Hell Week

The below is a compilation of several posts I did back in December 2015 when I did the Hell Week by Erik Bertrand Larssen.

Today I’ve started the ‘Hell Week’. This week is based on the hell week of navy seals, adopted for civilians. Getting up at 5 AM, challenging yourself and working your butt off is all part of it.

During this week, every day has a different theme. Today (Monday) is all about habits. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Below I’ve made a list of habits I think are good, could be better, are bad and ones I want to adopt this week (so actually more goals I want to work on daily).

Monday: Habits


  • Morning exercise routine – every morning I do a 5-minute routine to strengthen my core and prevent back pain
  • Morning weigh-in – losing weight means tracking it
  • Focussed work/flow – during work I’m in the flow a lot of times
  • Daily reading (even better) – I read at least for an hour every day, this week I want to see if I can read (+listen) to one book a day
  • Exercising – I normally go to the gym 3 times a week, running will be added from this week onward


  • Tracking food intake – especially at the end of a week I ‘forget’ to track my food intake, not happening this week
  • Morning planning – without planning, how do you know if you are working on the most important things? (and it only takes 5 minutes)
  • Evening reflection & planning – reflecting on the day can also be powerful and I will do it every day
  • Weekly goals (all Q2 activities) – I’ve made a goal for this week and have one priority per day
  • Tasks lists work and home – GTD system – I’m good at saving things notes, but I can use a better way of organizing them after that


  • binge eating – this, of course, defeats the whole purpose of exercising and restricting calories
  • binge drinking – see above and terrible headaches and days without productivity
  • crash&burn: get out more on relaxing days (e.g. Saturday and Sunday) – I will relax more on the weekend and get outdoors more

To change my habits I know of three very accessible techniques:

  1. The first is knowing about your habits, putting them in writing and reflecting on them is a good start. You can also ask other people around you if they notice any (good or bad) habits you have.
  2. The second is making implementation intentions. This means that I will know what to do when someone offers me candy or booze (say no thanks). It’s about making if X then Y. Therefore, I’ve gone through a lot of scenarios around my habits and thought about what to do when things aren’t going naturally.
  3. The third technique is the coupling of new and old (good) habits. After my morning routine, I immediately work on my planning for the day. And every evening when I do my agenda and reflection I will also sort out my notes for the day.


  • Overview of finances – automate the system of tracking where I spend my money
  • Sale of furniture that’s not going to move with me – I’m moving somewhere in the near future, so I will off my old furniture
  • First plans for new furniture/style – and I’ll think about the things I want in my new house
  • Clothing habit/rules/organize – what if you don’t have to think about what to wear each morning?
  • EA community NL – I want to do more with effective altruism, I will take steps this week

Hell Week rules

Here is the list of rules from the book. Added to it are some of my own rules/exceptions.

  • Get up at 5 am; go to bed at 10 pm
  • Work out daily for an hour, preferably in the morning
    • Be active for more than 2 hours (Google Fit tracking)
  • Eat healthily
    • Cycle calories for maximum deficit effect
    • Vegetarian
  • Work hard, be focused
    • Focus on Q2 tasks and do reactive things only after 12 am
  • Be the best and happiest you can be at anything you do
  • No tv
    • Don’t have one, will do 1 hour of series for relaxing
  • No social media during work; no private matters during work; no small talk during work
  • No sleep between Thursday and Friday

Wish me luck!

Waking up at 5 AM has its benefits, you have more time in the morning to do meaningful things. It also has a downside, feeling dead tired in the middle of the afternoon. I actually fell asleep for a few minutes whilst relaxing with a YouTube video. But after moving some I got back my energy. With some luck, I will get to bed at 10 PM and will get the 7 hours of sleep I need/deserve.

During this week, every day has a different theme. Today (Tuesday) is all about mode & focus, or as I will call it: roles. It’s about who you play during the day (friend/colleague/sportsman/etc) and how you behave in these roles. It’s also about how you feel in a role and if you can really focus on being that specific person.

Below is an overview of the most common roles I see myself in. I organized them by the roles I’ve been in today and how I see myself behaving in the role on average.

Tuesday: Mode & Focus

Today I’ve been a 1) student, 2) thinker, 3) sportsman, 4) entrepreneur, 5) colleague, and 6) friend. During the day, I’ve tried to be one role at a time. I think this is the best way of going about things, to have a complete focus on your role. I did, however, notice that when at work it’s difficult to be a friend (two friends dropped by) in the work setting. I could have done a better job at letting my work go for the moment.

  1. Student: I like to learn new things, gain knowledge and know a lot about the world. The main place I take in this information is whilst reading in the morning. Another time is when I’m biking or when in the gym (where I think it’s ok to combine two roles). I think I can be the best student by learning consistently every day, for at least 1 hour.
  2. Thinker: I would say this encompasses my personal ‘non-urgent x important’ tasks. This includes making daily planning, meditating in the morning and learning about philosophy. I think I can be the best thinker by training my mind every day and learn something new about philosophy every 3 months.
  3. Sportsman: This week I will exercise every day, after this week it will be about 5 times a week. Next, to a well-sculpted mind, I would also like my body to reflect the same strength. Because there is a marathon coming up in a few months I will focus on running, but I will also keep my strength by visiting the gym. Also, to defend this role I will focus more on cutting excesses from my life (e.g. eating or drinking too much).
  4. Entrepreneur: This encompasses all my business related work. One thing I’ve noticed the last year is that working during the weekend is detrimental for the next week. Therefore, I think it’s best to focus on working smart during the week and keep work to a minimum during the weekend. Also, I use my knowledge from my student role very much during my entrepreneur role.
  5. Colleague: Next to being an entrepreneur I think it’s also good to have productive (and fun) interactions with my colleagues. The reasons I made these two roles separately is because I think it’s better to do research, website stuff, etc on my own and discuss things at set moments. And I think being a colleague is more about helping and interacting than getting the most done.
  6. Friend: What is the world without friends. What I think I could do best here is be more in the moment. My brain is all over the place at some times and I believe that having more focus can help me be a better friend.

That’s all for today. Now it’s time for an early bed and a good run tomorrow morning.

The problem with sleeping less is that the extra hours you have won’t increase your productivity. I do want to stick to the 5 AM waking time, just to complete the challenge, but I know already that sleeping enough is the best way to go.

That being said, it’s the morning of day 4 and tonight I won’t catch any sleep (the challenge is to work day and night). I’m going to make the challenge even more difficult by not drinking any stimulants (cola/coffee/etc). I will also get all the ‘small’ things I want to do done.

But that’s today, what about yesterday? Wednesday’s theme was about planning. It involved making a to-do list, week planning, month planning, and year planning. Or in other words, planning the big rocks first before you add the sand.

Wednesday: Planning

Here I have to be honest, I only got two of the things that I wanted to do done. I made a to-do list and finished quite some of the tasks I had on there. I also have a week planning and know what I want to achieve each day. What I didn’t do was make the long term planning. After work, I didn’t have the mental energy to sit down and think about my long term goals. After configuring my new computer (one of the things from my to-do list) I played 2 hours of Fallout 4.

It’s sometimes difficult, or actually often, to do the things you know you need to do. For this, I think something like a hell week is a good prompt to get started. But as you may have noticed, it isn’t foolproof. What I could have done better is to take a short moment to do some meditation, get stuff done and hop over to bed. Now I don’t say that my day was wasted, I can be proud of the other things I have accomplished (sports, progress at work, Coursera course, etc). In the end, it’s about becoming a better person and although I didn’t do everything I wanted to do, it was a good day.

Now I’m off to two long days of working hard, sleeping little and learning how to recharge when you haven’t slept.

Fingers crossed.

I survived. In the past 38 hours, I’ve snoozed away 2 times for a max of 30 minutes. I’ve been to the gym twice. I (re)installed my computer, installed a Raspberry Pi media centre, organized my books, and generally survived surprisingly fine.

Thursday: Outside the Comfort Zone

Yesterday (although this feels like one day) started as the other days. Up at 5, meditation, planning, gym, work, etc. I took some time to make preliminary planning for next year and generally worked my butt off (I’ve been told I’m not too nice of a person to my computer, so let’s hope the computer won’t take over soon). The test came when it started becoming evening.

Because of the relatively late bedtimes of the past days, I was already feeling a bit tired. The first nightly hours were spent at the Venture Cafe (feel free to join each Thursday @ Groothandelgebouw 4th floor, 15-20.00 hours) and Suicide Club. No alcohol was involved.

When I got home I did stock up with some Cola, just in case. I went to work on organizing my series, installing programs and games, and making my computer awesome overall. Around 3 AM I folded and started drinking the kool-aid (cola in this case). This keeps me awake whilst doing the more boring parts (e.g. renaming folders/files).

Friday: Recovery

In the morning I made a lovely breakfast (4 eggs, feta, pesto, olives, spinach). What I didn’t anticipate was a slight after-dinner dip and subsequent sleepiness whilst sitting completely still and trying to meditate. Lesson learnt, keep doing things when sleep deprived. After a very short nap, it was time for a ‘normal’ day again.

At work, I felt I was a bit more grumpy, but overall feeling not that much different. In the gym, I was still able to do 30 minutes of cardio and even found swimming more relaxing than normal. Overall I can say that a day of relative rest is a good way to spend your day.

To conclude this part: sleep deprivation is bad for you, but you can deal with it surprisingly well.

Hellweek was fun. I’m not saying that (only) to trick you into doing one yourself. No, I think that challenging yourself can be a rewarding exercise and it’s definitively been that. Has it changed my life? Yes, in some regards I have changed, but it wasn’t as revolutionary as Erik Bertrand Larssen wants you to believe.

Saturday: Inner Dialogue

What are you good at? This day is about thinking positively. For me, that meant being positive and also being less critical on myself. I went on a bike ride around the Rottemeren and listened to ‘How Google Works‘ and really enjoyed the weather. Yes, I did do some work, and I liked it. It wasn’t forced and coincidently Onno was also there. In the afternoon, I went to Utrecht to visit a museum with my mother. I guess I’m not that bad at being positive.

Sunday: Put Your Life in Perspective

Today I slept in a bit because in the afternoon I did the Bruggenloop. I did some work in the morning and joined the crowd of athletic people. Putting your life in perspective is quite abstract and I did it my way. I can conclude that I’m very happy and that I love doing most of the things I do. The other things I see as learning experiences. I also loved the run and finished in 1.26 hours. Now onto the preparation for the marathon.

A week with Larssen was challenging. The first few days are the toughest and the others make you think more than usual. I can really recommend it to anyone who dares to take on the challenge.