I always tended to denigrate people who lived according to strict schedules – seeing my neighbor leave the house to go to work at 7am every morning for years on end, or friends who would skip a social event to go to the gym AGAIN. “They don’t know how to enjoy life”, my subconscious was telling me, “while I can do whatever I want, whenever I want”.
There is some sense in this, as it relates to the way great inventors such as Leonardo da Vinci or Thomas Edison thought about creativity. In their journals they kept detailed logs of their sleeping, eating and work patterns to find out what made then most effective. Rather than waking up at the same time each day, they would have periods in which they woke up one hour later each day (for the full 24 hours until the cycle repeated). By always triggering their minds in a different way, opening it up to new impulses by traveling to new locations they were able to think in new ways and this to them was a sign of increased creativity.
However, these influential historical figures also both surmised that in order to be productive, the opposite was true. Waking up, eating, working, exercising and leisurely activities every day at a fixed time, would lead to in increased output. If they would need to finish work that required a lot of physical or routine work (including the elements of research that required repetitive calculations and writing), it would be better to not be distracted by any new external triggers.
Currently I am following the below routine, which works fantastically for me:
07:00 – Wake up
07:10 – 5km run
08:00 – 25 minutes of meditation (by this point I’m fully awake and I’m ready for work)
08:30 – Breakfast and travel to work
09:00 – Working hours (including a 30 minute lunch break)
07:00 – Dinner
07:30 – Programming lessons/blog writing/additional working hours
09:00 – 1 hour gym session
10:30 – Reading
11:00 – Sleep for 8 hours (sleep is key in maintaining such a routine for more than 1 week; also make sure to turn your phone on airplane mode so you aren’t browsing while in bed and don’t turn it back on until after your breakfast, when you are ready to accept all those external impulses that you have often not directly asked for)
I do this from Monday to Friday, and on the weekend I allow myself a later wake-up as meeting friends usually happens later in the evening and I need to shift the routine up by 3 hours.
Although their output level was maximized, the output was not always the most effective. It was and still is possible to work for many hours towards the wrong goal or strategy. Similarly, I feel that when I am in my routine I can lose oversight of what is truly important to me and developing plans, for instance, where I want to be personally or with my company a few months from now.
For this reason, I will allow myself a week or two (luckily the timing works out now that I am traveling) to not follow as strict of a schedule and strategically prepare myself for the 2-3 weeks of productivity after that.
If you feel as though you go through phases whereby you (for example) stick to a strict routine for 2-3 weeks and then have 2-3 weeks whereby you struggle to follow the same routine, there is no need to worry. It doesn’t mean that you are unable to commit to goals you set for yourself, but rather following the cues that your mind is giving you to be the most effective in achieving your goals. It is important to take rest, and if you can harness the inner power to stay motivated and disciplined, you will soon after be back in your routine getting work done.
By this I of course don’t mean that anyone should use this as an excuse to slack off, but that by finding a naturally balanced rhythm between productive and creative time, it is the most effective and sustainable approach for achieving your goals. By planning your life you will not only be more effective, but also happier.