How I schedule my day to maximize my productivity and happiness

I’m lucky to be working remotely with Buffer, which gives me the freedom and flexibility to plan however I want my day to be like. Over the past year, I have been trying a daily routine that I feel maximizes my productivity and happiness.

In this post, I would love to share my daily routine and the principles behind it with you. It may or may not work for you but I hope you’ll find something insightful that you can apply to your daily life.

My daily routine

My weekday schedule is generally the same throughout the week. This is how it looks like:

Morning

  • 5:30 am: Wake up (no snooze)
  • 5:30 – 6:30 am: Breakfast and read
  • 6:30 – 8:00 am: Exercise
  • 8:00 – 9:00 am: Second breakfast and read

Workday

  • 9:00 – 12:00 pm: Focused work (usually replying to important messages and then writing)
  • 12:00 – 1:00 pm: Lunch and read
  • 1:00 – 2:30 pm: Low cognitive load work (such as update blog stats spreadsheet, republishing blog posts onto Medium, etc.)
  • 2:30 – 3:00 pm: Power nap
  • 3:00 – 6:00 pm: Focused work

Evening

  • 6:00 – 9:00 pm: Dinner and stuff (spend time with family, meet friends, learn something new, etc.)
  • 9:00 – 9:30 pm: Read
  • 9:30 pm: Bedtime

On weekends, I do not have a fixed schedule apart from going for an early morning bike ride with a few friends. I’ll then spend the rest of the day with my fiancée and family.

Exceptions

My weekdays don’t look exactly like this all the time but they are pretty close. Here are a few major exceptions:

On some days, I have early morning video calls with my teammates in the U.S. This doesn’t happen often, maybe around once or twice a month. I like to schedule such calls before my daily exercise and start my morning work session later. This way, I’ll still have a good two-hour block for my workout and breakfast.

Sometimes, I have video calls in the afternoon or evening with my teammates in Australia, the U.K., or Europe. I try to schedule them such that I’ll have time blocks of one to two hours to do focused work.

Another exception is when I co-work with my awesome teammate, Stephanie Lee, or with friends, such as Ali Mese. On such days, I’ll keep the first half of my day until 11 am the same. I’ll then commute out to have lunch and co-work with them.

Principles

My daily routine is built on top of several principles to help me create days when I would feel the most productive and happy (though it doesn’t happen all the time).

First, I prefer to stick to a routine to reduce the mental effort for figuring what to do. Here’s a small but, I think, meaningful example: I always go to bed around 9:30 pm and wake up at 5:30 am (except for very rare occasions). With fixed bedtime and waking up time, I don’t have to decide what time to go to bed, how many hours I want to sleep, and what time to wake up the next day. 9:30 pm, 8 hours, and 5:30 am. That’s it. Some people might find having such routine boring. To me, having a routine that I like takes away much anxiety and keeps me calm.

Second, like I mentioned above, I like to sleep early, wake up early, and have about eight hours of sleep every night. Having about eight hours of sleep is crucial for my productivity the next day. I learned that I cannot function well if I sleep a few hours less. I also prefer to start my day early because I love the quietness and serenity in the morning.

Third, I aim to do some form of exercise every morning. I feel refreshed and energized for the day after being outdoors for a while and getting some fresh air. On most days, I’ll swim or run unless it rains; then I’ll go to the gym. If I sleep late the night before, on those rare occasions, I’ll still aim to have eight hours of sleep. But instead of a full workout, I’ll try to go for a morning walk.

Finally, I try to keep work to just the weekdays 9-6. I found that working in the evening over a long period of time can easily lead to a burnout. I also avoid working on the weekends so that I can spend time with my fiancée and family, who would always meet on the weekends to spend time together. I’m thankful that Singapore is small enough for all of us to meet so regularly.

The result of many experiments

This routine is the results of trying many different things. For example, I’ve tried writing for two hours once I wake up, meditating before I start my workday, and exercising in the evening. Eventually, I found that this routine makes me feel the most productive and happiest, for at least a year now.

Do you have a daily routine? How does it look like?

Image credit: Unsplash (That isn’t me in the photo but it’ll be amazing to start my day like this every day!)


Happiness In Being Yourself

My flat mates last year enjoy partying late into the night while I prefer to be in bed by 10pm and wake up by 5:45am.

My house mates this year love spending hours in the kitchen, cooking and baking, while I try to minimise my time spent on cooking as much as possible; sometimes cooking up to 3 meals at once.

My friends who exercise, exercise regularly to stay healthy while I exercise a bit too much — about 10 times a week.

To some people, I guess I’m quite a weirdo. Many friends asked me why I would wake up so early in the morning when there aren’t classes that early. The answer is simple; because it makes me happy. I like the serenity and quietness in the morning.

Despite being different from many of my friends, I am very happy with my life. I believe that there is happiness in being myself and I believe that there’s happiness in being yourself too! ☺

Different Perceptions Of Happiness

It’s Easter break now for my university and many of my friends have flown off for their holiday trip. Many of them asked me where I would be going for Easter. I would reply that I’ve no plans to travel and they would be puzzled.

To them, happiness comes from being able to travel away from school to enjoy the fun and carefree time during their trip. To me, being able to sit down and spend the entire day writing this post without thinking about other things makes me happy. Fundamentally, we all feel happy when we can do what we want to do; but what we want to do differs from person to person.

In her TED talk on The Power Of Introverts, Susan Cain mentioned that, as someone who is more introverted, she would prefer a nice dinner with her friends than go to a crowded bar. Some people might prefer spending time with friends while others might prefer having alone time.

Because we perceive happiness differently, happiness is a very subjective matter. Consequently, this means that what makes other people happy might not be the same as what makes us happy. So it’s perfectly fine in being ourselves, even when that means to be different.

Finding The Right Social Circle

I have a friend who was worried about moving in to her new house next year as her house mates like to drink alcohol but she doesn’t. I can understand her worry as I had the same issue too when I first came to the United Kingdom. There’s a strong drinking culture here while I don’t really like to drink. Would the people in the flat I’m assigned to accept that I don’t drink?

(Fortunately, they did. This taught me that some times, we over worry that people would judge us because we are different from them.)

Even if they didn’t accept me, I don’t think that it is a big issue; because I would go and find friends who do. For example, my closest friends in school now are my triathlon teammates who, just like me, don’t like to drink. Some have never drank any alcohol before!

So instead of worrying that we are different from the people around us, actively seek for friends who think and behave like us.

Changing ourselves to be someone we are not

As much as we want to be accepted by people around us, I feel that we should not force ourselves to change just to be accepted by others. I believe that forcing ourselves to be someone we are not or someone we do not want to be, just so that we would fit in with people around us, would make us less happy.

In his post, Happiness Hacks: The 10 Most Unexpected Ways to Be Happy, Backed By Science, Kevan Lee mentioned that:

Research has shown that wedging ourselves into places we don’t fit can lead to undesirable results. As an extreme example, a study from Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo asked people with low self-esteem to say to themselves “I’m a lovable person,” and at the conclusion of the exercise, participants felt reaffirmed in their low self-esteem rather than empowered to change.

However, if someone wishes to change for the better, as a form of self-improvement, I would greatly encourage that! This is because I feel that he/she would be happier with the change and he/she is not doing it just to fit in with others.

So in conclusion, I feel that

  • everyone is made to be different
  • finding friends that think and act like us is better than forcing ourselves to change just to be socially accepted;
  • an exception would be if we are thinking of changing to improve ourselves

Can you imagine how boring the world would be if everyone does the same things and act the same way? So take it as you are helping the world — be yourself! ☺

(This is my 7th blog post of my 30in30 challenge — 30 blog posts in 30 days. Through this challenge, I hope to feel comfortable and more confident with writing and become better at writing.)


Zen

I woke up today feeling rather anxious. I have accumulated a long list of to-dos. I have missed almost a week of daily reading before sleeping. I have work due next week and I have a class test next Thursday.

The thoughts in my mind were: I’m not productive enough. I have not been managing my time well. I need to spend less time on something, but what? Ahhhh!

Pause. Breathe. Relax, Alfred.

Let’s see what I’ve done recently. I have been swimming, spinning and jogging with my team on average about 1 to 2 hours every day. I have been learning Ruby on Rails for about 2 to 3 hours almost every day. I have been completing my work on time and attending classes. I had an amazing Thanksgiving dinner with my team last night. I supported my team at a duathlon race last Sunday and took photos for them (which they were very appreciative of). I reconfigured my room and I love the new layout. My housemates and I found a new housemate to replace one who is leaving so we can stay in the same house next year (the house is a lot better than the small houses we viewed).

Well, that does not sound bad at all!

Instead of looking at how much things I have done or I should be doing, I think I should look it this way: Do the things I do matter? Are the things I’m doing making me a happy person?

Looking at the things I have done over the last week, that’s a firm yes!

Deciding What To Do And What Not To Do

Being a very driven person, I have always wanted to be completing as many things as possible. Get shit done, they said. When I’m not checking tasks off my to-do list, I will feel crap. That is probably why I felt anxious this morning.

Then I realised that it is not about how much I have done but whether the things I do matter and whether they make me happy. I think I can look at it as a venn diagram:

Things that matter and make us happy now venn diagram

Doing things that matter will benefit us in the long run but may be hard to start or sustain (eg. learning a new skill). Doing things that make us happy now makes us happy in the short term but may not be good if we just do them all the time (eg. socialising with friends).

The idea here is not to simply aim for the sweet spot in the centre – doing things that matter and make us happy. If you can, that will be great! (For me, exercising falls in that area.) It is because there are many things that matter and should be done but do not make us happy now. They may most likely make us happy eventually at some point in the future, otherwise they will not really be of importance (eg. starting a career or starting a community service project).

So I like to think of it this way: things that matter will eventually become things that matter and make us happy (centre of the diagram). However, that is in the long run. To keep us going in the short term, we should do a mixture of all three (things that matter, things that makes us happy now and things that matter and make us happy now). Finding a good balance is not easy and in fact, I feel that the proportion should shift from time to time, depending on the context we are in.

I have definitely not found a good balance for now. For instance, I want to be reading more because it makes me happy. However, I think I may have found a good way to decide what to do and not to do so that I can lead a meaningful and happy life.

If you have any thoughts about this way of thinking, let me know below (:

(Off to read a book now before life gets in the way~)

Photo credit: Laurent Lebaux