Daily Routine of a Learning Geek & Startup CEO
- Published on Jul 10, 2021
For those of you that don’t know me, I’m Joshua. Previously I co-founded SuperAwesome, running product & technology before we sold it to Epic Games. Today I am a co-founder & CEO @ Mindstone. I obsess over my daily routine and have continuously been optimising it over the last 10 years. My routine might come across as a bit extreme, but after the Nth time of someone asking me how I go about it, I thought it might be worth sharing more widely in case it’s useful to others.
The most important concepts I’ve incorporated in my daily routine are:
When I work, I optimise for productivity and impact. When I’m not working, I optimise for entertainment and relaxation. And when I sleep, I optimise for rest.
Whatever I’m doing, I believe in eliminating waste. I hate spending 30 minutes browsing channels or waiting for the next part of my day to unfold. Some people find this is excessive optimisation, I think it’s the literal interpretation of carpe diem :).
Sleep is the cornerstone to everything else
I’ve been obsessed with my sleep for a while, but it wasn’t until I read Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep’ that I took it a step further. Once I realised how core sleep is to almost everything I value in life (health, learning, happiness and more), it became clear that neglecting it was basically undoing all the progress I was making by optimising other aspects of my life.
Reflective reinforcement learning loops
Too often, life has presented me with learning experiences that I forgot the moment they passed. It’s impossible to completely avoid making the same mistakes multiple times, but I’ve found that explicitly building reflective time into my routine helps reduce their frequency.
How often does your day get away from you? Do you get to the end of the day and feel like you’re only just about ready to start on the things that really matter? I’ve found that planning ahead of time means that the planning occurs in a time of calm, considered prioritisation instead of in the middle of whatever emergency or activity is getting the bulk of my attention at any particular point in time.
I use checklists for everything. I have an “End of Day” checklist, an “End of Week” Checklist, A “Pre-travel” checklist, an “Investment” checklist, etc. The beauty of checklists is that they can consistently be re-used and improved upon. Start with the one routine you want to perform every day and whenever inspiration strikes, add to it. Slowly, but surely, it will build into a robust mechanism to improve your days.
Below is my actual routine, which I probably keep to 4 days out of 5. For the days when I don’t, life happens — but I try to stick to it as close to it as I can :).
06h30 Wake up
I wake up every day at 06h30. The actual time isn’t important, as we all have our own rhythms, but consistency has been proven to be really important in optimising sleep (in terms of both quantity and quality).
06h30–07h15 Exercise bike
My wife wakes up at 07h00 and then takes a shower, which leaves me until 07h15 to jump on the exercise bike and go through my morning routine. While on the bike, I go through (in order of prioritisation):
My emails, only replying if important
Any Mindstone user interviews I’m behind on
Articles in my Mindstone article queue (articles I’ve previously put aside to read)
07h15–07h30 Cold shower & get dressed
Sometime early in the COVID lockdown (2020), I made the switch to cold showers, and they’ve genuinely changed my life. Although I have to force myself to go through them every morning, there hasn’t been a single morning when I’ve regretted doing it. They make me feel more awake, more positive and sharper, even before the day has properly started.
After my shower, I get dressed in the clothes I set aside the night before (reducing decision fatigue for the next day — a slightly less extreme version of wearing the same thing every day).
I always have the same thing for breakfast and somehow never get bored of it:
Rye bread (recent switch from toast) with peanut butter and strawberries
A glass of milk
A glass of orange juice
During breakfast, my wife and I watch an episode of one of our favourite series, which we cycle through in order (Friends, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory and back again).
08h00–08h30 Catch up with my assistant or dive into Mindstone metrics
Between the end of breakfast and the start of the workday, I either catch up on outstanding tasks with my assistant (twice a week) or dive into our business metrics. To get some fresh air, the catch-up usually happens during a 30-minute walk outside.
08h30 Mindstone stand-up
At the end of every day, the team at Mindstone provides a quick slack update with overview of their day as well as what’s coming up for them the next day. As this provides most of the information we all need, our daily stand-up at 08h30 focuses only on blockers and updates that benefit from a bit more context.
08h45/09h00–18h30 Usual work day
The actual workday changes on a day-to-day basis, of course, although we have recently introduced blocks of 2h every day, across the company, during which no meetings are held. Other than that, the regular blocks in my calendar during the day are:
Lunch 30 mins while watching whatever Masterclass I’m going through
20–25 mins nap after lunch to optimise alertness and learning
45 mins run, 10 mins cool down and 5 mins shower
Use Mindstone for 30–45 mins as an actual user, reading through whatever I’ve already put aside, learning about learning and about building a company
18h30–19h15 End-of-day routine
At the end of every weekday, I put aside some ‘admin time’. This is absolutely key for me, as it allows me to prepare everything I need to be set-up in the most productive way for the next day. The checklist I go through looks like this:
Transfer my notes from my Remarkable to Evernote and Todoist. This serves two purposes: — It allows me to look over my notes and transfer any action items over to my task manager (Todoist) — Once in Evernote, my notes become searchable, as it recognises handwriting
Write my learning log for the day (more info on this below)
Go over my learning log from 3 months and 1 year ago — This gives me an opportunity to reflect on whether I’ve actually absorbed the lessons I set out to or if I’m still making the same mistakes
Update my task list and allocate specific time slots for the next day’s tasks — If I have too many things on my task list for the next day (which becomes apparent when I allocate the time slots), I move tasks to later in the week or even later
Prepare for any meetings I have the next — Ask myself: ‘What’s the one thing I want to get out of this meeting?’ and write it down
Ask myself: “Can any of my meetings for the next day can be taken while walking or while I’m on my exercise bike?”. This helps me sneak in as much exercise as possible
Follow up with any new people I met during the day, most often on LinkedIn
Get to Inbox 0. Yes, it’s possible (and yes, I do get 100s of emails every day). The key is to get there once and then never let it slip. This is where the consistency of the routine is so important and self-reinforcing (it’s by doing it every day, without fail, that it works)
If I have any feedback for people in the team that I’m withholding, I provide it now (I’m a big fan of giving feedback as soon as possible after the event that triggered it instead of keeping it for later)
Write down what I’m grateful for that day. I’ve found this to be a great way to force my mind to finish on a positive thought, regardless of what happened during the day
Update Slack so the team knows what I’ve achieved and what my plan is for the next day
For years now, I’ve kept a daily learning log in which I write the various things I’ve learned during the day. This often answers the question: ‘What would I do differently if I could redo this day?’ This is a practice I started during my MBA with the Open University, who are really keen on reflective practice, and it’s stayed with me ever since.
Rating my day according to my life KPIs
Steve Jobs used to wake up every morning and ask himself ‘If today was the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer was ‘no’ for too many days in a row, he said it was a signal he needed to change something. This really struck a chord with me, but I’ve always found it hard to remember how I felt for 30–60 days in a row and make rational decisions based on that. A few years ago, it hit me that there was a clearer, more data-driven approach I could insert into my life, using my learning log. I decided to add a section in which I rate every day of my life according to 4 KPIs that make sense to me. I then transfer these KPIs into a spreadsheet at the end of every week and derive longer-term trends, removing the bias that comes with any particularly bad or good day.
19h15–20h15 Long-term learning reading
Although I read quite a bit during the day, the stuff I tend to read is mostly linked to news, and trends. At the end of my day, I allocate time to read things that relate to what I’m trying to get better at on a longer time horizon. Most of the time, this means reading books, but occasionally this can be diving into particularly interesting long-read posts I’ve set aside in Mindstone.
20h15–22h00 Eat & Netflix
Although I always keep my phone on me, I try to really switch off from work during this time, be present as much as possible and enjoy time with my wife.
22h00–22h15 Prepare for bed
22h15–22h45 Read fiction
This helps me wind down properly, which, in turn, allows me to sleep more easily.
22h45 Lights out
Within a 10-minute window of 22h45, most often between 22h35 and 22h45, we switch off the lights to sleep. I consider consistency regarding this time window to be key, which is why we respect it about 90% of the time (there are always some exceptions).
How to deal with randomness & overflow
If the above feels like it’s heavily scheduled, that’s because it is :). Having said that, life always throws up unknown or unexpected events, which make it hard to stick to a schedule in the way you might have planned. The key, I find, is to be clear about how to handle those random events before they actually occur. In practice, that means knowing what has to give when time becomes too tight. In order of priority, this is what that looks like for me:
Reading time at the end of the day. If I’m running out of time because things take longer than I would have wished them to, reading time at the end of the day (long-term reading, not bedtime reading) ends up being cut first. I don’t like to cut it entirely, but I often cut it down to about 30 minutes when I need to.
Running time. Although I think it’s absolutely critical to get exercise in every day, and recent work-from-home situations have made it even more important to get out, when it comes to it, I can sometimes switch my run to time on my exercise bike. This allows me to dial in to an important meeting that was impossible to conduct at another time while still getting the exercise in.
Nine times out of ten, these two manoeuvres provide me with the flexibility to keep everything else on track. Sometimes, it doesn’t work, of course. In those cases, I make it an absolute priority to finish my end-of-day routine at the start of the next day, before I continue. If needed, it means I cancel meetings the next day in order to catch up.
Weekend & weekly routines
My weekends are much less planned than my weekdays, but that doesn’t mean there’s no structure at all. I still wake up at 06h30, jump on my exercise bike until about 07h30 or 08h00 (when my wife wakes up), have breakfast and read some magazines (Economist & HBR mostly). I work about 3–4 hours on both days, which allows me to feel fully relaxed while still keeping on top of things. The most important part of my weekend routine is my end-of-week checklist, which I detail below.
Just like at the end of every day, I also have a checklist I go through at the end of every week (usually on Sundays), which allows me to both consolidate my learnings and prepare for the week ahead. The list consists of:
Transferring my daily KPIs to a spreadsheet, so I can derive longer-term trends
Consolidate my daily learning logs into weekly ones, applying spaced repetition and recall to my own learning to give me the best chance to remember what I wrote down during the week
Allocate the tasks I want to complete for the week ahead — Update my task manager and move non-important tasks to later dates — Make sure I only have one core task every day, with enough time to really complete it
Remove meetings that shouldn’t be a priority — I added this routine fairly recently, but just asking myself: ‘Should I really have this meeting this week?’ has helped me move quite a few meetings to an email exchange or simply cancel them altogether
Prepare for meetings in the week ahead — For each meeting, I ask myself: ‘What is the one thing I want to get out of this meeting?’ and write it down
Writing up my daily/weekly routine was something I’ve had in my head for a long time. Actually writing it up has taken much longer than I would have thought, however. I realise this routine is optimised towards my personal life goals and preferred rhythm. My hope, however, is that elements of it can spark ideas for others to develop their own approach and ultimately lead to a happier and more productive life. In the same vein, I would love to hear about your own routines and productivity hacks. Sharing what allows you to optimise and enjoy life while getting stuff done might just spark ideas for someone else to improve theirs.