So far this year I have not worked. I left Australia at 4am on the 1st of January and headed for Europe to commence a nine month holiday consisting mostly of sleeping, eating and walking. As I'm sure you can imagine this leaves one with plenty of time to think. At first my thoughts centred on productivity. You see you have a lot of potential as a person living in the modern world. In my 'old life', as it is referred to in my internal language, I spent a modest 40 hours a week in the capacity of a computer technician and 16 hours a week as a university student, producing large volumes of quality work. While I understand these numbers are much lower than those of my friends in the medical profession (and I'm sure a great deal of other professions) it is still quite a staggering potential for the production of work. So after a mild 'freak out' in a café in Stockholm I decided I better put at least some of these available productive hours to good use and started to draw up a plan for improvements I wanted to see in my life.
I have always liked learning and while some of my friends would argue that there is nothing better than a good tree based book, I decided to dedicate some of my productive time to the acquisition of knowledge from a number of sources. I read books, magazines and newspapers, listened to podcasts, signed up to social networks, followed numerous blogs, discovered real value in online video and downloaded audio books. I was able to watch the physics lectures of Richard Feynman (supplemented by the video version of Cliffs Notes), participate in social experiments by ZeFrank, discover the somewhat amusing history of home life as described by Bill Bryson and learned something of what is required to land a car-sized rover on Mars. But it was listening to the fantastic and interesting storyteller, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers which brings us to our topic of productivity.
Outliers is a book about how a great many things contribute to an individual's success, and contrary to common doctrine, innate talent is the least significant. Put far too simply*, Gladwell argues that success is a combination of cultural legacy, hard work and opportunity. While there are a great many lessons to be learned from this book there was one idea that stuck with me long after listening.
It relates to a person's productivity. Again put simply, it's the idea that work and opportunity are part of a person's culture and is summed up in Outliers by the Chinese proverb: "No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make their family rich." I dwelled on this thought. First I wondered if I could do it and second I wondered, how you quantify 'rich'. Do we need to relate it to money or can I choose to be rich like a good pasta sauce? (Obscure reference I know, but I happened to be in Italy at the time and much of my life was concerned with how I can get my hands on more pasta.)
I like to think of myself as a rational thinker and I understand that there is far more to success than waking up early, but the whole idea started to sound like fun. When I was in high school I was part of the rowing club and remember with a great fondness the beautiful light of dawn over the river. I began to long for that lost beauty. I also remembered my sense of achievement when classmates would arrive at school, puffy eyed and cloudy headed, and I realised all I had already done before the official start of the school day.
All of a sudden the reasons not to experience the dawn seemed less significant. (I currently get a lot of enjoyment from a late night and love a sleep in with enthusiastic passion.) The proposed change to routine became exciting.
So the easy part is done. I have decided that in the year 2013 I will attempt to wake before dawn for at least 360 days of the year.
I don't predict or even invite any great life changing epiphanies and I am disinterested in any form of celebrity. But I will write here from time to time as I explore a fun change of lifestyle and productivity.
* I really do recommend you read, or better still, listen to this book. I have come across no better or complete guide to the workings of the world.