The primary purpose of writing this article is to serve as a permanent self-reminder of my most productive daily routine (to present date). With this routine, I was able to simultaneously increase my physical strength, bolster my psychological resilience, and dramatically ramp up my income (from nothing to 5-figures per month). What’s more, this routine helped me maintain my health: stress was low, I rarely got sick, and slept like a baby each night.
Due to the emergence of an unforeseen medical condition in Q1 of 2017 (February), I’ve since abandoned this gem of a routine. Specifically, I developed severe inexplicable bilateral nerve pain in both of my hands that puzzled my general practitioner (he thought arthritis), rheumatologist (thought carpal tunnel), orthopedic surgeon (thought myofascial pain syndrome), and neurologist (knows abnormal nerve impulses, but gave generic diagnosis of “neuropathy”). As a result of this nerve pain, I’m unable to write in a journal, lift heavy weights, or efficiently use a computer (typing and mouse clicking).
Nevertheless, this routine served me well for approximately 2 years and I wanted to formally document it – mostly for the sake of nostalgia. I also wanted to document it so that, if by some minor miracle I manage to recover from my severe (radial/median) nerve pain – I can simply reintegrate this daily algorithm and turn back into a machine. Moreover, although this routine is tailored to me, if your current routine sucks and/or you just want to mix it up – feel free to give this a shot.
My Most Productive Daily Routine (Algorithm)
Wake up: Between 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM. I usually woke up at around 7:15 AM and this worked perfect in accordance with my circadian rhythm. If I ever woke up too late in the morning (e.g. 9:00 AM, 10:00 AM, etc.), I’d feel “mentally behind” – as though I let half the day slip away. I feel much better and more productive when waking up in the earlier half of the morning.
Evaluate sleep quality after waking: I used a sleep tracker app called “Sleep Cycle.” (It may cost a few bucks, but it tracks both quality and quantity of sleep). Immediately after waking I’d briefly view my sleep quality (expressed as a %) and quantity (duration). I always felt best when I got at least 8 hours of sleep along with a sleep quality score of 85%. If my sleep quality was above 90%, I knew I’d probably have an awesome day.
If sleep duration was less than 8 hours and/or sleep quality was below 80%, my performance (cognitive and athletic) would suffer. Getting more than 8 hours of sleep helped me maintain a sense of calmness throughout the day – impervious to thoughts of keeping up with the Jones’s, shiny object syndrome, and/or social guilt. Moreover, my writing ability would take a major hit if my sleep duration was under 7.5 hours… (the day would be a struggle).
In my experience, sleep quantity always trumped quality… probably in part because measuring “quality” is more difficult than quantity, and quantity influences the quality score. For a utopian workday, I’d have gotten between 8 and 9 hours of sleep with a quality score exceeding 90%. Getting between 9 and 9.5 hours of sleep was usually fine, but getting over 9.5 hours made my performance suffer.
Occasionally, just going over 9 hours of sleep would make me feel groggy with “brain fog” – likely due to a host of factors: circadian mismatch, awakening during a sleep cycle, and/or awakening in a predominantly alpha/theta (dreamlike) state. Anyways, after you’re awake, just check the sleep if you want for reference – but don’t dwell on any numbers – just get going with the rest of the routine.
Make your bed: Ever since I’ve been in college, I never was religious about making my bed. If I had to guess, I’d say that my bed got made approximately 50% of days. However, after listening to a Tim Ferriss podcast, he convinced me to make my bed every day – and I haven’t looked back.
The primary reason for making your bed is this: it gives you an immediate “win” to start your day. Even if you got a poor night’s sleep and/or your life is currently out of control, making your bed gives you something you can control. (I haven’t missed a day of making my bed now in over 3 years). A secondary reason for making your bed is this: after a hard day’s work, you want to return home and see that your bed is made – this registers in your brain that you’re a productive/clean person and not a total slob.
Get dressed: Clothes (gym clothes and work clothes) should’ve been laid out from the night before. After you’ve made your bed, throw on your gym clothes and get your gym stuff ready (water, towel, etc.). Once your dressed, use the bathroom.
Brush teeth: Pretty self-explanatory here… Use mouthwash, then brush teeth.
Journal: Next is journaling. When I was at my most productive, I’d force myself to write at least 1,000 words per morning in my journal. All writing in this journal is stream-of-consciousness, meaning, I write whatever comes to mind. This means absolutely anything that comes to mind. Things I write about include: anxieties, concerns, emotions, exciting things going on, what I did the day before, what I’m planning on doing the present day, how I slept, how my relationships are going, things I recently learned, what I’m grateful for, etc.
Don’t worry about organization – just let things flow freely. If nothing comes to mind – write that nothing is coming to mind and/or describe how you’re feeling, etc. My journaling generally took about 15 minutes. Because I’m obsessive/neurotic, I forced myself hit a minimum quota of 1,000 words each day. (I don’t recommend this – it’s just a standard I had set).
I first started journaling with a software program on my computer called “The Journal” (fitting name). Because my old computer crashed and I bought a Macbook, I now use “Mac Journal” (which is much less user-friendly than “The Journal” – but it still works).
Note: While journaling, I was usually near a window getting natural light and had the app “Flux” enabled on my computer (blocking artificial blue light – don’t need a jolt of this first thing). I also had my Wi-Fi router unplugged from the night before so that I wouldn’t be tempted to use the computer for other purposes (e.g. researching, browsing, checking email, etc.).
Drive to gym: When you’ve finished your morning word/thought/emotional-vomit via journaling, it’s time for the gym. En route to the gym you’re getting natural blue light from the sun (rather than from a screen). Some days I preferred listening to rap music, whereas others I’d listen to podcasts. At my most productive, I was listening to podcasts that favorably altered my thinking (e.g. increased my optimism about the future) and/or that taught me something useful (e.g. Rhonda Patrick teaching me the benefits of time-restricted feeding).
Listening to music can be good for the brain, so podcasts are not always the best. I’d sometimes try to memorize the lyrics to rap songs. Sometimes I’d even try to think of my own raps on the way to the gym – once again, just to get my brain revved up for the day.
Workout: Although I enjoy all styles of workouts (bodybuilding, cardio, calisthenics, powerlifting, yoga) – what stuck with me was a powerlifting routine. I found that bodybuilding routines were too exhausting – and left me unable to think as clearly during my writing session (later that day). Similarly, doing too much cardio left me feeling like I needed a nap in the afternoon. Powerlifting routines were still taxing, but the ones that I used never made me feel excessively tired later in the day.
My goal was to keep things fairly minimalistic. The routines that I utilized included: Jonnie Candito’s 6-Week Linear Program and Brandon Campbell’s PRS program. For the sake of minimalism, I prefer the former over the latter. That said, both routines worked extremely well for increasing strength and size. (Each is 100% free if you’re looking for a routine). Anyways, I’d perform these workouts on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. This meant that Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays would have no “drives” (to and from the gym) or “workouts.”
Drive to a park (optional): This is an optional step in the productive routine, but may be an important one for certain individuals. On occasion, I’d drive immediately from the gym to a beach/park where I’d spend anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours in natural light. I’d use noise-cancelling earmuffs to drown out distracting external noise if reading a book.
I believe it’s healthy to get as much natural light as you can in the morning. By reading outside (at a park bench or table), you’ll get time outside in natural light. (Another option here is to walk around or lie down outside while listening to a podcast or audiobook).
Drive home: Drive home from the gym (or the optional park/beach/lakefront) and continue listening to podcasts and/or music that you enjoy.
Start cooking breakfast: After arriving home, I’d immediately wash a large head of organic broccoli, chop it up, and begin steaming it on the stove. I’d also heat water (either on the stove or in the microwave) until it reached optimal temperature to steam my organic green tea leaves.
Shower: While the broccoli is steaming I’d hop in the shower (forcing myself to be quick in the shower so that my broccoli wouldn’t burn). I experimented for a few months with cold showers, but they actually made me feel and perform slightly worse than usual, so I always stick with warmer/pleasant showers.
Finish cooking breakfast: After showering and getting dressed (in clothes that were already laid out), I’d finish steaming my broccoli and let my green tea steep in the water that I heated (to optimal temperature for green tea). Additionally, I’d cook 5 jumbo organic eggs in coconut oil on the stove (over easy) and have 2 pieces of high-quality bread that I toasted and buttered (with Kerrygold or another grass-fed butter).
Eat and supplement: I’d usually eat my broccoli first (before my eggs), but I’d sometimes dip the salted/peppered broccoli into the egg yolk for extra deliciousness. While eating I’d supplement with substances that may enhance my cognition and/or gym recovery including: creatine monohydrate (5 grams), turmeric/curcumin (1 capsule), krill oil (2 capsules), alpha lipoic acid (1 capsule), and ubiquinol (1 capsule).
I’d also sometimes take vitamin C (1000 mg extended release) and/or liposomal glutathione (earlier in the morning on an empty stomach) if I felt slightly sick. To cap off breakfast, I’d have 1-2 squares of 90% Lindt (dark chocolate). Note: During breakfast, I usually listen to a podcast or watch YouTube videos on my phone – no need to stress about work.
Wash dishes: All pans, plates, and cups should be washed and dried (by hand) before initiating the day’s work.
Ab rolls (optional): I used to do 30-50 abdominal rollouts using a cheap ab wheel just for the sake of strengthening my core. This is completely unnecessary as part of the routine, but I felt like documenting it. Core strength helps posture if you work at a computer all day like I do.
Leave for library: Grab your backpack, laptop, green tea, and noise-cancelling earmuffs – and head to the library. On the way to the library, listen to podcasts or music.
Library (deep work): This is where the heavy-hitting workload gets done – when you need to step up to the plate and get it done with no excuses. I generally arrive at the library between 9:30 AM and 11 AM, and finish working between 3 and 5 PM. In total, I aim for 3 to 6 hours of “deep work” per day. (I never even heard the term “deep work” until last year – it’s something I’ve always been doing – and something I think 99% of people never do).
At the library, you’ll want to reserve a private “study room” or “work room” if possible. These have doors that cancel out noise. Additionally, you’ll want to have noise-cancelling earmuffs (mine block out like 26 decibels) in case anyone gets loud or you hear some annoying sounds that could potentially deter your focus.
I should note that I prefer working at libraries because, while at the library, I’m not tempted to do anything other than work – my TV is at home, my phone is off (or left at home), and my brain can form or reinforce an association between “going to the library” and “getting a lot of work done.” If I don’t have a writing topic, I usually research one, but generally already know what I’m writing about as soon as I set-up shop at the library (it’s the same topic as the previous day’s).
In the private study room, I work for 3 to 6 hours while sipping my green tea – usually finishing work in the early evening (3 to 5 PM). I also should mention that I’m fortunate to be a member of a great little library (it’s rare that both of the study rooms are either “in use” or “reserved”). If I had a crappy library, I’d likely prefer to stay at home and discipline myself as much as possible to avoid distractions – rather than working somewhere else like a noisy coffee shop.
Back home: After the library, I always play some music on my way home and sing along – like I’m celebrating a hard day’s work. I know I’ll have knocked out between 1.5K and 6K words of ultra-high quality content for my website. After arriving home, I’ll place my computer inside, briefly rinse out my green tea thermos, post my article online, and/or sometimes moderate comments.
Walking: Thereafter, I’ll go for a walk – usually a minimum of 20 minutes – while making some phone calls on speaker phone (to avoid brain radiation) to family and/or friends. If the persons I’m calling are unavailable, I’ll listen to a podcast and keep my phone on airplane mode (to avoid radiation). This walking helps me unwind after sitting all day and is a great way to de-stress if I’m keyed up.
Dinner: I’ll then cook something for dinner. Think vegetables, a protein source, and possibly some other complementary items. For dessert I’ll usually have some mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, raspberries – no strawberries due to pesticides) – sometimes in a blend with yogurt and salted almonds. (When using this routine, I allow myself to eat as much food as I want until I’m full. If I gain weight – so what? Extra body fat may enhance aspects of cognition). While eating I typically watch TV shows that I like as a way to unwind from earlier intellectual stimulation. When I’m done eating, I store all leftovers and clean the dishes (never leaving them for “later”).
Post-dinner activity: While I could continue working after dinner (I sometimes do this), if I worked hard during your 3 to 6 hours at the library – I usually am depleted of peak cognition. For this reason, I’ll engage in a non-work activity. This is usually something like watching TV, going to a movie, meeting a friend, or pursuing a hobby. I like playing badminton and table tennis, but do not play every day. I just think of something to do – and go do it (even if it’s something simple like shopping for groceries or visiting a friend).
Relaxation: When finished with the post-dinner activity, I wear blue blockers (sunglasses that filter blue wavelengths of light) after sunset to avoid circadian mismatch and insomnia. After my post-dinner activity, I also use a biofeedback device called the emWave2 which records and helps me modify my HRV (heart-rate variability). By deliberately increasing my HRV, I can decrease sympathetic tone (activation of the sympathetic nervous system) – this helps prevent insomnia. After 20 minutes of heart-rate variability training or biofeedback, I unplug my router (Wi-Fi) and ensure that my phone is on “airplane mode” to avert late-night pseudo-urgent insomnia-inducing alerts (e.g. texts).
Bed prep: If I played sports, I prepare for bed with a hot shower, then I take care of my teeth (floss, mouthwash, then brush). Just before bed, I set out my clothes (gym clothes and work clothes) for the next day – this helps me minimize “decision fatigue” the next day.
Go to bed: Next I’ll go to bed between 8 PM and 11 PM – usually between 9:30 and 10 PM. I have blackout curtains to prevent bright lights from shining into my room, and I wear a sleep mask for good measure. I also have comfortable “ear muffs” that I can slide on while lying on my back to block out sound (in the event that I hear unpleasant and/or loud noises within the same building or outside).
I believe sleeping on my side (laterally) is optimal for health, so that’s how I sleep. I also feel like I get better sleep in the lateral position than on my stomach or back. That said, I’ll sometimes sleep on my back if necessary. Just before falling asleep, I’ll try to focus on a few things that I’m grateful for – and then drift off into my nightly delta sleep (a.k.a. dirt nap mode).
Most Productive Routine (Recap)
For those who want a recap of my routine and/or didn’t bother reading the details, I’ve highlighted each step below in a more concise list.
- Wake up (between 6-8 AM): No phone or internet during this time.
- Gym clothes & oral hygiene: Put on gym clothes, use mouthwash, and brush teeth.
- Journal (word vomit): Get thoughts out of brain by vomiting them into a journal.
- Drive to gym: Listen to podcasts and/or music.
- Powerlifting routine: I like Jonnie Candito’s “Linear Program.”
- Outdoor relaxation: Get some natural light outside at a park while reading or listening to a podcast/audiobook.
- Drive home: Continue podcast and/or music.
- Breakfast: Large head of broccoli (steamed), 5 eggs (over easy), 2 pieces of toast with grass-fed butter. Take supplements and cap off with 1-2 squares of 90% dark chocolate. Brew green tea to be sipped while at library. Shower and change into work clothes.
- Library: Reserve private study room. Use noise-cancelling earmuffs for minor nuisances. Engage in “deep work” for 3 to 6 hours.
- Return home: Listen to music on way home. Post article online, edit a few comments, possibly check emails. Go for a 20+ minute walk and make phone calls to family and friends.
- Dinner: Cook dinner. Eat dinner while watching TV and/or while talking to significant others, family members, and/or friends. Always clean dishes and messes immediately after dinner.
- Post-dinner activity: Pick a non-work post-dinner activity to do – keep it simple. Work is fine, but don’t do anything that will “fire you up” or induce stimulation (arousal). I like badminton, tennis, and table tennis.
- Sunset: When the sun is set, electronics are to be avoided and/or minimized. Blue blockers should be worn. Relaxation should be the objective here (I use the emWave2 for HRV).
- Bed prep: Shower (if necessary). Unplug Wi-Fi router. Phone on airplane mode. Lay out clothes for next day.
- Sleep: Sleep mask, curtains, side sleep, earmuffs (only if noisy area). Drift off to sleep between 9 and 10 PM with thoughts of gratitude and/or paced breathing.
- Rinse, recycle, repeat.
Note #1: Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays did not include gym workouts. Furthermore, these days jumped straight from “journal” to library. I always brewed myself green tea to sip these days, but stayed completely fasted (without food) until the afternoon. On Wednesdays I wouldn’t eat until dinner, whereas on Saturdays and Sundays I’d usually have my first meal between 2 and 6 PM.
Note #2: I’ll occasionally check email in the afternoon after I return from the library. (This is sometimes necessary as to ensure that payments have been made on time, etc.). That said, this is not done daily – you don’t want to let email trigger a “FOMO” or fight-flight response. Just stay away from email as much as possible – as well as texts. It’s better to be perceived as rude for not responding (to an email or text) than to stress yourself out because you felt obligated to respond and/or guilty. (If you have an urge to check your email – wait until this impulse/urge goes away before allowing yourself to check it in the afternoon).
Though I’ve documented this routine primarily for myself, I realize that others may read this article and end up giving it a shot and/or modifying it to fit their lifestyle. There are a few caveats that are necessary to underscore with regard to the aforementioned routine.
- Standard jobs: Individuals with typical “day jobs” cannot follow this routine due to work hours
- Incompatibilities: This routine will NOT be compatible for everyone (it may be a horrible routine for certain individuals).
- Tailored to Drew: This routine is what I found to be optimal for me.
- Long-term: The routine works best if utilized with regularity over a long-term.
- Dislike routine: Not everyone likes following a routine. If you dislike routine – I’m not sure why you’re still reading.
Things I’ve accomplished with this routine
With this routine I’ve accomplished a few things that I never thought possible.
- Grew a website from 0 to over 1M visitors per month: Did this with zero outsourcing and just working for 3 to 6 hours per day at the library. It took about 1.5 years.
- Maintained work-life balance: I never felt like I was working “too much.” I enjoyed my work and actually felt as though I was working very little. My work was just more efficient than most because I was blocking out distractions (alerts, noise, people, etc.).
- Kept stress low: I was rarely “wound up” or stressed. This was mostly because I was: getting enough exercise (lifting/walking/recreation), eating enough food, and getting sufficient sleep.
- Maintained a healthy relationship: I also maintained a healthy long-term relationship for the duration of using this routine.
- Increased physical strength: The strength training component increased my overall physical strength (this was predictable), muscle size, and muscle definition.
What’s your most productive daily routine?
If you’ve experimented with routines, what was the daily routine that simultaneously yielded great results in all key areas of your life (e.g. health, wealth, relationships, etc.)? Are you still using this routine? (Why or why not?) If you think that you have a badass routine that gets you great results in health, wealth, and relationships – feel free to share it in the comments below and break it down for anyone reading this site.
Lastly, I want to underscore that I’m no longer using the above routine due to my bilateral neuropathic hand pain. In other words, the above documentation of my most productive daily routine was written in a suboptimal physiologic state (hopefully it’s still legible). I’ve since had to engineer a new daily routine that’s minimalistic and allows me to function with my neuropathic pain.
Moreover, although I’m fascinated with routines, I realize that a routine that works for one person (no matter how brilliant) may be an awful choice for another person of the same brilliance. Additionally, a routine that worked for me in the past and/or was formerly compatible may not necessarily work well in the future (as is the case right now). To find an optimal routine, I recommend self-experimentation over an extended duration whereby you measure your: earnings, mood, sleep, stress, and lifestyle satisfaction.
Continue adjusting routine specifics (e.g. early riser vs. night owl, cardio-centric vs. lifting-centric, etc.) and the order of operations (e.g. eat before exercise vs. eat after exercise) until you stumble upon an algorithm that’s optimal for your physiology. Eventually you’ll find something that works like a charm. You’ll know it’s working well when major areas of your life simultaneously improve and/or you feel in a state of flow – you’re alert and relaxed 24/7.