This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 14: Hacking Brain & Body
When are your most productive hours? For many years I was convinced mine were at the end of the day, late at night. I was a proud member of the “Owl Club”, one of an exclusive group of people who have convinced themselves that they work better after 10:00 pm when their families have gone to bed. During those years I could not wait for the night to come, so I could get quiet time to really work. I was proud of the fact that I was working late nights on the important stuff.
Put an End to Morning Exhaustion
I loved the silence of the late night, but I hated the exhaustion of the following morning. I just didn’t know a different way to do it. I was convinced that because I wasn’t a “morning person” that I had no choice. I became dependent on my twilight productivity, craving those nights, thinking that they possessed some kind of inherent magical property.
What I later realized was that it wasn’t the time that was creating this productive effect, it was my focus.
When I began researching and studying focus I discovered that I was doing it all wrong. My frustration at my lack of focus was eating away at me and as a result, I was trying to work in a way that simply wasn’t sustainable, at least not in any effective way.
I begin to research something different; Something that as a member of the Owl Club was impossible. As my craving for focus began to get more of my attention, I understood that if I was interested in different results, I needed to do things in a different way. I began to look at how I could hack my way to focus.
As my craving for focus began to get more of my attention, I understood that if I was interested in different results, I needed to do things in a different way.
Carving the Time for a Single Tasking Environment
We have grown to live in a world that lacks focus. We multitask, we have notifications that distract us constantly, we measure every step we take. We collect an amazing amount of data, yet don’t know what to do with it. We have lists, tasks and more.
Why do we do it? We are looking to accomplish an incredible amount; – we want, to grow, to be free; But even though we are collecting data constantly, we struggle to focus on those things that we consider important and as a consequence fall way short of accomplishing what we want. For many, the everyday ritual is the same: wake up late, rush to get out of the house; Run to work. Run home. Deal with family routines and activities. Finally, when everyone goes to bed, we go back to working on those things we consider important. How much of all that running about do we truly enjoy? There is a better way to do this, trust me.
Getting Ready to Quit the Owl Club
I’ve lost count of the times I tried to focus on those things that are important after a whole day of events, at the very brink of exhaustion. I worked late, trying to finish things, only to redo them the next day having found a better solution.
Today I will present to you one of the many ways I have learned to hack my focus over the years: I invite you to quit the Owl Club and join me at 4:00 am.
I joke sometimes that on many days I accomplish more between 4 am and 6 am than the rest of the day. The reason is simple: In general, there are no interruptions in those two hours. I can accomplish an incredible amount of work and writing in this period. Most days, those are my most productive hours of the day.
There’s a knock-on effect too. If your most satisfying and productive hours happen between 4:00 am and 6:00 am, how do you think you will feel the rest of the day? If your day begins amazing, it will most likely end amazing too.
But what if you’re not an “early bird”? I wasn’t one either. To make the change, I had to hack my routine and shift my focus.
When was the last time you had two hours of quiet time to work, read or think? Not everyone wants more time to work. But most people would relish having two extra hours in which to learn a new skill, mediate or plan.
Understanding how you will benefit from this extra time is the first step to achieving this hack. It is hard to leave the Owl Club, to change your old ways. Hacking your way to focus requires you to change the way you have done things in the past, even if those things were working for you to some extent.
I wasn’t ready when I first tried. I wasn’t sure that I was actually going to find anything. I remember the first days were simply awful. I woke up tired. I could not think. I could not be functional. I could not accomplish anything. So I quit.
I had already researched a lot on focus and knew that in order to obtain the best focus possible I needed it to do it rested. Regardless of what the members of the Owl Club say, your focus is much improved when you are rested than when you are not. You may know this intuitively, it can be very seductive to stay stuck in your old ways.
your focus is much improved when you are rested than when you are not.
I tried again.
It took me days to get my first productive day. The next day was also productive. By the fourth day, I was hooked. I could do more in those two hours than in many hours in the office, especially those tasks that needed my full focus and attention.
It wasn’t easy for me. It isn’t going to be easy for you. But I’m going to share with you some of the tips and tricks that I learned to help you hack your way to better focus.
Identify Your Focus Area
The first thing you need to do is identify what it is that you’ll be focusing on. Trust me, 4:00 AM is not the time to be picking and choosing areas of focus. You need to get your head clear before you go to bed.
Here are some examples by people who have done this process with me:
– I will read the bible for 15 minutes. Then I will pray for 15 minutes. I will work for the rest of the time on projects with high impact.
– I will write for one hour and a half on the new book. Will spend the rest of the time outlining for tomorrow.
– I will read for one hour a fiction book. I will plan my day and have a quiet breakfast time.
The focus is relative; It doesn’t mean always work. I use it for writing, but as you can see it in the examples above there is an infinite amount of things that you can use it for. I know many people who use that quiet time to do the work they can’t do at the office. Others use that time as “Me Time”. Others use it for Personal Growth. What you do with that time is up to you.
I guarantee you that you will use it for something that you don’t do properly at the Owl Club currently. You don’t meditate at 11 pm – because most likely you will fall asleep. You don’t write for an hour because are really tired – even though you really want to finish that book this year.
Pick Your Wake-Up Time
Once you know what are you going to wake up for, then you need to pick the time you are you going to do it. Your morning self it is a bad influence. It will try to convince you to stay another hour in bed. Wake up time needs to be determined in terms of the time you go to bed, not the time you wake up. It’s important to ensure that you go to sleep with the clear purpose of capitalizing on the extra time as soon as your alarm goes off; Get straight to your focus before anything can distract you or your usual morning routine takes over.
Prepare Your Place of Focus in Advance
The last tip is – prepare the place you are going to be working
before you go to bed. If you need to prep your space once you’ve woken up, you will most likely fail, every day.
My own routine is as follows. The night before, I read the last few pages I have written in the book I am currently working. Then I clean my desk. Leave the iPad on the right software. Negotiate my waking up time. Go to bed. In the Morning, I make coffee and go straight to work. My brain simply knows that we are going to write. Sometimes I just need to think, plan, decided. Then I leave the right tool for it on my desk instead of my iPad.
Using this approach I hacked my bedtime and morning rituals to achieve better focus and give myself two extra hours every single day.
Doesn’t that sound like a hack worth undertaking?