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Weekly Blog #36 - On having a routine... Part II

This is the second part of sharing my thoughts on building, having and maintaining a routine. This part it about the "getting sh*t done" phase of the day, how I spend my afternoons and evenings and why it is more and more important these days to have as much time off as possible...


The most productive part of the day...

According to a variety of sources and my personal experience, the time between 0900/1000 am and 0100/0200 pm is the most productive of the day. So, once the workout routine is out of the way, I sit down and sort out my tasks for the rest of the day. Usually I roughly know the day before what awaits me and what I want to do, sometimes these things change and I find more urgent tasks that need to be handled.

I have to be honest here: not having a regular 9-to-5 job and being fully responsible for how I spend or waste my time is harder than I'd expected. It's all about overcoming these tempting "you can, but you don't have to" situations. Setting out to do one thing means doing it, no matter what. Having goals is important to keep productivity high. If I hadn't set myself any goals that I wanted to achieve in a set amount of time, I'd probably sit here all day long and play video games. And as enjoyable and tempting as that might sound, it's not an option. Especially considering the limited amount of time we have on this planet...

Roughly splitting the day into slots is a key aspect of getting sh*t done for me. Here's an example:

0600-0900 Morning Routine (according to Part I of this series)

0900-1200 First Work Session (mainly for brain work, e.g. studying, writing, reading, etc.)

1200-1300 Lunch

1300-1600 Second Work Session (mix of brain work and need-to-be-done stuff, e.g. taking care of household tasks)

1600-1700 Reserved for Can-Do tasks and fun stuff

1700-EOD Family Time, Work-Out/Sports, Dinner

Three hour slots are a good way to start. It might seem a bit rough but it's just enough time to get meaningful work done. In addition to that I am currently working on roughly scheduling my week and having set days for set tasks. In the past I struggled with pushing unwanted and unloved tasks to the end of the week so that they pile up and (worst case) can't be completed. Since I've realized that Mondays are usually very productive days for me, Tuesdays tend to be tough to get things done, Wednesdays and Thursday can be good or bad so the tasks may vary and Friday already feels like weekend, I started to put the more demanding tasks into Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Tuesdays and Fridays are usually not as tightly packed.

Another important lessons that I've learned is that it's important to have set locations for set tasks. It's not possible for me to sit down anywhere in the apartment and reach the same level of productivity. There needs to be a certain place for reading, one for writing, one for taking breaks and eating, etc.. But why is this important? Well, if you associate one place of the house with a nice or relaxing activity, your brain will always subconsciously lead you to do this activity in that same spot (e.g. couch = watching Netflix).

If you try to do something stressful and demanding there, it will be much harder to not give in to the temptation of procrastinating, getting distracted or giving up completely on that task after a short while. Therefore, I'm trying to make it as easy as possible for me. A desk for working, a couch in the office for reading, another couch in the living room for relaxing and TV, a special chair in the living room to learn vocabulary and read the news, etc. and I try not to mix up locations and activities.

Also, I can highly recommend to regularly de-clutter and clean up the areas that are meant for brain-work. Everything on the desk that is not related to the task can be a distraction. Following the 2-minute rule really helped me to force myself to keep my surroundings clean and tidy. Most of the cleaning up doesn't take longer than 2 minutes, so it's better to do them straight away before the piles grow and with it the danger that it will take much longer to clean up.

Here's the summary of what helps me get through the "getting sh*t done" phase of the day and generate good results throughout the week:

  • Do important things when the brain works best, usually between 0900 and 1400

  • Follow the two minute rule to get all the little tasks out of the way immediately

  • Clean up your surroundings and de-clutter regularly

  • Get good and nourishing food three times a day to keep energy levels high

  • If you need a distraction: Listen or read something that makes you smarter

  • Stand up, stretch, sit down again every hour of the waking day

  • Create your surroundings in the most ideal way to suit the tasks you want to do

  • Don't contaminate your "productive" space with "unproductive" things and vice versa

  • Find at least one hour of the day to do tasks that are fun and not related to work to reset your brain

  • Separate work time from family time - discussing work topics at home is fine, just be careful not to take problems and bad moods home from work and vice versa


Free time and 'putting family first'...

There was a time when I though having free time equals being lazy or not challenging yourself enough. This, of course, is big BS. Especially because our brains are constantly engaged in thinking, processing, storing, retrieving, etc., it is very important to give it some time to let the sensations of the outside world sink in. A good time to let that happen is, of course, while we sleep. But our sleep can get obstructed and lack quality if we receive too much information and input throughout the day without taking breaks to process it.

I allow myself three significant breaks during the day. The first one is after my morning work-out. This allows me to listen to my body and process the information that I get from it. Do I feel pain? What did the work-out do to me? How do I feel overall?

The second significant break is the lunch break. I usually take it after an intense session of brain-work that usually includes soaking up a lot of new information. There is a limit to my brain to take in new information so I spend at least 45 minutes to relax after this and reset my brain.

The third break I take is an active one. It usually takes place between 1600 and 1700 and I fill this with having a good coffee, playing instruments or video games or going out to the stores before picking up my wife from work. The important part about this break is to reward myself for a productive day. There are always tasks that I don't like doing. But thinking about the last break and promising myself something nice for doing these tasks helps me to push through and enjoy this our of the day even more.

On a side note, sometimes I feel the need to skip one or two breaks if there is a lot to do. However, if one break is skipped, the next one is usually longer...

One thing I have skipped for the longest time is regular family time. My wife and I have been separated throughout the work week for many years and only spent the weekends together. This has changed since moving to Shanghai and if there is one thing I will not give up wherever we go from here it is the hours of the day that I can spend with her.

We haven't really shared a lot of hobbies over the past 15 years but since moving to Shanghai I've taught her to play tennis and table tennis, she taught me to be a better cook and we motivate and inspire each other to do work-outs, read books, do quizzes or watch interesting TV-shows (about cooking, traveling, etc.). We also share good and bad experiences that we've collected throughout the day and help each other to let off steam about things that annoy or bother us.

But here's the really important and most comforting part: whatever happened throughout the day, good or bad, I feel like I can ultimately judge the day by the quality of the time I spent with my wife. No matter if I didn't get my tasks done, had to skip my breaks, had a stupid encounter with someone, couldn't solve certain tasks... if I focus on making this part of the day the best part, eventually, every day can and will be a good day...

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