This week has been a week of reset, recovery. I wrapped up an article for an upcoming iPad magazine^[“The Limits of Empathy”, in Offline Magazine] and book-wise started rewriting against a new outline I’d made from a throwaway draft of my next novel. My goal is a readable first draft before my thirtieth birthday in November.
It’s also been a somewhat atypical week: I’ve been out every night for birthdays and shows and going-away parties. I’ve been drinking a little more than usual. And I’m fighting the fear of loss and the unknown that comes with starting a rewrite (more on this another time).
This week I also discussed my daily habits in detail over at Sunday Routine:
I wake up at 8am and immediately do push-ups. I do push-ups until fail and then brush my teeth. I go to the kitchen and make a protein shake and boil some water with the electric kettle. While the water’s boiling I wash the dishes in the sink, and I grab an empty mug and put a strainer basket in the mug and tea leaves in the strainer basket. I drink strong, malty black teas in the mornings, a holdover from when I used to drink coffee, and while the tea is steeping I go back to my bedroom and make my bed. When the tea’s done, I retrieve it from the kitchen and sit down at the desk in my bedroom and wake my laptop …
This routine started coalescing last fall, when I was working from home the week of Hurricane Sandy. I knew I would be stuck in Brooklyn for at least a few days, and knew that if I didn’t establish some kind of structure I would end up squandering my time, like I did in the winter months of 2008 after I’d left my job in advertising and was freelancing without a fixed schedule. That hurricane weekend I was focused mainly on waking up at a consistent time and changing the habit – since my phone is also my alarm – of checking email, etc. as soon as I woke up. As the weeks went by I found myself taking breaks and having meals around the same time; both consciously and subconsciously apportioning my hours in other ways, creating blocks for exercising, reading. Three months ago I started taking daily online language lessons. Three weeks ago I started meditating in the evenings.
I’d long admired the amount of discipline it seemed to require to have a daily routine like Ben Franklin’s, and in the past while I was working in offices I’d tried and failed to adopt similarly detailed routines. Part of it was the demands of an office environment, the contingency on colleagues and clients’ schedules, but the other part, I realized recently, was that I was seeing some of these routines without seeing how they came to be, how they evolved over time. It was the keyframe bias at work. A lot of discipline might be required to write down a new schedule and stick to it, but a significantly smaller amount is required to start doing one small thing differently each day, and to observe and define the natural patterns that you fall into as a result. And over time introduce other small changes.
On weeks like this one when I notice my schedule starting to slip, I try to focus on the very beginning. I try to wake at eight and do push-ups – the action that cascades into all the other actions.