tl;dr: Get one thing done with dedicated alone time at the start of the work day like a boss. Walking is nice, too.
A waste of a good morning
My morning routine has a problem. The first thing I do when I sit down at my desk in the morning is check my email and catch up on news. Newsletters. Blogs. Twitter on the train to work. After half an hour of catching up, I start in on projects.
At least, that was my routine for the last nine years.
The office building I work in has three treadmill desks. Hardly anyone uses them. They’re not a secret, but they feel like the building’s best kept secret.
The first hour is the best hour
I’ve started spending the first hour of most days on the treadmill desk. I’ll do a cursory check of email to make sure there’s nothing urgent rearranging my priorities, and then head up to my booked treadmill and work on a project.
In that first hour, I usually get one of my day’s top three priorities completed. Maybe I prep and send something to print. I may take a small project from start to finish. Or spend the whole hour filing and archiving projects (a task I otherwise procrastinate).
As a side bonus, that hour of walking also guarantees I’ll hit my target step goal for the say (which I usually otherwise miss).
Nobody interrupts me when I’m walking.
We have a quiet open office, and I don’t usually get interrupted anyways, but the isolation is still invaluable. There may be a psychological element to it too: I’m picking up and walking to a place to get one thing done. I’m committing. Each walk station is in its own room, on a different floor.
Haptic white noise
When I really need to knuckle down and grind some work out, my two go-two albums are the Monument Valley Soundtrack and the Fez Soundtrack. Walking is like the haptic equivalent of that. Instead of (or in addition to) filling my ears with something pleasant, I also fill my body with the simple joy of movement. It’s like how sometimes a good conversation only happens when you’re driving. Or how you pace when you’re on the phone or the stage. Walking while working makes me feel like I’m already in the groove. Like I’m already focused and intent.
And when I pause for a moment to stretch or drink some water, I know I’ve paused. I feel the need to get back in motion. It’s like “Hey! Buddy! You’re in this room to walk and to work, so get back at it!”
Some things can’t be done there
I leave behind my three giant monitors and Wacom tablet to take my laptop up to the walk station. I could probably do any of my work on the laptop alone, but it would take longer. That’s painful. I’m also away from the fileserver, and slowly grabbing files or doing a backup enrages me. So I plan ahead.
The night before
At the end of each day I write down the top three things I need to do the next day, and write out a loose plan for the following day. I pick what thing I’ll do at the walk station the next morning and write that in. Then I book the room with the project or client name as the subject of the booking.
Visual cue: where is the mouse?
When I lock my laptop up at the end of the day, I put the mouse on top of it to remind me I’ll be going to another floor. If my day starts with a meeting, the mouse stays on my desk. Now I don’t need to think about work at all until I arrive the next morning.
When I arrive at my desk in the morning and unlock my desk, seeing my mouse (and maybe sketchbook and pen) on top of my laptop, ready to go, reminds me that I need to go.
The Walk Station Gospel
Every time I meet someone new at work, the first thing I want to talk about is the walk stations. I’m a walk station evangelist. I feel so good getting stuff done every day. It feels like my life has changed for the better. I want everyone to get in on it, even if it means that I’ll have more trouble getting those morning bookings. Or not get the one on my favourite floor.
But it isn’t the walk station that changed my life. The exercise is just a bonus. Dedicated, protected, booked alone time to work on just one thing makes all the difference.
Getting some exercise at the same time is pretty sweet, though.