“I’m really looking for a calm morning so I can be productive and get into the zone later on.” – Julien Smith Share this quote on Twitter

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Julien Smith

What is your morning routine?

I wake up at 6:30am; I make a cup of coffee with a Chemex coffee machine; and then I sit down and do morning pages, which is half an hour or so of writing for a thousand words. Then I’ll hit the gym if it’s a workout day, arriving at 8:00am to power-lift. If it’s a non-workout day, I’ll meditate for about half an hour, or I’ll just chat with my girlfriend for a bit, before taking a shower.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

For some time. My morning space is basically sacred, it’s the best time for me to get in the zone. It’s something I’ve always done.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

Not really. What you need is an eighty-twenty rule that’s going to give you the most efficiency, or in my case, calm. I’m really looking for a calm morning so I can be productive and get into the zone later on. For me, writing (which is introspective), meditation (which I find calming), and a very good cup of coffee are enough.

I don’t need to experiment any more—I’ve been doing that for years.

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What time do you go to sleep?

I always go to sleep at 10:30 or 11:00pm at the latest. I have epilepsy (I used to have seizures), so I need at least eight hours of sleep or else the rest of my life goes all over the place.

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

I try to read before going to bed, but that’s honestly very optimistic. My routine in the evening is not that important to me. I don’t have trouble getting to sleep most of the time, so I just make sure that I have the lights out by 10:30 or 11:00pm.

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

I use an app called Sleep Cycle. It gives you white noise at night and then gradually wakes you up in the morning. It tracks how well you slept, how long you slept, everything. Sometimes I hit the snooze button, but the app stops letting you snooze after a few snoozes, which is perfect.

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

I almost never eat breakfast. I generally fast for most of the day, and I begin eating after my workout or around noon or 2:00pm.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I find it to be an effective way to run my day. I don’t want to have to go to a ton of effort thinking about what I need to cook throughout the day. I just try to eat most of my calories when I get home, or in the afternoon. So, I almost always skip breakfast, and I often skip lunch as well.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Indeed I do. Three times a week I lift, which is to say, I lift super heavy weights at a specific gym, which is where a bunch of national-level powerlifters train. I do squats, bench, and weighted chin-ups. And then I do an accessory workout after that. I’m basically just lifting heavy things for forty-five minutes.

Do you have a morning meditation routine?

My father taught me about Zen and meditation when I was very young, and I never really did it super consistently until I went to Japan and actually stayed in a Japanese Zen monastery for some time. Even when I came back, I couldn’t keep a regular routine until I started adding it into my phone with Streaks recently. Now, several times a week, I meditate for half an hour. I don’t really visualize anything—I just focus on my breath.

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

I do not answer email first thing in the morning. My objective is to get to inbox zero at least once per workday. I don’t answer email very much on the weekend, but that means that I instead accomplish many of the things that I do before looking at my inbox in the morning. I’ve found this to be the most effective way for me to work, because when I attend to email first thing in the morning, then that’s all I do and I hate my life. Whereas, when I do lots of other things in the morning before answering email, I feel like I have a much more optimal way of working.

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

Yes. I use Streaks, which I touched upon earlier, which is an iPhone and Apple Watch app that records how many days in a row you’ve been doing certain habits. I also use the aforementioned Sleep Cycle, and I also use a Mac app called OmmWriter, which lets you write in a beautiful environment, so I write a thousand words a day in that.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

I lightly scroll through my phone first thing, but aside from that I don’t really use it until approximately 9:00am. Before then, I try to focus on the tasks that will give me the highest likelihood of a productive day. Email and most other stuff doesn’t fall into that category.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Meditation, writing, spending time with my girlfriend, and stretching, which is also a big part of my morning.

As you get older you notice that your body doesn’t automatically work as you’d like it to all the time, so you have to find ways to keep it up. Hitting the gym three days a week is also important for this.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

My first drink in the morning is a really fresh cup of coffee made from fresh grounds, right there with a Chemex, which is a kind of hipster coffee machine that works for me. It keeps the coffee super fresh and clean, and I always make an effort to make sure I’m using some of the best coffee I can get.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

I have a girlfriend that I’ve been with for a very long time. Helen is her name, and she’s amazing. We keep to our own spaces in the morning to match our own objectives. For example, Helen was meditating this morning while I was writing, and so we make an effort to not distract each other. It’s just a part of what we do.

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

I do sleep in, but even then I try to wake up at 8:00am or something. I feel like I’ve wasted my morning when I get up any later. I’m most productive in the morning, so if I can’t get my morning routine in then I feel like my whole day is kind of fucked up.

Otherwise, I mostly keep to it. I still write, meditate, and go to the gym one day on the weekend. Aside from that, I spend more time in the house reading or doing something like that.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

I travel a lot. I’ll go to New York or elsewhere and get my writing done in a good quality café whenever I can, or in the breakfast place in the hotel where I’m staying. I tend to cut corners when I’m traveling, which is annoying, but that’s life. I deal with it and then return to my routine when I get home.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

It messes up my whole day, because this is where I’m able to relax and focus and do all these things that I can’t get done during the daytime. I have an extroverted job—I run a company with over 200 people in it—so my time is very much in demand from a professional and personal perspective. My time to myself is very important and rare, so I make sure to keep it sacred.

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