My Perfect Workday

This is an essay about my perfect workday. It’s part of a series of essays published by the members of the Western Writers League.

Not every day is a perfect one, but every day I try to make it as good as possible.

And let me tell you, when I don’t try, things don’t go so well. It’s easy to just go into your day without a plan and then you end up just aimlessly hopping from browser window to browser window without getting anything done. If that doesn’t happen to you, well, then you’re not normal.

Also, I’d like to pre-empt this post stating that I come from a position of incredible privilege – being able to structure my days the way I do. I remember when my job was cleaning toilets at 5 am. It was much harder back then.

Here is what I do.

Put the cat food outside

Given Otto’s advanced age and complicated medical history combined with Lucy’s ferocious appetite for cat food, at this point of Otto’s life he’s pretty much fed in every room of the house – including my office. When I really want to dig deep on a task, I need to close my door. Hence the sign. Hence the cat food outside.

Work remote

I cannot tell you how much more work I have gotten done since I went remote. No distractions, other than the whole cat food things.  It’s an absolute game changer if you’re serious about your productivity. The easiest way to allow your company to let you work from home is to be willing to work for less. And then prove your worth. That’s what I did and trust me it’s worth it. You’ll make much more in the long-term.

Plan my day the night before

I make a list of the three main tasks I want to accomplish the next day, which I then load into Todoist and mark them as important. Those tasks tend to require some deep work, so if I get them done, it was a good day. I make sure to try and do a time estimate for each task, usually ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Last, I review my calendar for tomorrow and block off time for those most important tasks – breaking them into 30-minute sprints following the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of rest).

Track the habits you want to build and quit

New Year’s resolutions pretty much suck, because you can’t batch a ton of different new habits and behaviors into one day/week/month of the year and then hope they’ll stick. They won’t. If you’re serious about implementing a new habit, you need to not only track your progress but also ensure that you have the mental and physical space to make them happen. So don’t try to change your life all at once, but rather approach it one, two or three habits at a time. Stick with them for a month, then stop tracking the one(s) you nailed and maybe add another one.

Two more things about habits. Be specific. And be realistic. You’re not going to go from terrible to great overnight.

I use an app called Streaks to track my habits. Here are the habits I am currently trying to build:

– Write five days per week
– Meditate daily
– Workout six days per week
– Only drink alcohol three days per week

The workout one I have pretty much nailed and it will be removed. All the other ones are in the midst of implementation.

Set aside time for your habits

It does you no good to have a bunch of goals and then no time to accomplish them. For me, I never schedule anything between the hours of 7 am and 9 am. During that time I always meditate and write. Sometimes I even exercise. I don’t really need two hours, but the writing can take longer than expected.

Meditate

Given that it took me 35 years to finally be able to sit still, I can’t believe I am recommending meditation. It’s still torture to me but hey, it helps me in clearing up some space in that head of mine. I use an app called Headspace, which I paid for intentionally to up the ante on myself. They have different programs, which gives me a sense of accomplishment as I feel like I am learning something. Thanks for the recommendation Ryan.

Exercise

While I used to exercise a lot longer, I have really come to appreciate shorter more convenient bursts of exercise.

I use an app called Freeletics to do bodyweight exercises three times per week. They have a coaching function that customizes my workout plans and keeps me honest. There’s some gamification built in that allows me to compete with myself. Last but not least, I can do these exercises anywhere in the world – without needing access to a gym. Thanks for the recommendation Chris.

Then the other days, I do cardio workouts. I aim for at least 30 minutes but sometimes will work out for an hour or two. The usual suspects when it comes to my cardio are riding my Peloton, riding outside, going on a run or paddle boarding.

Exercise helps clear the proverbial cobwebs for me and makes me a more pleasant person to be around. Also, abs…

Learn something every day

Every day I try to learn something new, usually by reading a chapter in a book, a Blinkist book summary, listening to a podcast, watching a YouTube video or maybe even participate in a webinar. I always try to write down at least one actionable lesson I learned from whatever piece of content I consumed that day.

Avoid meetings

As much as possible, I avoid meetings as it takes me a while to get into a state of flow and every time I have a meeting, that process starts over. If I have phone meetings, I tend to go on walks while I do. I really only do in-person meetings on Thursdays and Fridays, which works well for me.

Turn off notifications and block distractions

This might be unique to me, but if I don’t turn off distractions and notifications, my attention span is virtually non-existent. So during the day, all social media and distracting websites (mostly German soccer sites are blocked off all devices) and I don’t receive any notifications which means my phone doesn’t ring or buzz. Actually, I don’t even have visual alerts. Every once in a while I might miss something important but usually, I check my phone every couple of hours.

Stop, get out and do something fun

I am probably not the best at this, but when I am done with my work, I try to be truly done. Right now, Carlyn and I are usually on the river a couple of nights per week. We love to have friends over for dinner and are really pretty good about doing a weekly date night. My goal is always to take one weekend day completely off. On the other one I try to make some progress on whatever side project I am passionate about.

Not every day is a perfect workday, but these are the tools and strategies that help me make the most out of every day.

What does your perfect workday look like?