the ultimate productivity routine experiment

The “ultimate” productivity routine [Experiment][TPP#68]

There are loads of articles online about different types of productivity routines you can follow. Things you should and shouldn’t do. How to work and when to do what. But how do they all fit together and work alongside one another? How do you actually implement this advice? How do we turn these routines from a concept we read about to an actual part of our day?

With this in mind, I thought I’d have a go at designing my “ultimate” routine. The goal here is to schedule and plan how to actually adopt different productivity habits and routines into my own schedule.

This post is part one of what I imagine may become a must-part blog post series. Today I’d like to share the routines I’m adopting and how I’ve implemented them into my day to day. In a month or so, I’ll follow up and report on what worked and what didn’t.

Here we go…

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Below is a list of routines and habits I’d come across in the past and liked the sound of. Next to each one I’ve described the concept and how specifically I’ve implemented it into my own “ultimate” routine:


Deloading a phrase more commonly used to describe rest days during periods of more intense physical workouts. Tim Ferriss describes deloading as:

“Deloading for business, in my case, consists of strategically taking my foot off the gas. I alternate intense periods of batching similar tasks (recording podcasts, clearing the inbox, writing blog posts, handling accounting, etc.) with extended periods of — for lack of poetic description — unplugging and fucking around. I feel that the big ideas come from these periods. It’s the silence between the notes that makes the music.”

I love this idea of “stepping off the gas” in order to give yourself time to think and discover new ideas. Too often, we can get too “into the weeds” in our work or business and don’t take enough time to step back or plan our next move.

I generally start the day by mediating, answering email then eating breakfast. I’ve scheduled a daily 30-minute deloading period on my calendar (recurring) right after breakfast. It’s the final component of my morning routine and allows me to think, ponder and get the ideas out of my head before I start the “deep work” (which I’ll talk about next).

I’ve also scheduled a deloading period from 1-5pm every Wednesday afternoon. This is time I’m going to guard and keep clear of client calls and all other work so I can “unplug and fuck around” on what ever I like. In other words, what I do during this time is up to me. I may or may not be working; if I like, I can take the afternoon off, or use this time to work on random ideas.

NOTE: Because I use Calendly for booking calls with clients, I’ve adjusted my account settings so that Calendly checks for conflicts with a calendar category I’ve set up called “Busy”. These blocks of deloading time are added to the “Busy” calendar so that I don’t receive call bookings on top of the deloading periods helping me to protect the deloading time from interruptions.

Deep Work

As well as being a book by Cal Newport, Deep Work describes the idea that we need to spend more time on focussed, “deep”, high-energy work and that this is becoming increasingly important in this highly distracting day and age.

Cal Newport argues that:

High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus)Click To Tweet

In other words, to do bette work, we need to spend more time in an intensely focussed state.

I already sort of do this. Every Friday afternoon, I look at my tasks for the upcoming week and block out time on my calendar to highlight when I’m going to work on each task. This works wonders for a few reasons:

  • When you block out the time for yourself, similar to how you would with a meeting or phone call, you’re making a promise to yourself that you’re going to do something. This helps to hold you accountable.
  • It also helps you to stick to a time budget and not spend too long on tasks.
  • It’s also conducive to a deep work state as you know that during this time, you should be 100% focussed on that block of time and not on Facebook or pursuing other activities.

I’m scheduling these blocks of time to work on “deep work” tasks in the morning and after my daily deloading. I know that I work best in the morning before lunch, so this is a great time to get into deep work. Whereas the afternoons can be reserved for more passive and low energy work.

NOTE: You can also check out Cal Newport’s writing on “Monk Mode Morning”. I thought about adopting this routine, however, I personally prefer to clear my inbox and deal with client emails first thing and get this off my back which isn’t really what you're supposed to do when in “monk mode”.

6-Week Cycles

The folks at Basecamp have shared some fantastic insights on how they work in 6-week cycles. Each 6-week cycles usually consists of 1 – 2 “big batch” tasks. This is generally a bigger project or feature that’s going to be worked on. They’ll also work on 4 – 8 “small batch” tasks. These are quicker, mini-projects that take a few days or a week to complete.

During this time, they focus on nothing else. All other ideas wait until the cycle ends, at which time the decide what to work on next. This helps to give them team more focus and purpose during each cycle.

I already use a Kanban board in Asana to keep track of weekly tasks. Without realising, this is sort of my way of tracking “small batch” items. i.e. I move tasks from “Planning” to “In Progress” when I’m working on them.

I’ve now added an “In Progress (Big Batch)” column to my Kanban board which is where I’ll track the larger, “big batch” projects I’m currently working on (and limit this to just one or two things).

So now, I’ll have 4 or 5 “small batch” tasks in the “In Progress (small batch)” column and 1 or 2 larger projects in the “In Progress (big batch)” column. The due dates are used to highlight when the batch is due to be complete and using this system I can ensure I stay focussed on the right tasks.

5-Hour Rule

In this article, the 5-Hour Rule is described as:

“Many of these leaders (Oprah Winfrey, Elon Musk and Bill Gates to name a few), despite being extremely busy, have set aside at least an hour a day (or five hours a week) over their entire career for activities that could be classified as deliberate practice or learning.”

As a self-improvement junkie, I love the idea of dedicating time each day to deliberate learning.

As I was saying before, when we’re too “in the weeds” with our work, we often don’t take enough time to focus on self-development and personal learning. And because we’ve worked so hard during the day, during our down time we often don’t have the energy or motivation to pick up a self-help book. So instead, why not make “learning” an actual part of your day?

To implement this, I’ve scheduled an hour each afternoon for “learning”. It’s different to deloading which is free time to do whatever you want. “Learning” is the time when you should be either reading a book, listening to a podcast, journaling or networking with people who’re smarter than you.

CEO Mode and The Maker and the Manager

Chase Reeves as Fizzle often talks about CEO Mode. This is the mode you go into when you work “on” your business instead of “in” your business. It’s the time you take to step back, plan and strategise. This is very similar to the concept of The Maker and The Manager.

Even if you don’t work for yourself or run a business, it’s important to take time to step back and plan your long-term career goals or work on any strategic aspects of your job.

To help get into CEO mode more often, I’ve scheduled a weekly recurring block of time on my calendar for each Friday afternoon right before my weekly review. The way I see it, it’s nice to close out the week by working “on” the business and thinking about long-term goals, then going into my weekly review where I plan my upcoming week.

NOTE: As described above, I’ve added the CEO mode appointment to my “Busy” calendar so that Calendly doesn't allow calls to be booked on top of the “CEO Mode” appointment.

Summer Hours

Jumping back to another idea from the Basecamp folks, I’ve now scheduled “summer hours”. Basecamp Product Designer, Kris Niles, describes summer hours as:

”During summer, we work 4-day work weeks, aka “summer hours”. Summer hours are in effect from May 1 through August 31 each year. Summer Hours are one of my favorite practices at Basecamp — but not just because they are an extra day off each week. Keeping Summer Hours hones our prioritization skills and breathes fresh energy into our work.”

Working from the southern hemisphere, I’ve scheduled my summer hours from December 1st through to March 31st.

The benefit of summer hours is that it forces you to prioritise during the remaining four days (note, the Basecamp team works 32 hours per week during the summer, not 40 hours crammed into 4 days). It also means that when summer hours end, you’re given back the luxury of time. This is key and it’s exactly why the Basecamp team keeps this as a seasonal practice and doesn’t adopt 4-day weeks all year.

To mark the start and end of summer hours, I’ve set up tasks in Asana for the start and end of my summer season. These tasks serve as a reminder for me to adjust any recurring calendar appointments and Calendly booking settings so that I don’t accidentally schedule work for Friday’s.

At the time of writing this, it’s mid-winter. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to starting summer hours in a few months.

6-Hour Work Day

And finally, I’ve read about how a number of companies are now adopting a 6-hour work day. If you work in an office and think about your own work day, I’d bet you don’t actually work as many hours as you think. A lot of time is wasted on non-work related phone calls (e.g. to the bank) or casual banter with colleagues. I also don’t think we need to work 40 hours per week. I bet most people could do their jobs less time if you removed the fluff and focussed more on deep work.

Going forward I’m going to try and limit total hours spent on work to 5-6 per day. I’ll track this by:

  1. Scheduling all work tasks and calls on my calendar (I do this already) and tracking total hours spent on these appointments each week.
  2. Using Timing to track time spent on “business” projects. NOTE: If you want to get 20% off Timing2, purchase using my special link.

If you can do all your work in less time, this is only a good thing. By setting this 5-6 hour work day goal, I hope to get much better at prioritising my most important work and getting into “deep work” states more often.

So it begins…

And there we have it. Those are some of the routines and habits I’m adopting going forward. I’m looking forward to seeing how these new concepts help to improve my focus and productivity.

If you’ve read about or have any any cool productivity routines or habits you think I should try, please leave me a comment below!

How @paulminors is designing the 'ultimate' productivity routineClick To Tweet