My work routine: plan, do, learn loops

I have ADHD. It’s my superpower. Because brains with ADHD find games hard to resist. And I — an engineer — love building games that make it fun to do things that aren’t normally fun.

So naturally, as an entrepreneur with full autonomy over my own schedule, I’ve applied gamification principles to innovate my own work schedule from the ground up rather than lazily adopting norms from the 9-to-5 world.

I frame my work in hierarchical units that I call “plan, do, learn loops.” In other words, I a) make a plan, then b) do the plan, then c) learn from my efforts by reviewing my progress. Then I do it over again in a loop that never ends. Yes: this is just a fancy way of saying the scientific method.

And here’s what I mean by “hierarchical units.” These plan, do, learn loops (“PDL loops” for short) exist at five nested levels:

  1. Months
  2. Weeks
  3. Days
  4. Sessions (3–5 per day, lasting 90 minutes each and broken up by 60-minute breaks)
  5. Cycles (multiple per session, lasting anywhere from 5–30 minutes each)

In other words, each PDL loop consists of a smaller PDL loop (except for cycles, which are the smallest loop). And, of course, each loop is similar to the other loops insofar as they all involve some writing and thinking during the “plan” and “learn” stages, as well as a lot of in-between action.


But otherwise, they’re entirely different. For example:

  • My day loops focus a lot on not breaking the chain on various habits, like getting out of bed on time, progressing on weekly projects, exercising, reading books, and meditating. (Shoutout to Joan Boixadós for his beautiful habit-tracking app everyday.)
  • My session loops, on the other hand, involve periods of sprinting for 90 minutes — yes, I time myself — and are broken up by 60-minute periods of relaxation where I’m free to go do whatever I want. They’re also similar to school classes in that each session focuses on different work. For example, I start my day with a more-or-less predetermined “morning routine” session which always involves a brief walk outside, a few minutes of exercise, and a small breakfast, etc.
  • And my cycle loops involve a lot of so-called “interstitial journaling” and other techniques which I’ll write more about some other time. (Meanwhile, @anthilemoon has written a great piece on interstitial journaling.)

I do this every day of the year, going on a couple years now. On special days like Christmas or when I have guests, I’ll usually do just one daily session instead of multiple. Overall, I’m thrilled with both the sustainability and the results:

  • I seem to spend most of my time in a flow state
  • I get a lot of important work done
  • I’m in the best physical and mental shape of my life
  • I’m reading more than ever (since one of my “don’t break the chain” habits is to read every day)
  • I learn, improve, and innovate at a rapid pace, since compounding is literally built into every level of the system
  • etc.

Anyway. I’ve drawn this out a little more than I meant to. Do you have a routine? Morning, day, whatever! Hopefully I’m not the only patient in the asylum.

By the way…

The “story model of purpose” is my life philosophy to a) continuously b) make progress on c) problems d) that matter to me. And this newsletter is where I’ll discuss topics based on these four themes.

My “plan, do, learn loop,” for example, touches on the second theme: making progress.

Drop your email below to read more thoughts in this series or to learn more about the philosophy itself:

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