop an ad hoc tuning-in routine (me: tea, tidying, laundry, Facebook etc) but it’s fine to change it. I’ve ditched tidying the house and now just read with a cuppa!
4. “Tuning-in” time is a lovely way to start the day and makes us much more productive.
5. If you return to work after dinner you might need to tune-in again.
Not convinced? Have a read of this by author Stephen King (from Daily Routines)
“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.
“It’s not any different than a bedtime routine,” he continued. “Do you go to bed a different way every night? Is there a certain side you sleep on? I mean I brush my teeth, I wash my hands. Why would anybody wash their hands before they go to bed? I don’t know. And the pillows are supposed to be pointed a certain way. The open side of the pillowcase is supposed to be pointed in toward the other side of the bed. I don’t know why.”
This article first appeared on the The Business Bakery blog.
Julia Bickerstaff advises small businesses through her consultancy The Business Bakery and is the author of How to Bake a Business.