6 AM

I am not a morning person.

When my alarm starts buzzing at 6 am it takes all my effort to get out of bed and as the haze of sleep starts to clear up I often ask myself the same questions.

Why wake up at 6 when I work from home?

I ran yesterday, why run today?

Can’t I just be more productive at night instead of pushing myself in the morning?

These are rhetorical questions. I know the answers very clearly… I wake up because I want my life to be more than what I’m paid to do. I wake up because yesterday’s run is part of a lifelong habit and not an excuse to be lazy today. I wake up because I know that I won’t be productive at night if I sleep in, that just isn’t how I work.

Every day there are two finite resources at work: the hours in the day and my motivation to be great. Both of these resources count down regardless of whether I am being productive or not. My drive to write, create, and exercise will be less at 5 pm than it is at 7 am, even if I don’t write, create, or exercise during that time. Mornings are where the magic happens, particularly when it comes to things I find difficult.

There are certain things that I know I will do each day, regardless of circumstances. Maybe they are things I love to do, like reading or listening to podcasts, or maybe they are things that I need to do, like work for pay. Either way, I don’t need to worry about getting them accomplished, they will happen even if I am low on motivation. It is the tough things that I need to knock out in the morning because those are the things that I’ll find excuses for or neglect in the evening.

Whether it is creating a new habit, running five miles, or calling my credit card company to ask for a lower interest rate, it must be done early or it won’t get done. The rest of my life, the habits I’ve developed and the work I know I need to be done can wait.

So, that’s why I wake up early because if I don’t then my life will drift along in mediocrity. I won’t meet my potential, I won’t experience as much of life as I possibly can, I won’t know my limits because I tried to push through them. Whether it is using my mind and body to transform my body or to write a book or to gain financial security, my mind and body are at their best in the morning.

It sucks sometimes, but truly living requires early rising and when you rise early there are plenty of hours in the day.

What Needs to be Done

It still amazes me how easily and consistently I ignore advice even when it is repeated from multiple sources over and over again. For example, as I struggle to grow and reach my potential there are two pieces of advice that have come up time and time again in books and conversations: block off time for only your craft and find a mentor.

Yet, I continue to ignore that or procrastinate it or justify not doing it or fill my time with filler work that isn’t truly important. I’ve never been good at taking other people’s advice or learning from their mistakes, I always seem to learn the hard way (cue: dcTalk). Instead of blocking off significant time to write daily I just pump out a blog post and call myself a “writer”. I know I should be spending 4 hours a day staring at a screen, showing up consistently so that the mighty Muses will know where to find me, I know what I should do, I know I have the ability to do it, but yet I neglect it. Part of me is scared… scared the inspiration will never come, scared that art is beyond me, scared that the time will be wasted… so instead I guarantee that inspiration won’t come on my own terms, I stay firmly planted away from frontiers of my own mind and potential, I waste the time myself.

Similarly, I avoid looking for a mentor. Part of it is a genuine ignorance to where to look. How do I find someone to keep me accountable? I’ve never really had mentors in my life. I love my father, he is a great man, but our lives are so different that he can’t really provide guidance. The relationships I’ve had with religious leaders have been primarily harmful to my development and I’ve never been involved in sports. I had an Army sergeant that was a bit of a mentor, as well as a college professor but it would feel so strange to reach out to them and I don’t think they have the skills to help. I guess I could pay for a life coach… but that feels weird in a way, I’m not sure why. Maybe that old adage “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” is true and I’m not ready (but how do I get ready), or maybe that statement is spiritual nonsense.

I wish I could say this blog post is a recommitment to fixing my problems, but it really isn’t. It is simply me doing some introspection and voicing my frustrations. Maybe someone out there has advice? It is rare that I open myself up for advice* in a broad way like this, but feel free to email me (pjneiger@gmail.com) or send a message to my SurveyMonkey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XYRDXHH). Blargh.

*I actually loathe people who offer unsolicited advice. It is one of my only pet peeves.

Writing

 

I received my first check from Amazon today for the book I wrote and self-published and I have mixed feelings about it. This is the first time that I’ve been financially rewarded for my writing, so I guess that technically makes me a professional writer, but I feel like I kind of cheated. There is something about self-publishing that feels inauthentic to me, or maybe I am just having a hard time “going pro” (as Steven Pressfield would say).

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel like writing my book was easy, but we live in a world with fewer and fewer gatekeepers (which is a beautiful thing) and those gatekeepers serve(d) some good purposes. The open world of writing has created a lot of noise that can make it difficult to figure out what is actually good and it has removed a valuable feedback mechanism that improved the quality of specific works.

I feel like my book could have been better and some of that improvement would have come from a professional looking at it and giving me some feedback and praise. Maybe I shouldn’t care about receiving accolades from the old guardians, and maybe if I viewed myself as an actual writer (instead of just as someone who writes) I wouldn’t care as much.

I love writing. The rush that comes from typing a fury of words while wishing that your fingers could keep up with your mind is exhilarating. The power that comes from molding words and giving people a glimpse my mind is intoxicating. I even love the painful and beautiful struggle that comes each day when I’m staring at a blank screen, or the mental anguish that comes from not being able to find the write word to express how I feel, or the sadness and terror that comes from believing that I no longer have an original thought left. I love writing and I loathe writing. It is my enemy and my

I love writing and I loathe writing. It is my enemy and my sparring partner. It is my best friend and the bane of my existence. It is a new lover whose body I want to explore every waking minute and it is the old partner who has gone cold with time and neglect. So, maybe I am a writer and maybe I was a writer before my book was ever published. I just wish I could convince myself of that.

Post Script: A small housekeeping note. I’ve shut off comments on my blog because I was getting hundreds of spam messages each week and it was annoying me. If you have a comment or question you can send me a message to the SurveyMonkey form I set up or you can email me at pjneiger@gmail.com 

Weekend Off

This is part of my weekly project at self-improvement by following the battle plan found in “Forward Tilt: An Almanac for Personal Growth.” This book is incredibly valuable and only $0.99 on Kindle.

For the first time in a very long time, I took a weekend off from life. I don’t normally work for money on the weekends, but I do tend to schedule and structure my days. In the past, that structure has been necessary for me to complete projects, but I’ve felt so burnt out lately that I needed a break. So, between 5pm on Friday and 6am on Monday I had nothing planned that I wasn’t enthusiastic about, and it was exactly what I needed.

I didn’t write or blog or exercise or check my email (I actually didn’t turn my computer on all weekend) or complete any of the daily rituals that I feel like I must to complete, and now I feel energized and my brain is overflowing with inspiration and ideas and motivation. My weekend was mostly beer, naps, weed, and junk food, and my body feels a bit sluggish paying for those sins but my mind is sharp. A little time off can put things in perspective.

So, how did I do on last week’s Forward Tilt action item? Terribly. I think I really missed the entire point of the exercise. Instead of slowing down, I sped up. I tried to schedule big projects that I wasn’t necessarily passionate about each day and they ended up (mostly) ignored. Oh well, I can’t do anything about last week so I shouldn’t let it impact me.

This week’s Forward Tilt chapter is titled “Stop Thinking About It” and is a battlecry to stop thinking and planning and instead, just take action. The perfect time to apply for a job (or quit a job), take up a new hobby, start yoga or MMA, break up with a terrible partner, etc. will never happen. All you have is today to take action and make changes. As Morehouse says in this chapter:

“‘I’m going to’ and ‘I’m thinking about’ are dangerous phrases. Keep saying them and you’ll miss opportunities, delay action for weeks, and perhaps never do anything at all.”

This week’s action item is to pick one thing that I’ve been thinking or talking about doing and actually do it. Start to finish, this week. I’m not sure right now what that project is going to be, but I’ll update here when I figure it out.

Setting Myself Up For Success

Working from home provides unique challenges to overcome. Sure, I love the freedom and flexibility of setting my own hours and accepting the jobs I want to accept, but I don’t have a boss peering into my office to make sure I’m being productive. The only pressure I feel is the internal need to do what I promised to do and make sure I have enough cash to not starve. It takes discipline, focus, and a sense of entrepreneurship that school didn’t train me for, particularly when it comes to my professional projects that I don’t get paid for. When I’m writing or creating art or exercising there is even less pressure because the only person I will let down is myself, and I tend to be very forgiving, I can always relate to my own excuses.

But, the most important thing I’ve found to keep me on task and doing my work is to establish a system for success. For me, that system starts before the day does. The most important 30 minutes of every day actually starts the night before when I meditate on the day and prepare for the next.

Every night (well, every night that I’m not a huge slacker), I have a staff meeting with myself to figure out what my goals are for the next day. This includes everything from paid work to exercise plan to writing. I type up my expectations for the next day and then I print it out and set it prominently on my desk.

For example, the list sitting next to me says:

Saturday 2/18
– Khan Academy, Stoic Study, Meditation
– Exercise – 5-Mile Run
– Exercise – Yoga Video #7
– Website – Complete Book Recommendations Page and go ive
– Website – Write one blog post
– Book – Research new computer for Audible recording
– Reading – 1 hour
– Errand – Home Depot for shovel and planting soil
– Work – Civitas – Complete XX project and continue XX project ~4 hours

Once I have a list of tasks for the next day I get my house and office ready. I know that when I wake up my motivation will be at an all time low and I need things as organized as possible to encourage success. First, I set out my workout and work clothes for the next day. Each morning I put on my workout clothes and don’t take them off until I’m done exercising. As much as I loathe pants, I don’t work in pajamas. Then I get the coffee prepped, set the necessary workbooks and such next to my computer, and clean up my desktop.

After that, I clean the house. This involves cleaning the kitchen and bedroom first, and sometimes the bathroom. I don’t clean things deeply but I do pick up the clutter and sweep daily. I’ve found that having a dirty home kills my productivity. Not only does it become a distraction to see things out of place, but it creates an excuse that pulls me away from what I should be doing. It is hard for me to motivate myself to work, particularly my writing, and any excuse I have to procrastinate I am tempted to take. It is amazing at how clean my house can become when there is other work I should be doing. I was the same in college, whenever I had a rough deadline it suddenly became necessary to clean my house, reorganize my bathroom, call my parents, etc. Basically, I remove as many excuses as possible and set things up in a way that allows me to transition into the day with minimal speedbumps.

Maybe this is a little anal of me, but it works for me. Setting up my day the night before has really upped my productivity and happiness. I have fewer wasted days where I look at the clock and wonder where the hell the day went. Maybe someday I won’t need this type of habit to create, but that day isn’t today.

A few notes on writing

I’m wrapping up the final edits and formatting of my first book and had a few thoughts I wanted to share about the experience. I am painfully aware that I’m not an expert on the subject, but maybe that is okay, maybe the perspective of a struggling novice can be valuable.

  • Writing my first book was a lot like sex. The first time was awkward and kind of terrible and I’m glad it’s over. You can’t aim for perfection, but you can aim for a completion, and completion is pretty damn satisfying. Despite how painful and tiring the first time was, I’m super excited to try again soon with a new subject.
  • Don’t compare your writing to the successful works of famous authors, it is better to look at their early works. Very few people have heard of “The Burning Wheel” by Aldous Huxley, “For Us, The Living” by Robert Heinlen, or “Rocannon’s World” by Ursula K. Le Guin, many authors don’t find success until decades after they start writing, and many early works are absolutely dreadful. Or, better yet, don’t compare your work to anyone
  • I kind of wrote my book in three phases. I started by writing the whole thing as a skeleton, providing structure. Then I edited to add muscle and organs, strength and function. After that, I went in and added skin and hair, making it beautiful.
  • Asking people to read your work and provide feedback is valuable, but not everyone will share your vision or philosophy on writing. It is okay to reject someone’s edits for any reason, even just “that doesn’t feel write to me”. Don’t lose your voice trying to please everyone.
  • Finding a system that worked for me was incredibly important. In the beginning, I gave myself certain writing milestones instead of setting aside time. Later, during the editing process, I switched over to setting aside time.
  • Always have something nearby to record your thoughts. Sometimes moments of clarity and inspiration will come at bizarre times like when you are exercising or standing in line at the DMV or in the middle of the night. An idea only exists if you record it.

So, those are some of my thoughts on the process so far. I still have a ton to learn, which is pretty damn exciting.