Advantages of waking up early

March 29, 2007

dawn.jpgWaking up early has innumerable benefits. Before I launch into a list of those benefits, you might want to consider the fact that almost all successful people are out of bed by 630am. So, what exactly are the benefits of waking up early?

  1. The first advantage is the extra time gained in the day. If you wake up two hours early, rather than sleeping for 8 or even 10 hours (quite a normal feat for me sometimes) you’ll gain two precious hours that you can put to use. Two extra hours might mean time to work out, meditate, cook something by yourself (which means you’ll be eating food which is more healthy and cheap — and sometimes even more tasty!), write a short story, or pursue a hobby. Wake up at 6, and even if you have a one-hour commute to work, you can fit in time for a quick workout, meditation, cooking and email– all before you’ve even reached work.
  2. Waking up early usually mean that your day gets a great start. First, you’ll be proud of yourself for waking up so early, and achieving one of your goals. You might be able to reward yourself by catching a glimpse of the sunrise, or appreciating the breaking morning sky. And usually, if your day has a great start, the rest of day follows in a similarly happy pattern. Or at least you’re in a good mood and better able to deal well with setbacks or frustrations.
  3. You get time to work on an important goal that you might not usually have time for. Many great writers used to write in the morning, before they went off to their day jobs. Nell Fredeunberger, a writer I’m very impressed by, mentions that while she was working full-time at the New Yorker Magazine, she would write out a short story in the mornings before she arrived at work. Her short stories have been published, and won prestigious awards; her second book, a novel, has also been recently published. By waking up early, you make time for yourself, and for things which are important to you, but might otherwise be crammed out of your life. Even if you choose to work at your usual job, you can get more work by the end of the day. Your personal productivity goes up, if you wake earlier.
  4. Mornings are a great time for work, since they tend to be quiet and uninterrupted. During the day, you might not be able to devote all of yourself to a pet project: you might need to keep an ear open for your phone even while you meditate, your kids might walk in clamoring for attention when you’re trying to type out witty dialogue for your screenplay. Waking up early is a great way to find a chunk of peaceful, productive time. Once again, even if you choose to do some “regular” work in this time, you’ll be much more productive than  you would normally be during the day, when coworkers and bosses would demand your time every few minutes, as well as your spouse on the phone and friends on IM. In the morning, you won’t be exhausted from work or burdened with worries, so it’s easier to get work done faster, too.
  5. Waking early allows you to actually have breakfast. Many people are used to skipping breakfast, and may think that breakfast isn’t such a big deal. But once you start waking early and having the time to have a nutritious and healthy breakfast, you’ll notice what an energy boost it is, and how much more alert you seem throughout the day.
  6. Finally, waking early means that early appointments are easier to meet and will be more productive. Whether it’s a class, or a client, if you wake early you won’t need to be groggy and half-alert. Class attendance has been proven to have a strong positive correlation with grades, and if you can meet a client before your competitors, or even before he gets to his other work, you will have a strong competitive advantage. 

Many people mistakenly believe that they’re night owls and that waking early has no real benefit for them. This is a rather widely-held misconception. Anyone can wake up early, once they’ve gotten used to it. It’s true that the first few days of suddenly waking up early are likely to be difficult, but once the routine is set, it’s not that difficult. And being a night owl is not really that productive, it just mistakenly seems that way– a fact that becomes evident once you’re used to the habit of starting your day early.

If you’re already an early riser, congratulations! Waking up early is a difficult habit to establish, and as difficult to re-establish once you lapse. In the next post I’ll mention my tips for how to actually get out of bed, at an hour that might initially seem quite ungodly. Of course, those’ll only help you if you’re convinced by the advantages.

If you disagree, or if you have any additional ideas that you’d like to mention, I would love to hear from you.

Picture credits: “Hogback dawn” by mike_ormsby


18 non-monetary things you can do to be happy

December 8, 2006

“Happiness is a thing to be practiced, like a violin” — John Lubbock

These days, studies are published on ways to become happier. However, it’s important to remember that happiness is a journey, not a destination. And while I might list 18 non-monetary ways to be happy, I’m sure there are a lot, lot more.

  1. Be with loved ones.
    Research shows that happy people spend very little time alone. Instead, they surround themselves with friends and family, and find joy in sharing their lives with others.
  2. Marry someone you love and respect
    Advice from Socrates: “By all means marry: if you get a good wife, you’ll become happy; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher”.
  3. Smile a lot
    Acting the part often leads to feeling the part. Besides, it’ll make you look a lot better, and might even make someone else happy.
  4. Laugh a lot
    Not only is it good for your heart, but also for you and the people near you.
  5. Be honest — except for a few white lies
    Honesty is the best policy, and saves a lot of heartache down the road. Of course, the road to honesty is to become a person of exceptional integrity, which while difficult, is possible. But remember to tell your next-door neighbor that she looks like she lost some weight…
  6. Spend less than you earn, and plan for your retirement
    No matter how little you’re earning, and how badly you want to buy those expensive shoes (apply whatever seems to pull you the most) don’t splurge on them if your bank manager isn’t too pleased with you.
  7. Give as much as you can
    Children in orphanages often write to Santa: “I don’t really want anything, but my sister needs a coat because it’s so cold”. Give to those with less than you, both in terms of time and money. Few other actions are as rewarding.
  8. Lead a sensual life
    Surround yourself with pleasant smells: nice perfume, beautiful flowers, baking cookies. Keep a nice painting or photo on your wall. Buy flowers. Eat spicy food.
  9. Get rid of clutter
    Clean your wardrobe, your desk, your kitchen. Don’t let things that don’t help pile up.
  10. Donate things that you don’t use
    Whether they’re books that you don’t read, clothes that you don’t wear, or gifts that you’ll never use: give them to someone who’ll appreciate them.
  11. Be healthy
    Eat healthy, avoid junk food and excess alcohol, exercise regularly, and make sure you go for your yearly check-ups.
  12. Remember that you’re healthy
    An interesting study shows that happiness is not directly correlated to being healthy. Many healthy people take their health for granted. Whereas some sickly people appreciate the few healthy days that they enjoy. Hypochondriacs are the most miserable.
  13. Be grateful
    Gratitude is essential to happiness. Psychiatrists have found that talking and writing about what they’re grateful for amplifies adults’ happiness. Learning to savor the small pleasures has the same effect.
  14. Spend some time reflecting on life
    Meditate, keep a journal, or do both. They will give you perspective and structure to your life.
  15. Set your own standards
    Forget the Jones. Establish goals for yourself, based on what you think is reasonable. You’ll be happier when you achieve those, than what the Jones’ have.
  16. Find activities that you love
    Try to spend most of your time doing work or activities which make time flow faster. The happiest people are usually busy with things that they love to do, whether it’s cooking, starting a new business, or being with a child.
  17. Construct routines, but remember that surprises often lead to greater happiness
    Life is too full of uncertainties to be controlled. Yet those experiences which we don’t plan for, often lead to greater growth and fulfillment.
  18. Stretch yourself mentally.
    Learning leads to a satisfaction much greater than any impulse purchase.

And finally, for ways to buy yourself some happiness, check out this post

How to be happy

September 12, 2006

“Nothing is worse than a rich girl who feels sorry for herself”. So why is it, that the rich don’t seem to be much happier than the rest of us? Why do we all think that money can’t buy happiness, but pursue it almost blindly, hoping that it will at least rent some joy?
All around us, we see examples of extremely successful people, like actors and athletes, who have made it really big, and yet do not seem to be very content with what they have.  

If money can’t buy happiness, then what can? 

The brief answer is, financial success can only buy financial toys. Money can buy a lot of useful things: toys, time, freedom. But it can’t buy the affection of those we love. And most of the stuff it buys disappoints us in the end.
Some money is absolutely essential. When you’re poor and worried about your next meal, or how to buy something essential, you can’t be happy. Once you reach a certain level of financial achievement, you can be free from those money demons: at least your basic needs are met. 

But more money does not equal more happiness. We always want something more than what we have. When we try to spend our way into happiness, we are never happy because:

  1. We want something more, or something better, and
  2. What we just bought doesn’t seem to live up to the grand expectations we had of it.

The things that bring us most happiness are our friends and family.
A significant number of close friends means that you have people to share your ups and downs with (and you get to go to, and throw, a lot of parties 😉 )
A happy relationship with your spouse is incredibly important for overall happiness.
Children make us happier in the long run: despite what many studies say, anyone will tell you that their children are their greatest joy.

Thankful people are happier. I understand this first-hand, because I started keeping a thankfulness journal once, and I could feel my spirits lift immediately. Thankful people appreciate the wonderful life that they are enjoying. 

Your experiences are what make you happy.
Till that end, money can actually make you happier.
Money spent on enjoyable experiences (travel, an easier or non-existent commute, a brighter living area) is money well spent.
Unlike “stuff”, you enjoy experiences both during the actual occurrence, and in the memories that persist. In fact, your memories often tend to magnify the past, so that the happy parts are exaggerated and the more negative parts overlooked. That’s why pictures of your last vacation usually evoke such powerful feelings. 

Money spent on experiences which are challenging, is money especially well-spent, since most of us are glad to be able to rise to a challenge. Learning to play tennis, for instance, is a great way to spend money because of they joy you get when tackling those difficult moves. 

I’m pretty sure that I’ll blog on happiness in greater detail, because it’s difficult to deal with the topic in one single post. 

It’s tough to break happiness down into each component part, but I think it ultimately boils down to two things: your relationships, and your experiences.

Update: My first post on the happiness series is up here.

Hopes for this blog…

August 24, 2006

This is truly a “hit the ground running” blog.

I’ve been meaning to start a blog for ages now (or so it seems). But i didn’t know what to write, how to trackback, how to sign up in technorati, and so on and so forth. And i was too shy to comment in other people’s blogs, even when I wanted to.

So i decided to just do it. I’ve written a few posts, and read other blogs with greater interest than I used to before, especially those which are in my niche and from which I can learn something.

Of course, I have grand plans for this blog. The best possible outcome would be for it to become a central hub, a referral point for people seeking advice about life. If not that, I hope that at least some people will appreciate what I write.

A while back I was feeling really happy to have finally started work on this blog, and I remembered an interview I gave once. It was a one-to-one interview with a CEO whose dynamic personality I admire. It was a fun interview, and the one serious question he asked was, “What do you want to do before you die?” My answer was, “I want to touch a few lives”.

I hope I can do that through this blog.

Career advice for college students

August 23, 2006

It’s never too early to begin thinking about a career. I’m frequently asked for career advice by cousins who are about to enter college, or those who are in their sophomore or junior years, so I’ve come up with some thoughts about what a college student could do. I occasionally interview and select interns and new recruits at my organization, and I can now understand the recruitment process from different perspectives.

The first thing that any young person should be aware of, is what he or she really wants from life. It’s never too early to begin some soul-searching. List the top 5 things that you want to achieve over your life-time. Be honest, and as specific as possible (e.g. I want to live in the Bahamas, not doing anything all day, with my three girlfriends who are all swimsuit models). Rest assured that your goals with change as you grow older, but things will be a lot easier if you start making plans for your life.

Be clear about what it is that you want from your career. Do you want to make a lot of money? Would you do that by climbing to a top management position, or would start a business after a few years experience?

Ideally, you would want a high-paying job that would also enable you to enjoy a stress-free life. (I can warn you that it’s not going to happen, but you knew that already, right?) Think about what’s important to you, what interests you, and you’ll be able to come up with  some possible fields you’d like to go into. Of course, if you already know exactly what niche you want to work in (be it advertising or massage therapy) that makes life a lot simpler: all you need to do is to concentrate your energies on that field of study, and you’re almost certain to get a job.

For those who have a vague idea (i.e. good pay, good hours), a good option is a liberal arts degree, or a major in a relatively job-friendly subject (communications, physics, economics). Of course, if you love art history but want a job in the corporate world, you should feel free to go down that route. It’s possible to get a corporate job with a major in a non-typical subject, but it will, of course, be slightly more difficult.

Take as many courses in college, which you feel you would enjoy.

Try to get good grades in college. Grades are not everything, and hiring decisions are not based on grades. Still, make an effort so that you can be proud of yourself. It definitely does help if you’re on the Dean’s List, but even if you’re not, make sure that you can say, “I tried my very best”.

Get involved. Play sports, join a club, do volunteer work. These things will help to impress interviewers, but pick activities which you’ll enjoy. Try to participate in leadership roles.  This will teach you management and responsibility.

Make friends. As many as possible. Not only do friends make your life fun, but friends are an important source of information. Try to make friends with people who are a year or two above you, as well as those in your year.  Your older friends will later be able to provide you with valuable advice regarding the job market.

Do some work. Start as early as possible, so that you’ll have no ego hang-ups about doing what you think is menial work. Get internships, even if they’re unpaid. Even if you think you’re not doing serious work, you’ll at least learn how to interact in an office environment.

Finally, your college years should be those when you enjoy yourself. Work life is a drag, and your college years should be some of the best times of your life. Follow the basic principles outlined above, and forget about looking for a job until you’re in your senior year and actively being recruited!

Following your dreams

August 21, 2006

I’ve spent most of my adult life doing things that don’t seem ordinary.

I joined one university when most people thought that I could go to a better one, I started working in a research job when most people thought I would accept a lucrative offer as a banker.I’m not sure how I could’ve fared, how it would have been had I taken the road more traveled.

Most probably, I would be working at a high-paying, stressful investment bank, fighting tooth and claw for some elusive promotion. Maybe I’d get married to an equally ambitious guy, and we’d live a lifestyle typical of urban executives.

Instead I’ve wound up living a completely different lifestyle, and I’ve started blogging.

I digress, of course.

I actually wanted to begin with a quote I read as a teenager, and which stuck with me: “live your life as though you’re living it over”.

You’ll never get a chance to relive your life. Once you don’t accept an option, you’ll never have the chance to go back and try it out, or see how it goes.Every time you come to a fork in the road, you need to trust our intuition and make the choice based on what you think, and what you want: not what society deems appropriate or desirable. If it’s an important decision, take some time to think.

Try your best to drain out those voices of reason who keep advocating what Jones would do.

Sometimes it’s hard to decide what you want to do. Somebody (I forget who), once said, “Telling someone to listen to their intuition is like telling someone to listen to people”.He was right in that we do have many voices inside our heads. But it’s just a matter of practice before you learn how to screen out the voices which are driven by fear and ego.

As a very basic test, ask yourself:

  1. Is this an attractive option because I think that this is what most people would do in this situation, and they must have good reasons for choosing this option?
  2. Am I tempted to choose this option because it’s the easy way out? Am I scared of the challenges I see in the future, am I scared of potential failure?

The concept of living your life over again is helpful in that it helps you to avoid decisions that are based on fear and insecurity.Over time, the voice in your head which helps you make brave, conscious decisions will grow stronger. Practice listening to your intuition and you’ll soon learn how to identify and avoid fear-based choices.