Are you ready? In this post, I am going to give you a challenge harder than quitting smoking or attempting a diet. I want you to wake up in the morning and do 10 activities, that’s right, 10, that don’t involve looking at an electronic screen, before you pick up your mobile phone, tablet or laptop. I don’t want you to do it everyday, but just ONE day EVERY week. No email peeking, no time check, no social media, no games, until 10 non-screen activities are finished. Are you up to it?
Why take the challenge?
With eyes glued to an electronic screen, you are missing out on the most fantastic part of the day, i.e. morning. An active morning usually leads to an active day. Here are some things that happen when you start your morning with an electronic screen.
Bottomless pit: News apps and social media are designed with infinite scrolls. The more you scroll, more content appears. There is nothing to cue that you should stop reading. In fact, they want as much as time from you as you can give them. After what you think is a quick scroll through news and Twitter, you will find that you have spent 2 hours sitting in bed, mindlessly thumbing through infinite pages of content, mostly not relevant to your day.
Procrastination: Thumbing through your phone screen is a comforting activity. It is like feeding an addiction. It feels great. The more you sit with your screen in hand, the more likely you are to postpone your real activities of the morning, including breakfast and exercise.
Your head feels stuffy: Most people who wake up with a phone or laptop in hand for even a few minutes usually feel very stuffy during the earlier part of the day. This is because your body needs fresh air sometime after it wakes up. If the only time you step out of home in the morning is for your office commute, then chances are that you have sleep-walked through your morning.
You feel hurried: As the activity of feeding your screen addition eats away valuable time, you suddenly realise that you don’t have time much time left to get ready for the day.
What you should do instead?
Any activity that doesn’t involve looking at an electronic screen of any sort, i.e. TV, laptop, mobile phone or tablet.
Do you have a spouse? You are lucky to wake up with a partner for life. Make the most of your time together in the morning. Especially, if you are going to be spending time away from each other at work. You should spend as much time together as you can until you head out the door.
But strictly!!! Sitting on the bed and watching a video together on a screen under the pretext of quality time does not count!
What about fresh air? Something as tiny as a two minute walk in the area around your home is enough to get some fresh air and sunshine into your system and complete your wakefulness. This is because the outdoors and sunshine help your body release cortisol, the hormone needed for a feeling of wakefulness.
Working out: While you are outdoors, why not go for a run or head to your gym? A fit start to the morning keeps you fit all day. It also gives you a high and a sense of accomplishment.
Cleaning your home: Since early 2019, Priya and I have been tidying up our home early in the morning. Usually our tidying process starts just before 7:30 and finishes by 8:00. It is a habit now. Is is wonderful to have a clean house for ourselves for nearly an entire day. That was not the case before. We hadn’t prioritised tidying and would often have an unkempt home. It is stressful to look at a dusty, grimy and cluttered home, whereas a neat home, where everything looks clean and everything is in its place gives you a feeling of freedom and peace.
Is half an hour enough to clean our entire house? Yes, it is. Because we sweep and swab everyday. We only have to clean the dust and grime gathered over the last 24 hours. For more concentrated cleaning, such as kitchen counters, ceiling fans, bathroom tiles and water taps, we have allotted one weekday to each room of our home, e.g. our drawing room on Mondays, kitchen on Tuesdays, etc.
Most cleaning jobs are stressful and time-consuming because they have to deal with grime gathered over a long period of neglect. If you have a particularly large home, such as one with two storeys, then alternate between each floor every day.
Cleaning your vehicles: We also spend one day every week cleaning our car and our motorbike. Similar to a dirty house, a dirty vehicle doesn’t feel good. Also the dirt causes the vehicle to under-perform by clogging filters and interfering with smooth functioning of the moving parts. A dusty car interior leads to allergies and breathing problems. It is worth taking one day every week to clean your vehicle rather than drooling at yet another cat video on the Internet.
Cleaning yourself: You need to take care of yourself as early in the day as you can. One of the ways is by brushing your teeth and bathing within moments of waking up. If you want to take a long bath after cleaning your home, then just take a two minute shower after waking up. Lingering in bed and staring at your phone without even caring to brush your teeth is a huge disservice to your body and health. You deserve better.
Reading, learning and revision: Upto an hour after waking up is considered to be the best time to learn something, since the din of the day hasn’t started yet and your mind is yet to receive and get swamped by inputs from everywhere. You are at your receptive best and have the chance of retaining what you learn.
An alternative method is to learn some concept just before you sleep and then revise it early in the morning. You may have heard about the process of ‘sleeping over something’. You learn something complex at night and then go to sleep. Your subconscious brain processes the complex concept while you sleep. If you wake up and revise the concept, your chances of retaining are better.
One condition here is that you must learn something by reading from a physical book, a printed document or a printed / sketched diagram. e-Books, videos and on-screen documents are not allowed since we are staying away from screens. Are audio books / podcasts allowed? Uhh… please read the ‘Can I’ section later in this post.
Cooking and having breakfast: Breakfast is considered a very important meal in the day. It can give you a boost of energy right after you wake up. But I get that a lot of persons are not fond of breakfast. It’s okay. You can feed yourself something to start the day, even if it is just a cup of coffee. Make sure that you enjoy making your breakfast or coffee, savouring each aroma as the raw ingredients turn into something tasty. And then enjoy your breakfast without a screen on the side, savouring every flavour.
Meditation / Yoga: I practise neither, but Priya (my wife) does both. The benefits of meditation and Yoga early in the morning have been documented several times over. There are thousands of books about both topics. Meditation is like a reset button for your brain, where you stop it from spinning a train of thought for sometime, let it rest and return energised. When I say Yoga, I specifically mean a set of practices classified under Hatha Yoga, which are movements and postures for your body. These postures look fancy, but each of them has a purpose, aligning the energy levels of your body in the right places. Surely worth a try.
DIY: If something around your house needs fixing or building and you have the capability to do it yourself, then do so before picking up your screen. A fixed leak in your pipeline, a set of hangers nailed to the wall to hang your clothes without throwing them around, a piece of furniture you made yourself are all major wins to start your day with. You will get a sense of accomplishment right at the start of the day.
How I do it?
I am unable to practise my own no-screen morning strategy every day. Why? In the post The ONE thing you should do every morning, I have mentioned that the first thing you should work on every morning should be related to your most important goal for the season. In my case, 2 hours of software engineering takes precedence over everything else, including my morning routine. As per that post, my morning routine begins only after I get my most important thing done. My laptop turns on 15 minutes within my waking up. But my phone gets seen only 4 hours later.
I have also talked about how I avoid my weekday routine during weekends in the post Why to break your routine for one day?. That’s when I apply my no-screen morning rule. During weekends, I do not touch my electronic screens until it’s close to 11 am. There are weekends when we sleep in and those when we wake up early. On the days we do wake up early, I go to the gym or go for a walk. Breakfast gets done next. This is followed by cleaning up our car and motorbike. I may then engage in a few DIY tasks. It is only after those tasks that I read something on the phone or work on the laptop. On some weekends, my non-screen tasks are long and by the time I am done, it is time to make and have lunch. On such days, it is only during lunch that our laptop screen comes on, past mid-day.
Can I… ?
… listen to a podcast / music while I am the gym or while cleaning up? Uhh.. Well, I agree that listening is not the same as looking at a screen, but you have to commit to more than just avoiding a screen. It should be more like avoiding a digital source. When performing exercises, you should be focusing on your muscle movement and breath. I usually get distracted by music and so I avoid it. Furthermore, the tangle of wires of the earphone around my body is annoying and I don’t like the idea of stuffing my ears when I am running on a treadmill or lifting weights. While cleaning my car outdoors in the morning, I prefer the music of chirping birds.
… talk to someone over phone? A phone call means having a conversation with another human. So I am not going to say NO to this activity. But I would still prefer getting out and running into someone you know in your locality or in the gym to have a conversation. Save all your phone calls for your screen time.
… respond to urgent messages? / respond to calls I got after I was asleep? No and no. Because you won’t know if you have urgent messages or missed calls. You aren’t supposed to pick up your phone to check for messages or calls until your screen time 😛
Addictive technology and touchscreen devices have been trapping your life over the last decade. It is time to given them the boot at least one morning every week and live two – three hours without giving in to temptation or the so-called ‘urgencies’ of the digital world. Are you up to the challenge?