Last week I posted my daily routine and it received an overwhelmingly positive response from a lot of people. Needless to say, this made me quite happy 😃
One person in specific reached out and asked me, “Did you start this whole routine in one shot or build it step by step?”, which I thought was a terrific question, because it definitely didn’t happen overnight. Developing my routine took years of trial and error, until I eventually came up with one that worked well for me.
For this post I have decided to outline the evolution of my routine to help people understand how much trial and error it took, and encourage people to 1) develop their own unique routine that works well for their individual personality and lifestyle and 2) Be patient because it takes time.
If my routine works well for you, great! I couldn’t be happier. But I know there are night owls out there, people who love to sleep in, and people who want to fit in time for grabbing beers with friends on the weekdays. I fully encourage you to go after implementing these things into your life if this is what you value and enjoy! It will take experimentation and discipline, and I hope that by outlining my own journey it will inspire you to take the same level of experimentation into your own lifestyle.
“Did you start this whole routine in one shot or build it step by step?”
My routine is something that I’ve been developing for the last three years or so, with it really taking steam over the course of the last 6 months, after lots of frustration and experimentation. Over the last few years I have experimented with everything from waking up at 5am to going to bed at 5am, all in an attempt to discover what works best for my personal style.
To give a bit of history, I started my first company around 2 years ago, and this was the first time I was able to break the cycle of 9–5 working hours. With this newfound “freedom”, I found that I didn’t really know if the 9–5 hours worked best for me, if this was when I was most productive, and if I needed an alternative for my unique disposition. It took a lot of experimenting to find out what I liked best, but I would usually run experiments in 60–90 day windows of time to a) give it time to fully flesh out b) see if I liked this style and c) is this sustainable as I move between time zones and geographies so that I don’t break the habits I just spent months developing?
I would say that the two most important parts to figure out are 1) sleep patterns and 2) exercise. These were hands down the hardest to figure out for myself.
At first I tried using my traditional 9–5 style of work, where I would wake up around 8–830, drink water (this one I have been doing for years since I was probably around 18 or 19), shower, eat breakfast, and jump straight into work. I would go exercise around 5pm, and then eat dinner afterwards. The problem with this? I was starting my first company, I would often get swept up in meetings or lose track of time and I was consistently skipping workouts. Things weren’t working and I needed to change.
Then, I started trying to work out in the morning right after I woke up. Problem with this was that in the morning I was very tight and didn’t have any calories in me, so my workouts were quite bad. I struggled to push myself and I would get hungry during my workout. When I got home from my workouts, I felt tired and unmotivated to work. I quickly ditched this one after only around a month or so.
I thought to myself, “ok, maybe I just need some more calories in my system before I work out”, so I started eating a light breakfast, waited 1 hr to digest while I would answer some emails, and then go exercise. Problem with this was that by the time I ate breakfast, spent an hour answering emails, exercised, and then came home to eat and shower, by the time I started my work day it was around noon. This wasn’t working for me either.
To combat the “noon” effect, because the workouts were now working with some food in me, I tried waking up earlier. I struggled with the discipline on this one and ditched it quickly.
Due to lack of discipline, I was back to square one, where because of my inability to find a good time to workout, I simply ditched the workout altogether as I continually got swept up in my work. Around this time I was also finding that I was working well as a nigh-owl, often working until 3–5am, and then waking up at 11am-noon, which was productive at the time but was destroying my overall health and quality of life. I simply felt like a mess waking up at noon and getting to work at 2 in the afternoon, and when waking up that late I always felt anxious and once again didn’t find the time to work out. Luckily, moving back to the US for a few months disrupted this cycle.
Around this time was when I did my first Vipassana meditation. This 10 day meditation course really helped me to break out of my negative cycles and upon my return, a newfound diligence for my daily routine (for the first few months). Upon my return I implemented morning meditation right when I woke up which was working really well for me. I started exercising at night again, which was also working. I felt like I was in a good groove.
Then, due to the demands of business, I had to take phone calls every morning right when I woke up from around 7–9am. This destroyed me and I hated it. I would take calls for the first two hours of the day, eat breakfast and shower, and then found myself spending the next few hours of the day following up to the calls and answering emails. Before I knew it, it was lunchtime and I hadn’t gotten any actual work or “output” done. Once again, I wasn’t really getting to the productive part of my day until it was around 2pm, and then if I went to work out at 5 or 6 I felt like I was constantly behind on my work and there weren’t enough hours in my day.
On top of all of this, I slipped out of the routine of my morning meditation, which made me feel very guilty and I would beat myself up about it. I would try meditating at night, but would be very tired and found myself fighting sleep. Before long my meditation turned from 1 hour to 30 minutes, and then next thing I knew I wasn’t meditating at all. This deeply disturbed me and I knew something had to change.
I decided that I liked the wake up, eat, exercise routine I was previously in, so I went back to it. I enrolled in a yoga class that had classes at 11am, which gave me ample time to wake up early, have a cup of tea while I answered emails, eat a breakfast, get back to emails and some work for another hour, and then go exercise. After my exercise I would come back home, shower, cook food, and then meditate. Although I wouldn’t get back to work until 2pm, I had already gotten my emails and exercise out of the way, which meant I had the rest of the day to take care of whatever else I needed to. I quite liked this routine and it worked well for me for some time.
Then I came down with a nasty stomach bug (thanks India!). I was on medication for a while, in and out of doctors appointments, and obviously my routine suffered. This was also a time when I was completely overwhelmed with work as we had our first people arriving in Bangalore (my company helps people find jobs in India). I was overwhelmed with emails, phone calls, communicating with my teammate back in the US, and juggling having a girlfriend as well. I was exercising at night whenever I got the opportunity to, but in general I was very stressed out, anxious, and just didn’t feel like I was in a great headspace. Some days were amazing, some days were really stressful. At the time I was good at deluding myself into believing I was being productive, but I was definitely burnt out.
On the whole I couldn’t wait to get back home to the US in October, and I pushed through. I also managed to build a team of 3 more people (now making us 5), to help ease the work load. Although I was insanely productive from a traditional standpoint, when entrepreneurs complain about the “burn out” effect, I was definitely already there. I was insanely happy to be at home in Manalapan NJ with my dog and a refrigerator full of amazing food. It helped me to get into a good headspace.
While at home I had a pretty good, but not fantastic, routine. I was consistently waking up around 8am, eating a solid breakfast, and then I would sit at home all day in the peace and quiet of my house and get an inhuman amount of work done. On days when I needed to travel into NYC I understood that my routine would be disrupted and to simply take things as they came. Things worked very well for me during this time.
Another question the same person recently asked me was “What worked best for you to shake some of the negative habits?”
During my time at home there was one huge implementation that I have stuck with ever since. Given that my whole team was in India and I was in the US, when I would wake up and check my phone in the morning it was flooded with messages. This made me very anxious, and from the second that I woke up in the morning I felt stressed out. I hated it. To combat this, I started turning my phone on airplane mode before I went to bed, and would only turn my phone back on after I had eaten breakfast and was ready to start my work day. I have stuck with this one ever since that point in time.
This one also has a dual purpose. I found that when I would wake up in the morning, I had a nasty habit of checking my phone first thing when I woke up. When I went to bed at night, I would be staring at my phone until I put it down and then drifted off to sleep. I knew that this wasn’t a healthy habit, but I would still mindlessly grab my phone anyway. This is also something I have noticed practically every one of my friends does on a daily basis. It’s an awful habit and I have completely ditched it. Putting my phone on airplane mode 30 minutes before bed and only turning it off after I had eaten breakfast was how I broke the habit.
Back to the story — Over new years of this past year I did my 2nd Vipassana, which was much more powerful the 2nd time around even though I was serving as a volunteer and spending half my day in the kitchen. Being a volunteer and interacting with people (instead of being silent all day), helped me to notice my own reactions in daily life and become more aware of catching those reactions and curbing my volatility (I’m a pretty intense dude). In short, it made me appreciate why I need to meditate every single day for the full hour and nothing short of it. It became my top priority.
Upon my return I became very disciplined with my meditation, and made it my top priority when I woke up in the morning. I got into the habit of wake up, drink water, shower, and then dive straight into an hour of meditation. After this I would eat breakfast with my phone on airplane mode. Given that my phone was now on airplane mode, I needed something to read instead of mindlessly floating through the world of Facebook and ESPN, so I grabbed a book and started to read. I would then jump into work immediately after, and go until lunchtime. After lunchtime I would work another few hours until I was starting to lose momentum. I would then take a break to exercise, eat dinner, and then get back to work until it was time to put my phone on airplane mode. At this point I was also meditating for another hour before bed (Vipassana recommends 2 hours daily). This lasted while I was home in the US.
When I returned to India in February I was determined to keep this routine in motion. I was finally flowing and felt like I had a sustainable routine. I hit the ground and didn’t skip a beat. Morning routine was on point, and things were moving smoothly. I was crushing the morning, getting in my exercise, and managing the insane amount of work I have to deal with on a daily basis. Only thing that dropped off was the additional hour of meditation at night, and I replaced it with some light reading. Other than no longer meditating for 2 hours a day, I haven’t skipped a beat on this routine ever since 🙂
Around 2–3 months ago, I realized that I needed a better way to wind down my day. I didn’t like how I was working straight until 11pm, flipping off my phone, and then reading for a bit before bed. I wanted a better way to reward myself for the work I had put in, and do something relaxing and enjoyable. As a kid I loved drawing doodles, and I’ve been performing freestyles since I was 14, so I also love poetry. I decided that I would spend some time at the end of my day writing poetry or drawing doodles. — I can’t lie here, I haven’t been the most consistent with this, but on days that I am able to I am very proud of myself.
Once the doodles are done, I pick up a book and hit the hay. Sometimes before bed I’ll meditate on gratitude but I’m not as consistent with this as I would like to be.
So there’s the evolution! It took me two years or frustration, anxiety, and experimentation to get to it, but I now finally feel that I have a routine I can carry with me regardless of where I am in the world and what time zone I am in. It definitely requires a lot of discipline, but if you want to be successful at anything in life it will always begin with being disciplined. I hope this inspires you to be patient with the development of your own routine and realize it’s going to take time for you to find the balance you are looking for.
My lifetime goal? To maintain what I like to call “The Nine Pillars of a Balanced Life” — Sleep, Work, Exercise, Meditation, Social Life, Relationships, Creativity, Time off, Nature. Right now I feel that I have a good handle on 6/9 (sleep, work, exercise, meditation, creativity, nature), and working hard to find more time for social interactions (whether with family, friends back home, or taking time to go get some beers with friends), an intimate relationship, and time off. I feel that I’m close, but like how I have a lot more work to do until I get there. More on the nine pillars to come 😉
Thoughts? Similar experiences? Let me know in the comments below!
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Also published on Medium.