I’ve always wanted to be a morning person. I’ve read book after book for creative people saying, “If you get up before anyone else, you’ll get more done!” I knew it was probably true, but I told myself the same story: I’m NOT a morning person.
WANT TO KNOW HOW AND SKIP THE WHY? Scroll down to the lists – the #1 MOST IMPORTANT TIP is the last one! 🙂
The thing is, I used to be a night person. But after having one baby, I was no longer a night person. I wasn’t a morning person. I was a “from 10am to 2pm” person. The rest of the time? Exhausted!
Something had to change. I wasn’t working regularly enough and I wasn’t getting to the never-ending list of ideas I had. I knew I wanted to work on them, and I knew I didn’t want to wait until retirement, or summer break, or the weekend, or the next lifetime to get to these ideas.
And then … we had another baby.
I realized deeply, in my gut and my heart and my soul, that my time for creating could easily slip away. My very “ness” was at risk. With one kid, you’ve got time. There are naps, there’s after bedtime, there’s whenever Mommy takes him so that I can create.
But with two? Three?! Nope. That time was waiting to be sucked up. Pooping on different schedules, napping on different schedules, eating at different times? I knew that eventually it would even out and that I would have some more time to work on my creative endeavours, but I also knew that if I got into the habit of NOT making, then starting again would be very difficult. And what about when another little human joined the family? I’d be back to waiting.
So, I decided it was time to invest in inspiration, and not production. The result would be improved productivity, but the intention was simply to steal some time to work for ME. (I mean, all art should be worked on for the artist, right?)
I bought a book on creative business, and I set to work reading it. This is how week 1 of becoming a morning person started.
Week 1: Read every morning for 30 minutes before everyone else wakes up. For our house, that meant 5:30. That meant I needed to shower at night, instead of in the morning. At 5:30, when I rolled out of bed, I would have 30 minutes to read before Kingsley would be waking up and I would be getting him ready for his day.
Week 2: Continue reading every morning, but keep a sketchbook near by. Inspiration was starting to come by, because I kept showing up … even on the weekend. Especially on the weekend. Inspiration wanted to flirt. (Inspiration is a sassy one and I am into it!)
Week 3: Back the time up by 10 minutes. This meant I was rolling out of bed by 5:20, and making my way downstairs by 5:25. But, then my book finished. So now what?!
Week 4: Make it 5:15 and work on a list. I made a deal with my critique partner, and told her I would be emailing her on Sunday night with my To Do list for the week. I kept it manageable and interesting: work on this manuscript, work on those thumbnail illustrations, develop ideas for this sequence, etc. Nothing that was too heavy, but something that was meaningful enough to bother with so early in the morning. I also told her I would be checking in again on Friday to let her know how my list went. We agreed that this would NOT include stories – those stories that let you off the hook or excuse laziness. If I didn’t do something, I would say I didn’t, and that would be that. (Important note: these lists lasted for a while, but eventually faded as habits formed. Now, I still check in with her, but not as strictly on a Monday/Friday basis.)
Week 5: Keeping it at 5:15. Continuing with the list. Making space in my time for reflecting and meditating on myself.
And now, it’s a habit. So I continued to back it up. Then one summer our second child started waking up earlier than 6, and making such a ruckus that I needed to get him out of bed before he woke his brother. I decided to back my time up to 4:30 to give myself the space and time I was desperately needing. When a new baby joined in September, the 4:30 start helped with the busier mornings that came with a third kid. *Disclaimer* As of 2020, my kids are sleeping more and I’m able to get out of bed at 4:45, to be in the studio by 5am.
So that it is all easy and nice to say, but what did I do to really make it work? I had tried in the past and nothing worked. I really think that the pressure I put on myself, to feed my soul, with 2 (and now 3) kids – to keep making and doing and being myself – to find the time and space to do this – to not let go of it – is what pushed me the most.
But these tips … I wish I’d had them before:
Reading something inspiring helped with the first 2 weeks, as I was forming this new habit and setting down the foundation for my new “morning person-ness” (I didn’t let myself read any other time, so I was hungry for it!)
Setting up the night before: I always set the coffee maker and timer now. At first, I even put the mug and spoon out so that all I had to do was pour. You really want to get to know all the little hooks you’ll let yourself off of, so that you can stop it before it happens. Think of it as Time Travel.
Checking my list the night before. This helps me keep it in my head so that when I wake up, I know what I am about to go and do. There is no sit-and-wonder-which-project-to-work-on time.
Putting out what I’ll need: tomorrow, I’ll be working on wrapping up a chapter of a middle grade novel I am about half way into writing. It is a hard scene and I have told myself stories about it. I realized that it was Fear feeding this beastly excuse-making I’ve been doing. Tomorrow, I’m writing. My computer is set up for it, and the file is open and waiting to be written on. On days when I sketch, setting up the night before is a huge improver for morning productivity. I call this sharpening my pencils!
In addition, invest in yourself by prepping the things you know you will soon need. Several prepped canvasses, notebooks with different purposes, many sharpened pencils, a list of ideas to work on, a list of ongoing projects/where I am in those projects, and so on.
I make sure that everything I will need is ready, including WHAT I am sketching. If it’s a painting day, the paint is out and ready. There is no wondering and waiting that happens.
Keeping accountable with a partner who will keep me accountable. (It helps when it is a mutual agreement – it’s nice to be on both sides of the fence/in both roles, so that it feels balanced and your different voices are heard!) This is a huge part of staying in the art (a concept I have realized applies to myself and others: when I stop making art, it is harder to make it, make it well, and be kind to myself about it when it doesn’t work. The Gremlins always appear when I am not in the art!)
Work, work, work, work, work! This one is the most important. Weekends are archaic! In parenting world, they are busy and wild and chaotic. If you want to be a morning person, then there is no sleeping in on Saturday. For me, sleeping in means I feel guilty, I feel groggy, and I struggle for a week to get back to waking up early. I may go a bit easier on myself – maybe I will read or just sit on Pinterest and sketch – but I still work on something. At the very least, I am up, breathing and centring and reminding myself that it is going to be a great day.
THIS ONE IS MAYBE MORE IMPORTANT! Sleep according to sleep cycles. I use www.sleepcalculator.com, and I just check it before bed. I want to make sure I’m waking up BETWEEN sleep cycles and not in the middle of. THIS has made the BIGGEST difference to my overall feelings of being awake and refreshed! (Ask my wife. I tell everyone we meet or see about sleep cycles. I bet she could give you my script!) By now, I know that if I want to be up at 4:30, I need to be in bed at 8:45 or 10:15. I set the alarm for 4:25 and 4:30, because I have a tendency of hitting snooze without knowing it!
This is how I became a morning person. I hope you can, too, because morning creativity is so much more productive than evening creativity – and it sets up a wonderful day!