What is your morning routine?
The alarm goes off at 6:30am. I wake up and put on running shorts and a T-shirt. Then I head to the kitchen for a glass of water. I have breakfast—which is almost always oatmeal, plain yogurt, and nuts—with my wife and sons.
Next, I exercise. On many days, I walk with my thirteen-year-old son to his school (which is about two miles away) and then run home. On other days, I go for a run in the park. Nothing heroic, just 25-30 minutes. Sometimes I do something else, and when I need a rest day, I take it. Starting my day with exercise gives me a big mood and energy boost throughout the day and makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something right off the bat. One of the big keys for me is getting dressed in running clothes right when I wake up, because it sets the default to exercise—my family expects it, and I expect it too.
Then I decide what I want to be my “highlight” for the day. This is an idea I got from my friend John Zeratsky. Every morning, I choose one big thing to focus on and make time for it rather than reacting to everything in my inbox and on my to-do list.
Finally, I have a cup of coffee and get to work.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I’ve been doing the basic wake/water/oatmeal/exercise thing for a long time—probably at least ten years. But I continue to experiment with the details. And as the kids grow up, the routine has to be constantly reinvented.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
A few years ago, my son got old enough to walk to school, so I merged that with my exercise routine. It’s really awesome to have the chance to talk with him, because he’s one of my best friends. The walk goes through a park, which is a bonus (it’s so nice to have a little exposure to nature when you live in the city).
The “highlight” idea is also from the last few years. I’ve been a dork about time management for a long time, but I’ve recently realized it’s important to do less but to do it better.
Right now I’m experimenting with using the Headspace app before I start working, which is great when I can make myself do it. Counterintuitively, it seems I get more done even when I take the time to meditate. And I’m trying not to check my email until after lunch.
What time do you go to sleep?
I usually start going to bed at 11:00pm. Sometimes I stay up a little later. If I’m up past midnight, there’s trouble for me the next day.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
My wife and I almost always clean the kitchen before we go to bed. It’s such a bummer to wake up to dirty dishes.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
Yes, we just got one of those Philips alarms with the light that’s supposed to simulate a sunrise. It’s okay, although the beep is pretty annoying. I don’t hit the snooze button; with a six-year-old running around the house, snooze buttons are meaningless.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
We eat breakfast about half an hour after waking up—oatmeal with plain yogurt and nuts on top, sometimes with a few banana slices or berries.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I always try to do some kind of exercise in the morning. Usually it’s a thirty-minute run, but sometimes it might be a walk or a Pilates class (I know, it’s an embarrassing activity, but I’m really tall and it’s hard to keep good posture!). I’ve also been experimenting with those seven-minute workouts that are supposed to be so good, and I actually like those a lot, too.
What’s important is moving, ideally getting outside, and getting some endorphins going for the rest of the day.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
I’ve been using Headspace for maybe two years. I recently left my job at Google, but when I was working there, I’d often do Headspace on the Muni bus downtown. Now that I’m working from home writing most days, I try to do a session before I start.
When I can convince myself to meditate, I love it… but right now it’s teetering on the edge of my routine. It’s not quite there yet, but it’s early days.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
My goal is to not look at email until after lunch. If there’s something important, people will text me. Of course, I can’t always do that—I don’t have the world’s best self control—but right now that’s what I aim for.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I use an app called Freedom to turn off the internet on my Mac in the evening (usually at 9:00pm) and keep it off until noon the next day. This helps me resist email and other black holes. In the morning, I use an app called One Big Thing to set my “highlight” for the day. And, as I said, I use Headspace.
Other than that, I use the Weather app in the morning. You know, as Paul Simon said, “I can gather all the news I need on the weather report.”
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
I don’t have much on my phone to check. A few years ago I removed email, Safari, and anything with infinite content for what I call a “distraction-free iPhone.” So, it doesn’t play a big role in my mornings.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Most important in the early morning is having quality time with my family. We have this brief window when all four of us are at home, and we won’t all be together again until the late afternoon. So I want to be sure to sit down with them at the dining table for breakfast, and I want to help my younger son get ready when he needs it, help my wife when she needs it, and walk with my older son when I can. That’s number one.
After that, the next priority is trying to do the routine. When I do my routine, I’m well set up for the day. Then I decide what’s most important, and try to get right to it. Nowadays, that’s usually writing.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Water, right away. I don’t know how anybody wakes up and doesn’t drink a big glass of water—I just feel gross until I do. But maybe it’s because I snore or am a mouth-breather or something; I don’t know.
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
My wife and I are a team in the morning; she does so much to make the routine work. She makes the oatmeal, for one thing! But she also really encourages me to do what I need to take care of myself. That support—both in words and in actions—makes a big difference. I try to help her as much as I can in return.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I follow it on the weekends. I always try to avoid sleeping in because it’s like giving myself jetlag.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
If our whole family is traveling, it can be difficult to follow the routine, although I try to do as much of it as I can. When I’m traveling alone, I follow the routine, though I almost never have oatmeal on my own. When I’m eating at a restaurant, I go eggs benedict all the way.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
With every piece I miss, the odds of a strong day go down. I’m not saying it’ll ruin my day if I don’t sleep well or have to rush out the door before I exercise; it just makes it harder, and it makes it less likely that I’ll have my optimal energy. When I miss consecutive days of exercise, especially three or more, then I start to kind of go nuts.
Anything else you would like to add?
When you asked me to do this interview, well, first of all, I was honored! But I looked at the other interviews and saw Austin Kleon’s. He’s a hero of mine, and I loved how he wrote out his routine. So I wrote my ideal routine on a piece of paper, just like Austin, and put it on my desk. It’s had a big impact the last couple weeks because it nudges me to do the things that are less automatic—in particular, using Headspace before I start working and waiting until after lunch for email. It reminded me how malleable our mornings are and how important they are for the rest of the day. So I’m glad you’re doing this, and I hope others find as much inspiration in it as I did!
If you’re reading this right now, poke around and find some experiments, and write down your ideal routine. It’s totally okay if you don’t do it every day, but it’s nice to do what you’re aiming for.
Photo of Jake by Airyka Rockefeller.
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