I recently came across a great post on Brain Pickings about the creative routine of Henry Miller, which started out with the following quote:
It got me thinking about daily routines and how important they are to our overall health, happiness, and productivity.
One of the coolest things about working in the FlowReader office is that we have flexible schedules and the option for partial home office, so we’re always experimenting with different working habits.
Figuring out a schedule that suits you best requires finding a balance between your body chemistry, sleep schedule, personality, career, and in many cases, company culture.
There’s really no “one size fits all” formula for creating a perfect daily plan – what works for me, won’t always work for you. And vice versa.
But there are some basic guidelines you can follow to help get you on the right track, so I pulled together a quick guide about the power of daily routines and how to organize an ideal work day.
Unremarkable routines often produce amazing creativity.
Sometimes, I feel frustrated by how predictable my days are:
- Get up at roughly the same time every morning.
- Walk my dogs.
- Read while I brew coffee for my travel mug.
- Leave for the office.
Once there, I run on autopilot. I turn on my favorite morning playlist, sip my coffee, browse my email, and then get down to business.
The whole day pretty much goes like this on days when I’m in the office and tend to vary only when I work from home. But as dull as my day might feel at times, my schedule works for me.
Does your day tend to run like clockwork, too? Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you might think.
William James, who’s often viewed as the father of American psychology, believed that a strict routine fosters creativity and imagination. He argued that habits are important because they “free our minds to advance to really interesting fields of action”. In other words, the more energy you expend on the steps of your day, the less you’ll have left to use on inspiration and motivation.
It’s one of those common contradictions we often encounter in the world – wonderful creativity (and productivity) as a result of a consistent, structured schedule.
The popular book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey is an excellent real-life example of this paradox at work. It details almost 200 daily routines of some of the greatest minds throughout history and offers incredible insight into the working habits, eccentric daily rituals, and even beverage choices of these creative masterminds.
Using Currey’s book, RJ Andrews at Info We Trust created an awesome infographic visualizing the routines of 16 inspiring minds:
The routines themselves are fascinating, but even more so, when you consider how different a daily schedule can end up being depending on the individual.
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at some evidence-based suggestions for creating your own awesome daily routine:
Go to sleep and get up at the “right” time.
When you get up depends largely on when you went to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there’s no magic number of hours of sleep, but adults generally need somewhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.
When planning out your sleep schedule, remember the 90 Minute Rule: our bodies follow strict cycles when we sleep, and an average sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes.
Try to time your morning wakeup at the end of a sleep cycle to feel refreshed instead of groggy. To avoid waking up in the middle of a cycle, just count back from the time you want to wake up in 90-minute segments to find out when you should go to sleep.
That means if I want to wake up at 6AM, these are the times I should try to be in bed:
I use Sleep Calculator to help me figure out the best times to go to sleep. As an added perk, it gives me an exact time to get in bed by including the 14 minutes it takes the average person to fall asleep.
Whatever time you choose to wake up, just remember to establish a set routine for getting up and be consistent. Even if that means hitting your snooze button the same amount of times every morning.
There is a best time to drink your coffee.
While you might want to inhale a coffee first thing in the morning – resist the urge. Scientific evidence shows there is actually a right time to drink your morning joe to maximize its effects. This concept is called: chronopharmacology.
In simpler terms, your body has a natural biological rhythm called a circadian clock that tells your body when to wake up, eat, sleep, etc. Your body produces a hormone called cortisol at different intervals in the day, which wakes your body up naturally. So, you should try to drink your coffee after your cortisol levels have dropped.
Here’s a great visual of the best times to drink coffee from I Love Coffee:
Tackle your hardest tasks before lunch.
Studies have shown that late morning is the best time to undertake challenging cognitive tasks.
University of Southern California biologist Steve Kay told the Wall Street Journal most people work better as the morning goes on since body temperature rises and boosts concentration, memory, and alertness.
This natural lift eventually starts to slide as you hit noon making you more prone to distraction and fatigue in the early afternoon.
I tend to arrange my morning to-do list with my hardest tasks first so I don’t have to struggle to focus (or open the door to procrastination) after my concentration has already peaked.
Power Nap at 2PM.
Do you tend to get sleepy after lunch? Take a nap.
While you could blame afternoon drowsiness on your lunch, it’s more likely that the real culprit is your body’s circadian clock I mentioned earlier. According to chronobiologist Michael Smolensky of University of Texas-Houston School of Public Health, there’s a dip in body temperature in the early afternoon similar to the one we experience at bedtime.
Napping help us reboot our brains and bodies. They also improve our ability to problem solve, boost our memory and reaction times, help fight fatigue, along with a variety of other benefits.
But if you can’t snooze on the job, this is also a great time to have your second cup of coffee and send out some emails.
Data from email marketer Mailchimp claims that 2PM is the time of day people are most likely to read and respond to your emails.
You might not be catching some Zs, but at least you’ll catch some people at their desks and recharge your batteries with some caffeine.
Save creative work for when you’re tired.
If morning is the best time to solve problems, make tough decisions, and ask questions – you’re better off doing your creative work when you’re functioning less efficiently and tired.
Sounds crazy, right?
Studies suggest that our creativity and innovation are highest when we are tired out. The reason this works is a tired brain has difficulty filtering out distractions and tends to explore tangential thoughts.
It may seem counterproductive, but your creative work will actually benefit from distractions. On the other hand, your brain is able to filter out distractions and zero in on tasks during your optimal working times (like late morning).
Fit in a workout in the evening around 5PM.
We all know how good exercise is for you, but did you also know it can make you more productive? Studies have shown that working out regularly not only helps fight fatigue over time, but it makes you happy. And the happier you are – the more productive you are.
Your lungs function 17.6% more efficiently at 5PM than midday so it’s the perfect time to do a cardio workout. Real Simple also says that you’re more coordinated, and your muscles are warmed up at this time in the day so there’s less risk of a sprain or strain.
If you can’t carve out time at 5PM, don’t skip your workout entirely. Whether you run in the morning, hit yoga class in the evening, or stretch at your desk – just be sure to choose a time that works and be consistent.
What’s your daily routine? What are the best and worst times for you to do work?