Grace Bonney is a writer and the founder of Design*Sponge, which launched in 2004 and attracts over one million visitors per day. She currently lives in Upstate New York.
What is your morning routine?
My morning starts whenever our pets decide to wake me up. My wife Julia and I recently moved to Upstate New York from Brooklyn and for some reason both our dog and cat seem to think 5:00am is the new wakeup time.
I walk downstairs, let Hope (our dog) outside and feed Turk (our cat). I turn on the lights downstairs, water my plants, and start coffee for Julia. Hope comes back inside, I feed her breakfast, and then I shuffle to the couch or the kitchen table to start my morning computer routine.
From 6:45-ish until around 9:00am I answer personal emails, (attempt to) answer all the Design*Sponge submission emails from the day before, and double check that the day’s posts are loaded, edited and ready to go. Then I load any social media touts for the day’s site posts. The rest will be spontaneous throughout the day, usually done on my phone.
Around 9:00am, Julia usually wakes up and we make breakfast. I typically take a breakfast break to watch a TV show we taped the night before and, if it’s warm enough, step outside and get some fresh air.
By 10:00am I’m back on the computer checking in with our team writers and team manager to make sure everyone’s posts are on time and there are no fires I need to put out. I love our team and they are such hard workers, so usually there aren’t too many problems that need fixing.
From 11:00am on I’m pretty much alternating between writing and researching posts for the site, planning content for the next few weeks, taking Hope on a walk, and working on small renovation projects around the old home we recently bought.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
Except for a brief 2.5 year period when we had an office in Greenpoint, I’ve had a similar routine for the past eight years.
I’m one of those rare people who works better at home, alone without deadlines or other co-workers. When I’m in an office or around other people I get too distracted and excited and just want to hear what everyone else thought about last night’s Walking Dead episode.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
My morning routine changed dramatically when I adopted our dog Hope.
I’d always wanted a dog (I’ve had a cat for eleven years) and I’m so grateful for the way her daily needs force me to get outside of my own head and actually leave the house to move, get fresh air, and meet other people who have nothing to do with blogs, which I love.
What time do you go to sleep?
A perfect night would be 10:30pm lights out, but it’s usually closer to 11 or 11:30pm.
All the pets sleep on my side of the bed, so I typically wake up 3-4 times a night as they readjust and annoy each other. So getting as much sleep as possible is important. You never know when the cat is going to bite you out of nowhere and decide he wants your pillow.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I haven’t used an alarm since college. I’ve been an early riser for the past 8 or 9 years, so being up and working by 7:00am (or earlier) is comfortable and comforting to me.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I wake up starving every day, no matter what I ate the night before. I’m trying to give up coffee and sugar right now (the former was mandated by my doctor and the latter by my upcoming dental bills) so I try to start the day with water or herbal tea.
Julia and I switch off between making breakfast, which is typically eggs and some sort of protein. My favorite mornings are when Julia (who is a professional cookbook writer) makes her famous kimchi/egg/toast breakfast combo. I love anything super savory in the morning.
I also take a slew of medication in the morning, which I don’t love. I have horrible sinuses and really bad reflux, so I take medication for both, as well as vitamins and usually some sort of allergy medication. Julia is majorly healthy and is always offering to make me green juices so I should really start taking her up on it.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
Never. I’m one of those people who really hates working out. Like, a lot. It’s catching up to me now that I’m approaching my mid-thirties, but I always tell myself that my brain is always working so hard during the day so my body shouldn’t have to. I know, it’s terrible logic.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I answer email all day every day. It’s my primary means of communicating with my team and the people I write about, so it’s hard to turn it off.
I start when I wake up but I usually have a hard stop around 7:30pm. I used to answer emails until midnight every night but I’ve gotten a lot better at setting boundaries with that.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I swear by Boomerang, mainly because it allows me to clear out my inbox and start my morning fresh. I don’t mind when emails pile in around noon, but waking up to 200 “URGENT” emails is never a great way to start the day.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Not until I’ve fed the pets, had a glass of water, and watered the plants. I don’t look at my phone after 9:00pm and don’t look at it again until usually around 9:00am.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Taking care of the people and pets that I love most, whether that means making Julia coffee or breakfast or just running around with Hope outside for a bit.
Those to-dos are far more important than checking on Instagram comments. Business wise, making sure that content is ready to go for the day and that the next day’s posts are lined up and almost done is probably the most important thing.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
I used to have coffee every morning by 8:00am, but my doctor said “no more” after my most recent reflux flare up. So now I’m back on plain water. I miss coffee all the time.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
My weekends start and end around the same time as the weekday schedule, but involve less work. I used to work all day every day on the weekends, but now I work two hours a day, max.
Setting up that boundary has been incredibly important for my personal life and for my team’s, too. They used to work on the weekend and finally I had to say, “Look, I’m not working on Saturday and neither should you. Let’s all put our laptops down.”
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
The only difference when I travel is that I try (but usually don’t succeed) to sleep in a bit. Without the pets I can usually sleep until eight or so, but usually my internal clock has me up around 7:00am no matter what.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
When my day starts out with work and not with the pets and a little bit of outdoor or indoor garden/plant time, I’m much more likely to over-work, forget to eat, or forget to drink enough water. I basically turn into a little huddled laptop mouse and that’s no good for anyone.
So I’m pretty good about organizing my travel, work and other meetings around my early morning routine. I have a lot of wonderful team members who depend on me to answer their questions and focus on what they need from me to get their work done, so I don’t want to let them down. I try my best to start the day on the right foot so I can give them, and the people around me, my best.
Photo of Grace by Victor G Jeffreys.
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