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!)


“… We rush around in the daily grind of life and at the end of the day, falling in bed exhausted, waiting for weekends to come around. When they do, we spend our time racing the clock stressed about what we didn’t achieve or what’s next on our plate …”

I love this quote from Day 1 of the 7 Days of Calm of the meditation app, Calm. It resonates with me a lot.

Yesterday, I was chatting with a friend about productivity and I mentioned that my mood and energy level are factors affecting my productivity. I was reminded of this quote from the mindfulness program.

At Buffer, we aim to “Live smarter, not harder“.

You value waking up fresh over working that extra hour.

An extra hour of output might be great, but not if that extra hour reduces my productivity by more than an hour of output the next day (assuming it isn’t something that must be done then).

It feels like I have been trying to squeeze in that extra hour recently and it might not be a wise thing to do.

You always aim to be fully engaged in an activity, or resting.

I feel that being fully engaged in resting is as important as being fully engaged in an activity. It allows my mind to take a break and recover so that I can work as well as before or even better.

I schedule breaks into my day (lunch, dinner, calling my girlfriend, etc.), but I’m not sure if I have been fully engaged in resting during those times. I find myself trying to work while I have my dinner on most evenings or thinking about work over lunch. It doesn’t feel very healthy or great for my productivity.

You are at the top of your game, as you focus on expanding the capacity of your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual energy.

My gut feeling is that with the nature of my work being more creative and less straightforward, my output is not largely dependent on the number of hours I work (though, it is still a factor), but also dependent on my mood and energy level too. (How to manage our mood and energy level and whether we should let them affect our productivity could be a discussion for another time.)

I have been missing my meditation quite a bit recently and I just picked it up again, striving to become more mindful about how I spend my time. Instead of trying to work more hours, it might be better to focus on working more productive hours.

live-smarter-not-harder

 


9 Things I Do To Be More Productive

I always want to be as productive as possible. Hence, after moving to the United Kingdom to study and have more control over my life, I tried out several ways to increase my productivity.

In this year, I’ve developed a number of habits which made me more productive. In this post, I would share the 9 things I do to be more productive. I hope they would be useful for you or they would inspire you to try news ways to be more productive.

Many of the things I do is to allow me to make fewer decisions. This is because making decisions uses up brain power and can cause decision fatigue.

Having to make fewer decisions, I can focus on the more important ones and make better decisions. This is also why Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Obama wear the same attire every day.

Alright, so let’s dive right in!

1. Sleep Early, Sleep Enough And Wake Up Early

I try to sleep at 10pm every night. I don’t succeed all the time, but most of the time, I would be in bed before 11pm.

My recurring alarm is set as 5:45am. I choose to wake up at the same time every morning so that I don’t need to decide every night what time to wake up the next day.

Alarm

There are exceptions when I do not sleep by 11pm. It is usually when I’m travelling or when I have friends over at my place. I would then adjust my alarm accordingly so that I would get 7–8 hours of sleep. This is because I know that when I sleep less than 6 hours, I would not function well that day.

I think that different people have different sleep cycles that make them most productive. I am a morning person so I prefer doing my work in the morning. I have a housemate who usually sleeps at 3–4am, wakes up at 2pm and naps in the afternoon. He does most of his work at night because he is more productive then.

2. Have Morning And Night Routines

Having a morning routine allows me to make almost no decisions in the first few hours of the day so that I can save my brainpower for more important things later in the day.

My morning routine goes like this: Wake up at 5:45am (no snooze), heat up my overnight-soaked oats in the microwave, turn on kettle, brush my teeth, make my tea, have my breakfast and go for my morning workout.

Yes, I have the same breakfast every morning — microwaved porridge with raisins and almonds.

I have a night routine because I’m usually too tired to think about anything an hour before I sleep. So I would shower/brush my teeth, reply my girlfriend’s email, meditate with the guidance from Calm mobile app and sleep.

3. Plan The Day’s Schedule The Evening Before

I cannot remember where I learnt this from, but it has been pretty effective.

Many people advocate spending some time each morning to plan for the day. This strategy is to do the planning the evening before.

Again, this is about making fewer decisions. Not having to decide in the morning what I need to do for the day saves me some brainpower for the main tasks of the day.

Calendar

Since I’ve already planned out my day the evening before, I can simply execute my plan.

4. Exercise

I’ve read that exercising improves productivity but I’m not certain about the effects on my body because I have been exercising regularly for a long time. I don’t know what’s the difference in my productivity when I exercise and when I don’t.

A few weeks back when I injured my knee, I forced myself to stop exercises so that I would not aggravate my injury further. During this period, I could feel a dip in my productivity, especially in the morning.

Usually, I would work out in the morning and feel refreshed when I start the day. When I stopped exercising in the morning, I don’t feel awake. I would tend to be in a daze for a few hours in the morning.

Recently, I’ve started swimming and doing my core exercises in the morning. I could feel that I’m more energised and productive.

5. Do Two Main Tasks A Day

For the past 2 weeks, I have been trying this out: I would only do 2 main tasks each day. If I know what needs to be done for the week, like this week, I would plan out the 2 daily tasks for the entire week on the Sunday before the week starts and make adjustments along the way if necessary.

For today, the 2 tasks were working on my school assignment and writing this blog post. I allocate about 3 hours for each tasks so they add up to be 6 hours of “work” each day.

I realised that it helps me to focus on the important tasks and eliminate the smaller and less important tasks. As long as I complete the 2 tasks for the day, I would consider it as the day as productive. I would then do some of the other tasks such as reading articles online and replying to emails.

6. Cook Several Meals At Once

As a student, I cannot afford to eat out or order takeaways often so I cook about 95% of my meals. (There’s an additional bonus for cooking my meals. I eat more healthily and I believe that increases my productivity too.)

Like I’ve said previously when I shared about my “remote working” day, I cook several meals at once. I would prefer to have my lunch cooked the evening before since I’m more productive in the afternoon than in the evening. Cooking 2 meals at once means one less decision to make.

Meals

Because I don’t live near a supermarket, I order groceries delivery from Morrisons. (The delivery charge is usually £1 and I split it with a house mate, so it’s only 50p per person for each delivery.)

I spend way more time when I shop in a supermarket than when I order online because I would walk through all the aisles. By shopping for my groceries online, the time taken reduces to 5 to 10 minutes.

Tip: Selecting from “Favourites” section speeds up the ordering process.

7. Take Naps

Since last year, I have developed a habit to take short power naps when I’m tired. I’ve played around with the duration and a 25-minute nap seems to work best for me. I found that taking naps recharges me and allows me to think better.

When I feel sleepy, I would take a nap as soon as possible. Depending on how tired I am, I might nap twice a day — once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

When I’m working at home, I can nap any time I want. However, when I’m travelling or when I’m in school, it would be harder as it is difficult to find places where I can nap.

8. Read Whenever I Can When I’m Outside

This year, I’ve started buying only ebooks because they are delivered instantly and I can read them on my iPad or on my iPhone.

Kindle on iPadMy bus to school does not come very often. Usually, it comes every 15–30 minutes and the trip to school takes about 15 minutes. Considering the journey there and back, that is about an hour of commuting, or an hour for reading.

While waiting at the bus stop, I would take out my iPhone or iPad to read. With this practice, I’ve managed to finish quite a number of books (Reinventing Organizations, Zero To One, Buzzing Communities) in the last few weeks.

I used to check my Facebook news feed or Twitter feed while waiting for the bus. After starting this habit, I realised that reading a book is a much more productive use of my time than scrolling through social media aimlessly.

9. Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode

Ever since I discovered the “Do Not Disturb” mode on my iPhone, I put my phone in that mode almost all the time. My phone would not ring or light up when there’s new notifications, unless it is a call. (You can adjust the settings according to what you want. It is in Settings > Do Not Disturb.)

Do Not Disturb Mode

It prevents incoming notifications like chat messages from distracting me when I’m doing my main tasks for the day. (I turn off social media notifications on my phone. I wrote about it yesterday.)

Most of the time, the chat messages are not urgent so I do not need to respond to them immediately. If the issue is urgent, I would usually receive a call. That would light up my phone screen and I would answer it.

With this practice, my friends gradually know how to contact me. If the matter is not urgent, they would drop me a text. If they need me urgently, they would call me.

To Productivity!

In summary, here are the 9 things I do to be more productive:

  1. Sleep Early, Sleep Enough And Wake Up Early
  2. Have Morning And Night Routines
  3. Plan The Day’s Schedule The Evening Before
  4. Exercise
  5. Do Two Main Tasks A Day
  6. Cook Several Meals At Once
  7. Take Naps
  8. Read Whenever I Can When I’m Outside
  9. Use “Do Not Disturb” Mode

I’m keen to try out more strategies/tips/hacks to increase my productivity. What do you do to increase your productivity? Let me know at @alfred_lua! ☺


(This is my 27th 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.)