That New Job Smell

That New Job Smell

A friend of mine has to get up early to head to work everyday, and makes a habit of stopping at a local place to get breakfast at 7AM to ease into the day. This sounded very interesting to me.

As a freelancer with tendencies to stay up late, my daily working hours tend to fluctuate with the particular mix of projects I have going on. As a result, I’m always constantly fighting my sleeping rhythm to keep some semblance of normal waking hours. Complicating my working rhythm is the ongoing effort to be more social, meeting friends at normal times after work. The net result is that I’m almost always tired during the day, which affects productivity and keeps me up late. I also like seeing the sun, however briefly, for at least part of the day. The net result: I don’t really feel good about my working schedule, because doesn’t synch my social life, sleep cycle, and working energy in a productive manner.

So, on Monday I’m going to start a two week rhythm-establishing experiment. That is, I’m going to:

  • Wake up every day at 630AM
  • exercise (that’s new, too)
  • shower
  • head out to the same place every morning to grab a cheap cup of coffee
  • Review the day’s work to be done, and compare to the previous day’s progress
  • Map out the course of the day, with some immediate tasks (probably using the Emergent Task Timer)
  • Head home, and do a 4-hour work block
  • Eat lunch
  • Do a second 4-hour work block
  • Eat dinner
  • In bed by 1030PM

The theory is that since not having a daily schedule (my 2006 experiment) didn’t quite yield the results I wanted, training my body to be awake at predictable times might be the way to maximize my productive juices. Also, I’ve been playing this game called Harvest Moon, which is a farming role-playing game for various console gaming systems. Every day my in-game alter-ego has to wake up at 6AM, hoe, seed, water, and harvest a variety of crops throughout the year for profit. On top of that, there are festivals to attend, search mines for treasure, fish, and make various farm improvements. You can raise chickens, sheep, cows, train your dog to fetch balls, so they can win prizes that impress various woo-able girls. It’s a lot of work; in fact, there’s no way you can do it all in a single game “day” because your character becomes fatigued and will pass out. As I played the game I got the distinctly uncomfortable feeling that I was learning stuff about life that I should have already known.

The last time I did anything like keep a regular schedule was when I worked in Boston, and I was very keen on maintaining a working rhythm for reasons of energy. The morning and evening drive would sap a lot of my energy, and ultimately I found it wasn’t workable because I ended up not having any time to do my own things.

As I thought about the old job, I remembered the extra sharpness that a new job tends to bring to one’s self, so for fun I am going to pretend I have a new job:

So I’m working for a company run by this guy Dave Seah, and my primary job function will be to get his business and design processes running smoothly to improve both workflow billables and customer service, to replace the ad-hoc system that’s in place now. I’m sure I’m going to be horrified by what I see. My secondary job function is to build the tangible assets of the studio, both what can be “seen”, and in terms of “packaged process” that can be readily shown or applied to client businesses. At the moment, the assets are scattered all over the place. An overall consideration is that the systems I put in place support—not impede—the creative process that is at the heart of the practice. Mr. Seah hates accounting, but he’s accepted that a certain measure of this (I’m thinking daily review, at minimum) is necessary. Lastly, Mr. Seah wants to regularize the workflow and project management such that no one has to burn the midnight oil every single night. Steady, measurable, profitable progress is more highly valued…we want people to go home every night to spend time with their family and friends, and to feel good about the progress they’re making in terms of the project work and their own growth. The challenge will be to maintain a high level of creative energy as well; innovation and original thinking is so very highly valued here. Creative energy and methodical process would seem to be mutually-exclusive ideals, but I’ve got some ideas.

Oops, it’s 1045PM already, and I’ve got to get to bed. I’m working Monday to get a head start even though it’s a holiday.


  1. Lynn O'Connor 14 years ago

    If its any comfort, after many years of being a night person (I have people calling and doors banging all day long, so the only time I’ve had to write and do my own work is after 10 or 11 PM), I found myself getting too tired in the evening to be really productive, then I’d stay up anyway until 5 AM, with a dull feeling all over, and then sleep until 11 AM, when the phone starts ringing again, and its the same thing all over. So a week ago I resolved to change my whole schedule and life around. How could I possibly do this? I figured that if I found myself staying up past 2 AM, I would make myself stay up all night so I could fall asleep by 10 or 11PM the following night, and whatever my sleep cycle, I would always get up at 6:30 AM.

    Success so far! Today was day 6, and so far so good. A few nights I couldn’t fall asleep before 2 AM, I have a very long habit to break. But I haven’t had to stay up all night, and I’ve awoken every morning by 6:30 AM. This has made me very happy, and far more productive. Furthermore no one has figured out that I’ve changed my schedule, so no one has started calling at 8 AM, so I am still getting the best part of the awake time to work on my own stuff, without anyone calling. The thing that made the difference was promising myself that if I was up past 2 AM, its an all nighter for me with no sleeping in until 11 or noon.

    As for exercise, I have never been into it until six months ago when discovered Kundalini Yoga, which I call rock and roll Yoga. I fell in love with “Anna and Ravi” purchased at Amazon. My favorite is still “Beginners and Beyond.” This believe me, is even stranger than getting up at 6:30 AM. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

    Now going out for breakfast, that might be too much regularity for my system, and I guess I’m not ready for that one. Let us know how it goes.


  2. TesTeq 14 years ago

    I suggest you to experiment a little with your wake up hour. Since there are some phases in the human sleep it is possible that it would be easier for you to wake up at 06:15 or 06:40.

  3. Single Malt Sam 14 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experiments in productivity.

    I, personally, love the first cup of coffee in the morning, and find my best work and focus is between 6-9am.  I prefer the air, the light and innocence of the day.  I’m most creative and it takes me longer to get frustrated or mentally blocked over things.

    Between 9-11 and 3-5 I have attention malfunctions and use that time to do exercise and read my email/feeds/shopping and eat. After 5 I can usually squeeze another hour or two in.  But its my worst.

    I have been using the Flash ETT, its amazing how effective the tick box incentive or blank box shame is.
    Thank you greatly.

  4. Mike 14 years ago

    Best of luck on your new goals. Getting up earlier is one of the hardest things I have had to teach myself. I’ve heard experts say it take 90 days to form a habit. I would have to say this seems about right for what it took me to get really comfortable with getting up at 5 everyday.
    Good luck with the new boss too, I have heard some things about that guy :-)

  5. Peter Flaschner 14 years ago

    Dave – waking up early has been a huge, massive gain for me. I just get so much more done.

    I use the mornings for reading, planning, marketing, strategy, and blogging. I can’t design my way out of a paper bag until after lunch. But because I’ve got all the “stuff” out of the way in the morning, my afternoons are incredibly productive.

    Regarding exercise, you may find it useful to bump your exercise session to after lunch. Working out can give you a real energy surge – something useful in the afternoon, especially if you’ve been up for ages.

  6. Sam Beaven 14 years ago

    Thanks for reminding me about Harvest Moon – such an awesome series and a great way to learn about task management and scheduling and such. Except it’s a lot more fun than I just made it sound.

    I’m trying to enforce a similar system without much luck so far. I think I’ll go back to playing Harvest Moon on my GBA as soon as I wake up to act as some sort of stimulation.

  7. bryan 14 years ago

    You’ve helped us; we help you!

    Accountability check.  It’s Monday! How are you doing?

  8. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Lynn: That’s the cycle I was in!!! Glad to hear that you’re making those changes! I’ll hit you in email about that some more :-)

    TestTeq: Good advice…last night I was actually noting when I was waking up to see if I could catch the phases. I went to sleep at midnight (late night IMs) and woke up briefly at 1:30AM and 4:00AM, then found it difficult to wake up at 6:30. Got out of bed at around 6:45. I’m hoping to figure out what the optimal wakeup time is, based on those sleep cycles. Part of the inspiration for this is JWynia’s experience, so I think we’re all on the same page.

    SMS: I am finding I am enjoying the morning rituals…today, I realized it’s kind of a reward for starting the day. Waking up early to me before meant having to get ready for some meeting or crunching on a project, but the coffee and morning light is really kind of magical. Glad you liked the ETT!

    Mike: Eep, I forgot to check in with the boss already. Doh! Gotta replan :-)

    Peter: That’s really interesting that you’ve discovered patterns in when you can do what things! Maybe I can do a lunch-time workout also. I might watch “Family Guy” while jogging in place or something, though an actual activity would be nice.

    Sam: Glad I’m not the only one who found Harvest Moon a useful simulation :-)

  9. Mark 14 years ago

    During one winter break in college when I was back in town a week before roommates I learned that a 28-hour clock worked best for me. I’d be awake for around 18 hours, staying later each passing night and then sleeping 10 hours. By the time the week was over, I’d be awake til 5:00 or 6:00 am, and waking up mid-afternoon.

    It’s the commute that’s motivated me to rise early in the real world. I get up just after 6:00 now, so I can be out the door as close to 7:00 as I can and avoid traffic. That also gets me a little quiet time at the office before others come in. Prior that, when I was on the T, I’d snooze more often than when I’d previously take the commuter rail, where I had to meet a specific train time.

    When I work at home, I’ll snooze til 7:00 or so, breaking my otherwise solid weekday routine: Up at 6:00, in bed around 10:00, typically asleep by 11:00.

    As I’m looking to go solo, and escape the commute and office scene, this is of course a concern.

    With a baby on the way at around the same time, though, I suspect I won’t have a problem being awoken early and plenty tired when bedtime rolls around!

  10. bori 14 years ago


    In case you are starting to run…. there is a typical mistake that leads to lots of injuries and frustration – to much to fast. I followed a program a few years ago that was easy and everybody can do with minimum risk of injuries and frustration. You will be running 60min straight (or 10k) in 13 weeks.

    The book is called the “Beginning Runners Hand Book”.

    Worked great for me….

  11. Yes, flash ETT is a super way to plan for the day!

    Let us know how your experiment goes!
    I seriously believe that all of success starts with a regular bedtime.

  12. Tracy Smith 14 years ago

    I’m glad to know I’m not the only one out there who considers himself a night person wanting to be a morning person.  I’ve heard that if you have kids that can whip your schedule into shape pretty quick.  I’ve struggled with this over the years working from home (and a few times, with a 9 – 5 job).  My friends never understood why I would have to work at 9PM.  Well when you don’t get up until 12:30 it’s hard to squeeze 8-hours into your day.

    I haven’t found the solution, but am relocating to the West Coast where I will actually go into an office.  It’s not just any office though, it’s a fun office with a small group of people that I consider friends.  It’s my ideal job right now.  I get isolated working from home and find networking hard when I’m working in the evenings.

    It sounds like you and your readers have some great ideas and I will be implementing parts of them as I make my transition to the west coast.  Good luck with your quest.

  13. sarah 14 years ago has a system of setting routines to get your life organized (info is all free. you can buy branded pens and timers and things if you want to.)

    but one thing she teaches is that you shouldn’t try and make ALL of your changes at the same time. change one thing. do it for three weeks, then add another change. as in get up earlier for a month and THEN add in the exercise. you are more likely to create change that sticks this way.

  14. Ian Muir 14 years ago

    I’m right there with you Dave. I’m now on attempt # 3 for getting up a 6:00am and exercising. Unfortunately, I’ve got the complication of having a 19 month old.

    Maybe we could start a 6:00am wakeup call phone tree. I’m pretty sure my cell-phone doesn’t have a snooze button and it might be a bit motivating.

    On another note, the comments have vastly increased in number since the Digg. It’s nice to see lots of dicussion on your blog.

  15. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Mark: I find that I have a slightly longer daily cycle as well…I wonder if this is pretty common.

    Bori: Thanks for the warning! I’m doing a very low impact aerobic routine right now, just to ease into it. I’m concerned that running would actually introduce a lot of problems with joints and stuff, plus it’s FRICKIN’ COLD out :-) That book sounds pretty cool though, I’ll check it out!

    Senia: Yah, I think I absorbed that lesson about going to sleep early from your constant reminders! I think what I didn’t want to face was that I didn’t WANT to go to fall asleep, because there was so much stuff to be doing. Wah! I’m so petulant :-) Now I am trying to do a purposeful wind-down. It’s mind and energy management for me…

    Tracy: Good luck with your transition! I would say my reasoning behind the shift is like yours….I’ve decided that I want to be in synch with the rest of the world, and that I’m going to have to commit if I want it.

    Sarah: Good advice! I checked out the Fly Lady’s site again, and wasn’t sure where to look. Hmm…so THAT’S what that feels like! :-)

    Ian: Good luck! Yeah, we could do a wakeup call phone tree! I’m getting up at 6:30AM though, for the moment.

  16. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    And following up on Bryan’s accountability check, here are the highlights:

    The morning planning section went nicely, about 15 minutes at Starbucks. I also encountered a friend unexpectedly, almost got a free newspaper, but turned it down realizing that it would be a distraction! Disaster narrowly averted!

    I made a list, scribbling in a new quadrille-ruled notebook I’d gotten for this experiment. I hand-drew the various planning things I use to see what might happen, and had an insight into a way to restructure the ETP to make it more flexible while retaining the essential structuring ideas.

    I found myself breaking up the day into a number of different trackable artifacts:

    <li>ongoing projects / goals … this is a line at the top of the notebook that is just to remind me that this is the focus of the day. However, it lacks overall project planning.</li>
    <li>timeblocks … I drew a little timeblock diagram, very simple, with two 4-hour blocks separated by a lunch. I roughed in what I wanted to do in the morning while I was fresh, and what could be production in the afternoon.</li>
    <li>reminders … I left little doodads all over the place to look at tomorrow morning.</li>

    Overally it’s been a productive day, but I’m already pretty tired (it’s 5PM). So I’m going to take some pictures of some electronic gizmos I got and see if I feel like writing up something later.

  17. alexander 14 years ago

    Hi David,
    I suggest to make a 30 day trial ( not only two weeks, you’ll need them to get really the habit to get up early and exercise. I suggest also the reading of this article ( it inspired me and now I am a early riser too ( The advantage is that I get done more and I wake up more energized, as long as waking up very early (5.15) and at the same time each day, you fall asleep instantly at the end of the day when you’ve no more energy. So your body will balance naturally your need for sleep and you’ll be sure you’ve maximized your day.

    Ottantaventi blog

  18. Dave Seah 14 years ago

    Alexander: Thanks for the suggestion! The two week limit is actually imposed because I’m going to SXSW in about two weeks, and early rising may not be possible :-) But I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes with the two weeks.

  19. alexander 14 years ago

    Hi Dave,

    a another suggestion to assure you install the habit, is to rise early and exercise EVERYDAY (sunday included) specially in the first period. You’ll know you got it when you’ll wake up automatically a few minutes before the alarm goes off or when you’ll wake up by your own even if you want to sleep in, because your body (specially your mind) is used to get up and activate.

    I wish you great success !


  20. ashley 14 years ago

    nice post! i attempted to have the same mentality while in school, treating it as a full-time job. you provide a great outline for many students and freelancers alike :)

  21. Pamela 14 years ago

    Everybody should practice good time management. Your post is a nice way of reminding readers of the importance of having a regular schedule. Good luck on your experiment.

  22. sarah 14 years ago

    Yes, is a mess of a site. The easiest thing to do is to just sign up (its free) and then read the welcome letter, a few testimonials and then unsubscribe if you don’t need her system. otherwise, here is a page that explains it pretty well:

  23. Adam 14 years ago

    What a shame I have come so late to your to your waking early series. Lately I have been feeling productive and thought I wouldnt need check your blog as often to inspire or motivate me. Now I know better.

    I have been early riser for the last 6 weeks and was also motivated by the Steve Pavlina post which another commenter pointed to. I have been waking at 5am strictly every day. I have noticed many of the challenges you’re mentioning.

    What I have found the most rewarding thing for me is that I have finally found some time to read the newspaper and get informed. Just in time for a national election which is building (Australia), and probably for the first time in my voting life feel I know what each party represents beyond 3 second news bites.

    I also listen to music or podcasts on a long walk to get the paper. But mainly I feel like I am cheating the system and in some secret sect of early risers. Now bread makers and fisherman, they are in a whole other world.

    A weird thing I have found is that I can still stay up almost as late without feeling tired but when it hits its like bad jet lag and I must go to bed straight away.

    Still can’t decide whether to hit the coffee every morning, as I am trying remain less dependent. But I have found coffee or not that I can only read the paper for an hour without getting sleepy. Then I just go to work (home office).

    The work stress is reduced as I feel less pressured with a few hours of work up my sleeve before the world expects me to be at work.

    Goog luck and keep it up. I look forward to reading more.