A Man’s Search for An Efficient Routine

I am a sucker for efficient routines.

There was a time when I was driven to wake up super early, waking up between 4-5am. On such days I used to lock myself for the next 4 hours. I got a great deal done through such early morning focus sprints.

Then there were spells where I got up at 5am, gave myself three hours for self-service (shitting, bathing, moving/stretching, meditating, eating etc from 5-8am) and then worked from 8am-5pm with couple of breaks in between – one long and one short. Diversions and family time was from 5-9 and I slept around 10, much like Benjamin Franklin.

Such a routine allowed for 6-8 hours of work, 7 hours of sleep, 3-4 hour for reflection, review and well being and 3-4 hours for recreation and pursuit of other interests. I believe there is merit in such a routine. There are physical and spiritual benefits worth going after.

But for most of the modern city dwellers and cubicle jockeys, such a routine is impractical. After fighting traffic and reaching home at 7.30-8pm it is tough to be in bed by 10 pm. And, they may still have to get up early the next day to beat the morning rush, do the chores that need to be done and be where they need to be on time. This means lack of sleep on most nights.

If you follow such a lifestyle, then it makes sense to focus on creating a solid weekly routine more than worrying about a strict daily routine. Your weekly routine should have themed days guided by your energy levels and alertness through the week.

This 8-8 (am-pm) was my lifestyle not too long ago so I know how it feels in the body and mind. A normal office goer follows the same lifestyle. Here is how her energy and alertness levels vary through the week.

With energy levels like this, it makes sense to schedule the tasks that take maximum mental effort and clarity early in the week. Keep super important meetings on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and prepare for them on Mondays. Routine calls and meetings can go on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And keep status updates and group meetings where you are the one doing the most of the talking, on Fridays.

My Current Routine

It might sound crazy but it works for me. And, I am putting it out there to share with you and not as something for you to model.

On the days when I am not travelling or meeting people, I work from home. I divide my days into two parts – before and after lunch.

I get up whenever I wake up depending on when I went to bed. I am usually up after 6-8 hours of sleep. On days when I am up early and scheduled work is not intense, I stack leisure and entertainment in the beginning after breakfast. I like to start work during 10.30-11.30 window and work for a couple of hours before lunch. On days, when demands on my time are high, I skip entertainment and head straight into work to put in 3-4 hours before lunch.

For second innings of the day, I start at 4 or 5pm and work straight till 11-12 and on some days also past midnight.

I nap most days when at home, even when I am not feeling too sleepy.

This is because naps can restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents. A study at NASA on sleepy military pilots and astronauts found that a 40-minute nap improved performance by 34% and alertness 100%.

Naps can increase alertness in the period directly following the nap. This is why I try not to waste time after the nap. As soon as I get up, I meditate for 5 minutes or less, have a cup or two of coffee and start with what I am working on. And then I continue to work for several hours usually without a break or an occasional break for family tea time.

More than hours worked we need to be mindful of hours spent doing mindless consumption and hours doing meaningful work.

For many years, I struggled with wasting time scouring the web in the name of research and learning. But I have learned my lesson and gotten a little better with not wasting time online. Even when I go from page to page wasting time, I do it after finishing whatever I set out to do for that day. It is usually late at night so I have a reason to not go on for too long because I don’t like getting up too late in the morning.

For now, the most efficient routine for me looks like this.

Get up between 7-8.30 am. Complete self-service by 10.30-11 am. Start work soon after this. Work for 3- 4 hours, have lunch, take a nap and then work for 5-7 hours.

But everyday is not the same. It’s like this is when I am at home. But I keep varying it. For example, a couple of days ago when I had a lot to do, I was up at 3.30am and started working at 4, worked till 7.15am and took a long nap before breakfast.

This past Sunday, I had to travel so I got up at 3 and headed out around 5am.

What is the routine that works best for you right now? Are you able to follow it often?

I’d love to know.

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