I’ve been reading Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning. This in the aftermath of reading Deep Work by Cal Newport (highly recommended) and then The One Thing by Gary Keller. I usually approach self help books with cynicism, end up gaining some useful advice, some not so useful, and then struggling to remember it. The thinking behind Deep Work has stayed with me – make time for regular distraction-free work – and I’d been thinking of ways to implement it, hence the attraction of Elrod’s title and of Keller’s.
The big (only?) advantage of sleep-deprived nights with a small child is that you get to know what 5am looks like (and 3am and 4am of course). Early rising might still be a shock to the system, but it isn’t a surprise. It’s painful, sometimes achingly so, but I know it’s achievable, because I’ve had to force myself out of bed and awake many many times. Therefore when looking for some thinking and planning time in my schedule (desperately needed, otherwise I wouldn’t consider it) I’ve been thinking about mornings and whether I could get up before the small person – who isn’t a baby anymore – and do something meaningful, now he tends to sleep until 6.30 / 7ish. (If I can get round the problem of him waking up if he hears me moving around!)
This is a roundabout way of describing how I came to buy an American self-help book about getting up early, when you might think I’d use the time to catch up on the sleep I’d missed over the last few years.
What Elrod suggests seems obvious at first: breathe, meditate, do yoga, journal, exercise etc etc. I know I want to do most those things regularly plus others: think, dance, write, walk, daydream, draw, do yoga. Do I do them every day or even every week? No. I use the excuse Elrod says everyone uses: too busy. I have other good excuses: disabled, working full-time, sleep deprived, grieving the loss of my grandmothers and my father, looking after small person, supporting my wife. But also it’s a case of saying “If not now, when?” Like I said, I REALLY need some thinking and planning time. Actually having that time will help me manage and come to terms with those things, or at least begin to process. In other words, I have to find sometime to be alone, and that hour before the house wakes up is too precious to ignore.
Here’s the point I really want to make, though. This has everything to do with being a parent (why I need to be organised, & how I realised I needed to be organised) but also nothing to do with being a parent (I need this anyway, especially in my writing life). I learnt this in the Girl Guides but still don’t seem to have mastered it: be prepared! In order to have what Elrod calls a ‘Miracle Morning’, in fact, in order to function properly, I need to prepare the night before. I need a ‘Miracle Evening’. Again, the need to prepare sounds obvious, but do I do it? No. Too busy.
I’m pretty good (bordering on exceptional) at being macro organised, at what you could call project management. I’m good at knowing the steps it will take to get to an end result. I saw easily, for example, how having better bookshelves would improve our lives by freeing up space, measured up, contacted friends about a carpenter, and got him round. Given the time, I can plan a menu a month in advance and buy for it from the supermarket offering the best deals, plan quirky stop off points for our holiday, or book tickets and a babysitter for the opening night of Ghostbusters. Plus plenty of more complicated projects at work. That’s not the problem. The problem is this. The tautology – often touted as an example of bad writing – ‘plan ahead’ has nuances for me. I can plan ahead. I’m good at it. I’m not so good at micro planning. Because of my dyspraxia, my short term memory and scheduling skills need much work. I know this. Hence the need to prepare the day before. (Kind of ironic, then, that these difficulties also contribute to the problems I have preparing the day before.)
For example, a few weeks back I forgot my pin number for my bank card, so missed my train. I ended up buying the ticket online there and then (on my phone) – you don’t need the pin – ironically whilst next to the ticket machines and ticket office – but then you have to wait at least 15 mins to pick the ticket up. (You see, I could have bought the ticket online the night before if I’d thought about it and hadn’t been so exhausted, but I didn’t and I was, if you see what I mean.) So I went for a cup of tea, eating an almond croissant that my waistline could have done without, spending money I would have saved if I had had a flask with me. Although I read my book (and arguably taking a bit of time out was a good thing) I could have been on the train. I didn’t have time for lunch when I got there, leaving me lunching (no packed lunch in my bag) on the way back on a microwaved Ginsters’ slice on the train platform at 3pm, which is extreme desperate measures for me – it was that or chocolate as the cafe closed as I got there. If you like, my lack of planning tastes of almond croissant and microwaved Ginsters’. Not good.
Now I’m going to sidestep the pretty obvious lesson there for anyone who thinks ‘dyslexia’ equals just inability to spell or read well (to be brief: when dyslexia and dyspraxia co-occur, as they do for me, they often get treated as if they’re the same thing) and make the following point instead. I realised – I had plenty of time to work through Hal’s book during the train problems cited above (!) – that I need to compensate for my difficulty with micro planning and scheduling by being proactive. I need my ‘Miracle Evening’, too. Again, like with Hal Elrod’s ‘6 habits that will transform your life’, these 6 things seem obvious, and they are compensatory for me, because of my (I never know what to call it) learning disability, neuro-divergence, different way of thinking. It’s clear to my why I haven’t been doing these things, under the general heading of ‘exhaustion’, but ultimately to be a better writer, I need to do them. Here’s what my ‘miracle evening’ would look like (after the collapse on the sofa obvs.):
- Appreciate what I’ve achieved today – with a ‘have done’ list if possible. (Try it. It’s a great confidence booster.)
- Project manage this week. Plan tomorrow and look ahead at the whole week. Use the diary.
- Micro plan: Even if I think I’ve already done it, micro plan the practicalities: Food, drink, money, travel, tickets, bag, outfit, reading material / work, school pick ups.
- Read: anything I need to for tomorrow, even if it’s a skim read OR schedule reading time. Of course I read for fun as well but this is prep time.
- Journal. My tendency is to want to write too much, so for me this one is about allowing myself to write bullets or notes and not pages and pages. I also have a pain diary for my hips – filling it in regularly would help me manage and acknowledge my condition. A food diary would also help. In other words there are specific things I’d like to record.
- Wind down. Stare out of the window, look at the sea, daydream, do yoga, meditate, listen to a guided meditation: do any kind of relaxation that doesn’t involve social media, TV or eating cheese and crackers.
The most successful schedule I ever created was an evening one and crucially, it wasn’t really a schedule, it was a routine. What was it? The little one’s bedtime routine. We’ve used it since he came home from hospital, we’re flexible with it, and it works brilliantly. The best thing about it is that it provides a structure, and I love how it creates time for storytelling.
It’s better for me to say I will create an evening routine out of the above list of 6 habits, and work flexibly with them every evening for at least half an hour, than it is for me to say that I’m going to ‘give up TV’ or ‘stop snacking past 8pm’ in order to manage my time better. Creating a routine would be a start. It would also be a step towards the light, a way of taking care of myself.
What would your ‘miracle evening’ look like?