Jenny Blake is the author of Pivot, a career and business strategist, and a speaker who helps people to organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable careers they love. She currently lives in New York City.
What is your morning routine?
Ideally, if I have gotten at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep, I get up before the sun rises (5:00 or 6:00am is a dream), but sometimes I get up closer to 7 or 8:00am.
I love reading non-fiction books, with a candle lit, for one or two hours until the sun rises. Afterwards I meditate for anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes before starting the day.
Every now and then I’ll go for a twenty minute run to get some fresh air and endorphins pumping, but usually I save my workouts (yoga, pilates, and walking) for later in the day; afternoons when my work sprint is done and I am ready to take a break.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I have been doing a variation of this routine for as long as I have worked for myself after leaving Google in 2011.
I realized very quickly that my body—and by extension, my routines—were the fuel for my business. If I was operating at fifty percent effectiveness due to lack of sleep or exercise, then as its sole employee, so would my business. That was unacceptable to me! Not to mention unsustainable. Success, to me, has as much to do with how I run my business and my life as it does what I choose to work on. I came to adopt the motto, “Your body is your business,” and I make my physical health and vitality a top priority. My staples are yoga, meditation, pilates, walking, eating well, and getting plenty of sleep. Those elements of my happiness formula are what lead me to my energetic and creative best.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I have steadily increased the amount of time for meditation over the years. It used to be 10 to 20 minutes a day (sometimes just five) until I realized that it was actually the most important thing I could do in a day, not something to be squeezed in.
Through meditation I am more grateful, calm, creative, and strategic. It dissolves problems much more quickly than churning through them all day with my mind. At the time of this writing, I am proud to say I’m on a 500-day streak!
What time do you go to sleep?
If left to my own devices, I love going to bed as early as 8:30pm, which most of my friends make fun of me for. I’m the opposite of a vampire. If I go out to an event or dinner with friends, I’m usually asleep by 10 or 11:00pm. I look forward to quiet mornings so much, before the rest of the world is awake, that I really prioritize what time I go to sleep. I don’t have FOMO for nighttime parties, I have it for the glorious mornings I might miss out on if I stay up too late.
I find that at night I’m usually just watching TV if I stay up late, which is not worth the tradeoff. I far prefer to sleep, followed by feeling alert and rested in the morning during my reading and meditation. Starting off that way improves the whole tone of the day!
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I start to wind down for the evening as soon as I leave the house in the afternoons for yoga or a walk with a friend. That means I don’t respond to email (unless I feel like it or there’s something particularly pressing), and I don’t even put pressure on myself to check after about 5:00pm. I have dinner around 6:00 or 7:00pm, then watch a show, read a little bit, and go to sleep.
As I lay my head down on the pillow, I love the nights where I remember to go through my set of “wind down” questions; they help me clear my mind, and often help me fall right asleep. Here they are: What was my highlight of the day? My low? What is one thing I’m proud of or want to celebrate? What is one (or more) things I’m grateful for? What is one unanswered question I’m facing?
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I don’t use an alarm unless I have a flight to catch. I also don’t schedule meetings or coaching calls until at least 10:00am (preferably eleven), which helps me avoid a feeling of rushing out of bed to start the day. I figure that my body will rest as long as it needs to rest.
In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington makes the point that “you can overeat, but you can’t oversleep.” Barring a health condition, our bodies will sleep until they get the rest they need, usually not longer. After just three days of deprived sleep, our creativity and mood start to decline rapidly, so I don’t mind sleeping as long as I need to, usually 8 to 9 hours to feel fully rested.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I do intermittent fasting, which means that I don’t eat a meal until the afternoon. Instead, I have Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil with my Rishi Early Grey tea. That keeps me alert and satiated. Unless I am still hungry, that is all I eat until “linner,” when I usually have one big meal in the late afternoon.
One of my favorite snacks is a concoction of my own called “Almond Brulee”— almond butter with a light layer coconut oil across the top (right in the almond butter container), a tiny bit of honey, and sea salt, then refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. When the coconut oil hardens, you break it with that satisfying “tik tik tik” sound that creme brulee makes, but without all the sugar. It’s really filling too! Almonds, avocado and eggs are also go-to snacks.
In the Winter I also make my mom’s chili soup for lunch and/or dinner (recipe here—make one batch and it lasts all week!) which reduces decision-fatigue from having to decide what to cook or eat every day.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
Working out is my reward later in the day. I set aside my first work hours for high-priority tasks and strategic projects, then take calls or do podcast interviews in the middle of the day. I work very diligently and focused from 10:00am to about 3:00pm, then I head out for a walk, yoga, or pilates class. I often meet up with a friend for coffee or dinner as a combo with one of those activities, or afterward. My favorite way to catch-up with people is “walk and talks” which makes the conversation more engaging and has the added benefit of including exercise in social time.
I don’t schedule calls after 3:00pm, because I am useless at that hour! I tell clients that they wouldn’t even want to work with me at that time; my brain is too foggy. To ensure I give them my best energy and most strategic thinking, I schedule all calls between 11 and 3:00pm. Once I leave for the day to work out, I am done. I do not plan to return to work.
After working out, I spend the rest of the evening at dinner with friends or starting my wind-down. I try not to check email after dinner (otherwise it might make me anxious before bed, which I don’t want), and don’t even really respond to email once I have left for the day in the afternoon.
How about morning meditation?
Yes, meditation is my medicine! It is the best thing I can do for my day, and it helps me feel calm, grounded, strategic, and creative. I use Insight Timer to track my sessions, and usually do a minimum of 20 minutes. I don’t practice any one particular style, rather vary it from day to day. Insight Timer has great guided meditations too, when I’m looking for something a little more directed.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
One of my worst habits used to be reading email from my pillow first thing upon waking up. What a horrible way to start the day! I felt stressed and annoyed before even getting out of bed.
Now I try not to even bring my phone near the nightstand, and I do not check email until after my morning routines, and after I have accomplished one to two hours of work on my most important projects for the day.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
Sometimes I track my sleep with Sleep Cycle, especially if I’m going through a phase where I am having trouble sleeping through the night (New York City can be loud, with lots of light pollution!), but now I prefer not to have my phone anywhere near my bed.
I also have a water bottle called Hidrate that has a corresponding app that tracks my water consumption; if I’m behind on the day, the bottle blinks to remind me. I always thought I drank enough water; turns out I need about twice as much as I was consuming! Drinking more water reduces mindless snacking (from boredom or stress) and my whole body feels better when hydrated.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
I make a point not to check my phone or email until after getting my most important work done, so sometimes that is as late as 10:00am.
A few years ago that would have made me feel really anxious, but after six months of doing this I have realized there is almost nothing that comes in that can’t wait until 10:00am. Otherwise it would just disrupt my enjoyment while reading, distract me during meditation, or tempt me into starting my day by reacting to work and others’ requests, not proactively doing what I have determined is important to me.
If you are wondering, yes… I am often behind on email! I don’t like it, but at the same time, when will we not be behind on email? It is 24/7 and relentless! I’ve had to learn to stop caring if I think I am taking too long to reply. Almost everything can wait, and very little is truly urgent.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
I recently launched my second book, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One, so I enjoy doing interviews, speaking gigs and strategy sessions related to that. I also run a private community called Momentum for side-hustlers and solopreneurs and love doing twice monthly Q&A calls and workshops for them. In general, I make sure that each of my strategic projects gets at least 30 minutes of focused attention before I do anything else, particularly more reactive work where others are setting the agenda, like email. I keep a daily to-do list in my monthly Moleskine planner notebooks, so I always know what the priorities are before I start the day.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Water, ideally one full glass (or Hidrate water bottle) with my Rishi Earl Grey tea upon waking up.
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
My partner and I both live and work from home in our studio apartment—it has taught us to become relationship black-belts in coordinating routines, sharing space, and communication! Thankfully we both thrive on the same morning wind-up: reading, tea, meditating, journaling, and then digging into work.
I love having someone to chat with and share ideas throughout the day, and we have found creative ways to share a tiny space (for example, taking calls or doing podcast interviews from the walk-in closet). We do still navigate one major difference: he’s a big-time night owl and I’m a tried-and-true morning person. Somehow, though, we’ve found a way to co-exist! We’re always experimenting with different solutions and sleep times … and when necessary, ear plugs.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I do, though less now that I live with someone. For the first six years of running my business, weekends were prime work days for me, since fewer requests were coming in and I don’t have any meetings. They are when I actually get most of my work done! That way I’m not fighting with tourists or weekend errand-runners too. New York City gets crazy on weekends, especially where I live in SoHo—sometimes it is a challenge just to walk down the street!
I subscribe to the weekend editions of the New York Times, so I usually read the paper before jumping in to work. I always enjoy starting by reading a physical book or newspapers; something that is not electronic, since I spend so much of the rest of the day on devices. Now that I live with someone, I try to get more work done during the week so that weekends are free to hang out and relax.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
It is definitely trickier, especially when I’m on the road several times a month for speaking engagements, but I make a point to keep up with as many of my morning routines as possible. These morning practices are what fuel me, so keeping up with them is not about willpower—I genuinely look forward to it, and it keeps me grounded while traveling. It doesn’t feel like I have to stick to any set list of activities, it is more about starting my day in a way that is most energizing, which comes from stacking up things that I want to do.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
Gah! Unless it is for something awesome (like leaving for an exciting trip or going to a morning dance party on a boat!), I tend to feel more scattered, stressed, and reactive throughout the day.
I also keep the mindset that it is never too late to fit in my morning routine. If I get interrupted or am unable to do it first thing, there is no reason I can’t take a break in the middle of the day and take a time out for myself. If I meditate and read at 1:00pm, for example, sometimes it is the perfect reset in the midst of a crazy day.
On a great day, I am meditating and reading during breaks at least two or three times throughout the day! Morning, noon and night :)
Anything else you would like to add?
The goal of any routine is not perfection, but intention and small steps. Just commit to doing a few small things that recharge you every day, and don’t be too hard on yourself if your routines go haywire sometimes due to big life events, projects, or new people in your life. This is a lesson I learn and re-learn constantly! I remind myself not to wait on incorporating new routines until I can do them tomorrow—aka perfectly or with copious time—but instead to do something small in that direction today.
Jenny updated her morning routine with us on Jul 26, 2017. View what has changed since Apr 22, 2015.
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