Hacking My Life: Day Zero

Today I’m going to start a series of posts I’ve decided to call “Hacking My Life”.

I am a systems administrator and I have never really had excellent organizational skills. Over the next month I intend to change that.

A number of things in my life need to change, for various reasons. I need to get better and more regular sleep, sort out my work schedule, look after my life better in general and most importantly - be productive. This month I am issuing myself a challenge: do more in one month than you have done in the last year. This applies to both work and my own personal projects.

Additionally, I also need to do a better job with work/life separation to avoid risking burnout.

I will be aiming towards that with various hacks, tricks and experiments. Today is Day Zero, and this is the hack: changing your sleep schedule.


The goal is to shift the body’s expected sleep time from around 1:00pm-4:00am waking time to an eventual 6:30am-10:00pm waking time… in a single day. Here’s how I did it.

The science behind this hack is interesting and hard to pin down. The gist of it is that you have a natural circadian rhythm, and eventually it becomes fairly consistent. I needed to tear mine down and replace it in a short period of time, so I simply stayed awake for a full night. Then, the next day, I slept at midnight and woke at 7:00am. Over the next few days I will slowly finetune the schedule and hopefully wind up at my desired sleep schedule.

Currently it’s only 1pm and I’m already feeling pretty lousy. Fortunately I’ll be able to leave work relatively early (5pm) and go home to rest.

Seeing the reactions of my coworkers yesterday was definitely interesting. I came in at ~8:30am instead of 11am or as late as 3pm. I was able to get in slightly earlier today, which is good - it means I’m making progress (technically this is Day One, as I started the challenge yesterday). Mostly they were just shocked to see me. It was a pretty nice day - lots of people came in and I was able to help most of them.


This is my workspace.

4K monitor

As you can probably tell, it’s relatively large. I run Arch Linux on an a HP Z220 workstation, with a GeForce 650 graphics card. Connected to that is my ever ridiculous Seiki 39” 4K display. I use a Logitech G500 mouse and a crappy Microsoft keyboard. I’m running Cinnamon, but I’m hoping to eventually switch to a tiling window manager of some kind.

I cannot emphasise how ridiculously nice 4K is for productivity at this scale. I effectively have four 18” monitors @ 1080p resolution. Only having a 30Hz refresh rate is a pretty major bummer, though. Cinnamon lets you take a window and “snap” it to one of the four corners, which makes it expand to fill that corner. That makes it extremely useful for easy window management.

The plan is to divide the day into 8 1-hour blocks - 55 minutes of work, 5 minutes of play/rest. I’m going to be evaluating how well that works, and trying other times like 25 minutes of work with a 5 minute rest. I’m going to aim to complete at least two work goals each day - and if I do, I will let myself work on personal goals till the end of the day. As a result, I will be motivated to complete work projects in order to be able to have fun :)

Combating Burnout

I’m going to try to avoid working on anything too complicated while at home. It’s too easy to fall down a rabbit hole and lose 6 hours otherwise.

Additionally, I will no longer let myself stay at work past 7pm. Ever.

Flexible Scheduling

I have a strong need for a flexible schedule for two reasons - I get sick more often than my sick days would allow, and as a result need the ability to use time-in-lieu to make up for it. I needed a solution other than coming in ridiculously late and working late (which wasn’t exactly pleasing the boss).

Thus, the plan is to come in consistently early and usually work until 5pm. This will give me roughly 50 hours a week, allowing me to take off a day when needed.

Don’t Break the Chain

This month is all about trying to find something that works. And one thing that I hope will work is gamification. I’m going to be using a so-called “habit streak” app on my phone to track how well I follow my habits.

It’s a very simple concept - each day that you successfully do each task, you check a box. Over time you build up a “streak” that you don’t want to break, and thus you are subtly motivated to complete the tasks.

This is a rough list of what I’m going to try to do every day:

  • Complete at least one personal or work goal.
  • Listen to music before bed.
  • Make it to work before 8:00am.
  • Leave work before 7:00pm.
  • Eat all 3 meals.
  • General hygeine.
  • Wake up before 7:00am on weekdays.
  • Wake up before 9:00am on weekends.

So Anyways

That’s the plan so far. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

This post is part of a series. If you’re interested in reading the rest of it, click here.