Everything should revolve around your sleep schedule. It doesn't matter whether you're an early bird or a night owl. The important thing is quantity and quality.
You also don't have to be a slave to your circadian rhythm. If you wish you woke up earlier, set it as a goal. If you are only managing to sleep 5 hours a night, try sleeping for 6.
What's important is to set the following:
- How many hours are you shooting for?
- When would you like those to happen?
My ideal sleep schedule is 10:30am - 6:30am. This is my target I feel good about when I achieve.
Once you have your sleep schedule, you have your waking time to start with. Next, it's time to build your morning routine. To do this, start by asking: What can I do in the morning that starts a successful day? What things should I avoid?
Every person will have a different answer to these questions. Some people like to exercise in the morning first thing. Others like to journal. Some like to take an entire hour-long shower. All of these are fine and totally possible if you work remotely.
But you need to also consider what you shouldn't do in the morning. For example, if I check Slack or email from my bed when I wake up, it starts my day with an instant jolt of anxiety that is hard to shake. Similarly, eating waffles with chocolate syrup may be delicious, but will nutritionally set you up for failure.
Here are some examples from my own simple routine:
- 6:30am - wake up, get dressed and make my bed
- 6:45am - meditate
- 7:00am - make coffee and breakfast
- 7:15am - mental journaling
- 7:30am - Start work
Things not to do:
- Read/listen to the news
- Check or scroll social media
- Start work before eating
One other word of caution: your routine, by definition, needs to be repeatable. There is an infinite number of things you can put into a morning routine, most of which probably do have the potential to offer some benefit. But if you try to harvest results from everything, you'll end up getting results from nothing. Choose the few things that will make you feel better. Keep in mind, you can test things too. If you try mediating for a few months and don't feel any benefit, try something else!
No one can tell you how many hours to work except for you (and possibly your boss). This is to say that I can't tell you a number of hours you should be working in a day, or even what number is healthy. My best friend probably works 70+ hours a week and couldn't be happier. I try not to exceed 45. Some people find they aren't productive after 20 hours a week and find careers accordingly.
Regardless, you do need to set what your working hours should be. That means if you plan on working 8 hours a day, don't get caught in the habit of working 10 on most days. Just like your sleep schedule, be intentional about your target. You need to have a rough time you shoot for getting off work. It doesn't have to be the same time every day, but you do need to set the target ahead of time and be conscious if you miss that target regularly.
You know what makes it easy to stop working? Having something you are really looking forward to after work. Again, there is a near infinite number of things you could do here. But remember, it has to be sustainable. You might be able to leave work early occasionally and go for a hike, but if you are only going to do that once a month or less it won't really help you. Similarly, you might really like going out to eat with friends. But doing this every day would be expensive and probably overly caloric.
What makes a good post-work activity? Something that is:
- Fun or rewarding
- Not in your place of work
- Repeatable on a daily basis
- Is a net positive for health
These are loose definitions, so use your best judgment. For example, if you are just starting to jog, it will almost certainly not be fun. But if you are training to do a marathon or lose weight, it's rewarding, making it the perfect after work activity! Conversely drinking a beer on your porch while watching the sunset may not be physically healthy, but it can still be a net positive if this is what relaxes you (and you don't have an alcohol problem of course).
I'm biased, but I think exercise is the best after work habit to develop. It's the perfect way to detox from the day, whether it was a good one or a bad one. It's also great because I can customize it day to day based on how I feel. If I've had a stressful day and need to relax I'll go biking and be outside. If it's been a great day and I want to keep brainstorming I'll go to the gym with a notebook. I'll go more in detail in this in another section.
To be honest, I think the evening ritual is infinitely less important. Your day is coming to a close, your chief goal should be to unwind and enjoy yourself. The only real important things are a) eat a good dinner at a reasonable time, and b) get to bed at your target time.
There are other things that could be added to this. Eat at least a few hours before bed, don't look at screens before sleep, etc. Unfortunately, I can't write about the effects of those because I've never been religious about them myself. Apart from that, do what works well for you.