“I can’t say a lot for myself, but I can say one thing: I know me. And I know that I prefer nights to mornings.” – Paul Murphy Share this quote on Twitter

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Paul Murphy

What is your morning routine?

I teach in an elementary school where the students don’t arrive until 8:30am, so I take advantage of the relatively late start to steal some extra sleep. I like sleep. I like it better than toast, and toast ain’t bad.

My phone’s alarm is set for 7:00am. Once it goes off, I hit the snooze, which buys me five more minutes. Then I hit the snooze again for another five minutes. I almost always hit it a third time because I like things in threes.

Then I get up and limp to the bathroom because I’m old, and there’s just about always some lower body part that aches. I pee. After that, I head to the kitchen. My daughter, who’s twelve, is usually perched at the kitchen table eating a Pop Tart. I grunt a good morning. She grunts one back. Then I make her lunch. It is invariably a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread (because we’re old school) and a bag of Cheez-Its (because she loves edible squares). I amble into our garage (which is the worst part of my morning during winter) and pull a Capri Sun out of the beer fridge. Then I put those three items in her lunch box.

At this point, I have a decision to make: I can either crawl back into bed and delay adulting for fifteen more minutes by playing on my phone, or I can get in the shower and start my day. Depending on what I need to do at work, I make that choice. At some point, I run across my wife, who is also getting ready to teach. We say pleasant things, give each other a kiss, and she takes my daughter to school. Eventually, I end up in the shower. As soon as that’s done, it’s off to work. I have a six-minute commute, eight if there’s a tractor up ahead. I show up at school sometime between 7:45am and 8:15am, depending on whether I snuck back under the covers after making the PB&J. I eat nothing. Once I get to work, I usually fill my insulated tumbler for the morning and start in on my to-do list, so I’m prepared when the students arrive.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I’ve been teaching for nineteen years now, always in an elementary school and always with a relatively late start. The routine, if you can call it that, has basically stayed the same for most of those years. I’m in a new district this school year and my commute is much shorter, which allows me to laze around and delay the start to my day, but the steps I take—sleep as late as possible, make lunch for the kid, take a quick shower, and then get out the door—have remained unchanged for the past seven or eight years.

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How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I hear about people who get up and exercise, or they write for an hour, or they meditate, or they do some other productive thing first thing in the morning, and I have no desire to emulate them.

I can’t say a lot for myself, but I can say one thing: I know me. And I know that I prefer nights to mornings. I know that I need seven hours of sleep. I know I have zero appetite until about 10:00am. And I know I’d find little joy in working out before the sun is up. The changes I’ve made have come about as a result of having a child and changing school districts. Unless some other big changes are on the horizon, I don’t anticipate altering my routine.

What time do you go to sleep?

I love the night life. I got to boogie. Well, not so much boogie, but I do like staying up late and sitting on things.

When I’m being productive, I stay up too late reading and writing. Teacher Habits requires a fair amount of effort, and I write books for teachers. Those keep me busy, and I tend to be at my most creative late at night. When I’m not productive, I squander time staring at my phone and getting angry at idiots on Twitter or Facebook. Or I sit in the basement and watch Netflix or YouTube on the big screen. I’m usually in bed between 11:00pm and midnight.

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

The only thing I do that makes my morning easier is go to bed early enough that I’ll get about seven hours of sleep. That seems to be my optimal amount, and judging by the record my Fitbit keeps, I’m pretty consistent.

The other thing I do is sleep well. Teaching is exhausting (I wrote a book about why), so I’m always tired. And I rarely suffer from anxiety, which means I can turn my brain off (some might argue that’s its default position) when my head hits the pillow. My wife marvels at how fast I fall asleep. It’s usually within five minutes.

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

I have an alarm set on my phone for 7:00am. It’s an annoying jingle. I used to have it set to a song I liked, but two things happened: First, I wanted to listen to the song instead of get out of bed. Second, I eventually hated the song. I was like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day with that dumb Sonny and Cher tune. So, now I have an annoying ringtone that I immediately want to silence, which means I grab the phone off the floor as quickly as I can and hit the snooze. I usually hit the snooze three times, which is planned; my alarm is set fifteen minutes earlier than it needs to be because, for some reason, those fifteen minutes of semi-sleep are almost more enjoyable than the seven hours of actual sleep that came before.

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

I don’t eat breakfast. I’m not militant about it or anything, and if you want to eat a big breakfast, go for it, man. I’m also not trying to lose weight by skipping a meal (although I wouldn’t mind if it worked). I just don’t have an appetite for a few hours after getting up.

Since I’m not going to try to talk you into skipping the “most important meal of the day,” I’d appreciate it if you did me the same courtesy. I know other people eat breakfast and swear by it. I’ve heard about the studies that show how important breakfast is. But I’m not hungry, so I don’t eat. Also, if I did eat, I’d have to get up earlier, and did I mention that I really like sleeping?

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Not during the school year’s workweek. I sometimes work out in the morning on weekends and during summer vacation, but I never set an alarm to do so. My morning workout consists of sleeping as late as I want, getting out of bed, and then, if I feel like it, going for a jog or heading to the treadmill at the gym. I think once I’m retired I’ll do this more often, but I’ll never sacrifice sleep for exercise. That seems like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Do you have a morning meditation routine?

I don’t meditate. I’ve never felt the need or desire to.

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

While I’m lying in bed delaying the start of the day, I usually run through all of my notifications, which include comments and likes in response to Teacher Habits articles I shared on Facebook, replies to the previous night’s Twitter ramblings, and a few emails. I’ll read them but will only reply if they’re time-sensitive, which they rarely are. The whole process usually takes five minutes, giving me plenty of time to rewatch YouTube videos of Norm MacDonald on talk shows.

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

We have a sound machine that plays ambient noise to drown out whatever unpredictable sounds might interrupt our slumber. We take that thing everywhere we might sleep. On the few occasions we forget it, I download a white noise app, but they’re never as good.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

Usually before I say a word to my wife. How’s that for Husband-of-the-Year material? In my defense, I have to pick the thing up to hit snooze, and it’s hard not to notice the blinky light.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

The most urgent task is the need to urinate. I don’t think the day would be off to a very good start if I didn’t attend to that one.

After that, making my daughter’s lunch is the most important for three reasons: First, if I failed to prepare her lunch, she would go hungry at school, and since I’ve seen my child hungry at home, I wouldn’t wish it on any one of her friends or teachers. Second, if I neglected to make her lunch, my wife would find out about it (probably from my snitch of a daughter) and then she’d make me feel bad about it, as she does literally everything else to get our daughter prepared for school every morning, and I have one job that takes about two minutes. Third, I would actually feel bad about it, and feeling bad about yourself is no way to start your day.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

I take one of those insulated tumblers that everyone ripped off of Yeti to school and fill it up. We’ve got this ice machine in the office that is supposed to be used to fill baggies for all the kids who claim to be injured, but everyone just uses it for their water. Then I fill the tumbler in the One Good Drinking Fountain that all schools have; ours is by the gym, and it has one of those bottle filler spouts and a little display that tells you how many evil plastic bottles you just saved the Earth from. So that makes me feel like I’m doing my part, I guess. We also have a water cooler (which makes me wonder if there’s something toxic in the water the kids have to drink), but I don’t use that because we’re supposed to chip in ten bucks to use that water, and I’m too cheap and also not a big enough water snob to participate.

So, to answer the question, water at about 8:15am.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

I have a wife who gets up before me, partly because she has to leave the house earlier than me to take our daughter to school before she herself goes to work, and partly because she takes much longer to get ready to leave the house.

We built our current house four years ago; after living in a much smaller space with a much smaller bathroom, we had a double vanity installed so we can both be in there at the same time, which we usually are. She’s at the sink doing things with her face and hair that I don’t understand, while I’m behind a glass partition getting blasted with too-hot water and steaming up her mirror.

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

My routine is completely different on the weekends. I probably get to bed at about the same time, but I sleep an extra hour or two if I can get away with it. I turn the alarm off the night before, so there’s no chance of interrupted sleep.

Once I’m up, I rarely shower until later. I usually head out to the living room and do something with the blog. Eventually, I might work out. I eat eggs and meat for brunch at about 11:00am. My wife and daughter also like their sleep, so lazy weekends are the norm unless we have responsibilities.

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

Sure. Since my routine is basically to sleep as late as possible, shower quickly, not eat, and get out the door, I can do that anywhere. I’m low-maintenance.

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

It’s pretty hard for me to fail at my morning routine, which, if I were writing a book on the subject, I might loftily claim is the secret of my success.

Admiral William McRaven has a book called Make Your Bed, which is partly based on a speech he gave somewhere about the importance of making your bed after getting up. He made the point that making your bed first thing in the morning was a good way to accomplish something right away. It was a nice little positive kickstart. If nothing else went right, at least you had that. So I’ll steal that idea. My routine is so simple anyone could do it, and executing something as soon as you get out of bed sets you on a path to success for the rest of the day. So my day is never ruined because I can’t get to the gym, or because my meditative trance is broken by a balky smoke alarm, or because I ran out of K-cups and can’t have my coffee. I can count on every day starting off the way I expect it to because it takes very little to execute my morning routine.


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