Introduction: Playbooks are Practices
Welcome to the inaugural post of my new column, “The Weekly Playbook.” Each week I plan to feature a playbook that I use to help make my life a little easier. What is a playbook? A playbook is like an enhanced checklist that provides steps or outlines for a specific task that make it (a) repeatable, and (b) flexible. Playbooks help to save me time, build habits, and avoid making mistakes. Repeatability is key because it means I am not reinventing the wheel each time I am trying to perform some task. Flexibility means that playbook has built-in alternatives for when things go sideways. Over time, I kind of mentally absorb the playbook. In this sense, the playbook becomes the practice.
I first learned the value of a checklist when I was taking flying lessons in 1999-2000. Checklists are there to reinforce memory so that you avoid missing things. Back when I was flying, I learned to touch each item referred to on the checklist as a way of reinforcing that I was doing it. Playbooks came a bit later. I started to develop my own playbooks for work initially. After rolling out some big piece of software, I found that a standard manual or user guide wasn’t as effective as lots of short, focused lists on how to handle different situations. Over time, I began to create playbooks for myself in order to reduce the number of decision I had to make or the time I spent looking up information. They are also great at helping to form habits. In some ways, the Going Paperless series of posts that I wrote about Evernote where a set of playbooks in narrative form.
This series is different. First, the playlists that I’ll write about here are much wider in scope than the Going Paperless posts, which focused on the possibility of using digital tools like Evernote to replace the paper in my life. Second, the Going Paperless posts were more narrative in form. As you’ll see the playbooks I discuss have three parts:
- Background: Why I use the playbook or how it came to be.
- Playbook: The playbook itself which is often just a list and a set of alternatives.
- Commentary: Some words explaining the playbook in more detail.
I decided to post this series every Friday so that people had a chance to explore them over the weekend, when there tends to be more time. We’ll see how that works out. Given that I just began my creative new year with the goal of becoming a full-time writing in ten years, I thought I’d begin with the playbook that I worked up to help support his goal in the most generally way: my morning routine. Enjoy!
Project Sunrise is a codename I’ve given to my effort to improve my writing and writing opportunities over the next ten years so that when I retire from my day job (ten years hence) I can begin working as a full-time writer. The project involves more than just improving my writing, but also my overall health and well-being. Given that I still work full time and am raising three kids, I needed a way of ensuring I am getting time to write, analyzing and improve what I write, as well as improve my health and well-being into an already full day. This playbook outlines my newly revised morning routine. I’ve been beta-testing and tweaking this routine for a few weeks now, but began using it “in production” on July 1, 2021.
From start to finish, this playbook takes 2 hours and 35 minutes to complete each morning. Bold items are the ones I try to do every day regardless of circumstances.
- Walk (45 min)
- Meditate, guided (10 min)
- Shower (10 min)
- Write (1 hr)
- Journal, email, blog comments, etc. (30 min)
- Bad weather? Replace walk with elliptical (45 min)
- Short of time in the morning? Move writing to evening routine (1hr)
I have my morning routine list posted in a few places so that I can reference it at a glance. It is posted in my office above my screens so that I can see it when I am sitting at my desk. A copy of it is also taped into the back of the current Field Notes notebook that I carry around.
Note that there are no clock times associated with the playbook? To be as flexible as possible, my playbooks focus on duration, but not start or end times. As I’ve worked out this new routine, I try to get started at 5:50 am. But this list works just as well if I start at 7 am or 9 am. Everything just shifts relative to the time it takes. I’ve tested out each of the times listed to make sure they are reasonable. That way I know how long it will take to get through the routine.
It is important to me to have alternatives readily available. Nothing throws off a habit as much as an unexpected situation? What do I do if I am traveling? What do I do if the weather is bad? What if I have an early work meeting? Have a pre-defined set of alternatives means I don’t have to think about the answer in most situations.
Order matters to me on these playbooks. I walk first thing because it wake me up. I gave up caffeine 74 days ago (as I write this) so I no longer have that as an aid to alertness. The walk gets me fresh air and some immediate exercise and I come back to the house alert and ready for the day.
I use the Calm app for meditation. My preferred guided meditation is Jeff Warren’s “The Daily Trip” series. These last anywhere from 9-12 minutes and allow me to clear my head before getting started.
A shower after meditating helps wash away any residual sleepiness. Even though my showers are quick, it is also where my mind wanders and I try to guide it toward what I plan to write that day.
After the shower, I write. For instance, I am writing this post after my shower on July 1. On my walk and in the shower I was able to frame how I wanted to present these playbook posts (context, playbook, and commentary). I give myself an hour to write. Maybe I can write only one post, maybe more than one. Maybe I’m not in the mood to write. That’s okay, but I don’t allow myself to do anything else in that hour.
Finally, I give myself 30 minutes for journaling, handling any personal email, and reviewing any blog comments that I need to reply to.
Playbooks are designed to be living documents. I adjust them as needed as I learn better ways of doing things.
I also have a playbook for an evening routine, but I’ll save that one for another time.
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