Your New, Ultra Productive, Daily Routine
Picture: Alley in NYC, one of my favorite coworking spaces.
Let’s face it. Our days are often chaotic at best. You arrive to discover somebody broke into the office last night, a coworker’s bike was stolen, the billing system glitched and billed one of your coworking members 10x the normal amount, and while filming a video upstairs somebody thought it would be cool to set off smoke bombs for a cool effect which resulted in the neighbors running into the building yelling, “SOMETHING IS BURING, SOMETHING IS BURNING!!!” And that’s just the morning.
Yes, all of these are true stories and they all sucked for the people involved.
Our days aren’t always this catastrophic, but so often we show up to work, whether at a coworking space, the coffee shop, or on the couch in our underwear and the day we had planned gets entirely derailed by something unforeseen. Shit happens.
The problem occurs when we let this dictate how we spend our other days, in wary anticipation of the unexpected. We think, “Well, maybe I’ll just keep my schedule open in case something crazy happens.” We begin embellishing how crazy and important our week is going to be. We’re going to be putting out fires all the time, how on Earth will we get our real work done? Our colleagues just don’t understand why we’re freaking out. How could they? They don’t know how hard we work.
That’s the “wrong” buzzer going off. News flash: everybody is working their ass off, or working very hard not to. We’re all in the same boat of trying to deal with the chaos of normal life, work life, and get shit done.
Sorry to say, but the random events that happen in any business are no excuse for abandoning structure altogether. Instead it’s time to commit to a routine. This routine includes everything you need to keep your head in the game when the crazy happens.
First a sample of my routine.
8:00 AM – Wake up, work out, shower, meditate for 10 minutes, cook breakfast (2 eggs and 3 sausages)
8:45 AM – Journal (current life events, ambitions/intentions for the day, 5 things I’m grateful for)
9:00 AM – Walk to neighborhood cafe, write and other productive/creative work
12:30 PM – Walk home for lunch
1:15 PM – Continue creative work from home
2:30 PM – I’m usually burned creatively out by now so this is when I like to have meetings or calls
5:00 PM – Stop working, meet up with friends or relax at home
I don’t do all of this every day because that’s not the point as we noted above. I’m also still experimenting with what works for me. The point is it’s something to return to amongst the chaos. For example, I often have to schedule meetings in the morning because some of the people I work with are in Europe. Sometimes I’m also dealing with a relative crisis in the morning which tends to derail the rest of my day so I try to shift my schedule, which rarely works and I get frustrated. The next day I’m back at it again.
I don’t expect your routine to work like mine, but here are the components I think are important to consider for your new daily routine:
Actually Schedule Things
Write it down! I hate writing stuff down and I’ve finally conceded because it works. I was the kid in school who never took notes, but passed all the tests, usually as the first one done, so I thought I was immune to the effects of writing things down. For years people told me to journal, to schedule things, to write out things when I had problems. I ignored them all, and now I feel totally silly. Turns out writing most notes is pretty stupid, but writing things down when you’re stuck or when you need to stick to something changes the chemistry in your brain. You are vastly more likely to do things you write down.
No, you may not stick to your schedule all the time all the time, but even if you only stick to it 70-80% of the time (which is high in my book) you’ll move things forward day by day and be really happy with where you’re at in a few months. When you get distracted by life events, just simply try to come back on track and finish out your schedule. Try to do better the next day.
Prevent Interruptions and Remove Distractions
Random things will happen that disrupt your schedule, but you are in control of how you handle them. Is your colleague freaking out because they need help on something and it’s already late and they need your help? Let them fail, then refer them to this article. Don’t let other people’s problems become your problems all of the time. Sure, there will be times when you don’t have a choice (e.g. when your boss tells you to do something right now), but even then you have some wiggle room. In a scenario with a boss, a great response could be, “Hey Jana, I’m almost done with X which has to be done by TIME or Y will happen. Can we go over NEW THING SHE JUST BROUGHT UP tomorrow?” If X is important to your boss or the outcome of Y scarers her/makes her look bad you have leverage. Buy yourself enough time to adhere to your schedule and only concede if your boss’s thing is truly important and could cause a fairly large fallout.
Often the things people bring up that are so important right now are completely forgotten about after you work on them. Coaching people through their expected outcomes is an article for another time, but the point is so many things just aren’t worth the disruption in your schedule. Be ruthless with enforcement, yet kind in your approach.
Other simple tactics are:
- Wear headphones always.
- Use the Focus app (use Hardcore mode).
- Disable all notifications on phone and computer (even email, even text, even Slack) when your schedule says it’s time to work. I have mine off 24/7.
- Find a work nook if you can, somewhere quiet without visual stimuli.
Meditation is not spiritual for me. It’s highly practical.
I started my regular practice almost three months ago. It hasn’t completely changed my life, but I have absolutely noticed a shift in my reaction to crisis-level events and frustrations throughout the day. I’m still a newbie, but I totally get why people love meditating. At the very least it’s a break from your “monkey mind” thoughts for a few minutes and, at the very most, it’s a critical component in moving big ideas forward.
I use the Calm app, but there’s also one called Headspace I hear is quite nice.
Eat a healthy and probably homemade meal more often than not.
Eating poorly is possibly the #1 cause of midday energy loss. The cells in your brain, along with a couple other important organs in your body, have vastly more mitochondria per cell than any other cell types in your body, which means they suck up energy like a sponge. Any interruption in that energy supply will cause a lack of focus, lack of creativity, and overall poor cognition. And the types of foods you eat for this are very important. There is a reason you crash after eating that cheeseburger and fries for lunch.
I’m particularly bad at bringing home-cooked food to work. I love food, and I love having others make food for me. It goes back to my childhood when eating out was a reward and a coping mechanism for our family and it happened all the time. But when I cook or prepare my food at home for the entire day I feel like a million bucks the next day, I save a ton of money, and I consume less calories and carbs.
Cooking could be viewed as a form of meditation. When you’re cooking you’re entirely concentrated on its a focus practice. What’s more, cooking is seen by our primitive brain as important to survival so it’s actually pleasing once you get into it (hello dopamine rush).
What’s your daily routine like? Do you even have one? I ignored this advice for so long, but no longer. Consider me converted.