System Reset: An Experiment in Life-Shifting

Working for oneself has its advantages, but sometimes it’s a double-edged sword. While there are definitely benefits to having the freedom to do what you want when you want, one downside for me has been the development of several bad habits, like:

  1. Email. I have a bad tendency of going straight to the computer as soon as I get up in the morning and then easily losing one or two hours to email and news feeds, which causes me to work in reactive mode and end the day feeling like I’m behind and that I didn’t do what I needed to do to move my business forward.
  2. Long days. I’m not against working long days now and then, but I am against working for work’s sake, and on many days, I have a bad habit of not staying aware of the hours I’m putting in or paying attention to whether or not I’m even getting anything worthwhile done.
  3. Ignoring natural rhythms. For a long time, I’ve considered myself an insomniac and have experimented with tons of ways for getting to sleep and staying asleep, all to no avail. In truth, I might just be a night owl trying to be an early bird or only need six hours of sleep instead of eight. By ignoring my natural sleep-wake rhythms, I’ve set things up to be a constant struggle, and it’s established a routine that doesn’t seem to work with how I’m hard-wired.

Breaking bad habits and routines is a real challenge, which in my case I knew would require a complete system reset. That’s a lot easier to do when you’re on vacation or when you make a major change in your life, like moving or starting a new job, but how do you hit the reset button when everything is the same in your environment?

A Complete Break in Routine

My system reset started accidentally. After several late nights before and during the holidays, I found myself staying up even later than usual, often until 4 or 6 AM. For the first few nights, I was frustrated by it, but after I couldn’t get back on schedule, I decided to take advantage of the time and get a little bit of work done. After a couple of days working that way, I started to see that I was actually getting more done, and I wasn’t falling into my old and established habits.

My new (and experimental) schedule looks something like this:

  • Somewhere between 10 PM and 12 AM, I start working, and I work until 4 or 6 AM.
  • I sleep from 6 AM until noon and then get up, eat a light breakfast/lunch, and get ready.
  • I spend the entire afternoon and evening however I want, catching a 30-minute nap some time between 6 and 8 PM, and then I’m free again until it’s time to start work.

Here are a few of the positive changes I’ve noticed so far:

  • I go to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow (a nice change of pace from my regular two to four hours’ of tossing and turning).
  • I eat when I’m hungry (since I have no idea when I should be eating!), which has proven to be a good way to lose weight and eat healthier.
  • I’m working six to eight hours a day instead of ten or twelve, a major improvement that keeps me focused on the most important tasks that need to get done.
  • I have a lot more free time to spend with family and friends or even by myself, and as an added bonus, shopping and running errands is a lot easier because of the hours I’m free.
  • I’m breaking old habits. When I start my “work day,” I’m not falling into my old routine. When I say that it’s time to start working, I actually start working right then and there on the most important things, since I know that I’ll actually be tired at 6 AM and ready for some sleep!

In the end, it’s probably just tricking myself into a new routine. I don’t know that I’ll stick with this schedule in the long term, but I can say that this is the one thing I’ve tried that’s actually fixing many of the ongoing problems I’ve had until now, including insomnia and bad work habits. The real test will be seeing if this hard reset has a lasting impact on my bad habits, even when back on my old schedule.

I know major life-shifting like this isn’t possible in all cases, but if you’re having trouble breaking bad habits you’ve established for yourself, it might be time to try finding ways to disrupt your routine and give yourself a system reset.

Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a major life shift that impacted your work schedule in a positive way?

Photo courtesy Flickr user Xelcise

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