It’s 4:15am when my alarm goes off. I get out of bed immediately, without snoozing. Before I know what’s happening, I’m already in my running gear, and with a sip of water I’m out of the door no later than 4:25am. I run for 60 to 120 minutes, covering between ten and twenty kilometers.
When I get back, it’s time for breakfast: Usually, oatmeal and a banana to refill the carbs I’ve burnt, together with a big glass of water to rehydrate. Some stretching exercises, as well as a hot shower, come right afterwards.
What follows next is my morning meditation. Note: My meditation session always happens. Come hell or high water, plagues or pandemics, earthquakes or locusts, these fifteen minutes are non-negotiable. I don’t want to go out of my way to advertise the advantages of meditation in general, so suffice to say that the literature on the benefits is simply overwhelming. Ask anyone who’s versed in neuroscience or psychology and you’ll get the same advice: Just do it, do it often, do it regularly, and your quality of life will improve.
Afterwards, I brew myself a nice, strong cup of coffee, listen to the recording of the 6am news on Ö1, and then I’m off to work. I like to take the scenic walk alongside the Danube to our beautiful location, and I’m still among the first to arrive at my desk by 7:30am.
The first 90 minutes of my calendar are blocked for focus work, which in theory means no meetings before 9am. However, that plan has been going sideways recently: Most days, I’ve got to spend that time dealing with emails, Slack messages, and other reactive tasks instead of the deep thinking I’d like to use it for. Furthermore, now that we’re physically back to the office, there’s a lot of random watercooler chat going on around that time. Whilst I tremendously enjoy these interactions, they also intrude on my preferred slot for focused productivity work. Striking a reasonable balance here doesn’t always come easy.
9:00am to 11:00am is time most often spent in (formal) meetings, but 11:30am to 12:30pm is always blocked off for lunch. If you worked with me for more than a day or two, you’ll have noticed that my lunch break is sacred. It’s an island of calm in a day of relentless noise, and indispensable for my mental and physical wellbeing. More than that, it’s also a great chance to catch up with friends outside the company, as well as for informal conversations with colleagues.
If I’m lucky, I’ve got an hour or two in the early afternoon for focus work, but more often it’s back-to-back meetings again until about 4pm. But however busy the day may be, I’m making it a point to leave between 4pm and 5pm. I’ve learned the hard way that I must not allow myself to venture anywhere near the burnout zone ever again, despite how much I love doing what I’m doing. Hence, I put a strict cap on daily and weekly time spent at work, which I enforce to the best of my ability.
Looking at that schedule, you might be wondering when I ever have time to get any “real” work done. The honest answer is: I get less done than I’d should, and a lot less than I’d like to. But on the bright side, most of my meetings are productive in the sense that I spend them collaborating with others towards a common goal and not “just talking”. Secondly, I’ve adopted GitLab’s Focus Friday model during lockdown, and it did wonders for my personal productivity. Finally, and I hate to say this, given how much I value immersing myself in a piece of work for a prolonged time (which is the only way I managed to write a book), I’m getting better at cramming work into those tiny breaks between meetings. Sure, 30 minutes here and there aren’t as great as four hours spent “in the zone”, but on some days that’s all I’ve got. To cope with that, I try to improve my ability to focus on a single task, albeit for a short period of time. I’m experimenting with different concentration meditation techniques right now to foster that capability, but as always, improvement is slow and progress takes time.
Back to topic: Usually, I’m home by 5:30pm at the latest, even if I had to pick up groceries on the way. I’m not a great cook, so dinner is nothing fancy, but I do make it a priority to take time and prepare something “real”. A nice, big bowl of salad, for example, with nuts and seeds, healthy oils and good vinegar, maybe some feta cheese on top, and some wholegrain bread on the side, … you get the picture: Simple, healthy, and sustaining.
While eating, I often listen to podcasts. I know that that’s not ideal from a psychological and nutritional point of view, as distraction reduces one’s ability to appreciate the meal itself and also makes it harder to stop when you’re full. But most days I just can’t resist the temptation to check in on one of my favorites, which include Today in Focus from The Guardian, The Daily from the New York Times, Making Sense with Sam Harris, The Knowledge Project, Equity, Digital Momentum, Falter Radio, Freakonomics Radio, No Stupid Questions, Runner’s World, and plenty of others. At 6pm though, I tune in to traditional, linear radio and put on the Ö1 evening news. For me, that’s the most well-curated mix of domestic, European, and global news from a trustworthy source you can get in Austria.
When I’m done eating, I immediately brush my teeth even though it’s still relatively early. I cultivated this habit deliberately back in the day when I experimented with intermittent fasting in order to be less tempted to mindlessly eat something later, and it just stuck. Afterwards, I ease into my actual evening routine.
I picked up journaling again about a year ago, and now I try to fill a page in a Moleskine notebook every day. Part one, “What happened”, is a simple account of recent events in prose (sometimes in German, sometimes in English), whilst part two, “Gratitude journal”, is a bullet list of three to five things that made me particularly grateful that day. These items range from “the sunrise this morning was beautiful” or “came across a funny looking rabbit on my run” to “closed that deal we’d been working on for so long” or “enjoyed that my colleague seemed particularly happy today”. The whole exercise takes about 20 minutes which I find a very worthy investment, given the positive influence on wellbeing journaling has demonstrated to have.
After that, I’ve got between one and two hours of time left before bed, which I always spend reading. That way, I completed 72 books in 2020, 80 books in 2019, 71 books in 2018, 72 books in 2017, … But however much I read, my backlog just outcreeps me. At this stage for example, it would take me approximately 90 days (!) of non-stop reading to get it back down to zero. And often, reading one book will add several new entries to my list, so there’s no chance I’ll get bored any time soon.
Shortly after 8pm, it’s meditation time again. Another fifteen minutes on the cushion usually get me in the right mood to hit the pillow. And if not, I tuck on another 10 minutes for good measure. Anyhow, it’s lights out between 8:30pm and 9:00pm at the very latest. Because the alarm will go off at 4:15am again tomorrow. My running gear is already laid out.