We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
I have an admittedly cultish obsession with personal productivity systems, daily habits to the point of staying up late reading about the daily rituals and habit of famous artists.
Research about the power of habits and rituals and anecdotal evidence both show that people who accomplish meaningful things in their lives tend to live what looks like fairly boring day-to-day existences. This is anecdotally true in my personal experience and people I’ve hung out with.
Since I’m always looking at other people’s rituals, I wanted to lay out mine out and give some direction for people that want to put together or refine their own daily rituals and good morning routines.
I like to “chunk” my day and break it up into different discrete segments. While these sometime bleed together or one gets left out, it makes the entire schedule modular and easier to adapt if I’m travelling or something unexpected comes up.
I break mine down into 7 discrete chunks alternating between work and rejuvenation.
Here’s how that looks:
My Daily Ritual
Morning Routine (45-60 minutes)
- Wake Up – Usually between 6:30 and 7:30am.
- Drink 1 liter of water with Probiotic and Potato Starch – This is one of my recent tweaks after reading about the effect of Resistant Starch. Results for me have been better digestion and moderately decreased appetite.
- Floss and Brush Teeth
- Take 4000 IUs of Vitamin D3 and 2 tsps of Fish Oil (add 1 tbsp coconut oil if not drinking Bulletproof Coffee)
- Bodyweight Exercises – Pushups, Pullups, Sit-ups and Foam Rolling to get the blood flowing.
- Meditation – 20 minutes – I was an on and off meditator (despite seeing profound benefits when I do it consistently) until a year ago when I found Headspace. It was much more difficult for me to meditate until I started doing gamified, guided meditation.
- Visualize Desired Outcomes – I keep a note in Evernote where I’ve explicitly written out the most important goals I have in my life and what a day in the life of a person that has over all those are. I write it as if I’m writing the movie script of what I want my future to look like and spend 10 minutes reading and visualizing them. (see Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich for details on writing these for yourself.)
- Look over Monthly, Weekly, and Daily Most Important Tasks (MITs) and Calendar – At this point I know what my main projects and commitments are for the day and start to load up the mental ram to tackle them.
- Pack Bag (including Lunch, if going to a cafe or office)
- Coffee (Frequently Bullet Proof) – My drug of choice!
- Put first MIT into Pomodoro App or join Producerati – The Pomodoro technique is a productivity ritual designed to increase efficiency and eliminate burnout by doing 25 minute sessions of highly focused work. Easier said than done.
- Do The Work!
Morning Work (3-5 hours) – Creative/Maker’s Work – Sales/Marketing
- This is my working on the business, not in the business, time. My best creative time is first thing in the morning schedule so I don’t check email until I’ve completed at least my first Most Important Task (MIT) for the day. Whenever possible I put anything sales or marketing related here as those are usually the most difficult tasks and have the biggest long term beneftis.
- Process and Answer Email – I use the scheduled delivery with Gmail and Inbox Pause to keep everything out of my inbox until 11:30am. I then go through triage my inbox with the Email Game and will then go into my actual inbox if anything else needs to get managed.
Lunch (30 minutes) and Read (60 minutes)
- Disengage to Content – Podcasts, or Video Courses
- Make and Eat a Big Ass Salad
- Read – One of my lifelong dreams is to email someone at 2pm and get a canned response back saying they’re reading and taking a nap and won’t be able to respond for an hour. Imagine if everyone read 60 books a year instead of answering emails for an hour after lunch, how much more cool stuff would exist? Most people’s bio-rythms go into a lull after lunch and most people just try to power through it. I used to do the same (and frequently still do if there’s anything time sensitive), but still plan for a reading break.
Afternoon Work (2-4 Hours) – Manager/Administrative Work
- Meetings and Calls – While I do make exceptions if it’s totally unavoidable, I try to schedule all my meetings and calls between 1-10pm to be protective of my mornings.
- Urgent and Important Tasks
- Spillover from Morning Work
- Process/Answer Email at End of Work Day
Afternoon Break (60-90 Minutes)
- Go to the Gym or Take a Walk – I just started doing this recently and I’ve found exercising in the afternoon to be a good way to disengage and also a productivity booster if I need to get something done in the evening. I used to try and grind through into the evenings, but I’ve realized if I’ll zone out for an hour or two and let my mental ram de-load and then come back fresh, I’m 10x more productive when I come back.
Evening Work Or Social Time
- Frequently this is meetings with overseas team members. Sometimes after going to the gym or taking a nap, I’ll get an idea and get super jacked on it and go into a long work session, but usually it’s just finishing up anything left over from the day or grabbing dinner with friends.
Dinner and End of the Day Ritual (Review, Report and Plan)
- Review – What am I grateful for? Did I Complete today’s MITs? If no, Why not? What did I do well? What could I have done better? Did I take steps towards my desired outcomes? Did I move towards the Resistance? The least valuable thing I did today was…
- Report on Keystone Habits – Simple Google Spreadsheet with a 1 for Completed and a 0 for failed for my habits.
- Plan – Look over 25 Year/Monthly/Weekly Desired Outcomes. Write 3 MITs (Most Important Tasks) for the next day in Evernote – Here’s a copy of my full template for reviewing, reporting, and planning in Google Docs
- Listen to an Audiobook – I usually go for the long histories and biographies late at night – most recently John D. Rockefeller’s Titan, Abraham Lincoln’s Team of Rivals and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
- Eat Dinner, Prepare Lunch and Pack for the Next Day – I do all my cooking/dishes in one batch per day and often will cook an entire’s week worth of meals one night per week while listening to an audiobook.
- Take Creatine and ZMA with a glass of water
- Brush Teeth
- Get in Bed
- Turn on Sleep Stream (HD nature sounds – I like San Francisco Bay Waves – $2.99) and Sleep Tracker (Sleep Tracking and Pedometer – $0.99)
- Read on Kindle – Usually Fiction, most recently Atlas Shrugged, Dune and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.
Getting Started – The 80/20 of Daily Rituals
It’s taken me going on 3 years now since originally reading Getting Things Done to put this system together and it’s still constantly evolving.
I’ve noticed a lot of trends emerge in how I like working over that time and everyone is individual so it’s essential to start small.
If you try and set up everything on the front end, you’re preparing for failure. If it’s not sticking, the answer is almost always to do less and cut down. If you’re just getting started, here’s where you should start. These are the most essential parts of my routine and the parts I make sure to get in when everything else is in transition (like traveling days).
The Minimum Viable Daily Ritual
1. The Morning Ritual – The purpose of the morning ritual is to create momentum, If you spend the first hour of your day moving your life forward, you’re likely to spend the next 12 doing the same. Essential components:
- Exercise – I’ve seen massive upside in personal happiness and productivity from working out regularly and generally just feel better psychologically. Roll out of bed and do some basic Bodyweight exercises (20 pushups and 30 sit-ups can be done anywhere).
- Meditate – Ray Dalio (manager of the largest hedge fund on Earth) attributes “whatever success [he] may have had” to his meditation practice. Good enough for me. Set an iPhone time for 5 minutes, sit down, close your eyes and focus on your breath.
- Diet – Eat good, feel good. I suspect this is as much psychological as physiological, but once I dramatically reduced the amount of processed foods I was eating, I saw a big boost. This seems to be the case for people I’ve hung out with regardless of the exact diet (paleo, vegan, vegetarian, mediterranean, etc.) The key seems to be feeling good about it psychologically and no majorly processed foods. Put something in your body at the start of the day that makes you feel good about your health. I like bulletproof coffee.
- Visualize – Now that you’ve got all this momentum moving your life forward, take 10 minutes and think about what it’s moving toward.
2. A Long (at least 3 hour) Uninterrupted Block of Important, Non-urgent Work on your Most Important Task – NO EMAIL!
3. Planning – Planning is one of those catch 22’s where almost all plans never actually work out, but the act of planning is immensely useful in making sure you’re working on the right things. I’ve found the rule of 3 to be highly effective – that is a MAXIMUM of 3 tasks per day/week/month. Less than that is fine and likely better. Write three down either the night before or as part of your morning ritual. Here’s a copy of the template I use for this in Google Docs.
4. Sleep – Get 8+ hours of sleep/night.
Resources for Building Rituals and Habits:
These are the resources I’ve found most helpful in setting up my ritual:
- Getting Things Done – David Allen – The godfather or productivity! This is where it all started.
- The Power of Full Engagement – Energy management techniques grounded in twenty-five years of work with some of the world’s greatest athletes.
- Work the System and the Emyth Revisited – These books take Daily Rituals into the business context, from habits to systems for hiring and managing remote teams.
- Think and Grow Rich – If David Allen is the godfather of productivity, then Napoleon Hill is the godfather of visualizations. He lays out a step-by-step process for writing your visualizations for the morning ritual
- Daily Rituals – Mason Currey – A catalog of the daily habits of some of the most productive people in history from Benjamin Franklin to Nietzsche.
- The Power of Habit – Scientific research showing that the key to exercising regularly, losing weight, being more productive, and achieving success is understanding how habits work.
- Asian Efficiency Guide to Agile Results – Advanced! – this is leveling up the David Allen’s GTD system to let manage your overall life and bio-rhythms and making sure you’re working on the right tasks, not just the next thing on the list
- The Pomodoro Technique – Improve Efficiency and Reduce Burnout with focused 25 minute work sessions. Here’s How.
- Paul Graham’s Maker vs. Manager’s Schedules – There are two, distinct types of work, one for makers (creative) and one for managers (administrative). I separate these by doing Maker’s work in the morning and Manager’s in the afternoon.
- Tim Ferriss’s Podcast – The episode with Joshua Waitzken (of Searching for Bobby Fischer fame) is the best on morning rituals but he asks all his guests (Ferriss is likewise obsessed with people’s morning rituals).
What’s a blog post on productivity without the requisite list of tools? All are free unless otherwise noted and I’m actively using all of them right now.
- OmniFocus ($40 for mac and $20 for iPhone)– This is how I manage my GTD system. It lets me sort tasks by project, due date, and most importantly syncs across devices so anytime I think of something walking around I can dump the idea in my phone. They recently updated the UI to integrate with your calendar which makes it much more effective as a single list to work from. Literally don’t leave home with out
- Evernote – Organized properly, this could definitely replace Omnifocus. I mainly use it for writing and brain dumping since the composition window is way cleaner than a Microsoft Word document and the mobile app and search feature make it effectively, an external brain
- Self Control ($10) – I can’t even imagine how many times I press “Cmd+T facebook.com” unconciously in a day to see myself greeted by a very welcome “this site is not available” thanks to Self Control.
- Freedom ($10) – Essential for any writing on longform creative work. 100% blocks you off the internet.
- 8Tracks – Crowdsourced Playlists – like Pandora but by humans and free. Follow this guy – sick jams.
- Pomodoro Apps and Producerati – I’ve been on the Pomodoro bandwagon for a while now, but a big h/t to Idahosa Ness for setting up the Producerati to combine social pressure and the pomodoro technique.
- Jumpcut – for keeping a record of things you’ve copy/pasted lately to re-use as needed.
- aText ($4.99) – Text expander to make your own hotkeys for things you commonly type (like frequently entered URLs and Email Addresses).
- Better Touch Tool – DIY Hotkeys for mac users. My favorites are Ctrl+Cmd+Right Arrow and Ctrl+Cmd+Left Arrow to Maximize my windows Right and Left. The closest thing to dual monitors for laptopers.
- Inbox Pause – Schedule delivery times for your email so you can’t check it compulsively. I like to schedule mine for 11:30am (after my morning block of work) and 5pm (at the end of the work day).
- Momentum – Turn your new tab background in Chrome into a landscape shot and a list of your MITs for the day to prevent distraction.
- LastPass – LastPass remembers all your passwords and common forms you fill out (like address and credit card) that you can unlock with a single master password.
- Pocket – Store all your blog reading and do it in batches. I like to save everything I find during the week to browse over the weekends.
Further Reading –
These are some Daily Ritual posts that inspired me.
- Jon Tucker
- Daily Rituals of Famous Writers
- How Dan Andrew’s Finds His 5 Hours
- Darren Hardy – Productivity Habits of Super Achievers
- James Altucher
- Leo Babauta of Zen Habits
- Sebastian Marshall
- The Habitual Hustler
So who else out there is geeking out on this stuff, give me some links!
If you want to get a copy of this template, Download The Full Daily Ritual Template here.