What I Learned Asking 98 Strangers About Their Morning Routine

Two years ago I launched My Morning Routine with Michael. Since then we’ve been lucky enough to publish 98 morning routines from inspiring individuals living all over the world.

What’s your morning routine?

Asking the same basic set of questions each week, My Morning Routine is designed to be an inspirational getaway whether you’re looking for new ideas to mix into your current routine, or you want to finally turn your mornings into the productive haven you’ve always dreamed of.

Despite how cliched it is to say, I never thought we’d get anywhere near this close to the one-hundred mark. Here are a few thing I’ve learned in the process:

Adaptation is Key

My two favourite questions to ask our participants come at the end of our interview:

  1. On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
  2. What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

Under perfect conditions, performing at our best, though not a given, is something we can all-but assume will grant us with its presence eventually.

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When we’re attempting to develop a solid morning routine it’s our ability to adapt to the changing conditions around us that sets us apart and allows us to realise (nearly) all the benefits of our morning routine, despite the less-than perfect conditions.

Here’s the thing. If you had perfect circumstances, you could own this race. You could win. The bigger challenge is winning even when you’re down — even when you’re fatigued.

The above quote comes from Sarah Kathleen Peck’s college swimming coach. Speaking as part of her interview, she said, “He taught me that no one has perfect circumstances — and you’re allowed to go on and do incredible things even if you’re not feeling perfect about it.”

Our ability to continue on with our morning despite being in a different environment (for example, staying with a friend or relative) is something that many of our participants agreed needs us to alter our expectations of our mornings to truly enjoy them.

When asked if he’s able to adapt any of his routine to fit in with a different environment, Colin Wright answered:

Not really. Not without being the weird travel guy. I am more than willing to toss anything I usually do in order to enjoy my surroundings and the people in it.

James Clear approaches less-than perfect mornings with a sensible tone that echos through many of our participants’ routines:

There are always emergencies that can pop up and take things off track. If I miss one day, I try to get back on track as quickly as possible. My general rule is: never miss twice.

And Will Peach was brutally honest in his assessment of his ability to follow his routine in the first place:

What do I do if I fail to follow my morning routine? I write about it on a website all about morning routines. And look like a grand fool for being a colossal, yet undeniably handsome, failure.

Getting Enough Sleep is Everything

Asking each of our participants what time they go to sleep, it soon became clear that, for the most part, those who go to sleep early tend to be early risers, while the night owls among us like to get up later in the morning.

There were some edge cases, of course, one of the most impressive being Caroline O’Shea who plays flute and sings for a traditional Irish band based in Boston.

On the question of sleep, Caroline noted:

Bedtime depends on whether I have a gig. If I have no gigs or commitments, I’ll be in bed around 11:00pm. If I do have a gig I’ll be in bed whenever I get home. Some Irish music festivals have you out until 7 or 8:00am playing and seeing friends, which is incredible but completely wrecks my sleep schedule!

When I asked my co-founder Michael what he’s learned from publishing a new routine every week for two years, he said the one thing that’s stuck with him above all else is the fact that it’s okay/normal to go to sleep early if you plan on getting up early the next morning.

Working as a self-employed entrepreneur, Michael said he used to feel guilty about going to sleep before 11:00pm, despite knowing that he’d be up early the next morning to compensate (he told me this in an email sent at 5:34am today).

Reading a new morning routine each week gave Michael the ability to respect his need to get enough sleep, giving him the energy he needs to jump out of bed and get on with his day from the moment he opens his eyes.

Coffee is King

Coming from the fair British Isles, I’ve always been more of a tea man. That said, I’m the exception among our participants; a small family of individuals where coffee truly is king.

We grind our own coffee every morning. Yep, I’m one of those ‘has to have a cup of coffee early in the morning or I’ll become a zombie for the rest of the day’ kind of people.

Matt Cheuvront isn’t alone. Paul Jarvis gave a hint that he may not be the best company prior to his morning coffee during his interview:

As long as I get a coffee within the first hour, everything else is entirely flexible. You don’t want to know me if I haven’t had a coffee.

And when asked what he has for breakfast, Declan Ferguson didn’t beat around the bush:

Coffee, coffee, and more coffee. I don’t like to eat before 1:00pm. Before then I typically have around 4–5 cups of coffee.

When we asked Gabriel DiMartino if he’s able to adapt any of his routine to fit in with a different environment, he let slip that he’s been known to bring an entire box of coffee-brewing equipment out on gigs with him.

Water came in a far-off second as our participants’ favourite drink in the morning, but it’s fair to say that those little cups of java truly blew the competition away.

(Nearly) Everybody Hates Email

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day? Of all the questions we ask our participants, this is the one that never fails to stir up an emotive response.

I’d love to be one of those people that checks twice a day, or writes for three hours then checks email for the first time, but I’m not that guy. I go through spurts of attempting it, but I fail at it.

Paul Jarvis summed up a common thread among nearly all our participants; an understanding that checking email the moment you wake up is the absolute worst, but for many of us, it’s too hard to quit.

Monica McCarthy got down to the crux:

I check my email very early on in the day. It stresses me out too much not to know if someone wants my time or attention for one reason or another, though I’m trying to get better about waiting to reply.

While Nicole Antoinette has arranged a system that, for the most part, works for her:

The cornerstone of my morning routine isn’t actually what I do, it’s what I don’t do – and that’s check email in bed.

And when asked when he looks at his email of a morning, Colin Wright acknowledged that he’s something of an email-anomaly:

First thing. I like to know what’s going on in the world, and email doesn’t stress me out like it seems to stress out some people.

We’re All Different

If editing 98 morning routines over a two-year period has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all different. Something which may be deemed to be a necessity by one person can be an absolute no-go for another.

On the subject of snooze buttons, the response was relatively 50/50 as to whether they should be used:

I believe people who use snooze buttons lack joie de vivre. Even when exhausted, I’m so excited to start my day that I practically jump out of bed.

Candace Bryan was a firm believer that snooze buttons do more harm than good, whereas Paula Borowska fully admits her use of the snooze button in helping her pluck up the energy to get out of bed each morning:

I’m terrible at waking up. I found the best way to get out of bed is if I start the alarm process at least thirty minutes before I’m due to get up, this way I can say to myself ‘five more minutes’ a few times.

On the subject of breakfast, Nova Rella was skeptical of the notion of breakfast food conformity:

I don’t believe in breakfast food. You can eat whatever you want for whatever meal. This morning, for example, cheese and crackers. Yesterday; leftover sausages.

James Clear, in a similar tone of non-conformity, follows an intermittent fasting routine where he eats most of his food between 12:00pm and 8:00pm each day:

It doesn’t make much difference if you eat 2,000 calories in a twelve-hour window like most people (7:00am to 7:00pm) or in an eight-hour window. Your body can handle both with relative ease, assuming you’re eating well.

Whereas Niall Doherty, well — Niall has two breakfasts (and would’t we all if we could get away with it):

First breakfast is a couple of hefty banana and peanut butter sandwiches, less than two hours after waking. Then I’ll have scrambled eggs, mixed veg and sardines for my second breakfast at about 10:00am.

Words cannot express how thankful we are to everyone who’s been kind enough to share the most intimate details of their mornings with us. Needless to say; we couldn’t have done it without you!

This post was first published on Medium.

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Want to dig deeper? We’ve collected together data from our online archive of 342 morning routines.