Everyone has their vices. One of mine is an unhealthy obsession with other people’s daily routines. I find them genuinely interesting and have probably taken a thing or ten away from a few of them to try to bring into my own routine.
But, wow, do they always sound so….neat and tidy. Like:
- Get up at 4am
- Meditate for an hour
- Drink coffee and plan out my day
- Etc, etc, etc
I realized I, too, have a routine. A messy one. So here’s how my daily routine stacks up.
- Somewhere between 5:00am-6:00am (basically, way too early)
- My two-year-old wakes up and calls for me from his room, so I begrudgingly oblige. He hands me his pillow, his blankets (each one by one) and his book (the kid insists on sleeping with his 100 Animal Pictures board book right now), and then I pick him up and put him and all his gear into the recliner and turn on a Big Comfy Couch or Winnie The Pooh.
I don’t like putting him in front of a show to start the day, but he’s a bit grumpy until he eats, and I’m a bit groggy until I’ve had my coffee. It’s in both of our best interests to fix those issues as early as possible and this is the easiest way to get a free moment to make him some breakfast and make myself a cup of coffee.
- On most days, I start by making breakfast for the rest of my kids and myself (my usual: three fried eggs, an avocado, a couple of pieces of toast, and a banana) and coffee for my wife (she doesn’t like to eat breakfast this early).
The rest of the time I’m chasing after the kiddos: making sure they’re getting ready for the day and not getting distracted (my oldest loves to find a corner to hide in so she can get lost in whatever book she’s currently reading), brushing teeth, brushing hair (I am very proficient at ponytails and ok at braids, but that’s my current limit) and helping get their backpacks ready. During this time I’m also getting myself dressed and ready for the day.
I say most days because right now I’m coaching kids basketball on Tuesdays and Thursdays which means I have to leave work early. So today, for example, I was in the office by 6am. I replied to a few emails, finished writing this post and then got to work.
- The kids are off to school by now and I’m heading in to the office I rent, in a building owned by a physical therapist. The best part about renting an office next to a physical therapist? There’s a gym 20 feet away. So the first thing I do is drop my lunch and laptop off in my office, grab my gym bag, and walk over for a workout. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are strength, Wednesday is a long run. That changes. In the warmer months, for example, I’ll switch to two long runs each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
On strength training days, I’ll listen to some music. When I run, I’ve found podcasts work better. I’ve always sort of mentally tuned in and out of podcasts as I listen to them, and that’s exactly why it works so well to listen to them when I run. I’ll let my mind wander in whatever direction it wants based on what I’m hearing. It’s, frankly, relaxing.
This is the closet thing I have to anything like those neat and tidy routines I’m always so interested in. I don’t always get to workout during this time, but I would say I’m batting somewhere around 80%. Honestly, what happens in this slot is pretty critical. When I workout, I feel far more focused during the day. It also starts me off on the right foot: I’ve planned something and it happened according to schedule. If I miss this time slot for any reason, the likelihood I will get a workout in that day drops dramatically and so does my general productivity. I am very protective of these hours when scheduling meetings.
I thought that would be a challenge, but it’s been very easy to make happen. When I have customers overseas, then I’ll put their meetings here and bump the workouts a bit later. But I otherwise I keep this open. I use Calendly for most of my meeting scheduling because it’s just simpler than going back and forth. It also lets me define what hours during the day I’m “available” for meetings so I block off everything before 10am. It’s never been a problem for anyone.
- Workout done, I walk back to the office, make a smoothie and get to work. Like…I dunno, nothing super specific. I’ll usually take a few minutes to read through any emails that might need responding, but from there I’ll switch to whatever work I have to get done. I keep a backlog on written notebook paper (I find it works much better for me than putting it somewhere digitally) and I’ll work off of that, usually targeting the highest priority items first. Sometimes, though, I just need to feel like I’ve finished something so occasionally, I’ll grab something that might be a little lower priority but that I know I can finish quickly, just to get the momentum going.
Yesterday was a bit of both. I’m helping one company bolster their performance monitoring, so I spent most of this time digging through the data they currently have to see how the metrics they currently have are being collected and jotting down some ideas of things I think are missing.
- Lunch. I hear a lot of folks suggest that if you work from home or work for yourself, you should protect your lunch hour at all costs. I mostly agree—I think it’s important that you have some time during that day that you can reliably say belongs to yourself. But for me, since I tend to do that with the start of my day for my workout, I’m less protective here. I still try to avoid scheduling meetings during this time slot, but those west coast folks love to have their meetings around this time it seems so I never really push to hard. If I have to slide lunch a little later, that’s not really an issue for me. I figure you have to have some flexibility in your schedule, especially when you’re working for yourself.
Whenever I do end up taking my lunch, I’ll sit down (I use a standing desk the rest of the day) and turn something on to watch while I eat. I’d love to pretend that it’s always some sort of fascinating technical talk, but that’s probably only 20% of the time. The rest of my lunches are filled with whatever TV shows I happen to be enjoying (Monday’s are for The Outsider right now, Friday’s for The Good Place).
I used to feel guilty about that, but I’ve learned over the last several years that it’s ok if not everything I do is “educational”. Sometimes, you just need to let your brain chill out and watch the latest episode of some cop/mystery thriller thing that has literally no value outside of entertainment and escape.
- More work. This is where I tend to be the most productive. I’m not a morning person, and my brain doesn’t really get going until late morning-early afternoon.
Sometimes, I’ll step out around 3:00pm for 15 minute or so to pick up my kids from school and drop them off at home, but most days my wife is able to do that.
Other days, like yesterday, this afternoon slot gets broken up a bit with meetings. But I still managed to do a deep dive into the wonders contained in a client’s Tealium script in an attempt to help them figure out how to clean it up a bit.
If I were a better planner, I think there could be some real value in keeping these afternoons meeting free. I don’t think I could do it entirely, but I suspect I could at least get away with stacking up the meetings in the morning, say, Monday afternoon while keeping the rest of the week relatively clear.
I’ve always loved Lara’s suggestion to defrag your calendar, but I haven’t committed to it yet. I have a million excuses coming to mind, but then, I also had a million excuses for why I’d never be able to commit to a regular workout schedule and I was able to get that settled so I should probably just shut up and make it happen.
- Ooo…another part of the routine that sounds like it’s planned out properly! I end each day by looking at my backlog and reprioritizing it based on what I accomplished that day. Then I look at tomorrow’s schedule and figure out what I should work on. This came out of my brief, failed attempts at bullet journaling. It’s the one part of that process that stuck, and it’s been wildly beneficial for me.
I’ve been putting the next day’s tasks into blocks on my calendar. It’s not quite as detailed as Brad, and I tend to leave 10-15 minutes between most tasks, but it’s been working pretty well. I like having the calendar reminders as prompts and I also like knowing I have a plan. Even if a day is fairly chaotic, having a plan makes me at least feel like there is some intent and purpose behind all the chaos. It also helps me to see exactly what I’m giving up if I agree to someone’s last minute meeting request.
- Somewhere around here we’re sitting down for dinner with the kids. Again, usually. Kids and set routines don’t exactly mix well. One kid has piano lessons, one has guitar, one has violin. There are constantly playdates and sleepovers. But, we try to do dinner together and most nights that works out.
Also, “sitting” is a loose term. Our two-year-old doesn’t exactly get the concept of sitting down for dinner yet and in retrospect we ditched his high-chair too early. It’s not the kind of peaceful “down to dinner” you see on TV. My wife and I want to use the GoPro to record a few of these dinners just so that when they’re older the kids can see just how loud and chaotic (but fun) these dinners were.
- This is my time to play with the kids. It’s a wonderful variety. Sometimes it’s wrestling. Sometimes it’s nerf gun battles or pillow fights. Sometimes we bust out some board games or puzzles or legos. And sometimes it’s whatever crazy imaginative game they’ve come up with with their toys. Kids are wonderful at playing, much better than adults. I’m constantly learning from them about what it means to get absorbed in the act of having fun.
- The boys go to bed at 7:30pm so about 15 minutes before we switch modes and I help them get their teeth brushed and find their pajamas. Then we sit down and I read to them for 20 minutes or so before I tuck them into bed.
- Same thing, only now with the two younger girls. Only they can get themselves ready, so really I’m just reading to them and then tucking them into bed.
- Now it’s my oldest daughter’s turn. If she needs help with her math, I’ll sit down and we’ll work through that together. But we prefer to keep it fun if we can.
We mix it up to keep it fresh. Some nights I read to hear. She loves graphic novels so it’s a lot of that sort of thing or some sort of fantasy novel.
Other nights, we’ll start watching the Spurs play (that’s the San Antonio Spurs, not the soccer team). She’s getting really into it, and it gives me an excuse to purchase League Pass and watch more basketball, so I am more than happy to encourage it.
Other nights we’ll fire up YouTube and watch old comedy sketches (she likes Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, and, especially, Tim Conway). And other nights we’ll play some sort of board game together. Once 9:00pm comes around, I tuck her in and head upstairs.
- Finally, some one-on-one time with my wife! This is my favorite time of day, and it’s scary that this window of time is getting smaller and smaller. It won’t be very long before my oldest is staying awake later than my wife.
We usually work together to get the kids’ lunches packed for the next day and then sit down and just chat, or watch a show or something. We’re working our way back through The Office right now.
We sometimes watch a movie, but there are some challenges there. For one, neither of us gets super excited about a lot of the movies coming out anymore—we’re more likely to fall back on our favorites than to grab something new most of the time (I suppose that means we’re getting old now). But more critically, movies are very rarely finished in one sitting anymore. Two or three nights is our norm nowadays (like I said, getting old).
- Most nights, I’ll read during this time. My wife has the ability to fall asleep at the snap of the fingers, but it takes me a while. So I’ll go to bed and read (right now I’m tearing through the excellent Being Mortal) until I start feeling like I might be able to fall asleep.
So there it is. It’s funny—even reading this sounds more neat and tidy than the reality. With the kids’ activities, doctor appointments, random meetings, the stupid siren call of checking email that I still haven’t 100% ignored, and a multitude of other things that pop-up, the reality is that my day very rarely fits into this little routine.
Still, I suppose if I wanted to clean it up into one of those neat and tidy routines I always enjoy reading, I probably could (with a few embellishments). But I’ve grown pretty comfortable with admitting that while there is a little structure, my daily routine is, more often than not, beautifully chaotic.