“No matter how the day goes, no matter what issue pops up, I have this wonderful start to my day where I get to know my daughter more, or get to share something new with her.” – Nathan Kontny Share this quote on Twitter

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Nathan Kontny

What is your morning routine?

I’m a huge believer in routine. Ivanka beat me to it when she talked about avoiding decision fatigue in her morning routine. Michael Lewis did a great profile of President Obama and shares Obama’s desire to avoid the little decisions because he has too many important decisions to make. For example, the president only wears grey or blue suits.

I don’t have President Obama’s level of decision making, but running a business, Highrise, and helping raise a daughter is replete with decisions. So, I’m a creature of habit. I constantly do the same things, go to the same places, eat the same food.

My morning routine is radically different today than it was a year ago when this little one came into my life :)

Nathan Kontny’s daugther Addison

Addison. My routine is optimized around spending time with her. I wake up at about the time she wakes up: 6:15am. After she gets dressed with mom, Addison and I have breakfast together. And I read to her something as she lets me. We’ll pick from a stack of magazines: Inc, Wired, Esquire, or we’ll read something like The New Yorker or a book on my Kindle. She’s a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan.

When she declares breakfast is over, we play a little, and then I get her ready to go to day care. We have a relaxing walk together and I ask her about the stuff she sees, trying to teach her new words and colors. After drop-off I go back home, and I’ll often try and get a workout in. Then, most of the time I’ll work from home.

I immediately check for any problems my team might be having at work by glancing at our communication hangouts: especially Slack, where we’re chatting throughout the day, and Highrise, the product we make, for any trouble or issues customers are sending to us. I don’t spend time trying to compose email in the morning, but reviewing it, to get a pulse of what’s going on.

And that’s about where the routine has to stop. Depending on that pulse, I might find myself with a bunch of time to write, or create software, or I might find myself fighting some fire - it all depends, and changes constantly.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

It was radically different before my daughter was born. I used to work until 3:00am, and just slept in until my body felt like waking up. Depending on that, I’d see if I still had time to work out in the morning or fit it in later in the day.

As for experimentation, I know I said above; it’s important to not always be making lots of little decisions, but sometimes, the opposite is true. Sometimes, we should throw out our routines, and question all the little decisions we make.

Paul Graham wrote an insightful essay on generating business ideas. One of his key thoughts was to simply turn off your filters and notice the world more. We all filter most of the world out. We look at almost everything and take it for granted. We have to. As Paul writes:

“You couldn’t get from your bed to the front door if you stopped to question everything. But if you’re looking for startup ideas you can sacrifice some of the efficiency of taking the status quo for granted and start to question things.”

So, often, I’ll sacrifice the efficiency of my morning routine. I’ll skip eating. I’ll work out in the afternoon. I’ll take a cab to work instead of driving. I’ll walk a different way to daycare with my daughter. I do all this so I can see life just a little bit differently than the routine I was in before. I’ll usually just go back to the routine, but sometimes I’ll return with something different.

My addition of salad to my morning breakfast was just one of those experiments. But also it’s a great source of new appreciation for things I didn’t know were there before.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?

Definitely. I am a heavy sleeper, so I need the alarm to make sure I get up to help with the baby. If I didn’t they’d have to wrestle me out of bed themselves each morning.

How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?

Addison eats what she eats :)

I’ll have a protein bar or Greek yogurt. I also try to have a salad of at least spinach and broccoli: no dressing, just raw veggies. Most people make a face when they hear that. But it’s hard during the day to always get the vegetables we should be eating, so I try to make sure my day starts out as healthy as it possibly can.

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal right? So why not get a big dose of superfoods for it. Did you know there’s more vitamin C in broccoli than in oranges?

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Almost every morning I’ll try and do something.

I’ll run along Chicago’s Lakefront all year round (only snow and ice keep me from it), or I’ll visit a nearby gym, or most often do something from Tony Horton. I love the P90X brand of workouts. the most recent, P90X3, are just thirty minute workouts. Not a lot of excuses in your way of getting a good workout in when it’s all laid out in thirty minutes.

Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?

Mostly just Highrise. When I wake up I’ll browse Highrise on my phone with the new iPhone app we built. I’ll look through the latest activity to see what customers are talking to us about, or if my support team needs any help with a customer, etc.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

Immediately. This is more a product of me using the phone as my alarm. Since I have to grab it anyway, I’ll glance through notifications, or check Highrise.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Breakfast with Addison. I love that we get to eat and hang out and read together before she starts her day. It completely grounds me for the day ahead.

No matter how the day goes, no matter what issue pops up, no matter how the business goes, I have this wonderful start to my day where I get to know my daughter more, or get to share something new with her. Getting to my email can wait until after. I’m already dreading the day when she’s off to college and we don’t have this :)

But also, taking a shower is super important to me. Not for the reason of just getting clean, but I make sure I use that time to improve something I’m thinking about. Most of us know by now we get our best ideas in the shower. It’s the white noise, the privacy, being on our feet. But there’s also something magical that happens when we talk to ourselves. So I’ll use the shower as this private place to actually talk to empty space. I’ll pretend I’m giving a speech, and turn that into a blog post. Or I’ll pretend I’m talking to someone about an idea or important email reply I need to make, and then I’ll write it down later. I think most of us squander our morning ritual showers, and could actively turn them into even better spaces for our creativity.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Coffee. Definitely coffee. I used to be much more into the process of making coffee: fancy beans, freshness, etc. But now, given the number of things in my day, I love my Keurig coffee maker. Pop in a pod and click a button.

The whole process of saving me steps to coffee is inspirational as a product designer. Whether you prefer the convenience of Keurig or the fidelity of the experience of grinding your own fresh beans, there’s a trade off there, which, as someone who makes products and services for a living, we should pay a lot of attention to. I highly recommend the book Trade-Off by Kevin Maney for more on this topic.

Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?

On weekends I follow a totally different routine, and often no routine at all.

My wife and daughter let me get another hour or so of sleep on the weekends. Then, it’s whatever. If the baby got a good night of sleep, we’ll plan our morning for more activity like the zoo or the beach or simply just hanging out in the yard with an inflatable pool.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

Not really. Though, I try not to be “not settled in at home” much. I’ve been turning down trips to talk and conferences because I just want to keep enjoying that routine with my wife and Addison. It just means too much to skip.

And when we do travel, we just adapt to the new place. It’s usually for vacation anyways, so I’ll do the usual routine of checking Slack and Highrise for notifications, but then I’m just relaxing with the new things vacation brings: new food, new paths, new things to see and explore.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I get sad when I can’t spend those precious moments with Addison. I’m also anxious if I can’t get a workout in. But when things don’t go to plan, I try and remind myself of that insight from Paul above.

Those moments where the routine fails: is a really great time to notice the world with fresh eyes.


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