I admit it. I’m a bit of a productivity nerd.
I try to configure every day to get the ‘important’ stuff done. Not surprisingly then, I love early mornings. But not for the reasons you might think. Not because they allow me to get a head-start on my to do list. Precisely the opposite in fact.
It’s true that getting up early, does make me feel like I’ve stolen a march on the day. I love that first cup of tea in the silence before anyone else stirs other than the birds. (Mostly seagulls partying, where I am now.)
But more than anything, I love the freedom.
Freedom is the operative word. This time before my ‘real day’ begins really feels ‘free’.
I don’t have anything scheduled into it. There’s nothing I ‘have’ to do.
What I do in my my un-structured time
Nominally, this ‘early morning slot is set aside for working on my current ‘big’ none-art project. (Right now, this is completely re-writing and re-envisioning my book on the 8 Habits of Creative Practice.) But I don’t feel I have to work on this when I get up early.
I work on my big project if I’ve had a good night’s sleep and I feel raring to go. I feel great when I move this project forward, but if I’ve had a really sub-optimal night and I feel groggy and a bit ick, I do whatever the fancy takes me.
And here lies the rub.
Your subconscious has its own approach to using time
Whatever I choose to do with this time - catch up with some articles on my reading list, write in my journal, finish a seemingly-procrastinatory mind-map, or just open the back door and breathe - it turns out to be time really, really well spent.
My subconscious seems to hone in on exactly what I need most to do on that particular morning and my chosen activity almost always rewards me with insights and ‘aha’ moments.
“One of the reasons people often ignore my advice to free write is the very reason it can be so valuable: it seems inefficient in the moment. In truth, it is. However, as in so many areas of life and work, we often confuse short-term efficiency with long-term effectiveness. This means that we fail to do the very things that will add disproportionate value in the long term while continuing to labor over short-term activities that give us a sense of forward progress, but ultimately rob us of our unique, valuable contribution.”Todd Henry - Louder than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice
Why completely scheduling your day is overkill
Much as I love honing my daily timetable for maximum productivity, I have to recognise that this early morning unstructured time is super-productive albeit in a different way.
It comes back to that need I’ve talked about before for leaving space for creativity to happen. Reaching new insights is a clear sign that our creativity is working at its optimum.
Let's be clear here. I’m certainly not advocating that you remove any kind of structure from your day. I believe it's essential to have some structure if you're going to maintain a healthy and sustainable creative practice.
But if - like me - you’re a bit of a productivity geek, please don’t forget to leave yourself some unstructured time.
It doesn’t have to be first thing in the morning. But it has to be yours to do with as the fancy takes you.
That’s why it’s called free time, after all.
“Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”William Faulkner