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Ask HN: How do you make your warm-up time shorter
49 points by long_warmup 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 39 comments
I used to work till late hours. That is - extremely late, I could stay up until 4am, have 6 hours sleep and then work the next day. That is not to say that I was working this whole time, I used to waste some of that time - like play chess every once and again, read HN post...

This will not come as surprise that I realized this hurts my family and so I decided I have to change the way how I organize my day.

I managed to change my life style to start work early (I wake up 5am and I'm in the office at 6am so I can finish at 3pm) and then spend quality time with family (quality that is I'm not tired or under phone / email). Once kids are in bed and I still feel like checking in I give myself 1 hour before 9pm, I go to bed not later than 9pm so I fall asleep before 10 so I can wake up at 5am again.

Everything would be fine if only I had shorter warmup time. That means when I come to the office at 6am I often need around 30 minutes of wasted time to make my mind to actually start working. What do I do during that time? I waste it to play mahjong, sometimes chess or read HN post...

I tried different things to fight these bad habits. One post here on HN suggests to maintain a TODO list, so first thing you do in the morning is to curate that list and keep it up to date in terms of priorities. This helped a bit but I still find it difficult to just jump straight in without having some of my time wasted.

If you still read this you might probably suspect that this warmup time is not just morning thing. Every distraction during the day (i.e. meetings, standup etc.) make me to waste some time to go back to the flow...

What are your ways of reducing this warm-up time? Or maybe I'm just lazy and nobody else have this problem?






Man, don't be so harsh to yourself, your circadian rhythm won't change just because you want so :D I spend 1 hour each day in the same way, from 7am to 8am, and I bet there are a lot of people doing so. Instead of trying to make each single half an hour "productive" you can just be human and let yourself be adapting to waking up at 5am. If you can't but think it's a waste, avoid needing your analytical brain for something like chess and prepare breakfast for your kids, write poetry to let yourself go and drop into emotions, or dedicate time to some small housekeeping duty. All the time we live is somewhat "wasted", it's just as meaningful as we assign value to it. Don't stress yourself too much, people living in the countryside one hundred years ago used to live by the the sun, and they had so much time to "waste" that you wouldn't think possible, and I don't consider old farmers "lazy people" just because of that.

I recall Arnold Schwarzenegger saying that he was the only one smiling in the gym. People would ask him why he smiles through all that pain. And he said that every rep brings him closer to his goal as Mr Universe.

It's not a wonderful goal, not even something his father was proud of. But it's a goal he kept in mind, every day, through every rep.

People are most motivated when they feel in control. It doesn't have to be actual control - studies show that even predicting a coin flip makes paying attention to flipping coins a lot more interesting.

A TODO list is half the job. Many people take a list, do what they can, give up on what they can't. The list does not give them control; and in fact it demotivates because it makes you feel helpless.

Visualize your plan. It might be worth taking some time to do this. Yes, it might increase warm up time, but you'll be able to go faster and finish faster, and it's not dead time. If you can't spare the time, you can still visualize while in the shower or on the drive to work.

Phelps would mentally visualize his race each night and then just play it back during training and during the race: http://www.behaviouraldesign.com/2013/10/07/how-michael-phel...

At the end of the day, review your plan. What went wrong? What should you have done differently? If you have no idea what happened, you could even break it down into scientific method - hypotheses and how to test them.

Remember, you don't have to execute the plan perfectly. You just need to convince yourself that you have increasing control over your day, and that should go a long way towards motivation.


One weird trick: leave some code NOT compiling or with failing test or runtime error. Come in, reproduce the error and you’ll be back in it quickly!

Hemingway would stop writing right when he was getting to something good, so he could continue on the next day.

I was fascinated with this when I first read about it, but I found this trick has a big downside to it: I couldn't get OUT of work mode. Sure, it let's you pick up immediately, but I found the reason was that I never put it down. Did anyone else have this experience?

I will say, this did not occur when I "picked up" something else. If I worked on another project or went to the gym and did something stimulating (sparring, not just picking up weights), then I had no issues disengaging from the day's work.


Yup this is my trick if I’m feeling a bit under motivated. I’ll leave myself some low hanging fruits for the morning and a todo list at my desk.

This is a fantastic mental hack! Nothing is more stimulating than being thrown right back into the middle of a problem.

> What are your ways of reducing this warm-up time? Or maybe I'm just lazy and nobody else have this problem?

As far as I can tell, this is a fairly normal part of knowledge / creative work. You call it wasted time, but some part of it is essential to do the job well, and so you’re legitimately working during that time.

It simply takes time for a human brain to shift from interactivity to contemplation, and a short chess game or similar seems like a good way to spend that time.


One possible metric is "time to github commit". Track the timestamp of your first code commit each day. And correlate to how productive the rest of the day is. I've found that if I can get that first submission in before 9am. The rest of the day really opens up. A hack for this is to leave a little unfinished work the night before. A half implemented function for example. That way there is not too much of a context switch the next morning. And it is simpler to pick up right where you left off. Best of luck ;)

Try beginning a problem towards the end of the day that you look forward to finishing and solving the next morning. That will create positive anticipation. That way, you can’t wait to get started. It can be something trivial or more difficult.

To be honest I think it's perfectly normal. I'm very much the same :)

The only times I don't have this "warming up stage" is when I have a problem from the day previously that I somehow figured out a feasible solution in my sleep


You are definitely not lazy! It takes me a good 20-30 minutes in the morning to get situated once I’m at my desk. Sometimes that time is spent just reading email and catching up, sometimes it’s checking HN, sometimes it’s messing around on my phone. But I don’t feel guilty about it because I’m paid for results and not my time in a seat, and sometimes I need that time to just chill and collect myself so I can keep getting those results. As long as you are getting your work done on time I wouldn’t worry at all about this.

I can understand the desire to increase productivity, but I often think we too easily try to combat our nature. For example, I tend to be very unproductive for a lot of the day and then have bursts of incredible productivity during which I do more in an hour than many do in half the day. I tried to fight that, but realized that the way my brain works is I map things out in my mind in almost an unconscious way, I mull over ideas (also semi-unconsciously). This is followed by a burst of productivity. This works for me and I've come to realize I don't need to fight it.

But since I'm aware of this, I've changed some things. For example, during my "down" time, I try not to get get too deep into other mental pursuits, I avoid dealing with things that might cause stress, etc. Basically, I try to ensure that when I'm ready to switch to productivity mode, my mind is clear and I'm ready to work. I'll even try to do some things that are arguably productive, even if it's not productivity towards my main work goals, for example reading documentation or guides on new tools I'm using...that kind of thing. Nothing too hands on or deep, but something that does make me better at my work.

I think you need to accept that's how you work and admire the diversity of creative/productive/mental "styles". Actually, you said it yourself! "I often need around 30 minutes of wasted time to make my mind to actually start working." What's the problem then?

So I don't really have direct advice for you. If it just takes you 30 minutes in the morning to get going, so be it. Have a coffee, do some reading while you ready yourself mentally for work.

The other variable number of distracted periods during the day is probably the bigger (or only) issue as I see it. For that, I'm afraid I don't have much advice, but maybe some of the points I made above are relevant.

EDIT: one way to think about it, perhaps, is that whatever your brain needs, it's going to get one way or another. You can't just ignore it indefinitely. Like, if you just tried to use sheer willpower to stay focused when your mind is begging you for a little break, you might be able to delay giving into that for a bit (which might actually be fine), but make a mental note that you're feeling the need for a break and schedule to take that in N minutes or later that day - basically at a time during which you reasonably feel it might be less problematic to be in your less productive mode. Point is, rather than trying to deny your nature outright, you can use your knowledge of yourself to reduce, what you perceive to be, the ill effects of your style. So plan around your tendencies instead of trying to ret rid of them.


Great advice! Especially with taking mental note about need for break, I will take that advice!

My main problem is to get into the flow, once I'm there I'm able to maintain it.

I have days where the flow is so great that I sit whole day with code and be productive until the very end of my work day. I love what I do and those days power me up in such way that I just leave my desk and I'm so much easier to live with at home... That's what I want every day :)


I think it's way easier to keep in the flow than to start things and this delays my sleep rythm too if I'm not forced to get up in the morning. (I'm still a late person and will max out flex time at work to only get in at 10am or something)

30min downtime after work however is nothing, that's not warmup, that is well deserved rest and while meditating sounds super healthy and mahjong doesn't I'd argue it's quite similar. I think your brain needs this, especially if you do mental work during the day. But even on a free schedule I'd say off-time keeps me sharp.

If you took hours on a saturday I'd recommend habits: read hn (or what ever you choose, just not all of it) in bed so you than have a clear cut by getting up. Than have some pleasure along with starting your todo: good coffe and a nice sandwich or something.

Another trick is keeping your todos tiny: find a tiny thing you can do right now without it feeling a burden and don't feel pressured to do more. Once doing it it's often easy to continue by free will or at least have the task working in your brain in the background to get you back to it later.


Time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted. You are not a machine that can be turned off and on at the flick off a switch. If you enjoy reading a small amount of HN in the morning, I don’t see the problem at all.

Thank you everyone for your responses!

I was thinking about rationalizing this , and also about effect of my work that matters rather than hours sited at my desk, and also that human beings are not machines.

My goal was to park all non-work time and spend it with family, playing chess to get into the flow feels like non-work time...

Maybe what I wrote feels like exaggerating but it comes from my other thoughts I had about life. Mainly that if I ever want to start something on my own and in the same time not to make my wife to divorce me is to become more efficient with time I spend at work. When I feel I waste time this makes me frustrated and some of that frustration leaks to my home-time... in a way that sometimes I have a feeling that time not invested is time wasted. I feel like this especially on bad days where I don't feel like I have done enough.

I know the answer is simply "don't waste time", it feels awkward but it's like addiction and I don't have good idea how to fight it.


sorry for the soft approach, but I don't think the answer is "don't waste time", I think the answer is "be a bit more friendly to yourself".

I understand your goal is to be as productive as you can, but I don't feel talking yourself into anxiety and burn-out will get you what you want.

As you very rightly say, a human is not a machine.


I am in a related field (mathematics) and can pass along some (related) advice for a question I asked several people in the department: when do you find time to read papers and stay up to date with recent developments?

Most people said they read arXiv/papers first thing in the morning while having coffee to wake up. This advice has inadvertently helped reduce my wasted warm-up time since it is difficult to really think in the morning. I don't know what the equivalent of reading arXiv is for software development... reading HN?... so maybe you have already arrived at the solution :)


- Keep the mental work for the morning. - Keep the physical work for the later part of the day. - Till you had made up your mind, keep doing something else. - We are not machines. So, as long as you are happy, you are doing good.

Based on my experiences, in the very beginning of your day at the office, I'd recommend to tackle the work item which has the most odds of being completed in a certain time frame.

Let me elaborate - If you have a TODO list of N work items that could belong to one or more of - Set A - require more thinking Set B - require larger communication overhead Set C - have a clear go-to strategy and can be broken into multiple items

Then, picking up the items more inclined to Set C right after you reach the office might be a good strategy. The obvious reasons are a. you know what to do and b. you know how much time its going to take


I also struggle with getting up to speed quickly in the morning, and find myself looking for distractions. One thing that helps is to reread the description of the story I'm working on. Compile the project again, look at what's still wrong, and think about what you were working on the day before.

Not giving in to distractions is still hard, though. It's a matter of willpower, but maybe also tricking your mind. Distract it from the unproductive distractions with some productive distractions.


Change something physical: location of your desk, desk organisation, team, job, wallpaper ... and a the same time stop playing mahjong, chess and read HN at work. Just stop completely, and never do it again.

Your brain will get accustomed to this new order of things, and will keep it as a given: when at work, I work.

Changing something physical in your work environment is _required_ for your brain not to fall back to its old habits.


"stop playing mahjong, chess and read HN at work. Just stop completely, and never do it again."

This is so simple and yet exactly what should happen.


On my first programming job (back in the 1980s), my manager said that studies showed that the maximum amount of real work you could get out of engineers was five hours a day. That's not because they're lazy or have a lot of meetings; it's a mental throughput limit. Rather than trying to run faster than anyone else can, maybe the correct answer is to accept that your brain has limits.

Divide and conquer. Achieving small increments will fuel motivation for further work and also makes it easier to start. If your first task is, say, put your headphones on with music and do the build then you are more likely to just do it. And once you are there with your usual setup it's easier to just switch on. Routine helps, and with your morning wake-ups you are already on good tracks!

Power of habits hmm... Sounds like something easy to try, thanks for advice!

Pour yourself a nice hot cup of your favorite tea (find out which is, if you don't have one). One hand to sip, one hand on the keyboard.

There, your warm up time is now half of what it used to be.



This article is indeed relevant, thanks for sharing!

Just out of curiosity, do you mind sharing some info about your circumstances?

- what kind of job?

- which country / state / etc?

- what hobbies, especially sports do you have?

- what exactly is the problem with your old schedule?


I'm python developer, worked in a startup before doing all kind of technical stuff from product development, through infrastructure to daily development routine. I work remotely (however I rent a co-working desk for simple reason to have clear division between home time and work time), I'm based in London. Well, sport is sort of my Achilles heel - another thing I constantly fail to improve... Old schedule resulted in literally no time for my family, to the point my wife was thinking about divorcing me.

Well, congrats then on chosing to improve your relationship-incompatible behavior.

Unfortunately I don't have The Perfect Advice™, sorry :-)

I would probably do some self-reflection on my job situation. "Am I failing to deliver what is expected?" "Is my daily routine seriously that inefficient?" etc.

Sometimes we want to fix things which are not broken in the first place. YMMV


Have you tried making the TODO list the night before? I don't do this regularly to avoid pushing myself too hard, but found it more effective.

I used to rewriting down TODO list every day (like using pen and paper) and then looking through it every day (first thing in the morning though). At the time I had quite a few tasks that was long-term and also not fully under my control (i.e. I had to wait for somebody's input, and that somebody was not very cooperative). I figured this list helps me put pressure on myself but in the same time demotivates me a bit due to those long-term tasks..

Has it occurred to you that you need a warm-up because you're in the office at 6am?

Hmm good point... but in the same time I don't have other option at the moment, with small kids everything seems challenging... (I actually contemplate to start at 5am and move my evening activities entirely to take place in the morning...)

But that definitely is good point and I'll need to think about it. I often wake up at 5am so at 6 I'm already 1 hour on my legs, already had shower and some walk on "fresh" air with my cup of coffee picked up on the way. So I don't feel sleepy or tired at that point, just not concentrated and not in the flow.


Just in case if you don't know read "Deep Work".

Looks interesting, I drop link here for future reference. https://www.amazon.com/Deep-Work-Focused-Success-Distracted/...



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