“On weekdays, my twelve-year-old daughter Laurel is my alarm clock… I admire how consistent she is!” – Christine Koh Share this quote on Twitter

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Christine Koh

What is your morning routine?

On weekdays, my twelve-year-old daughter Laurel is my alarm clock. She gets up at 6:00am because she has to head out to the bus at about 7:00am! I get myself up when I hear her get up so she has some company while she’s getting ready. Typically, I get out of bed, pull on workout gear, and sit in a demented haze for about ten minutes on the couch with Laurel while she brushes her hair and also attempts to wake up. Then I get up and make coffee and go through the routine of getting Laurel out the door and my five-year-old daughter Violet to kindergarten.

Ideally, I build in some kind of exercise right at the start of the day. My favorite way is to make it part of my commute; for example, typically Violet and I walk to school (it’s close to a mile) and then I run a 2-5 mile loop home, depending on how I’m feeling and if I’m training for anything. Last fall I was training for a half marathon, so I was on a specific plan with regard to distance. If it’s too cold out (it’s currently really cold in Boston) I opt for at-home yoga or circuit training. Exercise is pretty crucial to me, not only to help me fit into my pants (I love cooking and baking and eating!) but also to burn off my crazy and keep my mental balance in check.

I typically sit down to work by 9:00 or 9:30am. I have another cup of coffee and start by reviewing my to-do list, starring critical items, and then syncing up a plan of attack based on my schedule that day. I then do preliminary email triage; I always start by (rather ruthlessly) deleting emails that are irrelevant, poorly pitched, or indicative of mass PR pitches (sorry, PR people – personalized outreach is what it takes!) and bouncing back quick-action responses.

These preliminary steps position me to work efficiently through my to-do list the rest of the day. I have several work buckets: blog, podcast, consulting work, video work, freelance client work, and now a t-shirt design shop, and also the everyday personal matters that hop on one’s to-do list.

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During my windows of time that aren’t dominated by meetings, I basically round-robin through my clients and projects, making sure that I touch every single client and project every day. I have each client and project on my to-do list set up as a recurring item each day. Some days a particular client or project won’t need attention, and then I can just check it off the list. This system helps me keep on top of and feel connected to everything I’m working on.

On a good day, I also find time to call my mother. She loves phone calls!

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I’ve been operating like this for years. In my previous life I was a music and brain neuroscientist with an academic joint appoint at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so my morning routine was very different!

I’ve been working freelance for ten years, but things have really picked up since I became creative director at Women Online (four years ago), co-wrote Minimalist Parenting (three years ago), started the Edit Your Life podcast (one year ago), and started my t-shirt brand (two months ago!). Building an efficient model that helps me stay on top of all of the balls I’m juggling is crucial!

What time do you go to sleep?

I love sleeping. I don’t believe anyone who says they only need four hours of sleep! I try to get in bed by 10:00pm. I love getting eight hours a night, but when possible, I love getting nine hours a night even more!

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

In the evening, though ideally not immediately before bed so I don’t stress myself out, I like to look ahead at the next day. How many meetings do I have and when do they start? How extensive is my to-do list? What are the critical fires I will need to tend?

Doing a quick look ahead the night before prevents the frantic “OMG I FORGET I HAD [INSERT URGENT THING] ON THE CALENDAR” reaction in the morning and helps prime me for particularly busy days. It also helps me plan what kind of self-care I will engage in the next morning.

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

My twelve-year-old is my alarm clock. I admire how consistent she is!

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

As soon as I wake up I have a large glass of water with a splash of coconut water, and then coffee. Then, maybe an hour later, I make a smoothie. I am such a creature of habit in the morning!

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Exercising in the morning is critical for me; otherwise, it’s hard for me to break my rhythm during the day and do it. I’m most effective when I build it into the day. For example, walking to school with my younger daughter and running home afterward.

Sometimes I do yoga in our living room while everyone is slowly getting going in the morning.

Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?

I have tried meditating and am pretty bad at it, but I would like to get better someday! Meanwhile, yoga and running serve as my meditative practices.

With yoga, I typically hold each pose for eight breaths, so the breathing helps me focus. With running, there’s a similar thing I made up several years ago to help me get through long, hard runs. I take thirty breaths, focusing on each body part, starting with the feet and moving up to the ankles, calves, knees, quads, hams, butt, hips, abs, heart, and head, and then back down again. Sometimes it’s really hard to stay focused enough to get to thirty, so I have to start again at zero. The point is to try to calm down my brain and center myself enough to focus on those breaths. I also use this method when specific body parts are hurting (e.g., cramps) to try to bring intention to the area and work through the pain. I made this thirty-count breathing thing up, and it’s kind of like my running meditation!

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I’m on email pretty much all through the workday. An overflowing inbox sends me into a panic. My goal for 2017 was to start with an empty inbox, and, yes, I added it to my to-do list!

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

I don’t have problems falling asleep (ha), but I rely on apps for other parts of my routine. I use Wunderlist to check my to-do’s, my Google apps for all manner of productivity, and sometimes the Yoga Studio app to lead a practice.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

First thing, I’m sorry to say. But I do keep the phone in a different room. My husband and I have a rule about no phones in the bedroom!

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

For my family: getting the kids out and where they need to be in a non-frantic fashion. We’ve actually developed a pretty great rhythm there. For me: scanning my to-do list and calendar first thing is important.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

A large glass of water with a splash of coconut water, as soon as I wake up.

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

My weekend routine is similar in terms of what I eat and how I exercise, but I try to sleep in. One of the best things I’ve done in the last several years is to improve my efficiency and focus throughout the week so I can shut off work and focus on my family during the weekend. That’s not easy when you’re an independent business owner, but it’s been crucial to my and my family’s happiness!

Photo of Christine by Jill Krause.

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