The Anatomy of a Perfect Week

So, I had the elusive perfect week.

Better than that, actually — I had two of them in a row.

In this post,

  • What exactly a perfect week looks like, for me.
  • The exact mechanics I ran: habits, time spent, nutrition, fitness, planning, defensive measures, structure, accountability, leisure and fun, etc.
  • A long list of small actionable things you can do to make your next week run much better.

***

Wait — what’s a “perfect week”?

Ahh, it’s the most incredibly beautiful, productive, fulfilling week possible. It’s when everything goes just right, and life is really soaring.

Pardon me if I’m getting poetic here — all the mechanics in a moment — but as enjoyable as such a week is, it’s historically been incredibly elusive. I’ve kept stats for the last few years tracked rigorously, and it typically only happens 3–4 times per year.

I imagine your perfect week differs from mine, but here’s mine:

  • 70%+ of my work is “excellent work time”
  • 100% of my time is excellent, okay, or true leisure.
  • 0% of my time is spent “bad.”
  • All the major Impact Areas of my life are holding steady or improving.

I track my time down to the five-minute block — I know how I spent just about every single minute for the last few years of my life. Umm, I don’t recommend it for everyone, but it works nicely for me. I enjoy it and it’s less intense to do than you’d think.

The hardest thing to hit towards a “perfect week” is zero bad time. Of all the Bad things in the world, the easiest to slip into are “neurotic flow” type activities — surfing the web mindlessly, playing video games, mindless consumption, stuff like that. Things that are easy to do, very engaging, but which don’t make one’s life any better and which aren’t genuinely fulfilling or recharging in the way true leisure is.

To be clear, I’m totally fine doing any of those activities if I chose them in advance. But even then, those are rarely the most fulfilling activities — I’d rather play board games with friends than video games alone, I’d rather read a good book than browse the web, and I’d rather study history than get caught up in whatever the horrible-thing-du-jour that’s on the news.

It’s hard getting “bad” time to zero. It’s easy to be tired, bored, or distracted and just click over mindlessly to internet time. Most weeks, I’m able to keep this under an average of 60 minutes per day — but something magical happens when that last little bit of neurotic consumption is removed.

At the end of the week, the feeling goes, “Wow, I chose how I spent all my time this week. That’s wonderful.”

Also, speaking from a data perspective, weeks I spend zero time in Bad tend to also be the weeks that I get the most done and feel the most fulfilled. It takes a lot of design, setup, practice, and iteration to minimize Bad time — but it really pays off in not just productivity, but also wellbeing and fulfillment and a sense of mastery and pleasant control over one’s life.

That’s not all that goes into having a perfect week, but it’s by far the hardest target to hit.

***

Structure, Setup, and Elements of the Week

I’ll break all these down, but at a glance —

Health, Fitness, and Biochemistry

  • Zero sugar has had a disproportionately large benefit.
  • Heavy eating of vegetables and taking certain vitamins daily.
  • Got Q10 supplements from my doctor which seemed to make a significant difference.
  • Lifting weights heavy but without any particular strict training regime

Accountability and Clear Targets

  • YCombinator Startup School is marvelous for accountability, especially the mandatory weekly progress reports.
  • I built a very simple business growth spreadsheet and financial model that shows how consistently weekly growth gets to a million-dollar run rate in March (!) if executed consistently.
  • We’re transparent with our numbers at Ultraworking — everyone at the team gets to see active users, revenue, mailing list subscribers, reviews and testimonials, project success targets through a mix of Slack, open-book project planning, and metrics.
  • I built an experimental “CEO dashboard” that focuses on just three things — Growth, Product, and Team. It’s still raw, but working marvelously so far.

Good Structure

  • We do Work Cycles internally at Ultraworking, which always go well.
  • I host and moderate Work Cycles sessions at TWG, which is even more marvelous.
  • I started “calendar painting” my whole week so I know what I should be doing at any given time, including things like leisure, naps, boardgames, reading.
  • I proactively schedule some explicit fun throughout the week on Sunday.
  • Every time I go to the gym, I immediately schedule onto my calendar exactly when I’ll go to the gym next. These do wind up getting moved around quite a bit, but I’m in the gym legit more than if it was ad hoc.
  • I found a good cadence of switching between focused work and social/calls/meetings that wind up recharging my batteries for the other type of activity.

Avoiding Problems

  • I’ve become aware of how “letdown days” happen after huge days, and started scheduling in work that doesn’t really let letdown days happen.
  • I’ve become reasonably able to predict when I’m going to be tired and distractible, and gotten pretty good at scheduling explicit leisure (a catchup call with a friend or parents, boardgame, working out, or getting a massage) during that time.
  • In times I don’t have leisure scheduled when I know I’ll be fried/tired/distractible, I block my internet right after that work completes.
  • I deleted all the distracting apps from my phone — it’s just Kindle for books, Audible for audiobooks, and podcasts. I turned the browser off, even.
  • On very long days, I’ll stay late in the office, finish planning the next day at the office, and refuse to my open my computer when I go home. I’ll just sit outside for a bit and chill if I’m not tired, read, or sleep right away instead of getting sucked into whatever the latest drama in the world is. (Can you believe that Elon got investigated for that tweet? Free Elon! Wait, wait, wait — no, go to bed.)

I’m also (1) having a lot of fun, and (2) a lot of success is happening, and (3) I’m surrounded by great people all the time and really genuinely admire everyone I work regularly with. If any of those three weren’t true, I don’t think I could keep this pace up.

I’ll go through all the mechanics in detail below, so you can implement the parts you like, but first let’s take a look at the stats.

***

Stats! Stats? Stats.

So, I track my time down to the five-minute block. I should be very clear here — I don’t recommend this to everyone. I genuinely like doing it, and it’s less intensive than you’d think, but I know full-well it ain’t for everyone.

With that said, I do it and it looks like this at the end of the week —

(In case you were interested in the equations, I ported my Excel templates over to a publicly viewable Google Sheets — the formatting is off, but the time/ratio equations are correct for spreadsheet geeks.)

There’s a few things I’m particularly interested in —

  • How much time is going into what I currently define as “Excellent” work
  • How much of my total work time is Excellent
  • How much of my day is made up of Excellent+Leisure time
  • How much of my day is made up of Excellent+Okay+Leisure (aka, no “Bad” time)

From my journal, here’s my ideal targets each week in minutes —

Target Excel: 360+ (6 hours)
Target Okay: 180+ (3 hours)
Target Bad: Ideally 0, certainly less than 60 (0–1 hours)
Target Leisure: 180–300 (3–5 hours)

Total: 12–15 hours
Target sleep: 9+ hours
Grand total: 24 hours

Target E as % of Work: 65%+ (70%+ is exceptional)
Target E as % of Day: 40%+ (60%+ is exceptional)
Target E+L as % of Day: 60%+
Target E+O+L as % of Day: 90%+ (100% is ideal)

The 39th week of the year, September 23rd to September 29th, I put up these stats across all seven days —

Excellent time: 661 minutes per day (11 hours per day)
Okay time: 76 minutes per day
Leisure time: 203 minutes per day
Bad time: 0 minutes per day (hooray)

Excellent Work as % of Work: 90%
Excellent Work as % of Day: 70%
Excellent Work + Leisure as % of Day: 92%
Excellent Work + Okay Work + Leisure as % of Day: 100%

That’s basically perfect. That’s exactly what I want in life.

Now, there’s plenty of people who’d want more leisure and less work — but I think we can all agree that spending as much of our work time as possible on excellent things, and taking “true leisure” when we’re resting instead of neurotic distractions are both good things.

Week 40 (30 September to 6 October) came out just about as stellar too —

Excellent time: 603 minutes per day (10 hours per day)
Okay time: 115 minutes per day
Leisure time: 246 minutes per day
Bad time: 0 minutes per day (hooray, again)

And,

E as % of Work: 84%
E as % of Day: 63%
E+L as % of Day: 88%
E+O+L as % of Day: 100%

I got stuck with more “Okay” time — a few hours of email — and slightly higher leisure. Still exceptional, well above my threshold of perfect.

Did we get a lot done during those two weeks? Yes. A lot. Hands-down two of the best weeks of the year. Let’s dive into the mechanics.

***

Mechanics: Health, Fitness, and Biochemistry

In Week 38 — the week before this wonderful run — I stopped consuming sugar entirely.

I mean, maybe a little sneaks into some sauce or something, but I basically eliminated sugar from my diet.

I can’t stress how good that’s been for me and how much better I feel.

I’ve been on a multi-year campaign to gradually eliminate sugar from my diet — starting with the stuff I like least — and it’s worked well. I wrote “I’ll Quit Ice Cream Last” a couple years ago, and slowly but gradually quit all my least favorite junk food. Pastries, cookies, candy, and potato chips weren’t hard — I just slowly quit my least favorite things, one-at-a-time (it’s outlined in that post). Bread and pizza were harder, but not that hard after I built up the skill. Sugary coffee drinks, pancakes and waffles, French fries came later.

Every time I eliminated a class of junk food, my health improved slightly. And clearly, I found, less sugar = feeling and performing much better.

I don’t want to put all of the recent run to no sugar — a lot of things are going right — but it’s the biggest easy-but-hard one. Reducing sugar consumption has been good for me every step of the way, and going to none was best of all. I’m considering not going back at all, I feel that much better.

Less important but still valuable has been working with a good doctor after I had a strange bout of fatigue hit last April — it turned out to be a vitamin deficiency, I’m not sure which one, but once I started taking a mix of Vitamin D and B vitamin supplements, along with much more vegetables, it cleared up — but I still didn’t feel max excellent.

Eventually the doctor recommended I try Q10 supplements, which help with the metabolization of food. Right away, I felt a little better. Not hugely better, but like maybe 5% better. This is of course heavily confounded — lots of things are going on — and I’d have to do more on/off tests to confirm if Q10 is genuinely useful. But it seems to have worked for me, and started around this current run coming on.

Lastly, I adopted a slightly “less hardcore” position about the gym — I go in, and plan to lift heavy-ish on the big three lifts (bench, squat, deadlift). On any given day, I don’t go anywhere near my max and if any of joints feel tight, I don’t do that lift that day.

In the past, I used to have two modes for fitness — hardcore or not doing it at all.

I think that was kind of dumb in retrospect, since I often got injured, and then wouldn’t go at all. These days I go, I lift whatever feels right, and I get the health benefits and the endorphins from working out. My lifts aren’t going up a ton and I’m not training in the hardcore sense, but that’s totally fine and it’s working marvelously.

Things for you to consider doing:

  • Reduce sugar consumption.
  • Quit sugar entirely for a little while.
  • Look into any vitamin deficiencies.
  • Work with a good doctor if anything isn’t right.
  • Recognize you can train fitness regularly without needing to be “hardcore or nothin’ at all.”

***

Mechanics: Accountability and Clear Targets

Kai and I signed up for YCombinator’s Startup School program — and it’s fantastic.

Startup School includes some very useful free video lectures, which are legitimately useful, but more importantly — you need to submit your weekly progress on a single metric each week. There’s also Office Hours to discuss it in a group of other founders.

This is super helpful — suddenly, you have to ask, “What tangible progress are we making this week?” You don’t want to be the founder that shows up with zero progress made.

You can choose any metric you want — daily active users, revenue, weeks until launch, or whatever makes sense. But knowing you gotta pick a metric and progress on it every week is hugely helpful.

On a related note, I really took Paul Graham’s famous graph in “Startup = Growth” to heart. The human mind seems ill-equipped for exponential gains, and the difference in a slight increase in weekly growth rate turns into huge results later. Graham —

“A company that grows at 1% a week will grow 1.7x a year, whereas a company that grows at 5% a week will grow 12.6x. A company making $1000 a month (a typical number early in YC) and growing at 1% a week will 4 years later be making $7900 a month, which is less than a good programmer makes in salary in Silicon Valley. A startup that grows at 5% a week will in 4 years be making $25 million a month.”

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this little tiny table of how different weekly growth rates turn into annual growth rates, and it still breaks my mind every time I look at it —

Growing at 5% per week makes you get 12.6x bigger in one year… but growing at 10% per week makes you get 142x bigger in a year??? That can’t be right. Let me math that out… math… oh it’s right. Oh my goodness.

I wanted to make those numbers my own, so I math’d out exactly what we’d need to do in terms of growth every single week in a spreadsheet. The early numbers are quite doable — it actually doesn’t get hard for a long time. If you can just hit those numbers every week, and if you can be valuable enough for your customers that they spread the word, then growth begets more growth.

Just modeling it out gave a certain realization — “Hey, we can do those numbers for a few months. And we’ve got a few months to figure out how to keep growing once the needed targets get big… this is doable.”

A million dollar annual run rate is $83,333 per month in revenue. At our price of $49/month, that’s 1700 subscribers. Not easy, sure, but totally doable. We might already know 1700+ people who would benefit from TWG. And customers give rave reviews like —

TWG is already past break even for me cost wise and net positive ROI in a single cycles session.” — Gabriel Stein; Sacramento, CA

We’ve got dozens of pages of reviews along those lines. Things like this are remarkable to read at the end of a given run of Cycles —

“I’ve been putting this off for three weeks and there’s no way I would have done it if not on cycles.“ — Business Owner

“After an emotionally/energetically challenging weekend, this was really good structure to lean on to actually get things done. I wouldn’t have worked today if it weren’t for TWG. Work Cycles are always good. Need to schedule Cycles at least 3 out of 5 days a week (have these overlap with TWG as much as possible). Yay for TWG!” — Systems/Automation Expert

(And those are both highly effective people!)

For me, mathematically modeling out exactly what growth numbers we’d need each week was a revelation.

And really, it wasn’t even the exact specific numbers — for me, it was like, “Yeah, we can actually do that if we do it” — I can’t even quite describe how that made everything very tangible and realistic.

I figured such a simple model wouldn’t be enough though, and since we’re growing and hiring, I also recognized my role was changing from being very good at my functional work all the time to being very good at my functional work sometimes, but prioritizing all team members running well and doing a good job as a manager and executive.

There’s so many infinite things to work at a company, y’know, it’s hard to keep them all in mind. I eventually settled on 3.5 targets for myself —

(1) Team is doing very well.
(2) Revenue is growing 10% week over week.
(3) Product is constantly improving.
(3.5) Nothing else is breaking badly and permanently.

Thankfully, my cofounder Kai Zau is both a prince of a guy on every level and brilliant operationally — he’s very much in touch with “nothing else breaking badly and permanently.”

I drive him crazy sometimes because I’m kind of myopically focused on team/growth/product and almost nothing else — but it’s been both highly fruitful and highly joyful to be hyper-focused on just three things. Incidentally, I class “world-class customer service” in both growth and product, and that also gets my full attention for however long it takes to do excellent there — but everything else is like, “Is that thing over there melting down? No? How’s the team doing? Good? Okay, let’s do new features and get the word out more!”

As narrow as I tried to make my focus on just those 3.5 things, even then it’s easy to get lost — so at the start of Week 39, I built an experimental dashboard for myself that’s been extraordinarily helpful.

It’s got just three things on it, albeit quite comprehensively:

1. The status of everyone on the team — current projects lined up, on-deck project known, known what everyone is reading and training for personal and professional development, and general alignment. We spend a lot of time teaching skills, talking life and philosophy, and having a great time as a team. We work hard, yes — we wear “Work Harder” shirts around the office after all — but the dashboard means I’m spending a few hours at the start of every week looking to really understand what everyone is doing, what they’re learning, how they’re progressing. It’s an awesome group of people I feel truly privileged to work with, and — yeah, it takes a few hours at the start of every week to really know what’s going on, and thus not having meetings that go forever just getting on the same page.

2. Possible product features with a subjective 1–5 ranking on how well we reckon they’ll (1) engage and help current members, (2) get new members, (3) be generally marketable, (4) whether it’s a “good shape” operationally if implemented — i.e., if adding it saves time and reduces complexity, or costs time and increases complexity going forwards. It’s not scientific, but it’s something.

3. A list of all possible growth projects with (1) the expected number of new subscribers that campaign would bring in, (2) the percentage confidence that the campaign will succeed, and (3) the number of hours the project will take. Some simple math and that outputs an Expected Value Per Hour — super useful for prioritization.

That’s my CEO dashboard — Team, Product, and Growth. I spend a few hours updating this and thinking through everything for the upcoming week, which lets me see quickly what to work on team-wise, and prioritize features for product development and growth projects. The whole rest of the week then runs much more smoothly — and meetings are substantially reduced in time by this contextualizing session.

Things for you to consider doing:

  • Get external accountability for weekly progress reports.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, consider joining YC Startup School next time it opens up. It’s great.
  • If you’re not an entrepreneur, find some other high-standards place that expects weekly updates.
  • Model out whatever is most meaningful to you and break down what you need to do each week to get there — financial modeling user growth made everything very salient for me. It was like, “Wow, this is difficult but doable.” A writer, for instance, might model out word count or scenes needed to finish a book or screenplay by a given date.
  • Consider building a dashboard that tracks what matters to you and keep it simple and lightweight. I now spend a few hours each weekend studying and thinking on Team, Product, and Growth. I think if I had even one more category, I might not use it. Keep it simple. It took me five hours to build at first, and it’s 3–4 hours every weekend to update and study.

***

Mechanics: Good Structure

It’s shocking to me that most people don’t have any known viable way to consistently get great work done.

Simply put, it’s life-changing to find such a structure that works for you.

I don’t mean planning out tasks to be done, or doing daily stand-ups in Slack, that sort of thing. No, I mean more elementally — how do you sit down and have a good focused work session whenever you want?

At Ultraworking, we do a lot of Work Cycles.

On the off chance you haven’t heard of Cycles yet, it’s a deceptively simple tool to (1) set up and plan a work session for maximum success, and then (2) keep you on track for multiple hours.

I’m biased, of course — Kai and I invented Work Cycles. I reckon you should give it a try since it’s magical for a lot of people. But regardless of whether you use Work Cycles or not, you should find some way to focus yourself that lets you reliably drop into flow state.

I do Cycles solo when no one’s around, but an added blessing is that just about everyone who works at Ultraworking loves this structured way of thinking, and Nabilah and I run cycles at Ultraworking HQ multiple times per week to get through stuff.

It’s great too, because I can get her feedback in real-time on projects I’m setting up, and give her feedback on hers. The 10-minute breaks are terrific for socializing and getting a quick scoped recharging boost.

Since the launch of The Work Gym, I’m now moderating Work Cycles a half-dozen times each week for members which adds an even higher standard of performance to hit — when you’re the moderator, you gotta be exceptional.

It’s funny — we built the mix of a lightweight work dashboard combined with videoconferencing because it works well, and gets two of the bigger missing links in work handled — ensuring you stay focused over time, and harnessing social accountability.

I didn’t realize that I’d be such a major beneficiary as well. I estimate that TWG adds about 12+ focused excellent hours of work each week for me over what I’d do solo.

Frankly, I like this accountability and the challenge that comes with it.

(And it seems like other people do, too—you can read a bunch of customer feedback over at our recent Product Hunt launch if you’re curious.)

I think Cycles is magical and you should give it a try; solo is pretty good and in a group is even better. But regardless of whether Cycles is your forte or not, you should search out something that lets you drop into flow state reliably.

I mean, what percent of people in developed countries with always-on internet actually focus and concentrate deeply for 4+ hours… even once per week?

Under 10%?

Fight to find something that works for you in this department. It’s been a game-changer for me.

Beyond that, a strange beneficial thing happened to me — since my calendar is now heavily booked with rounds of Cycles, meetings, and calls, there’s not all that much free time anyways. I thought, “Huh, I want to use that limited free time well.”

Thus, I finally adopted “calendar painting” — the open blocks of time, I put a tentative calendar spot down on what I wanted to get done during that window. This can include fun things like making time to play some boardgames with friends, and can include work I want to make progress in, and going to the gym.

If you look at the calendar, all the reddish-brown blocks are “calendar painted” — they don’t have to happen at that specific time, but it sets some light targets in otherwise open blocks and stops me from scheduling over those at times I want to be free for open work.

Speaking of which, I’ve started calendaring my next gym session every time I complete one. I’m going to the gym more. Imagine that.

Calendar painting is cool. It never “clicked” with me until I got busy anyways, but now it’s like magic.

Finally, I found a good tempo of focused work and meetings. Strange as it might sound, sometimes after an intense concentrating session, doing the more reactive/social elements of a meeting or call is just about right… and the more enjoyable meetings and calls tend to recharge me before dropping into another round of Cycles or otherwise focused work.

It’s hard to give precise recommendations around what that cadence would look like for you — but it’s been quite good for me. Alternating between focused work and calls/meetings seems to engage different parts of my brain, or something like that, and recharges me for the other type of work.

Things for you to consider doing:

  • Search out some reliable way to drop into flow state on your work.
  • You might try Work Cycles. It, umm, works pretty well.
  • You could join The Work Gym. I guess I’m biased here since it’s my company, but members seem to really love it. Structure + social accountability is like magic for a lot of people.
  • Try calendar-painting what you want to do, especially if already busy.
  • If you don’t already have a fitness schedule, try scheduling each gym workout after the current one completes. You can always move it around, but I now always have my next target gym session exactly scheduled on the calendar.
  • Search out a good cadence of focused work and more social activities; experiment to find the balance that recharges you and lets you thrive.

***

Mechanics: Avoiding Problems

Y’know, it feels great when you’re doing the right things. Doing good work with good people. Getting results. Hitting the gym. Eating well.

That’s enough to have a pretty good week right there.

But I’ve personally found the highest levels of performance require anticipating and avoiding problems.

Specifically, I saw a recurring pattern in my life over the last few years — when I would have a particularly intense day, say 14+ hours of work, I’d often have a “letdown day” the next day.

This was always somewhat upsetting and mind-boggling. If I was normally doing 7 hours of work per day… and if I get zero good focused hours the day after a 14-hour day, I wouldn’t come out ahead at all. I come out worse, actually, since the long day would often be more taxing than normal, and wasted days don’t feel particularly good.

I’ve gotten much better at catching “letdown days” in advance. Some days, just due to scheduling quirks, I might be up at 4AM (my normal preferred time) but have to be awake until 10PM to do a business call to another continent. I’ll try to nap, sure, but that’s still going to be an 18+ hour day. In the past, the day after that would often be a “letdown day” — nothing good would happen.

I’ve gotten better at anticipating in advance when those are going to happen — after all, they’re not particularly mysterious. I can see at the start of the week when I’m going to be doing a 4AM-11PM day, and I can usually tell when a project is going to come down to the wire on a deadline.

I’ve gotten much better at scheduling the day after an intense day smarter. I was particularly pleased with how 24 September and 25 September ran. The 24th was a brutal day — 4AM to 9PM nonstop. In the past, the 25th would have been a letdown day — but it turned out great when Kai and I went to a government office to fill some paperwork!

It was about a 30-minute taxi ride, and we talked about some general plans and next steps that weren’t intellectually demanding. We waited around at the government office to file some papers that we had to go in person to drop off, and broke out our laptops and covered some more in-depth work while waiting. Then, more discussion on the taxi ride back, a round of Work Cycles in the afternoon, a two-hour meeting to go over recent campaigns in-depth with Xavier, and going to bed early.

We could’ve gone on that errand on a different day — actually, Kai said to me, “Marshall, you okay to go on Tuesday after that crazy day? We can go on Wednesday instead.” And I said, no, no, no — that’s perfect. I was a little fried in the morning, as expected, but how sharp do you have to be to sit in a taxi and then wait in line? Not so sharp. It worked perfectly.

That instance — the government office — happened almost by accident, but something clicked after that.

I’m now searching out what days are intense and which days after are likely to be “letdown days,” and doing stupid errands and chores on those days. Really, it’s just the mornings on expected letdown days that are dangerous; I get back to full speed by the afternoons, and can work normally from there.

This has been really game-changing — it’s hard to describe how much without sounding hyperbolic — because neurotic activities like internet surfing or gaming can so easily become compulsive. By scheduling light, easy, stupid stuff into the windows where I’d be zoning out online, I don’t get into bad patterns. I don’t know what’s happening in the news — and that’s great. I’m not checking in on distracting websites — and that’s great. By doing it not at all, it doesn’t become compelling. Avoiding dumb stuff during probable letdown days has had large benefits over-and-above spending that time well; it also doesn’t let nonsense slip in behind my defenses on taxing days.

On a similar note, my iPhone now does, like, nothing. I’ve got the Kindle app for books, the Audible app for audiobooks, and podcasts. Everything else is functional — Uber, Skype, things like that. You can turn your browser off in parental control settings. It was good for me. (I used a not-normal password and emailed it to myself. I can turn it back on easily if I really want to, but the slight friction means I don’t surf the web on my phone at all.) The only visual consumption I do on my phone is reading.

Finally, I used to work late from home sometimes — no more.

In the past, if I wrapped up work at 11PM or 1AM or whatever, frequently I’d “just check in on Hacker News to see what’s happening…” and suddenly it was 3AM.

Again, Hacker News is great. I do check it, at pre-decided times, periodically through the week to get new information. Same with Twitter. I typically do it when I’ve got an odd 20 minutes before a call or meeting starts, which limits me to… well, 20 minutes.

But there’s no such constraints at 1AM.

As funny as this might sound — I’ve apparently got some sort of reputation for being hyper-disciplined or whatever — I don’t trust myself at all to have a computer open in my living room at 1AM after a hard day. I’m very likely to “just check Reddit”… and bam, it’s 3AM.

Recognizing this, I now stay at the office if I know a day is going to go late… and don’t open my computer after I get home. This is “daytime Sebastian” not trusting the judgment of “late-night Sebastian.” You can think it’s lame or whatever, but this must have saved me from at least a half-dozen hours of stupid internet usage — and led to me getting more sleep!

In the past, I would typically debrief the day and plan the next day as the last thing I did each day. Now, I just do that before leaving the office. As far as marking off my time tracking, I just note final time I sleep on my iPhone and update my time records in the morning.

One surprising added bonus of this — I’m more likely to spend some time outside, reading a book, if I think I won’t be able to sleep right away. The night is beautiful and serene, there’s minimal pollution from cars at those late hours, and it’s relaxing to sit outside a couple hours from 11PM-1AM if I’m not tired yet.

In any event, “finish work at the office and don’t open computer at home” has been great on particularly long days.

***

Do Try This At Home

I feel like I’m walking on air lately — life is marvelous.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep up this pace forever — but something has really clicked recently. By the time you’re reading this, my third perfect week in a row is likely in the books. (I’m on pace for 613 excel minutes per day this week and zero bad time… and the last two days of this week are highly scheduled with no real chance of distraction.)

It took me a few years of tracking, experimentation, design, and tinkering to get here — but it’s really been worth it. All along the route, when I made improvements, things would get a little better. It remains to be seen if I can keep this standard up, but it’s so joyful and enjoyable that I’d be a fool not to aim for it all the time — perhaps with the occasional very-high-leisure entirely-off-grid period mixed in, hiking the Shikoku Temples or some such.

The biggest thing I’d caution you against, though, is starting unsustainably intense. Time-tracking is great, but I always advise people to start with exactly one thing with time-tracking — how much of your time went into your Most Important Work, for however you define that.

It’s easy — you just write down the start time and stop time that you did important stuff. Use a text file or Evernote or whatever. You don’t need fancy spreadsheets. You can crunch the data later.

I wouldn’t even worry about “Bad” time to start — when I first started time tracking, I defined for myself what my Most Important Work was… and then was shocked when I only did 4.5 hours of it the whole week!

Just aiming to get that number up tends to correct everything else. Start there, if you’re interested in tracking. Keep it simple. Make a rough estimate if you forget to track a day. It doesn’t have to be precise.

After that, here’s some categories to look for improvements that might make a big difference for you —

Health, Fitness, and Biochemistry: Here on Planet Earth, you’re a series of complex electro-chemical reactions. Some substances are good for your biochemistry and some ain’t so good. Reducing sugar was a game-changer for me, as was correcting vitamin deficiencies and working with a doctor to improve metabolization of food (and thus physical energy). And you already know this, but working out even a little bit does wonders.

Accountability and Clear Targets: Being forced to report in on weekly progress has been amazing for me — can you get something like that going? (YC Startup School has my highest recommendation for entrepreneurs.) Do you know what’s really important and do you pay adequate attention to it? Building a simple model of business success and seeing it’s doable, and building a dashboard to stay on top of everything each week has been great for me.

Good Structure: Where and how does your time get spent? You want to be able to hit flow state regularly. Try Work Cycles (it’s free) if you don’t have any sort of process; maybe it’ll work great for you. If you want added social accountability and guidance, try The Work Gym (it’s not free but it’s amazing). Consider “calendar painting” to ensure your hours are going where you want them. Scheduling my next fitness session specifically on the calendar every time I finish a workout has been a game-changer for me — consider trying that. Experiment with different cadences and mixes of focused work and social time. Consider proactively scheduling some fun into your calendar too.

Avoiding Problems: Getting some stuff right is more important than getting nothing wrong, but once things are largely clicking, anticipating and avoiding problems is important. Do you have “letdown days” after hard days, the way I used to? Those bit me for years… now I schedule easy “automatic wins” for the day after long days; sounds small but it works great. Consider locking down that smartphone if you’re using it in a dumb way. (You can turn off the browser in parental controls.) Consider refusing to open your computer late at night when you’re at home if you surf the internet stupid at night. Look for other potential problems in advance, anticipate them, and put measures in place to stop them from happening.

Whew! That was fun.

It’s been a marvelous few weeks. I hope there’s some useful insights here you can use to start having more of your work time be excellent, more of your downtime be true leisure, and to have more of your life going… well, however you want it to be going.

As a last parting note, I’d be delighted if you want to try out The Work Gym — over at Ultraworking, we 100% guarantee the results. We’ll promptly and courteously refund you if it isn’t something like life-changing magical. We’re running our best promotion ever over at Product Hunt, and you can see what actual customers are saying —

https://www.producthunt.com/posts/the-work-gym

And the direct link to that offer —

Thanks for reading. It’s been an incredible run lately — and a huge thanks and salutations to Kai Zau, Nabilah Abu Bakar, Lee Knowlton, Xavier Dunikowski for all the great wins together, and all of our amazing customers and friends.

It’s been a marvelous — and yeah, it’s taken some hard work to get here, but I certainly haven’t done it alone.

Thanks for reading, salutations and best regards,

Sebastian Marshall
Ultraworking