David Kadavy is the author of Design for Hackers and host of the Love Your Work podcast. He was recently involved in adding new features to Google Calendar, and his productivity tips have been featured in Lifehacker, Inc., The Huffington Post, and Quartz. David is somewhat nomadic, but currently lives in Medellin, Colombia.
What is your morning routine?
I am not a morning person. This is exactly why first thing in the morning is my most critical creative time. Research shows that your off-peak times are the best for insightful thinking, so my one goal in the morning is to make the most of that still-slightly-groggy time.
I wake up without an alarm, usually around 8:00am. Ideally, I’ll meditate for about ten minutes, but I’m usually too eager to start working. I set up my computer on a bookshelf that allows me to stand while working, put in some Mack’s earplugs, and spend the first hour of my day on my most important project at the time. For a couple of months, that was writing and publishing a 500-word Medium article every morning, but that exercise is over. Usually, my hour turns into about two hours of uninterrupted work.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I’ve guarded my first hour religiously for about the last six months, but I’ve made it a priority to work first thing for about three years.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I used to simply have the goal of working for ten minutes straight on a project first thing in the morning. Often, that would bleed into one or two hours.
Why has my time commitment increased, even though I still spend the first two hours working? Because I’m always shooting for a goal that feels ridiculously easy to me, as a “Motivational Judo” move that tricks me into working more. I’ve gotten better at focusing, so just one hour is a pretty easy goal for me.
What time do you go to sleep?
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
The more I wind-down the night before, the better my brain works in the morning. On a perfect night, I’ll have turned off screens or put on blue-blocker goggles by around 10:00pm. I also try not to read any social media or things that make me think about anyone other than close friends and family after this time. (The exception to this is long-form stuff, such as books.)
I may watch a show or some videos, but I try to spend time after 11:00pm doing only quieter activities, such as reading. I go to bed before I’m too exhausted, and I sit in bed with the light on and stare at the wall when I first get in. I allow myself to think about things that happened that day or what I’ll do tomorrow, and only when my eyelids start to get heavy do I put on my sleeping mask, insert my ear plugs, and turn out the light. I’ve found that if I try to close my eyes before my eyelids get heavy, I have a hard time sleeping.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I try to avoid using an alarm. If I do, I use my iPad, rather than my phone, as I don’t allow messaging or other notifications that may distract me on my iPad.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I try to make it to around noon before eating. I use an egg maker to poach about three eggs and then I sauté vegetables, or I’ll make a smoothie with coconut milk, MCT oil, vegetables, a few berries, and some stevia.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I go to the gym around 11:00am on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. My goal is just simply to go and spend fifteen minutes there (it’s usually more like forty-five). Building the habit is more important to me than sticking to a particular routine.
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?
I try to meditate for ten minutes each morning (sometimes I’ll extend it to half an hour). I guess it’s mindfulness meditation. I first concentrate on my breath, and then I search my body for points of tension that I allow myself to release.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
Email is an afternoon activity. I try not to check it until after my first meal. Less critical email I Boomerang until Friday. My brain isn’t its best on Friday, but it works well enough to answer lower-priority emails.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I’m a big fan of Andrew Johnson’s apps, such as Relax. Sometimes I’ll mix it up with his Positivity app. I may do these at night before sleeping or in the morning as a substitute for meditation.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Like email, I try not to check my phone until after my first meal. I leave it facedown on a table in Do Not Disturb mode overnight. My phone is not allowed in my bedroom.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Whatever my most important project is at that time, my task is to work on it for one hour.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
It depends on how thirsty I am. I may have something to drink first thing in the morning or after my writing session. Again, I feel my creative work is better if I don’t get too hydrated in the morning. I drink water almost exclusively.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
On weekdays, my first priority is to do some work. On weekends, my first priority is to get outside for a short time. I plan my coming week on Sunday afternoons and often have to spend time organizing my life and travels on Saturdays as well.
I generally don’t work on weekends unless I’m really crunching a project.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
Yes, but there will inevitably be some inherent aspect about where I am that shakes things up, such as if or when I will work out. I use this as an excuse to try new routines when I live in places for extended periods.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
If something other than work has to be done first thing in the morning, it’s as if my whole day’s creative output is shot. Ultimately, though, I think those situations leave me with more energy for doing “social” work, such as researching podcast guests or nuts-and-bolts production-type work later on in the day.
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