Changing habits is hard. It is often a multi-step process that doesn’t fit neatly into a before-and-after story. However, slow progress is still progress and, over time, slow progress can help you build the life you want.
All that is a long way of getting at today’s (also long!) story: a time makeover for one busy woman whose days didn’t look the way she wished them to look.
Lenore is a “forty-something Fortune 500 exec turned tech startup entrepreneur,” as she describes herself. “I live alone and have no children, just a sassy little dog and a loving, yet neglected, boyfriend. The tech startup world is a roller coaster and I’m struggling to control my workaholic tendencies and maintain structured time management. I have the same 168 hours everyone else has, and less demands (no kids, husband or boss), but am embarrassed to admit I still struggle. I’m always busy, sometimes productive, but never feel like I control my day. I feel like my day controls me.”
I asked Lenore to keep track of her time for a week for me. She sent it in with this analysis:
“It was both eye-opening and frustrating to see my use of time. I’m addicted to snooze – I have been since high school. Email rules me (I’m not sure why – I rarely have urgent emails — habit I guess). I always feel rushed and run late – things always take longer than I expect. I get a lot done in a day…more than most people…but I always want to do more (classic workaholic). I have a hard time sticking to a schedule…with very few external forces (kids, husband, boss, etc) I have a tendency to blow with the wind.”
Looking over Lenore’s log, I thought point number 1 — the battle with the snooze button — was a root cause of all the other issues: the passivity with her time, the rushing, even her tendency to skip meals.
Long time readers know that I think the snooze button is evil. First issue: sleep is great. Sleep is wonderful! But sleeping in 9-10 minute increments is a sad version of the real thing. If you are tired, you will do better sleeping until you really intend to get up and enjoying every last minute of deep sleep until then, rather than attempting to slowly wake yourself with the snooze button.
Second: Human beings possess a limited amount of willpower. Over the course of a day, we often use it up, which is why diets are broken at night, and you rarely hear about crimes of passion occurring at 6 a.m. Hitting snooze amounts to fighting a battle with yourself, and using up precious willpower, on nothing more meaningful than if you will get up now or sleep for 10 more minutes. Why not use that same willpower to make your tech start-up profitable?
Finally, many snoozers have this idea that tomorrow will be the day they don’t hit snooze. So they don’t build the snooze time into their mental model of life. That makes them late and makes them skip breakfast, so they grab something big mid-morning, but then they’re not hungry at lunch. Of course, then they’re starving at 4 p.m., so they grab something awful from the vending machine and… etc. Lenore’s time log showed a fair amount of such unstructured eating.
I mentioned this to her, and asked if she was willing to try quitting the snooze habit. She was. “I have been trying to quit the snooze habit all my life,” she told me. “I’ve tried almost everything EXCEPT being accountable to someone else.”
So we hatched a plan.
- She decided to put her alarm clock in the kitchen. That would force her to get out of bed and go downstairs.
- She would put a treat (caffeinated tea — a drink she liked) in the kitchen to reward herself for getting up.
- She would get to bed at least 7-7.5 hours before her target wake-up time. Originally, this was going to be 5:30 a.m. most days, but see below for more on this.
- She would try to “let it go” at night. “At night I have so many things I want to do I struggle to go to bed,” she told me. But there will always be more to do. If she made her peace with this at 10:30 p.m., rather than at midnight, she might at least be able to get a decent night of sleep. She intended to try reading around 10 p.m. or so to bribe herself into bed.
So how did it go? Day 1 was a success. She didn’t hit snooze, and she had “a wonderfully productive day.” She ate 3 meals AND took a yoga class. But as she pointed out, “one day does not a trend make.” We can move heaven and earth on the first day of a new habit, and she could already see the storm clouds brewing. As she wrote me on day 1, “I still have so much to do to prepare for some meetings tomorrow.” She resolved to resist the urge to work all night. She would get up and do it faster in the morning.
The next few days brought some challenges. She was going to check in with me, but I started getting notes like “I missed sending you a note yesterday…sorry, Friday was a crazy rushed day which is exactly what I’m trying to FIX. My day happened to me, I didn’t happen to my day. So actually it is a very good example of my challenges with time management.”
The saga: “It all started Thursday night…I had not finished a presentation I needed for an 11am meeting and my house was a wreck. Since my boyfriend was coming over on Friday night and I had meetings scheduled all afternoon it was important that my house got tidied up. But, I committed to myself I was going to do yoga at least 3 times a week and there was a 6pm yoga class. Normally I would have skipped the class and worked/cleaned, but I went to the class instead. I did as much as I could before bedtime but it was still not done, I remembered in one of your books saying something about resisting the temptation to have everything perfect…so I went to bed at 10:30 reluctantly. When the alarm went off at 5:30 I woke up and stayed up more due to panic than anything else. I was able to finish my presentation, and possibly with the time pressure I did it in a shorter amount of time….same thing with cleaning up my house. I’m not sure if that is good or bad…doing things faster is good, having to do them the day they are due in a panic is bad.”
She intended to follow a rough schedule on the weekend, but she was so worn out from the previous days that it didn’t happen. There may have been a bottle of wine consumed at some point in there. “It was a mess of a night.”
My personal take is that weekends are an entirely different issue. I also wasn’t so sure that 5:30 a.m. was a good target time for her. She more needed to focus on getting enough sleep and not hitting snooze. The actual time she got up was a secondary issue.
She was coming around to this too, and also figuring out that her daily to-do list was a problem. “I always have unrealistic goals of what I need to accomplish. If I can get a day ahead or make more realistic expectations, maybe I can truly kick the snooze habit and control my days better.”
The next week she started again. She wrote me with “Just a quick mid-week update….doing OK this week. Mon & Tues very good, today… I hit snooze once but that is really good because I usually hit it 4 times.”
I had noted that I thought her issue was partly mid-week sleep deprivation. Her worst day in her time log was after she’d slept about 6-6.5 hours. “You were totally right about the 6.5 hours sleep – it is not enough. If I get 7.5 hours…getting up without snooze is pretty easy. But if I get less…it is hard to resist the snooze button.”
Later that week: “Thursday was painful because I stayed up too late on Wednesday. Today was ok because I went to bed on time. 7+ hours of sleep plus the alarm clock in the kitchen with a ‘treat’ has helped tremendously.”
Slowly she started to build the number of days in a row she could sleep enough and get up when she wanted to get up. She also learned to be flexible about wake up time: “My goal was 5:30 every day AND no snooze. I think I need to change it to be just ‘no snooze’. Then I need to set the alarm downstairs at the proper time to wake up ‘for that day’ and not hit snooze. Then I will at least feel like I am successful.”
So that’s what she did. She wrote me a few days later that “Now that I separated snooze from the time in my mind, it is much better. I ‘feel’ more successful. I still have to put my phone downstairs as ‘bait’ to get (and stay) out of bed. If the phone is by my bedroom, I still succumb to the ‘10 more minutes’ habit. But with the phone downstairs beckoning me it is easier. I made a deal with myself that I get a minimum of 7 hours sleep. So if I stay up late, then I have to change my wake up time. So there is no more ‘stealing’ hours from sleep. Because, I steal hours, I have to pay them back, with snooze, a nap or low productivity.” Her body was slowly adjusting to this schedule. Waking up in the morning was easier. Sometimes she was waking up before the alarm. For a long-time snoozer, this was a major victory. “I think I have the mindset and the techniques that will help me succeed. I just have to keep doing them consistently – that is the key!!”
The take-away: Set reasonable goals. Be accountable to someone else. Reward success and get back on the wagon as soon as you can after failure.
Have you kicked a snooze button habit?
Photo: This is what gets me out of bed in the morning!