My New System

MoPop at night

Hello darkness, my old friend I’ve come to talk with you again Because a vision softly creeping Left its seeds while I was sleeping And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence

Simon & Garfunkel

I’ve been starting my weekdays at 4:00 am for the last seven weeks. It’s dark, and the sound of silence is all around. I made the change to my morning routine “cold turkey” and haven’t missed a day. I am typically in bed before 9:00 pm and asleep shortly after. I’m shooting for seven hours of sleep a night, even though I’d prefer eight. This gives me 17 waking hours to work my system, and most importantly, it gives me roughly four hours of uninterrupted time before the world starts moving. Those four hours are the most productive of the day, with or without coffee.

Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it.

Clear, James. Atomic Habits

I’ve started reading Atomic Habits by James Clear in an attempt to readjust my perception of time’s role in goal achievement. In his book, he talks about getting 1% better (or worse) each day and the compounding effects that can have on your life. As I read, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve been missing opportunities to get a little better each day by leveraging the excuse that my work/life balance isn’t ideally constructed. Let me rewind for a second to explain how I got here.

The Leap

In 2014, I felt like my career and personal life had reached that special (and very scary) moment when captaining my own ship seemed viable. I took the ten or so years I’d spent designing and building things at advertising and creative agencies and struck out on my own. The plan was to start a family and launch a couple of websites I could run from home. That’s the dream, right?

The problem is that life is an outstanding pitcher and gets you with a changeup when you are ready to turn hard on a fastball. Within a little over a year of starting my own business, our family: had a child, bought and sold our house, moved states, started a new job, bought another place, and I didn’t get a lot of programming done.

Add a little insult to injury by tossing in a couple of years of COVID, and I undoubtedly had justification for why things didn’t work out as I wanted them to. All too often, I adopted the mindset that I’d be able to jump right back on the horse once I reached “X” milestone. For example, when the kid is old enough for preschool, that’ll free up some time. If I make this final tweak on the house, I’ll be able to concentrate on writing code instead. I was forgoing incremental, but compounding, gains while I waited for a perfect moment that’s simply never going to come.

My bad.

Place Your Goals to the Side and Follow Your System

James Clear talks a lot about something I learned from strength and conditioning guru Jim Radcliffe when I played football at the University of Oregon: Goals are great, but they don’t acknowledge the “how.” How are you going to do the things required to achieve your goals? What are the steps? You need to define a system.

Part of my new system is waking up at 4:00 am. I want to make the initial four hours of my day a time where I can make those 1% improvements in the code I write and the design decisions I make. I shudder to think about where I could be right now if I’d made this part of my daily routine several years ago, so I’m making the change now.

This won’t be the only change I make to my system, but the beauty of this particular divergence is that it allows for so many more improvements due to its implementation. It’s the compounding effect we’re looking for.

Okay, want to know what waking up at 4:00 am is like? Let’s do it!

The Good

The Bad

In summary, waking up early has been a positive change, even if it’s tiring. I hope to look back on this post years from now, likely in the wee hours of the morning, and see it as a turning point in my career. If I do, I’ll have an improved system to thank.

Written by Matt Haliski
Consumer of tacos