A little less information, a little more output please

I’ve been alone for a number of weeks now.

Not alone alone. Just… with my own thoughts a lot.

Nearly three weeks ago, my girlfriend Jen upped and left me to go on a 24 day gallivant around Thailand and Vietman and Bali.

I was fine with that. I’m a guy who enjoys — and is comfortable with — his independence. I can cope without my other half for three and a half weeks.

No dramas.

Except, for the first few days after Jen left, there was drama. Unexpected drama. Undesirable drama.

My brain went from fantastic to flimsy, clear to cloudy. I was struggling to write, I couldn’t focus, and my memory was dreadful.

Seven days that madness lasted. It’s an absolute miracle I got any Chapters out at all.

After those seven days I was edging towards being fine. It was just a chemical imbalance, I assumed, brought on by not being in the company of someone I’d seen nearly every day for a solid number of months.

Almost inevitable. Definitely unavoidable.

But during those seven days (and onwards), I didn’t simply sit and wait for the clouds to roll through my brain and disappear.

Oh no, no, no. I tried to work out how to destroy those clouds. I wasn’t interested in a flimsy brain. I wanted to be back at the top of my game.

So, I looked to make a change.

The screen isn’t the enemy

To begin with, I blamed my foggy brain on looking at screens too much. As soon as the early-morning alarm went off, I’d wake up while scrolling through my phone. Then I’d shower, grab breakfast, and open my MacBook. YouTube, Medium, Twitter, Facebook; I’d consume whatever I fancied that morning. Sometimes the TV would be on, too.

I’d been awake for 45 minutes and already 30 of them were spent looking at a screen.

And it didn’t stop there.

On the bus at 8am. Staring at my phone for the whole journey, just like everyone else on the bus. Bad for the neck, bad for the eyes, bad for the brain.

Get in to work, Mac on. Stare at a screen until 5:30pm.

Ah, office life.

That’s it! I concluded, I simply need to stay away from screens before I’m at least on the bus.

I tried that for three days. It was ineffective, and it wasn’t easy.

I had to go deeper, find the root cause.

By the fourth day, after a ton of reading in to how the brain works during waking hours, I realised the problem wasn’t the act of looking at a screen.

Screens are fine. The issue is the fact most screens throw a ridiculous amount of content and information at the person in front of it.

It’s not the screen which is the issue, it’s the information.

By looking at a screen, I’m not simply staring at nothing. Whatever I choose to do — whether it be to scroll through Facebook, read some Medium posts, check my emails or watch a YouTube video — I’m putting information in to my brain. There’s an overload of input just after I wake up, and that’s the worst time to cram lots of extra stuff in to my head.

The three hour window

Psychologist Ron Friedman believes we have a three hour window (after waking up) to take advantage of a brain which is in the perfect mood for outputting:

Typically, we have a window of about three hours where we’re really, really focused.. We’re able to have some strong contributions in terms of planning, in terms of thinking, in terms of speaking well.

You see, most of us don’t plan our days as soon as we arise from our slumber. We might think about it briefly, in between videos of adorable dogs on Instagram and the morning news, but we don’t actually write anything down. There is nothing tangible in front of us to act as a springboard for the rest of our day.

That’s why so many of us arrive at the office, down a cup of coffee and take an hour or so to really get in to the swing of things. Those 45 minutes checking emails did nothing but place us in a reactive mindset. We reacted to the world around us, and let our morning be dictated by the needs of others.

Friedman encourages avoidance of the reactive morning mindset:

You’re looking outward for direction, rather than looking inward.

Output is output is output

I wanted to start looking inward for direction during my mornings, and I had some ideas of how to do that.

First, instead of letting my phone wake me up each and every morning, where the instant I turned off my alarm my eyes were bombarded with notification after notification.

Oh, a message. I should reply to that.

A Twitter mention. I wonder what that’s about.

A couple of retweets; success!

‘You have memories with this friend, this friend, this friend and 12 other friends to look back on today.’ Intriguing, let me check them out.

It had to stop.

So, I turned to my iPhone speaker dock with DAB radio. Perfect.

The soothing sounds of Smooth Radio spring me to life at 6:30am now. No need for my phone.

Next, I had to fill the gap an iPhone would normally fill in those 10–15 minutes after waking.

It’s not the screen which is the issue, it’s the information.

Output.

Notebook. Pen. Brain dump.

Every morning.

Stupid ideas, okay ideas, good ideas, great ideas.

Ideas which have evolved in to Chapters.

It doesn’t matter what I think of the ideas, I just write them down.

This Chapter is the lovechild of 6:40am and a brain dump last week. It’s grown up fast since then.


After seven days, the fog started shifting. Three days of a failed no-screens experiment, four days of a successful tangible-output-then-screens experiment.

Funny thing is though, I haven’t a clue if what I did actually worked to clear my mind. It could’ve been that those chemicals which were previously thrown out of whack by Jen’s absence simply corrected themselves over the seven days. I’ll never know.

But it doesn’t matter, because I’ve made a positive change to my morning routines.

I’m proactive, not reactive.

I rely on myself, not others.

I seek output, not input.

I’m free.


Thanks for reading Chapter 121!

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