zen habits : breathe

My Typical Day: How I Get People to Think I’m Productive

By Leo Babauta

It’s funny, because many readers seem to think I’m a super productive, ultra focused, uber disciplined guy.

I’m not.

I get lazy, I sneak snacks when no one is looking, I sleep in sometimes, I take naps, I binge read on the Internet when I get hooked on something, I get distracted all the time.

But … I still get things done, enough that it appears that I’m productive. Today I’ll share some behind-the-scenes of my day, and show you how despite the messiness of my life, I can muddle through and still achieve things.

The Mornings

There are stretches during the year when I’ll wake up early, like 5 a.m. or so, but that’s usually when I have some major writing to do, like my recent book. Or maybe I’m trying to get all my work done before leaving on a trip.

Most weeks, though, I wake when the sun gets up, give or take half an hour. When I’m feeling really good, I’ll get up a little before the sun, but when I’m tired, the sun beats me by a bit. And now that we’re in winter, sometimes I don’t get up until 8 a.m. Much earlier in summer, when the sun comes up nice and early.

When I get up, lately my routine is this: start the coffee, drink some water, stretch for a few minutes, meditate for a few minutes, then drink coffee while I read a novel for 20-30 minutes. However, often I can’t resist quickly checking and processing email while the coffee is brewing and I’m stretching.

After I read, on my best days, I’ll start writing a post for Zen Habits or Sea Change. But on my lazier days, I’ll go online and find interesting things to read. Then I’ll check things like my bank accounts (using Mint.com), customer service emails, Twitter, Reddit, Hacker News.

Once I’ve exhausted those favorite things to check online, I’ll usually start writing. And if I’ve written at least one good thing today, that’s productive. Often I’ll write two, but the second one doesn’t come until the afternoon. I’ll usually process email sometime around here.

By now, it’s about 10 or 10:30 a.m., and I’ll usually do a workout. I’ve been building up a home gym in my garage, so I have a barbell, squat rack, set of plates and dumbbells, chinup bar and more. I’ll do a strength routine. Unless I’m feeling lazy, and then I’ll do that later in the day.

Then I eat breakfast, usually between 11 a.m. and noon. It’s Ezekiel flourless cereal with berries, cinnamon, raisins and soymilk. It’s decadent. I read my book during this meal.

Then I’ll shower (finally!).

The Afternoons & Evenings

OK, I’ll admit, the mornings sound pretty disciplined, if you ignore all the farting around I do online. But the afternoons are far less structured.

After breakfast, I’ll go back online, and do various admin tasks, or more online reading if I’m lazy.

If I can, I’ll write a second thing. If I have a book to write, I’ll do that in the morning and do my post in the afternoon. I try to process email close to empty, but I don’t always get there.

Usually I’ll try to read with the kids in the late afternoon. I usually take a nap sometime here too.

On my best days, I’ll get writing and a lot of admin tasks done, but that doesn’t always happen.

I eat lunch around 3 p.m., of seitan stir fried with onions, garlic, olive oil, mushrooms and lots of green veggies, served with sriracha sauce. I cook four days’ worth of this at a time, so if I’m out of food on the fifth day, I have to cook it, but most days it’s already made.

Then I eat another identical meal around 5 p.m., and a third around 7 p.m. On my good days, that’s three afternoon/evening meals of just protein, veggies and olive oil for fats. On my less disciplined days, I’ll sneak some of the kids’ food, like pizza or veggie chick’n nuggets or some tasty dish Eva has cooked for them like pasta or soup. If it’s around, it’s very tempting.

In the evenings, Eva and I usually settle down with a glass (usually two) of red wine, and we watch a couple of our TV shows. Then I read my book in bed.

There’s a lot of variation here, and if I’m excited by something I’ve found online (about travel, learning, fitness, technology), I’ll binge read instead of doing some of this. But that’s typically how it looks.

Why It Works

This messy routine works for me, and I still seem to get things done, because:

  1. I have a small morning routine of stretching, meditating, reading and writing that I do almost every day.
  2. I try to work out almost every day.
  3. Even if I have a lazy day, I usually write 1-2 things a day.
  4. I try to process my email close to empty at some point.
  5. I have people (you guys and my Sea Change members) waiting on my articles, so no matter what, I’ll get those done.
  6. I’ve structured my meals so that I eat the same thing every day (mostly), and so I don’t have to think about them.

The most important things (writing, meditation, reading, email processing, workouts, meals) I don’t even think about. The rest of the day, I can be as lazy as I want.


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