What is your morning routine?
I adjust my morning routine according to my intuition, a practice I cheekily call Pussy Schedules in my book because I’m letting my feminine intuition make the decisions! I like to keep my morning time very slow and private—kind of like women who choose to have a water birth, so the baby comes out of the watery womb into… more water. Similarly I like to come out of sleep and not immediately be inundated with people and meetings and demands and performances, and instead be in a peaceful place, in bed, awake.
I try as often as possible to arrange my schedule so I don’t need to set an alarm, and generally that means I wake up around 8:00am. If I sleep past that I figure I needed those hours and don’t chastise myself for it.
I try to not schedule anything involving showing my face or being “on” before 11:00am, so oftentimes I’ll work from bed in the mornings, and I favor the type of work that involves doing journaling exercises, meditating, and daydreaming. At some point I transition from journaling work into what I call “scheming” work because I like the nefarious undertone to that word. Scheming often involves logistics, collaborations, scheduling—I’ll “groom” my schedule over and over, getting very acquainted with my calendar, sometimes drawing it in my journal even though it’s all in my calendar app. To that end, I keep my laptop, paper notebook, pen, and iPhone all by my bed, as well as a tall glass of water because I’m often dehydrated!
When my mouth gets too-gross feeling (the icky taste outweighs my natural laziness and desire to stay in bed), I’ll get up to brush my teeth, wash my face, and put my hair into a bun (having my hair out of my face is a signal to my body that it’s time to work!). I generally don’t shower in the morning—I like showering in the nighttime by candlelight.
From there, I’ll go to the kitchen and make hot water with lemon and eat some breakfast, usually yogurt or eggs. I usually return to my bed at that point and do more work on my laptop. If I’m cold I go under the covers, if I’m fine temperature-wise I make the bed and work on top of the coverlet. If I have a phone meeting I generally take it from my bed-cocoon-hive.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I have done some version of this routine for the last nine years, since I graduated from college.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
It’s taken me time to make this morning routine, and a big breakthrough I had for it was when I invented the Midas Touch exercise that I share in my book. One day, I decided to write down everything I touched in the day, i.e. every object I literally laid my hands on. That exercise made me realize that my morning routine did not feel good—I had scratchy sheets, my notebook and pen were way over on the other side of the room, I was thirsty and did not have water by my bed. It sounds small and unimportant, but making these little changes (turning these moments into gold like using the Midas Touch) was huge in improving my morning routine into something that worked beautifully for me.
Also, it took me several years to confidently lay down boundaries about my morning time. A rule that helped me was I decided that only five times in a year would I set my alarm—that way if I had an early morning flight to catch or something, I could use one of my five “mulligans” and set an alarm.
I’m always fiddling with my routine, I’m just obsessed with self-development that way! Currently, I’m trying to get better about flossing and applying sunscreen in the morning. The eating yogurt or eggs in the morning is pretty new, because left to my own devices, I often skip breakfast and have an enormous lunch or dinner instead. I’m the type of person who can forget to eat because I get so sucked into what I’m doing. I’m also experimenting with working out in the morning vs. the afternoon. At peak healthiness I work out with a trainer five times a week for an hour in the gym in my building. I used to feel really guilty about having a trainer, but now she is like a friend and adviser to me. I love having my workout “done” simply by seeing her, and that means anything I do beyond that, like taking a walk or going to a dance class, is a fun “extra” because my baseline workout is taken care of.
I’m also currently looking for a good breakfast-in-bed tray because I’ve finally given in to my “embarrassing” work-in-bed habit, and now that the shame is gone I’m really eager to maximize it with cute helpful accessories like a tray. I’m also thinking of getting an Amazon Echo and keeping my phone out of the bedroom, because oftentimes the phone is really only there for me to check the time, and I could easily ask Alexa, “Alexa, what time is it?”
What time do you go to sleep?
I go to bed around midnight.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I make sure my notebook and pen are at my bedside, alongside a glass of water. If I don’t have anything hanging over me in the morning, I’ll turn off my phone entirely. This is pretty rare, because I’m an overly optimistic Pollyanna and will want to keep my phone on just in case my bestie calls and wants to take a spontaneous road trip, or my agent calls and has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I have to accept right now.
Over time, I’ve gotten better about feeling tied to my phone in this way, especially because I’ve learned that those opportunities that are meant for you will find you and wait for you even if you don’t have your phone on all the time. One of the best career gigs I ever got in screenwriting came while I was on a three-day cruise where I was too cheap to buy Wi-Fi (plus, I wanted to unplug!), and when I came back in my Facebook messages was my buddy Matt saying “check your email.” I freaked because I thought I had missed my window, but it all turned out fine, because it turns out, they really wanted me on this project! Now I try to have more confidence when I turn my phone off at night.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
On the rare occasions that I do set an alarm, I usually allow for at least one nine-minute snooze.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I typically eat yogurt (I’m especially in love with Aussie-style yogurt right now, like Noosa) or eggs. I love over easy style eggs, but I can’t seem to nail it when I cook them myself, so they generally become scrambled eggs when I’m at the helm in the kitchen. I buy pasture-raised eggs—I’m inordinately proud of this, mostly because I don’t do nearly enough for the environment or for animals, but this is my line in the sand: I buy pasture raised eggs; the chickens each have at least 108 square feet of space.
I’m no expert where it comes to food, but just paying attention to my body; I think protein is better for me first thing in the morning.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I rely on my personal trainer for that. Sometimes we’ll work out in the morning, sometimes in the afternoon. I’m still trying to figure out the best time for me.
Working out in the afternoon is a great way to get out of that afternoon slump, but if I’m running around all over town, it’s nice to get it out of the way in the morning. I generally like having morning workouts better, and to be honest, that doesn’t really mess with the routine I outlined above. After a morning workout, I still go back to bed and write. My trainer Annie Uttaro and I get along so well that it doesn’t feel like I have to be “on” for her first thing in the morning.
During my workouts I typically do ten minutes on the elliptical to warm up (it feels easier to warm up on the elliptical rather than the treadmill), and then I’ll do some combination of free weights, boxing, HIIT training, TRX (the cables), etc. I find that taking “the easy way out” by hiring a trainer allows me to not spend all my willpower on forcing myself to work out which gives me more willpower to use elsewhere in life!
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
I use apps for my meditation. I love Oprah and Deepak’s 21 Day Meditation challenges, especially with the journal questions they provide each day. My favorite one of those (and I’ve tried almost all of them) is the Miraculous Relationships one. I love doing it every few months and seeing what I wrote in those journal entries four years ago.
I also use the Stop, Breathe & Think app, which is really fun because they “gamify” meditation and give you stickers the longer you meditate without missing a day. My top score is 74 days in a row. My favorite meditation is called “Lion Mind Meditation,” and a second favorite is the “Alternating Breaths” meditation where you press your right nostril down and breathe through your left nostril, then you let go and hold down your left nostril to breathe out though your right nostril. Then you breathe in through your right nostril, exhale through your left, and the whole process starts over again. It’s deceptively simple, and yet brings big rewards because the nature of it forces you to slow down, and having something to do with your hands and your breath really helps you stop thinking.
I also practice Byron Katie’s The Work which is a type of meditation that has helped every aspect of my life. I also like Carolyn Elliot’s meditations “Existential Kink” and “Deepest Fear Inventory”. They have a witchy (or straight up witch) vibe that can be very refreshing in a sea of holier-than-thou meditation practitioners. Currently I’m obsessed with School of Life Design’s mindfulness journal “Monthly Manifestation Manual” and combining that with the exercises I do in my book. School of Life Design is run by two lesbians in Cleveland and they are so darn charming and mindful.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I generally look at my email in the morning, but I have to say, I love my work so much that looking at my email is not stressful, only exciting.
When I’m deep in the throes of a project, I often allow my team to handle triage on emails and social media messages for me so I know that’s taken care of, and I’m not missing anything while I focus on my current project. It feels really great to do things this way. In the past I’ve been able to get to Inbox Zero, which feels amazing. I wanted to throw myself a party each time. I use the Boomerang app to help me get to Inbox Zero and not have it be an ongoing to-do list. Recently, I got my inbox down from 3,000 to 700 emails and that is almost as sweet as Inbox Zero.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I’ve been intrigued by apps that track your sleep but haven’t found one that works great for me. I rarely get anxious, but I recently experienced my first panic attack and now I empathize with people who experience panic attacks way more than I ever did. Luckily, they haven’t come back to haunt me, but during that time, I really enjoyed playing the soothing sound of rain, and I thought the Calm app had the best rain sound!
My current MVP (Most Valuable Player) app is definitely Marco Polo—I use it to talk easily to my team and my video message is saved as a video voicemail that they can look at when they’re ready to. They can even fast forward it to get the info more quickly! My team has definitely gotten quite a few “I woke up like this” video voicemails where I just had a great idea and couldn’t wait to share it with them, bedhead and all. Oprah and Deepak’s 21 Day Meditation app and the Stop, Breathe & Think app are my favorites for meditation. A feature that has been a lifesaver for me is the Do Not Disturb function on my iPhone. I have it set all through the night and most of the morning, so if people on my favorites list call or if someone calls twice in a row, I will hear the ringtone, but otherwise, I am not disturbed during those hours.
My MVP products are my Matteo sheets—no more scratchy sheets, yay! I’m a very light and bright person, but for some reason I was drawn to these sheets that come in deep red, forest green, and brown, and they feel amazing. I also have a MoMA gift shop tissue box case that not only holds tissues but also has little niches to store things on top. It’s perfect for keeping floss out on the bathroom counter and reminding me to take care of my gums! It’s also such a delight to put the floss back in its perfect cubby hole space in that tissue box. I had so much trouble flossing on the daily before I had this product.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Usually within the first hour of waking.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
I’ve been traveling a lot for my book tour, and now that I’m home, resting up is priority number one! That said, I realize that it should be, whether I’m coming back from a book tour or not. Generally I’m aware of which tasks outside of my daily routine are “important” and which tasks outside of my daily routine are “urgent” (this is talked about at length in Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). I’ll try to tackle the “important” stuff first… unless the urgent one is kind of fun and will give me an “easy win” to go about my day.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Water, then hot water, sometimes with lemon. I have a very Asian-American cliché hot water dispenser that is always on. I don’t drink any caffeine. My mom is hooked on coffee, and I remember saying to myself as a kid, “that will never be me,” and it’s come true! I love the smell of coffee but I don’t drink it anywhere near on the daily. I might have an espresso after a super fancy meal once every two years.
I had a friend once who was constantly either drinking espresso or smoking pot, and it occurred to me that if he quit both maybe he’d be perfectly calibrated without having to up his mood with caffeine or lower his anxiety with pot. Anyway, food for thought.
Of course, according to all those finance articles you read online, I’m a gazillionaire because I don’t buy a daily cup of coffee!
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
I don’t have a partner, but I would hope that any partner who lives with me will know to give me the space for my routine. I’m not above separate rooms if necessary—I love how Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton “live apart together” in side by side townhouses, or how Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived in separate houses connected by a drawstring bridge.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I’ve been a freelancer for a long time, meaning I often don’t know if it’s a weekday or a weekend, so my routine generally stays the same.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
I used to optimistically pack workout clothes with me whenever I went on a trip (business or pleasure), and over time I’ve learned that I never ever use them, so now I leave them at home and I rely on the strength of my home workout routine to tide me over while I’m away.
I also think that the stress (often the exciting good stress) of travel can use up some calories anyway. The one thing I bring no matter what is a swimsuit, because to me swimming isn’t a boring workout chore; it’s a fun thing to do. I also try to bring a robe with me because many of the hotels I stay at don’t have them, and especially when I’m traveling with work colleagues, I think they appreciate it when I don’t answer the door naked. This allows me to work from bed on the road if the situation allows, while still being able to throw on something semi-appropriate when room service comes.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
Eventually I do have to leave the womb of my bed, but because I’ve built up such a thick “brake pad” from all my time in bed, going out or something going awry is an adventure.
If I veer off my morning routine, such as when I have to get up and immediately get going in the morning, I’m usually fine in the moment, especially once I’m out, but I definitely feel more tired at the end of the day (and not in that exhausted pleasant accomplished way, more like a fried I-hate-everybody way). This simply reminds me that it’s just better for everyone if I have my mornings to myself!
Photo of Krista by Rachael Lee Stroud.
Our recommended book this week is The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal. We only recommend three things a week that we believe will be of interest to our readers. Please take a moment to check it out.