My bedside table used to be bad news. Like many people, I used to charge my phone and watch about half a metre from my head. And like many, my phone was my alarm clock. So I was basically setting my day up to give into one of the worst temptations – checking my phone upon waking, and by doing so, starting my day with other people’s stuff.
Other people’s stuff might mean requests that have come in overnight via email, comments on a article or post, or multiple messages from a conversation about a meeting location on a What’s App group. While other people’s stuff might seem relatively innocuous, they basically determine the state of mind we get out of bed in.
I remember one morning where I woke up and hopped onto an article I had had published the day before. I wanted to see what feedback I had received in the form of comments or tweets. Clearly the terms “constructive feedback” and “online comments” are an oxymoron, but nonetheless, I used to find reading online comments irresistible.
The article in question was one I wrote about the problems with mindfulness on creativity. I thought it was a clever angle about the darker side of mindfulness (an antidote to the endless stream of mindfulness advocates) and would perhaps attract a reader like me who had struggled to adopt a mindfulness habit.
But no, clearly the mindfulness supporters read anything with the word mindfulness in the title and had swarmed on this article to inform me that I was clearly a resentful mindfulness failure and to stop reporting on research that is clearly incorrect. It wasn’t incorrect (#justsaying).
So, armed with this criticism, I think it’s fair to say I didn’t bounce out of bed that morning. No. I rolled out, dragged myself into the shower, got ready for work, and inflicted my grumpy mood on pretty much anyone who was in my path. I certainly didn’t feel in the mood to engage in any task that was remotely challenging. And working on my latest article after having this one completely bagged was seriously not going to happen.
Imagine though, if I could rewind the first 60 seconds of my day to not having checked my phone. I could have gone about my merry way and almost definitely, got a whole lot more done and avoided inflicting my miserable mood onto my family and team mates.
So for me, the perfect bedside table has become a digital-free zone. I have an alarm clock (yes, I felt like I was back in the 80s when I bought it). The alarm clock tells me the time and tells me when to wake up by playing Canon in D and shining a bright light all over my bedroom.
Next to my alarm clock, I have a notepad and pen. This was a late addition to the game, but nonetheless, a really important one. I realised after removing my phone from my bedroom, that I missed having something to write down random ideas and to do list notes, and instead found myself playing memory games with myself to try to ensure I remembered them in the morning. For example, if I had to remember to get Almond Milk, granny smith apples, and avocados from the supermarket the next day, I’d make up a story about a granny who was making an avocado sandwich for her daughter Almond. Yep, literary genius in action.
This was not an effective strategy.
Instead, I now have an old fashioned notebook and pen, which captures my ideas and gets to do list items out of my head. It allows my brain to have a good night’s sleep rather than try to memorise things. When I wake up, I can then look at what I wrote down and either add them to my to-do list or continue to build on the idea I had late at night.
So to get your day off to the perfect start, simply put a “real” alarm clock, a pen and a notepad next to your bed. Everything else can be relegated to another room in your home.
Dr Amantha Imber