Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Successful People Do Before Breakfast

You only have to be a parent six minutes to know that one lost, but essential item can wreck a morning faster than a corporate bankruptcy. Many time management books ignore instances like this one, so I wasn't sure what to expect from the new ebook, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings--and Life (Portfolio, 2012) by Laura Vanderkam. Vanderkam's book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, changed my relationship to time for the better, so I immediately ordered her new ebook.

I waited impatiently for it to download to my Kindle, only to realize I had pre-ordered it.  I offered to review the book here in exchange for an early peek and I was immediately granted the PDF. Thank you, Laura!

I've already come clean about my pre-dawn working hours, and I like my routine, so when I opened Before Breakfast, I had a few questions: Could people--especially women--whose lives do not jive with day planners that run from 8-6 p.m. use this book? Would it be written in Vanderkam's usual well-researched style? Would I be able to get anything out of it, given that I love my current morning routine (made over, of course, after reading 168 Hours)?

Vanderkam alleviated my fear that this would be another "schedule yoga before the kids wake up" book with her first sentence, which recognizes the unintentional craziness of mornings:
Mornings are a madcap time in many households. Like mine. On mornings when I am responsible for getting my three children fed...
Vanderkam's usual well-researched writing style is also present. Vanderkam makes unusual connections between how successful people choose to spend mornings and research regarding willpower. Vanderkam explains that our willpower is fresh in the morning. Couple this with what researchers know about making decisions (we wear ourselves out making decisions so any time we can make fewer decisions, we will reserve energy), we'll be able to use our willpower longer each day. By having a routine, the decision making and employment of willpower is somewhat removed.

Interestingly, and despite my own time analysis after reading 168 Hours, Vanderkam's discussions about mornings explain why my evenings sometimes feel so out of sync. I sometimes have to stop working mid-thought, and I try to hold that thought through math homework, and tae kwon do lessons, and a story about a duck. I'm usually planning to sneak back down to my office nook to finish up the thought and come to a good stopping point, but by then I'm so exhausted that I am happy to toss that thought aside in exchange for a pillow.

I get so busy willing myself to remember and to be able to jump back in that I lose a lot of decision-making energy and willpower just holding on. I guess it's like climbing a rope. If I hold on too long without making any progress, it's really difficult for me to start heading for the top again.

The best part of the book is that Vanderkam does not simply spout that we should do the most important work first. Or the most difficult. Or the task we dread the most. Instead, she explains how to determine the best way to spend mornings so that we haven't used up all our willpower by the time we get to our desks.
Vanderkam's work will help you find minutes--or hours--and turn that time into feel-good productive time. Vanderkam asks that you undertake your own time analysis, but she never suggests "making appointments" with yourself. Even without plotting a single thing in a day planner (which has never never worked for me), you'll still be able to create a morning plan that works for you.

Vanderkam writes, "Come up with a plan and assemble what you need, but don't label this vision as impossible," because as Vanderkam points out "when you make over your mornings, you can make over your life."

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