23 Apr My (Kinda Weird) Daily Routine & Creativity Rituals
“The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.”
– Mike Murdock
“So what do you do each day?”
I get that a lot – for all kinds of reasons, especially from those who think my full-time job consists solely of writing one blog post each week. 😉
But many of you have specifically asked about my daily routine, so I figured that today, I’d humor you.
Most weekdays, I try to stick to a pretty specific schedule – for reasons I’ll explain below. But most importantly, because my routine helps me answer a question that holds most people back from making the changes they know they want to make…
“How do I find the time?”
That’s not to say that I have hours to burn each day (I absolutely do not), but my routine helps ensure I do the things I actually care about.
I’ve studied routines quite a bit, and it turns out that odd rituals have been the foundation of some of the most creative minds in the world. The book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, uncovered a few…
- Mark Twain would stay in his study writing and working from breakfast until dinner, writing straight through lunch
- Hemingway usually wrote while standing
- Composer and pianist Igor Stravinsky did headstands
- Winston Churchill often drank throughout the day
Novelist Somerset Maugham would think about the first two sentences he wanted to write while soaking in his morning bath
- Patricia Highsmith worked in bed surrounded by cigarettes, an ashtray, matches, a mug of coffee, a doughnut and a cup full of sugar
- Benjamin Franklin apparently spent his mornings naked
But it’s not about getting naked or drinking or whatever.
The point is not what these people did (as fascinating as it might be) – it’s that they had a pattern that led them to their best output. Their dedication to routine consistently put them into their peak creative and productive states.
There are a million ways to slice a routine. And for the most part, it’s the repetition, not the specific ritual, that leads to results. What matters most to me is knowing what I want to build and developing a daily process that’s consistent with making it happen.
My routine is far from perfect and is always evolving, but I hope it helps you develop your own system for creating the things you actually care about.
My (Kinda Odd) Daily Routine & Creation Rituals
6:00 am: Wake up
Timing varies between 5:30-6:30 am, but we’ll assume 6 here. I don’t like alarms, so generally I’ll wake when I wake, unless something early and important is happening. And if I’m deep into product creation mode, the excitement and nerves often have me up between 4 and 5 am when I’ll dive right into my first creativity window.
6-6:10 am: Drink a pint of water
I need to get some hydration back after being dry for 7-8 hours.
6:10-6:30 am: Meditate
Either on a cushion on the floor or Indian style on the couch, I spend 20 minutes with eyes closed focusing on my breathing and observing thoughts. This is a big part of my tranquility campaign (AKA stress management) and something I’m constantly working on. Monkey Mind is still incredibly hard for me to avoid, but I usually enjoy the practice.
For a refresher on the importance of mindfulness, check out this article in Scientific American: You Need More Down Time than You Think
6:30-7:00 am: Take in some inspiration
I watch a TED talk or do a little reading (in a real book), to get a few ideas flowing before the day actually starts. If I don’t do it first thing, it’s easy for it to slip. It also opens up the idea flow for what’s next…
7:00-8:00 am: Relatively high-intensity workout
If I don’t start by moving and breathing, I’m off my game all day. It’s also my best way to activate my body, mind and ideas. I often get back from a workout and go straight to sweating over my keyboard to get out the thoughts that came up. I cannot overemphasize the importance of exercise for gaining perspective and generating and processing ideas, not to mention the obvious health benefits. I rotate between stair sprints, high intensity bodyweight/plyometric work (jumping around), kettlebells, weights, jogging and yoga. If schedules align, I love doing getting out with a friend (see picture of James Clear and me above, at my favorite “gym” in SF).
If I’m training for something big (like last year’s 50-miler), my session might be as long as four hours, which means a lot earlier wake-up time. And lately I’ve been adding in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on some evenings. After reading Play it Away, I’m also starting to do more fun activities like playing catch with an Aerobie.
And whenever I get stuck on a problem or overwhelmed by something new, I’ll step away for a walk or ideally a run. The problem looks totally different once I return.
8:00-8:10 am: Take a cold wake-up shower
Ever since my friend Jesse Jacobs, founder of Samovar Tea Lounge, told me about his daily cold shower “Success Ritual”, Chelsea and I have oddly been hooked. I’ll take a regular warm shower to get clean and then end with 10-30 seconds of pure cold (lately I’ve been adding a bit more time). I hated it at first. Now I love it. Even if I forget, I’ll jump back in. It makes for a super energizing boost, and the health benefits are pretty interesting, including increased testosterone, better circulation, fat burning and building courage through voluntarily dealing with discomfort. Read about the benefits on Jesse’s post here.
8:10-8:40 am: Green breakfast and play with Chelsea
Our breakfasts can seem a little odd – we only realize this when we have people stay with us. We usually drink it, and lots of veggies are involved. Fresh green smoothie (in the Vitamix) or veggie juice (in the Breville). If it’s juice, we eat some nuts or banana and almond butter with it. We’re always trying new odd renditions, like toasted rice cake with avocado, sea salt and olive oil or open-faced veggie taco.
A super light and fresh meal helps for creative time, which comes next. I also love taking some time to hang out with Chelsea first thing. And on the odd hyper-focused days I’ll blend up enough green smoothie to last until dinner (like today).
8:40 am-noon: Creative and important task time
This is sacred, so sometimes I start much earlier. No time for email or screwing around online before I do some writing and tackle the big creative tasks at hand. Since I’ve already scheduled what to work on during my Monday morning weekly planning session, I can dive right in. Willpower and cognitive ability seeps away throughout the day, so saving the hard stuff for later is a recipe for killing productivity. This is also a good case for not making big decisions, negotiations or purchases later in the day. This New York Times article was very eye-opening: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? Getting something important done first also guarantees the day will be a win and creates awesome momentum.
Most my work is done at my stand-up desk, with sitting breaks at the couch, unless I go wandering to a local cafe. I usually put on Relaxation Radio on Pandora (no lyrics) or listen to the zen-like background music that comes with Om Writer (my favorite writing app).
Noon-1:00 pm: Emails and small tasks
Emails are a constant battle for me, so I’ve been scheduling an hour later in the morning and early afternoon to crank through them. I tackle mainly business emails relating to projects, with a few personal items scattered about. I would love to have a better handle on emails, but it’s never worth sacrificing my creative time. Sometimes I’ll neglect emails to a fault (like now!), but it’s worth the tradeoff.
1:00-2:00 pm: Veggie lunch
Chelsea and I eat about 90% plants at home and keep lunch pretty simple with a homemade salad – but we pack it full! Sticking to veggies also keeps digestion from sapping too much energy out of the afternoon.
2:00-2:20 pm: Power nap
I’ve known about the importance of napping for creativity, thinking, energy and overall health for a while now, and have recently been giving siestas a lot more priority. Even if I don’t fall asleep, it ends up serving as a nice meditation. The science in this article makes for a hell of an argument for more non-thinking time in general, including sleep, napping, meditation and walks in nature.
2:20-5:30 pm: More important tasks and occasional meetings
I’ll dive right back into creation and big project mode with a fresh mind following nap time, before getting lost in late afternoon minutiae. If I have meetings or interviews, I’ll schedule them for later in the afternoon, after creative time (or during lunch). And I usually batch most of my meetings for Thursday afternoon, ideally. I can’t stand little meetings spread throughout my week. If my calendar looks like Swiss cheese, so will my output.
5:30-6:30 pm: Emails and small tasks
My last batch of catch-up time for the day. Ideally my computer is closed for the night once 6:30 hits.
6:30-7 pm: Sunset date walk
I like to close with a final dose of nature for the day. Chelsea and I love walking out along the water, catching up on the details of the day and maybe even feeding the ducks at The Palace of Fine Arts. It makes for a fun decompression ritual, and we’ve been in love with sunsets since we first met. Sometimes we’ll bring a little wine or tea.
7:00-8:30 pm: Dinner with Chelsea and/or friends
Food is such a cool vehicle for connection, and Chelsea and I love cooking together. But she’s the creative genius in the kitchen, so lately I’ve just been following her lead with all she’s whipping up at Food Life Balance. We always sit down and have a nice slow meal, and I look SO forward to it. We try to spend a couple nights a week breaking bread with friends too, either at our house or out and about.
If we’re with friends, this will last until 10 pm or so, and we’ll skip relax time. Routine fun interactions with close buddies is also priceless for stress reduction and staying present.
8:30-10:00 pm or so: Relax, play, read, movie, decompress
If it’s just the two of us, this is wind-down time. We almost never turn on our TV, except for the occasional movie, documentary date night or local basketball game (we became first-time sports fans when my brother-in-law started working with the team). It’s not uncommon for a lot of nights to get filled with a little Scrabble, Bananagrams (Chelsea kicks my butt), reading or travel planning for the next adventure. That’s assuming we’re not on a breakdancing or tennis kick or some other odd date night. And if all goes as planned, I’ll end with a warm epsom salt and eucalyptus oil bath – another part of my tranquility campaign.
10 or 10:30 pm-6 am: Pre-sleep and deep slumber
Consistently getting to bed early has been a huge focus for me this past year. I used to think I could train myself to run on six hours or so, but the more I read, the more I’m realizing I’m wrong. Eight hours is my goal and I do everything I can to get over seven at a minimum.
From bed, I try to stick to all paper reading, if any reading at all. No screens or other jarring bright lights, as those can mess with deep sleep. Sometimes I’ll also put down a spoonful of almond butter and/or raw Manuka honey to increase blood sugar, which I’ve heard can contribute to deeper sleep.
Then I throw on my sleep mask and ear plugs, turn on the fan for background noise and drift off to do it all over again. Sometimes I even put on a special sleep mask that’s supposed to facilitate lucid dreaming, although I’ve yet to see much correlation. I still have hope, though. 😉
So that’s more or less how it goes…
Except of course when it doesn’t – like when I get sucked into some mindless YouTube video or procrastinate on a project I just can’t seem to get my head around, which happens more than I’d like to admit. Things throw me off all the time, but this structure gives me a standard to continually return to.
Consistency Creates Results
The right routine makes space for creating and building the things I actually care about – those actions that can too easily fall into the black hole of “not enough time”. I still constantly struggle to fit everything in, but what’s nice is that I don’t even have to think for most of this to happen, especially the morning routine. It just happens. And when it does, that momentum builds towards everything else.
So that’s what I shoot for, plus or minus a couple hours. It’s not perfect, not even close. In fact, I’m breaking it tonight as I finish this article. 😉
But more often than not, the important and creative stuff gets done. And during my sunset walk, I get to be proud of the focus I had and the work I produced. Confidence comes from knowing the building continues.
And that’s a pretty nice place to start.
Your routine can either shape the impact you want to make or it can provide excuses for progress never happening. If your process isn’t moving you forward, it’s time to start experimenting.
Hopefully it’s helpful to see a window into my world – and that the image of me in a lucid dreaming mask and ear plugs garners at least a slight chuckle.
You have my permission to point and laugh.
How about you? What’s one daily ritual you’ve come to swear by? Bonus points if it’s somewhat odd… Tell us in the comments!
P.S. My borderline obsession/addiction with routines lead me to create our Weekly Planning Workbook. It’s free to our community and you can download it as part of the Passionate Work Toolkit. Or start with this article: How I Plan My Week (My 5-Step Process + free workbook download)