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Getting To The “Ideal Day”

06/16/2014

in Productivity

Productivity sucks.

Over the last 5 years, advice on how to squeeze more and more time from our days has flooded the web.

“No email before breakfast!

“No breakfast before stretching!”

“Organic açai berries are the only way to start your day!”

Let’s be honest — even with all these “tips,” isn’t it still extremely hard to actually get anything done?

You don’t have to tell me. I know it is. That’s why I’ve been so focused on building a technology to overcome some of these barriers.

But all my research on maximizing the day begs a question: What does an ideal day actually look like?

To answer that question, first, I needed somebody to model an ideal day after. Why not model my expectations after history’s best?

Check out this chart on the creative routines of the world’s most brilliant people by infowetrust.

creative-routines-edit4

Click to enlarge. Trust me, it’s worth it.

 

One small caveat I think is worth noting here: All of the people displayed in this chart except for Maya Angelou are white males who did most of their work in the 18th and 19th centuries. The creator, RJ Andrews, explains:

The biases in the chart come from a combination of factors: his personal knowledge and inclinations, the availability of enough data on an individual in [Mason] Currey’s book to construct an entire average day, and, of course, historical conditions.

Source

That being said, let’s tease out the details from one of America’s greatest thinkers, Ben Franklin, and look at his ideal day — then compare it to our own contemporary routines.

(I also pulled some data from here and here — look at the chart from his autobiography!)

 

Roll over the chart to see the categories

What does this all mean?

Roughly, Franklin spent:

  • 7 hours sleeping
  • 3.5 hours planning, preparing for his day, and reading
  • 9 hours doing focused, task-oriented work
  • 3.5 hours relaxing

The information is a little vague (what, no time for LA fitness, Ben?) But it’s also very telling. In the past, people had less to do, and more time to do it in!

How does that compare to the day of an average American, with massive distractions like Facebook, Candy Crush and Kim Kardashian? A quick glance at the statistics shows:

Clearly, times are a-changing.

To be fair, we live in a much different world now. Unlike Franklin, we can’t simply turn off work when the candle runs out. In fact, I’m writing this post in the mall as we speak!

Our lives are 24/7, and the perpetual need to be “on” makes it very hard to maintain the delicate balance between all of our responsibilities (doesn’t it seem like there are dozens of them?)

So what’s the solution? Should we just throw up our hands and resign ourselves to the fact that our days will never be as productive as if we would have been born in 1723?

Hardly.

My suggestion: Embrace the modern challenge, and find the “Middle Path.”

Let me show you what I mean.

The Ideal Day, reimagined…

The first element to consider when creating a more realistic “ideal day” is that unlike Franklin, we have many more places to be and many more opportunities to lose focus. We have to account for this, not fight against it.

For example:

  • We know that we’re going to get stuck in a commute at least once a day — account for it
  • We know that we’ll use our computer, and cat memes will present themselves — account for it
  • We know that Game of Thrones is on tonight, and we’re going to watch it — account for it
  • We know that we’ll be stressed and need to do some type of physical activity (did Ben Franklin lift?) — account for that, too

We need to reimagine the ideal day with the simple pillar stones of balanced life — adequate sleep, healthy eating, relaxation and focused work — while also accounting for the things that we know are going to pop up in 2014 life.

Here’s what that might look like:

Roll over the chart to see the categories

The modern ideal day includes all the things that we’re already doing, but adds in all the other stuff we SHOULD be doing (but probably neglect):

  • Sleep: 8 hrs
  • Physical Activity (Exercise): 1.5 hrs
  • Focused Work: 6 hrs
  • Fooling Around on the Internet: 1.5 hrs
  • Getting Ready/Getting to Work: 3 hrs
  • Food & Relaxation Time: 4 hrs

In our attempts to master our time and be more productive, I think we often adopt an “all or nothing” mentality. We try to forcefully rip out any unproductive activity and we use rigid schedules to control our time.

We take good tools like RescueTime and use them to the extreme, often getting frustrated in the process. Sometimes, we even hire people to slap us in order to get back on track (ahem.)

But what if it wasn’t about controlling every aspect of our day? What if it was just about controlling what we could, anticipating the bottlenecks and focusing on the big wins (sleep, fitness, short bursts of focused work, etc)?

How much better would our lives be? How much more peaceful would they be?

My prediction is they’d improve dramatically in both areas.

What does your ideal day look like?

This was just my interpretation of an ideal day based on the research I’ve done.

What does your perfect day look like?

Let me know in the comments.

{ 19 comments… }

David Hindman June 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Late to the party here, but I have some thoughts. I think prioritizing those slices of the pie is important. Few people are able to get as much done as they’d like, but often focus on their work first and leisure time last. Without compartmentalization, Parkinson’s law suggests that work may simply eat up all available time. So just like you might pay yourself first rather than your debtors in order to build savings, so too can you schedule your work around your free time – instead of the reverse. I do like the idea of not micromanaging one’s schedule.

Reply

Rob July 1, 2014 at 3:18 pm

It should say “did Ben Franklin even Lift?”

Reply

Peter June 19, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Hey guys,

I’ve got an easy one:
– 8hrs Sleep
– 8hrs Hustling (on my 2 Most Important Projects (using MITs))
– 4hrs Health (Workout, Mobility, Cooking, Eating, Meditation, Relaxing)
– 4hrs Socialising/Fun

I execute them in this order (including a 15mins Morning Routine (drinking water, stretching, focusing) and short brakes in the Hustling-Time to stay focused).

Reply

Delexan June 18, 2014 at 12:36 pm

4 am – 5 am ( Quiet Hour) : Power Kick Start – Meditation , Journal , Turmeric Tea with Black Pepper

5 am – 7 : 30 am : Workout & Low Carb Breakfast

7:30 am – 9 am : New Skill Acquisition ( ex. Ruby Language Coding)

9:30 am – 1:30 pm – Deep Focus

1:30 pm – 3:00 pm – Lunch & House Errands & Miscellaneous ( Check Email & Phone & Social Media)

3:00 pm – 7:00 pm – Deep Focus Session

7:00 pm – 7:45 pm – Dinner – Power Close Out – Plan Next Day in Detail – Meditate.

8:00 pm – Sleep.

Reply

Georgia June 18, 2014 at 10:46 am

The principle: 1/3 each.

The ideal day.
8 hours sleep
8 hours focused work or job
8 hours everything else (food, relaxation, recreation, housework, socializing, friends, internet, fitness, etc).

The next day may be:
6 sleeping
12 focused work or job
6 everything else

The day after may be:
10 sleeping
4 focused work or job
10 everything else.

Those 3 days:
24 sleep
24 focused work or job
24 everything else.
It’s 1/3 each. It’s the ideal!

I try to keep the “1/3 each” balance in the long run.

When I ‘ll master this, I ‘ll try to keep the “1/3 each” balance in the short term.

Reply

Stephan Raczak June 17, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Maneesh, I have written a very similar article to yours a few months ago.

Maybe some of you will find it useful:
biohacks.net/constitutes-ideal-day/

Have an awesome day!

Reply

Maneesh Sethi June 17, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Awesome!!!

Reply

Paul Latta June 16, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I like how Franklin starts and ends his day with personal examination. He starts with “how am I going to carpe diem” and ends with a “well, how’d I do?” This is a habit I’ve cultivated within myself. I think the daily amount of distraction time in Franklin’s day is no different than today — it’s just that we have more choices of things we can use to take us off our paths. I plan for distraction in my day, however, I’m selective in what I allow it to be. Sure, I’d love to keep up with the fluctuations in size of Kim Kardashian’s lovely ass, but it’s not as important to me as reading Brain Pickings. As I examine my day before bed, it’s satisfying to note that I made good choices for my downtime as well as my productive time.

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Wayne June 16, 2014 at 3:56 pm

6:00 a.m. – 30 minutes of transcendental meditation and deep breathing by the ocean

6:30 a.m. – Hot green tea with lemon

6:45 to 7:45 a.m. – Weight and cardio training

7:45 to 8:30 a.m. – Cool down, get ready for work, eat breakfast

9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. – Meet clients, paperwork, business strategy, etc.

12:00 to 1:30 p.m. – Lunch, walk, and 20 minute meditation

1:30 to 5:30 p.m. – More work

6:00 p.m. – Eat and relax

7:00 to 8:30 p.m. – Something social, physical, and/or outdoors

8:30 to 10:00 p.m. – Gap

10:00 to 11:00 p.m. – Television, reading, or fall asleep.

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Kimanzi June 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm

This would be a great way to spend each day. Those stats are kind of wild!

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Michal June 16, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Very good conclusions, Maneesh.

Presently, I’m logging my time using aTimeLogger 2. One thing I have learnt already is that if I focus too much on getting every possible second of my day to be productive and efficient the next day is a complete disaster. I feel miserable and don’t achieve anything important.

So, as you suggested in the modern “ideal day” it’s time to wander (more or less) aimlessly on the internet after all :)

Reply

Ben Austin June 16, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Maneesh,

I did notice that many of the routines specified in the info graphic included “face to face” interaction time with other people. This is something that seems unimportant and has been lost with our generation.

In any case, here would be a breakdown of my perfect day.
8 hrs-sleep
2 hrs-rejuvenating activities such as mediation, journaling, reflection, goal setting
8 hrs-focused work
2 hrs-Socializing with friends, family and loved ones
1.5 hrs-exercise
1.5 hrs- Web time, hanging out, youtube, sports
1 hr- new skill acquisition

Obviously most of these areas bleed into one another, but it is a basic breakdown.

-Ben

Reply

Steve wyman June 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm

8-10 hrs solid sleep
4-5 hours of highly productive focused “work” that moves my business forward
8-11 hours for “life” completely open to 100 percent relax through to 100 percent think about business
0 hours for social media.
1 hour for TV and movies. But not every day accumulated so may sit one day every ten and watch multiple episodes of a show

Reply

Madhan June 16, 2014 at 9:39 am

Great Info.
All compiled in one place.
One Doubt, Is it safe to use rescuetime in windows, it showing some warning from windows.
Thanks

Reply

Audrey June 16, 2014 at 9:11 am

Hi, here’s how my perfect day should be. But it’s too much I think.
That’s why it’s hard to follow it.

– 5:15am : waking up
– 5:30am : Reiki
– 5:45 to 6:45am : Yoga or Taichi
– 7am to 5pm : Meals and work
– 5:30 to 6:30 pm : Meal and relaxation
– 6:30 to 8:30pm : biology lessons, nap or meditation
– 8:30 to 10:30 : life coach lessons
– 11pm to 5am : sleep

Reply

David J. Bradley June 16, 2014 at 8:49 am

Really awesome post. I spent some time developing my idea of my “ideal week”, since my days vary a bit. It is really interesting to document, maybe 6 months out, then to revisit it after some time and see how you’ve progressed.

And freakin’ awesome infographic.

Reply

Daniel June 16, 2014 at 8:22 am

Great post,Maneesh!

Let me be the first one to comment this:)

My ideal day has only 1 hour of work at most(4-hour workweek,you know what I mean)and partying and having fun for the rest of the time.

I wonder what YOUR ideal day is like,though?

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Magnus Smith June 16, 2014 at 7:45 am

I’m not sure I agree with “In the past, people had less to do, and more time to do it in!” Is this because the people featured here all had wives who did the housework and childcare?

I sometimes wonder why we feel so rushed nowadays. We have labour-saving inventions to make chores faster, surely? Ah, but then they invented the internet.

I’d really like to see a summary from a large group of people interviewing their grandparents/parents about their average day. Did they really have more time to sit around and relax?

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Christina June 18, 2014 at 10:15 am

“Did they really have more time to sit around and relax?”

Personally speaking, I don’t care about having more time to sit around and relax. I care about daily schedules who achieve goals.

My grandparents did NOT have more time to sit around and relax. But they lived a life that their work was same year after year. On the other hand, I will change many jobs and occupation in my life.
My grandparents lived their lives inside a small community of very few people. That’s it. No telecommunication. No transportation. On the other hand, I receive info from around the globe every single day in my life. I can visit 4 different countries in a single day and I can work in 4 different countries in a single year.

So: More distractions!

Reply

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