Like most women I don't get a lot of time to myself. As soon as my kids are up, my life becomes about them--making sure they're fed, dressed and ready to go; signing permission slips that "slipped past" me the night before in the midst of the afternoon and evening minivan-patrol (which entails four hours every weeknight driving carpools of kids to various theater, choir, musical instrument practice), and listening to them tell me about their upcoming days. (Granted, there's that whole getting-myself-ready-to-put-a-full-day-in-the-office-by-8:00 a.m. I have to do as well, but at this stage in the game, I can do all that in 10 minutes flat. Brush hair, brush teeth, apply mascara and lipstick, throw on dress, and I am out the door. OK, it may take twenty minutes if I am going for a good-hair day and decide to pull out the straightener.)
So I know if I want to get the "Big Rocks" in, as they say, I have put them in jar first thing in the morning. So each night, before I got to bed, which admittedly is early--usually around 9:30 or 10 p.m.--I always make a list of things I absolutely need to get done by 7 a.m. so that no matter what happens during the following day I have already done what it is that I love to do, want to do, and genuinely fills me up as a human being. Moreover, if I do it before 7 a.m., nothing--no hijacked day, no long meeting, no traffic jam--will be an excuse for why I didn't get these things done.
So to answer the question I am most asked: How do you get all that reading and writing done? I have a simple answer: I wake up in the middle of the night to do it. Actually, it's more like 4:30 a.m., sometimes 4:45 a.m. I have an alarm, but I often don't need to set it. My body is well trained and wakes up a few minutes before.
So here are the 5 Things I Do Before I Go to My Day Job:
4:30 a.m. The first thing I do, like a good Irish girl, is to put the kettle on. Granted it's to boil water for fresh pressed coffee, not tea, but I used the kettle for a very good reason. While the water is boiling, I have fifteen minutes to do some mat work. I do about 100 Pilates sit-ups, leg lifts, push-ups, and planks, and then stretch. By the time the kettle whistles, I am done, and I feel totally awake and energized. (Note: That's not all the exercise I do. I will walk throughout the day, and try to reach 10,000 steps as well. Sometimes that means a walk before or after dinner too.)
2. Read a classic.
4:45 a.m. I pour myself a cup of fresh-pressed coffee, peel a grapefruit, and bring it over to the kitchen table where the book I am reading is already opened to the page that I left off on the day before. Right now I am completely immersed in War and Peace. It may be two-hundred years old, but it's still spot-on about the human condition. I actually pop up out of bed each morning excited to find out what is in store for all my favorite Russian aristocrats. (Listen to a recent podcast discussion of the book, which I participated in, here.)
3. Read a contemporary book.
5:30 a.m. I move my bookmark to the page I left off on War and Peace, and move on to a contemporary book. I read no less than three contemporary books at any given time. (This week I am reading Patti Smith's M Train, Charlie Duhigg's The Power of Habit, and Matt Haig's Reason to Stay Alive. I alternate each book each day, and then pick one to carry one in my purse if I need a cerebral "hit" while waiting in carpool, standing in line somewhere, or waiting for dinner to cook.)
5:50 a.m. It's time to start writing. I can write 3-5 pages in about a half hour, and so that's what I try to do each day. I sit at my computer and write without any goal or agenda until 6:00 a.m. The first ten minutes is not always great. In fact, sometimes I know I am just "stretching" and have to delete almost everything I wrote, but sometimes I don't. I usually get a good flow going and I try to wrap up at 6:30 a.m., so I have something left in the tank for the next day. (A helpful hip from Papa himself.)
5. Get social.
6:30 a.m. After I quickly drive my daughter to the Metro bus stop (it takes 2 minutes), I come back and I post a photograph or a quote from the books I am reading to Instagram and hashtag the hell out of them. I do this for two reasons: 1) Hashtags help me quickly explain to my audience why I chose the said quote or picture and 2) It helps my potential audience find me. (So far, it's been working). I spend about 15 minutes going through my social media pages and posts, respond, engage, and repost. (Like it or not, this the work of the modern-day writer...I just happen to love it). I try to be off social media and my phone by the time my son wakes up at 7:00 a.m. Because once he's up, I'm all his and we're in "get ready to get the heck out of the house by 7:30 mode."
Now, I know waking early is not for everyone. There are plenty of night owls out there that find their optimum time is after the kids go to bed (which works too, I know). But, for me, I am always far too drained by the end of the work day to do anything more than nod occasionally in acknowledgment from across the dinner table as my kids speak. I know there are so many of us out there in the same boat. So many of us spend our days working hard for everyone else. And it's hard to find a minute for ourselves. But, we must. YOU HEAR ME: WE MUST. If we don't do it now, then when? There is never going to be a perfect time to read, to write, to exercise, or do any of the things that matter to you and that fill you up as a human being. There will always be something. So if there is something you want to do, and feel like you have "no time" to do it, my humble suggestion is this:
Find the time.
Make the time.
Then guard it with your life.
Become a fierce defender of your precious time. It is all that you have. There is no shame in doing what you love. There is no shame in doing the work that fills up your tank. Honor it. Love it. And for god-sake just do it.