Mason Currey is a writer and editor. His first book, Daily Rituals, describes the routines and working habits of 161 creative minds, from Beethoven to Picasso, Jane Austen to Frank Lloyd Wright.
What is your morning routine?
On weekdays, I get up at 5:30am, make a large pot of French press coffee, and divide the coffee between two thermoses. I carry one thermos into my home office and leave the other one on the kitchen counter for my wife, who gets up about an hour after me.
I work in my office until 11:00am. On an ideal morning, I spend the first couple hours writing and reading offline. Right now I’m putting together a proposal for a new book, so I try to do that work first thing, and not look at e-mail or even turn on the computer until later. (I write early drafts with pen and paper.) But I also work as an editor for a New York–based website, and while I try to save that work for later in the day, a lot of times it’s not possible. Living on the West Coast, the time difference really works against me.
In any case, I’m strict about not letting myself leave the office until 11:00am, except to use the bathroom. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get distracted puttering around the house or hanging out with my wife, who also works from home.
At 11:00 I take a shower and get dressed, and then my wife and I take a walk around the neighborhood, usually for 45 minutes or an hour. We moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles a year and a half ago, and one of the things we like most about LA is its terrific walkability. Where we live, there are quiet residential streets for miles in every direction, with lots of interesting architecture and gardens to take in. And, of course, the weather is almost always pleasant.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I’ve been doing the 5:30am wakeup since I started working on Daily Rituals in 2009. At the time, I was also working a full-time job as a magazine editor, and the only way I could figure out to do both things at once was to get up really early—so I got in the habit of waking at 5:30 and working on the book for two hours before heading into the office. That proved so effective that I’ve stuck with it ever since, even though I’m now working freelance and could easily sleep later if I wanted.
Other details of the above routine are more recent – I’ve only been following the work-until-11:00 scheme for a few months. Before that, I would stop at 8:00 for breakfast, then take a shower and resume working at 9:00. But now I’m finding it better to have one big block of uninterrupted working time.
What time do you go to sleep?
On weekdays, 10:30pm. On weekends I might stay up a little later.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I use my iPhone’s alarm. When I go to sleep at night, I leave the phone on a chair a few feet away from the bed, so that I have to get out of bed to silence the alarm. That usually prevents me from snoozing.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I grab a yogurt from the fridge on my way into the office. Sometimes I forget, and then I don’t eat anything until lunch. I know that skipping breakfast is supposed to be bad for you, but I feel like I actually work better on an empty stomach.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
Just the 11:30 walk. The mornings are my best time for focused work, so I save gym trips for the afternoon or evening, when I’m pretty brain-dead anyway.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I like white noise while I’m working. Lately, I’ve been running a fan in my office, but I’ve also used SimplyNoise a lot over the years.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Tap water, while I’m brewing the coffee.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
On weekends, I usually let myself “sleep in” until 6:30am, and then I work in my office until 11:00. But I’m not as strict about that. Sometimes I even take a day off!
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
The getting-up-early trick works pretty well on the road—wherever I am, I can usually squeeze in an hour or two of good work first thing. The only problem is that a lot of hotels don’t put out coffee until 7:00 or 8:00am, so I may end up working without any caffeine, which is a bad feeling.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
If I’m at home, I very rarely fail to follow my routine. But there are plenty of days that I fail to be very productive during those hours.
I might have something that I need to write, and I just can’t seem to make it work – that happens a lot. For me, especially with writing, there’s this constant tension between forcing the work and waiting to be in the right state of mind for the work. Some days, I sit down to write in the morning and it’s just impossible; other days, it’s almost effortless. And I wish I could just take the effortless days and leave the miserable ones, but it seems like it’s the miserable days that enable the effortless ones, if that makes any sense.
But to answer your question – if I do manage a good morning of writing, I feel terrific for the rest of the day. And if I don’t, well, there’s always the next morning.
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