Ben Straub

The Best Part of Waking Up

October 24, 2012

It seems like such a small detail: what’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Hop in the shower? Check your email? Hit Reddit for a quick puppy fix before the coffee starts working?

I recently switched to writing code.

Setting the tone

You wake up each day completely fresh. It takes a while before all the worries from yesterday make themselves known again, so for a while you have an empty, clear mind. And the first thing you put in is going to stick.

I used to read email, Twitter, and Facebook first thing in the morning. That got me current with what happened while I was asleep, but it put me in the mindset of keeping up. Following. From that point on, I had to know what was going on, and since people are constantly doing things, I was always behind. I hate being behind.


The write-first strategy puts you in the maker’s mindset. You’ve made things all day, you’ve been fixing bugs since before breakfast.

A read-first morning puts you in the mindset of a consumer. You’re looking to be entertained, always out for that next endorphin hit. Not only does this reduce your output, it kills your creativity.

I’ve found that some of my best ideas come to me in the shower, but there needs to be something I’m working on in that part of my mind that lurks just behind the conscious. If that something is “I wonder what Gruber is thinking about,” I’m missing a great opportunity. I’d much rather be solving problems. Besides, the answer is always “Apple, or maybe baseball.”

The Power of Habit

We like to think of ourselves as sentient beings with free will. This is a pleasant fiction, with many practical benefits, but as any psychologist will tell you, it’s not exactly true. On any given day, it’s likely that a person will do the same thing she did yesterday, as opposed to a completely new thing. We’re mammals, and habit is powerful.

What if your habits weren’t harmful, like heroin, or merely benign, like drinking coffee? What if they were constructive, what if they actually made you feel better?

It’s been working. I feel more like a maker if, before I do anything else, I make something. I start checking Twitter and Facebook as break time, rather than using them to avoiding real work, and I get more real work done.

It’s amazing what power a small detail can have.

Ben Straub lives and works in Portland building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter.