Gretchen Rubin

Before and After: Work on a Ph.D. Thesis from 6:00-9:00 a.m.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s story comes from Annelie Drakman.

I'm a Ph.D.-student, and I've always thought that it seemed dreadful to let finishing your dissertation drag out for years and years - just get it over with, I thought. And still I'd let weeks go by where I went to meetings, and read lots of books relating to my topic, and took courses, but did not spend one minute actually writing my text.

So I started getting up at 6 am. Now, whenever I have a free morning or a whole free day, I try to make sure to always get up this early. I think the reason it works is that I hate it. You see, if I get up at 6 am and don't write on my dissertation, I got up early for nothing. I have to give up the comfort of my bed without the satisfaction of getting things done, and I can't bear that. So I write. The hours between 6 am and 9 am just fly by and afterwards I'm always surprised at how much I got done. So it works! And, if I can't get any useful work done during the afternoon, I know I've at least put in three or so hours towards my most important goal, and I can give myself a break about being obsessive about emails.

Excellent. I've identified sixteen strategies for habit-formation, and this is a great example of the Strategy of Scheduling. Just putting something on the schedule helps us to do it -- and scheduling it first thing in the morning usually works best.

Also, although it doesn't work for everyone, getting up earlier can be a great way to find more time for something you value. Mornings tend to unfold in the same way, so there's more consistency and control, and less opportunity for conflicts -- real or invented -- to arise.  (For tips about how and why to schedule a habit for the morning, read here and here.)

I write about the Strategy of Scheduling in Chapter Two of Before and After. If you'd like to know when the book is available for pre-order (not for a while, I must confess!), sign up here.

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