Maren Kate Donovan
Maren Kate Donovan was the founder and CEO of Zirtual, a startup that connects busy people with dedicated virtual assistants. Currently living in San Francisco, Maren now consults while working on her next startup.
What is your morning routine?
I usually wake up around 8:30am. I am a huge believer in getting at least eight hours of sleep, ideally a little more, so if I go to bed late I’m never ashamed of sleeping in.
My routine consists of six steps: I (1) make my bed, (2) meditate, (3) make coffee, (4) perform my face ritual, (5) read, and (6) journal.
Make my bed: I start the day by making my bed, because several studies show the benefit of starting your day out with one, simple, accomplishment. The military and other groups use this psychological tool as well. It’s shocking how much better you feel when you start your day with a tidy sleeping area. I do this no matter where I am: my home, in a hotel, or sleeping on a friend’s couch.
Meditation: I meditate for fifteen minutes each day. It’s hard. I haven’t fully gotten the hang of it yet, but I am trying to be consistent as I see great results when I practice it “religiously”.
Make coffee: Simple, to the point. Making coffee for me feels like the day has begun, and I love the smell.
Face ritual: I use only Korean skin care products. I believe in their philosophy of using a seven to ten process each morning. I call it my morning ritual. Not only does it leave my skin looking dewy, but it feels very therapeutic when done consistently. There is more about Korean beauty rituals here.
Read: I set aside this time to peruse whatever I want. It could be a novel I’m halfway done with, a backlog of internet articles I want to get to, or something else that has caught my attention. I usually set aside thirty minutes for this, but let the natural flow of things dictate the amount of time I spend. Sometimes it’s shorter, sometimes it’s longer. Reading in the morning, before doing anything reactive, seems to kickstart my creativity for the next step.
Journal: I write out what I want to achieve in the day, rewrite the affirmations that are sitting in the forefront of my mind, or work on a blog post or some other creative thing, if I feel inspired. From this step, I can enter reactive mode if need be while feeling intentional.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
Off and on for several years. There will be weeks when I fall off. After that happens for a while, I get fed up with my disorganization and get back to my routines.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
It’s gotten more regimented. Adding the “make bed” part has really kicked it into high gear. I try to keep my routine simple and short, so it’s not overwhelming and I don’t fall prey to it becoming obsessive-compulsive.
What time do you go to sleep?
Usually between 10-11:00pm.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I try to make sure the house, especially the bedroom area, is reasonably clean.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I only use an alarm if I have to wake up for a specific event. My assistant knows never to schedule a meeting before 11:00am unless I specifically make an exception. This allows me to do my morning routine without interruption and my body to get more sleep when it needs it.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
Usually 30-60 minutes after getting up. A typical breakfast is a vegetable smoothie and a coffee. If I go out, it’s egg and avocado toast.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?
I practice whatever I’m studying at the time, I’m still very new to meditation, so just getting fifteen minutes in is a win for me. I use Calm or find a mantra on YouTube and listen to it while meditating.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I think answering email first thing in the morning is the BANE of modern existence. Numerous studies have shown that being reactive (checking email, social media, etc. first thing in the morning) is terrible for your mental health and productivity throughout the day. I try to keep my phone on airplane mode in the morning and only use it to listen to podcasts or an audio book as I do my morning routine.
My advice to anyone who will listen is never start checking email until after you have completed your morning routine, a creative writing and reading block, and have spent at least thirty minutes on your toughest work project.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I use Rainy Mood when I need to focus and it’s loud around me.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Not until after my routine.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Making my bed, meditation, and drinking around sixteen ounces of water with a whole Meyer lemon squeezed in to balance my pH.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
As soon as I wake up I drink at least eight ounces of water, make a new glass (see above), and try to get through as much as I can before leaving the house.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
Often on weekends, I let the journaling and reading go. I try to keep the meditation and other parts though.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
Sometimes. It really depends. I try to be kind to myself when I don’t do it. Self-kindness is a very underrated skill.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
I shake it off and focus on doing it the following day.
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