How many of you wake up to a freshly filled Inbox and a daily agenda filled with a range of difficult conversations and challenging work? Tempting to dive right in, right? But, if you’re like me, that trap can ruin a morning and, honestly, not give the work the attention and venue it deserves.
Well, my coach gave me some great advice about a year ago about a better way to start the day and it has made all the difference. But here’s the trick: it takes some serious discipline until a habit is formed. After that? It’s no more difficult than your 5 am sleepwalk to the coffee machine.
The idea. Instead of diving into the tasks ahead – like replying to that urgent e-mail – take time to live in the moment of the morning and create a clean slate with introspection and reflection on who you want to be that day. As I see it, when you dive into your day immediately in the morning, it’s like you are living 3-4 hours ahead of the moment. But the moment has so much to offer!
The habit. What I will describe now takes about 30 minutes to complete. Following a relaxed cup of coffee and a perusal of the headlines and sports scores, I open my journal and turn to a blank page: my clean slate. Each day is different, but I often start with one celebration from the prior day. Note: I have taken to a “talking to myself” voice. For example, I’ll scribble Celebration: Great job for taking the time to acknowledge Richard on the great job he is doing in his new role – he really seemed to respond well to that! Then, I prompt myself with the question, Who do you want to be today, Pat? The question remains the same each day, but the answers that come to me are always different! If you are like me, your mind will venture into the day ahead and the meetings or tasks you have will reveal themselves. This time in your journal allows you to get ahead of those moments by centering on your aspirations for personal achievement. For example, I am a huge fan of the 15 Commitments of Conscious Leaders, and I will often turn to a commitment like being curious or exhibiting candor … Or even stopping gossip in its tracks. As I reflect on that in my writing, I calmly visualize my behavior. At this point, the clean slate is beginning to develop into a vision for the day that comes from inside of me, not from my email or my calendar. I’ll typically close my journaling after 10 – 15 minutes with a kind word to myself – like a simple Have a great day, Pat! After closing the journal, I like to meditate and pray for 5-10 minutes, often with the Simple Habit app to guide me (I’m a meditation rookie!). This last step is calming and clarifying, complementing the journaling quite well.
Tips. Because the temptation can be very strong to dive into email upon awakening until your Daily Clean Slate habit takes root, I recommend using a “Pause” feature for your email. Also, as you journal ideas will pop into your head about things you need to do or remember – don’t try to suppress them! Embrace the flow of recall and throw the notes into a bubble you draw in your journal. I have found that doing so allows the calm reflection to continue.
Try it! I invite you to try the Daily Clean Slate habit. It has made all the difference for me and I suspect that it will assist you in being the best version of yourself each day.
Patrick Mather is the Dean of the College of Engineering at Bucknell University. In addition to his academic interests, he enjoys performing as a musician (he plays bass, drums, and guitar), running half-marathons, road cycling and classic movies — especially film noir.