How to get on top of Things Using a Routine Calendar

Routine Calender january-2290045_1920.jpg

If you’re struggling to keep on top of the things you want to do, whether it be work out, see your friends, do you side hustle , or absolutely anything; create a calendar for your daily routine. Fill in an event for every minute of your average day. It sounds absolutely insane because it sort of is. It’s extreme, but it helps.

You’re made up by the routines you keep every day. If you don’t brush your teeth one day, it probably doesn’t too much. But if you don’t brush your teeth every day for a year, it’s going to matter a whole lot. Every little habit whether you’re aware of it or not makes up who you are now and in the future. It’s a bit scary! But it’s also a powerful force for change. If you can harness even the smallest of habits to your advantage, you can create fundamental changes in your life.

A really simple way to see what your habits are is to keep a routine calendar. It’s a calendar that sounds pretty extreme - you create an event for every minute of your average day. You end up with an extremely full calendar and a very clear picture of where you spend your time. It can be used in a number of different ways: as a planning tool to help you figure out how to fit things into your life, as a warning system so you know when something is about to break, and as a way to make sure you’re getting the most important things you want to get done.


I do this digitally. However, you could do it on paper if you wanted - you’d just need to re-write the calendar when it goes out of date.

To do it digitally, create a new calendar in your calendar app of choice. I use Fantastical (Mac, iPhone, iPad). The routine calendar needs to be seperate so that you can easily turn it on and off when you’re using your calendar app day to day. At the moment I’m using three calendars to help with this since I have a few priorities that I like to have in other colours. It’s also useful to be able to see those calendars while not seeing the rest of my routine.


The next step is to fill out every hour of the day for a period that makes sense for you. For me, a week tends to be a good time period since there are a lot of things that happen every week.

I admit it, this is pretty over the top. Every person I speak to about this thinks I’m slightly mad. Maybe they’re right. But there’s a chance they’re missing the point - this calendar isn’t meant to limit me to doing only these things, or make me so regimented that I don’t have any room for anything. It’s meant to help me create space and be realistic about the things I'm committed to.

A few notes about my calendar to help explain the method behind my madness:

  • The red is my training schedule - I’m committed to this each day and the timing in the calendar is the ideal time for a workout for me with the way I eat, but I don’t necessarily do the workouts at this time every day. Having this in the calendar helps me in two ways:
    • I know that I need to have about an hour available for the workout each day at whatever time I can make it fit.
    • I know if I can do it at the optimal time, things are going well.
  • The orange is my creative schedule. Yes, I know, how can you calendar creativity? The issue for me is that without making space for this I tend to simply fill up my time with work or things like Facebook. My problem is that I have spent so many years getting into the habit of filling my spare time with non-creative things, it’s hard to break. This is my way of trying to break that habit.
  • The brown is the real guts of my 'routine'. It's the basic stuff I've got to do to keep functioning at a high level - that's why I include sleep, time with my partner, time with friends, and rest time in there.

Planning vs. just living

The ‘routine’ calendar is a good low level planning tool. It helps with implementation of your goals because you can get a realistic map of your commitments and plan how to get everything done. It helps you see in one place what your commitments are and what might suffer if you want to start doing something new without giving anything else up.

But the thing most people get concerned about when I talk to them about this ‘calendar every minute of your day’ thing is the loss of spontaneity. If every minute is accounted for, how can you have time to be human? Look, this may not work for everyone, but I encourage you to give it a go. If you simply put times in your routine for spontaneous activities, you won’t lose it. Sometimes when you're trying to make a change, you need to do something that seems a little extreme! Trust me, give it a go at least, it might surprise you.

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Posted on September 1, 2017 and filed under geekery.

Learn More from Podcasts: My Ego is so much Smaller than yours bro

I had a conversation with Ashley this week about how a person best learns. She recently realised that she learns best from reading written information. If she listens to a podcast or an audiobook, it’s definitely entertaining but she ends up losing the information unless she reads something to go with it. This piqued my interest because I’ve known for a while that I’m an ‘audio’ learner. I find it a lot easier to remember things and learn if I hear it, either through conversations, podcasts, or audiobooks. 

Hearing about Ashley’s experience with audio got me thinking. I also benefit from reading things along with all the stuff I listen to. Sure, I’m more adapted to audio than Ash, but I get a lot out of using multiple ways to consume the information too. My habits are pretty stark though - apart from what I read for my day job where the only option is written material, the most important information I consume comes from audio. I listen to heaps of audiobooks and podcasts. Apart from my aforementioned job and my nightly reading (30 minutes before bed), the only time I read things is when I’m reading my version of ‘trashy’ news: Apple pundits, various tech reviews, and things that I like to follow but I don’t learn a whole lot from. 

I spent some time this week wondering about how do my reading vs. listening habits help me and/or hinder me. If I’m learning important things from podcasts and other audio sources, how could I help myself (and others like Ash) consolidate this information? What if I changed my approach a little? Would I get more out of the information I consume? How could my information consumption habits be tweaked a little to help you? 

I noticed that a lot of the podcasts I listen to don’t have a lot of written content to go with them. That’s because some of the best podcasts are a conversation - they’re inherently hard to capture in written form. The majority of their value is exactly because they’re a conversation rather than a formal written document. But, with people like Ash out there who learn better from reading, I think there’s a need to provide some good written summaries for the best audio content. 

It’s a hard job - conversations are difficult to capture in written form. Nevertheless, I decided to do my best collating and writing some summaries of my favourite audio content for you. Let's start with a great podcast episode I listened to last week: 

Aubrey Marcus Episode 107 - My Ego is so much Smaller than yours bro

Provided episode description:

The high priest of spiritual parody drops out of character to discuss transparency and dismantle identity in one of my longest conversations to date. Dive into some meaty food for thought from the real person behind everyone’s favourite conscious funny guy.

This episode will get you thinking a lot about your ego. It’s about learning to understand what the ego is for (protecting you) and only letting it do that when you need to be protected.

The episode ties into the Brene Brown TED talk about vulnerability. That is, if you’re more open and vulnerable, you’ll get more out of your relationships and other areas of life. Whilst it’s scary to be vulnerable, it’s also where all the nice things in life come from. It’s how we learn! Our egos are there trying to stop us from being vulnerable - this is how an inflated ego can get in the way of learning and progression as a person.

You’ll also notice connections with the work of Ryan Holiday[1] and other Stoic philosophers on ego. Ryan Holiday’s work, especially ‘Ego is the Enemy’ tends towards pushing you to see the ego as, well, the enemy in order to protect yourself from the downsides of ego. Whilst I do think the Stoic idea is useful, in this episode I was struck by the way J.P. and Aubrey described their relationships with their egos. They view ego not so much as an adversarial thing, but more as a friend who might be a little over protective sometimes. In particular, I enjoyed Aubrey’s description of the way keeping a handle on his ego lets him “see, permit, and encourage” his wife for everything that she is.

I encourage you all to listen to this conversation - it’s one I’ve listened to twice already and probably will again soon!

If you don’t know what sort of learning you tend towards, take a moment to think about where you spend most of your ‘learning’ time. Is it YouTube? Maybe it’s podcast’s like me? Or do you read books or websites? Maybe you just talk to people? I’m planning to write more about the way you consume information and how to get more out of less. If you liked this post, sign up below to and I’ll send you my latest posts!

  1. See Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.  ↩

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Posted on August 2, 2017 and filed under philosophy, learn more.

On Grieving, Festivals, and Fasting

An Aside

The last 18 months or so has been particularly challenging. Things are different now and they’ll never be the same again. I’m okay, change isn't all bad but I’m grieving for the loss. I’m being cryptic about what exactly I’m talking about here because I’m simultaneously embarrassed about the triviality of my problems and learning to accept that they have been serious problems for me. I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve sought quite a lot of help from friends, family, and medical professionals. It has meant the world to me and I thank each and every one of them for what they’ve done.

While this is still going on, I’m not ready to talk openly about it. But I do intend to share later - I think my experiences can help you. As for right now, I want to talk to you about some of the philosophy that is helping me. Seneca[1] and stoic philosophy might help you too.

Seneca’s letter on Grief and the Key to Resilience in the Face of Loss

This post was prompted when I received the excellent Brain Pickings newsletter that included a write up of Seneca’s letter to his mother on Grief and the Key to Resilience in the Face of Loss. Most striking to me was this section on taking things for granted:

No man has been shattered by the blows of Fortune unless he was first deceived by her favours. Those who loved her gifts as if they were their own for ever, who wanted to be admired on account of them, are laid low and grieve when the false and transient pleasures desert their vain and childish minds, ignorant of every stable pleasure. But the man who is not puffed up in good times does not collapse either when they change. His fortitude is already tested and he maintains a mind unconquered in the face of either condition: for in the midst of prosperity he has tried his own strength against adversity.

This is not a call to simply expect the worst all the time and remain cynical about all good times; but rather a call to use fortunate times to prepare oneself for bad times. Enjoy the good times, but do not take them for granted as though they will last forever. This will not only let you enjoy the good times more thoroughly, but also prepare you for when they may pass.

Seneca’s Moral Letters to Lucilius - On Festivals and Fasting

In another of his letters (to Lucilius), Seneca touches on this same idea.

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?” It is precisely in times of immunity from care that the soul should toughen itself beforehand for occasions of greater stress, and it is while Fortune is kind that it should fortify itself against her violence.

I read this passage for the first time about two years ago. As it turns out, I’ve had quite a few days in the past 18 months where I have asked myself “is this the condition that I feared?” Even though I was not purposefully putting myself through hardship as Seneca is suggesting to Lucilius, this question was still helpful to step outside my experience, even for a moment so I could observe it for what it was. Seneca is saying that one should practice this skill so that it comes more easily in times of hardship.

Ride the Wave of your Experiences

Seneca’s letter to his mother on grief recommends that it is better to ride the wave of our experiences rather than avoid them:

It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. I am not therefore going to prescribe for you those remedies which I know many people have used, that you divert or cheer yourself by a long or pleasant journey abroad, or spend a lot of time carefully going through your accounts and administering your estate, or constantly be involved in some new activity. All those things help only for a short time; they do not cure grief but hinder it. But I would rather end it than distract it.

This applies for many emotional experiences. Anxiety about emotions can rise rapidly and avoiding them feels good in the moment. In this way, we are rewarded each time we avoid, further reinforcing that behaviour. But the problem is, it doesn’t deal with the emotions that are troubling us. If anything, avoiding the emotions can make them larger and harder to tackle.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. I’m bad at this. But I try to use Seneca’s question to pull myself out of the experience so I can observe it: “is this the condition that I feared?”

If you’d like to hear more, you can sign up below. When I’m ready, I’ll send you the whole story.

Image: morhamedufmg

Posted on July 12, 2017 and filed under thoughts.

Don't Try So Hard

A month ago I had a realisation that is changing my life. It’s really simple: you don’t have to try so hard all the time - back off

Of course, as with anything that is supposedly simple, this has a certain nuance to it. I’m not suggesting that hard work should be avoided. Only that when you’re doing that hard work, most of the time pushing and straining to get it done isn’t helping. For most kinds of work (and play - I’ll get to that), the work itself is the reward rather than the thing you’re trying to achieve at the end. Sure, if you’re competing in a marathon and you’re striving to get across the finish line, pushing so that you stumble across can be a good thing. But as you go about your life doing everyday things, you don’t often need to push like that. You can keep your absolute top performance in the tank so to speak, and give it 90%. You’ll do whatever it is you’re doing with much more grace, form, and have something to give when you’re finished. And best of all, you’ll probably recover more easily from all that work so you can go again sooner. 

This applies to so much in my life: exercise, writing, sex, singing, guitar, and really, any creative pursuit. There is a lot more to be gained from doing 10 pushups with perfect form, then straining to do 20 in what feels like your ‘top performance’ all in terrible form. This gets to the heart of the problem with trying so hard. At least with me, trying really hard at something meant that I missed what was important about that thing. In the above example, I would feel really good for having tried so hard at my pushups, only to never really get any better at them because I was always using terrible form. The instant I backed off and started using proper form, and not straining to complete my reps, I started to improve. I had made it all about the goal of more reps. But that was getting in the way of me learning how to do a really good pushup. 

I had the same experience with sex. For years now I’ve been trying really hard to get better at sex. I wanted to last longer and be able to ‘do sex better’. I’ve learned a few things along the way, but over all those years I never got demonstratively better. A few months ago, for some reason during sex I decided to just take it easy. And wow. Everything improved seemingly all at once! Not only did I last longer, but I felt as though I was in control of the ‘end’ so to speak. Both my partner and I enjoyed the experience much more. AND, I’ve been able to recreate this experience every time I’ve had sex since that day - it wasn’t a fluke. All it took was me not trying so hard to do sex and enjoy the experience

Not everything is sex. But my experience here is illustrates a powerful but simple concept. It’s something I’ve heard a million times: stop and smell the roses. It’s about the journey not the destination. Both of these phrases are cliches. I thought I understood them. But I know now that I never recognised their importance. I think I’ve still got a lot to learn, but here’s where I’m at after a month:

Stop what you’re doing and take a moment to enjoy the experience. Goals are great to have, but the learning and growing happens along the way not suddenly all at once at the end. So to get the most benefit out of having your goal, and in most cases to be able to even achieve it, you have to pay attention along the way. Being present with the experience is the best way to not only enjoy yourself, but to achieve your goals. 

Posted on April 28, 2017 and filed under experiment.

The steps to overcome guilt

1: Acknowledge the guilt and examine it like a scientist. Don't run away from the guilt - it's a bad feeling, but examining it will teach you something about yourself. 

2: Ask yourself "why am I actually doing this?" Then ask again. Then again. And again. One more time. Drill down into each answer with another 'why'. 

3: Write all of this down. It's self examination, it's hard so do yourself a favour and record it. 

4: Leave it for the day. 

5: Come back tomorrow and take some action. Break it down and take action to address the 'why' you discovered.  

Posted on February 6, 2017 .

How to Recognise the Habits that are Shaping your Life

My friend Ollie [1] asked me about how to make some changes in his life. He’s feeling overweight, bored, and stuck in a rut. There’s nothing in particular in his days that he doesn’t like, but feels unhappy in his life because it doesn’t feel like he’s getting anywhere. He has some vague goals, but mostly they’re about not being where he is now. Ollie has a lot going for him, but he focusses on the negative side of things more often than not. After discussing this with him for a while, I can see that he can make some small changes in his life that will help him.

This may seem a bit harsh, but I’ll just come right out and say it - Ollie has some bad habits. They range from physical stuff like his diet, to mental habits like his tendency to focus on the negative. He has plenty of good habits too - for example, I know that he flosses his teeth every day. [2] The big problem for Ollie isn’t that he has bad habits - we all do - it’s that he doesn’t see them. The habits that are limiting him are engrained and normalised.

All of us go through life with hundreds of little habits we carry out every day. A lot of the time we aren’t aware of them. The habits might be good or bad, and without you paying any attention to them, they are controlling the outcomes in your life more than you realise.

For example, a few years ago when I decided that I needed to lose some weight, I changed my breakfast from cereal to a salad with an egg. About six months later, I had lost 25 kilograms and felt amazing. From the outside, it appeared as though changing the habit of what I ate for breakfast brought about massive change by itself. It was an important factor for sure, but the main thing I learned from the process was that I had been in the habit of eating an enormous amount of carbohydrates for every meal without even realising I was doing it. Not to mention all the junk food and soft drink I was eating. My diet was terrible when I honestly thought it was pretty good. There was an element of me learning new information about what makes up a ‘good’ diet, but the majority of the problem was because I didn’t even notice that I was constantly eating junk food. I’m not here to talk about diet, but this habit led me to a bad health situation without me even being aware of it.

Recognising your own Habits

I stumbled across the habits that were causing me to be overweight almost by accident. I’m hoping that you and Ollie don’t have to stumble sideways into self awareness about your bad habits.

There are two approaches to figuring out what your bad habits are.

1. Figuring it out via Outcomes and Goals.

Set yourself a goal, and work out what habits you could do each day that might help you reach the goal. As you implement the ‘good habits’, you’ll start to notice some of your bad habits getting in the way. It’s difficult to change more than a couple of habits at once[3], so at this stage take note of the bad habits and resolve to address them soon.

Because this method is mostly trial and error, it means you may not discover bad habits in areas unrelated to your goals. To get this right, you have to keep an open mind, be very observant, and critically analyse yourself. It’s easier said than done.

2. Observation

If you already have some goals set, but can’t see why you’re not achieving them, it’s worthwhile to spend some time observing yourself closely. To do this effectively, you need to be honest with yourself. Be aware that you won’t be able to remember all the things you do in a day no matter what you think. Therefore it’s important for you to write everything you do down in a journal. Yep, it’s an involved process. For one week you need to keep a detailed journal with everything you in about 15 minutes increments. It is a lot of work, but it’s the only way you’ll be able to see what your habits are. I made an example log sheet to help you out - get it here.

I don’t know how long it will take Ollie to discover his bad habits. Both of these methods require Ollie to be observant and diligent. He is definitely capable of this, but habits are a strong force that keep you going in whatever direction you’re already going. The first step to changing bad habits is noticing them.

  1. Ollie is my dog’s name. I didn’t want to use my friends real name without his permission.  ↩

  2. I don’t do that!  ↩

  3. Some people say more one is a recipe for failure.  ↩

Posted on July 29, 2016 and filed under experiment.