Gretchen Rubin

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

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

I’m writing my next book, Better Than Before, 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.

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 a.m. 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 a.m. 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 a.m. and 9 a.m. 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 Better Than Before.

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