Lately, I’ve been waking up around 4:40am. I used to get up at 5:30am, but my wife gets up at 4:30am, so I finally decided to stop pretending that I can fall back asleep for another hour after her alarm wakes me up. I’ve found that it actually works better this way, because my most creative period of the day is always between 5:00am and 9:00am.
After I crawl out of bed, I turn the air conditioner off in our bedroom, make a pit stop at the toilet, and tiptoe out to the kitchen - being careful not to wake my sleeping kids.
Next, I start the coffee maker and go to the fridge to retrieve the water bottle I filled up the night before. A singer friend once told me that you’re supposed to drink a glass of water before anything else (especially coffee) in the morning because it protects your vocal chords. I’ve never bothered to verify the science behind it because, frankly, I just don’t care. And since I couldn’t carry a tune if it were stapled to my eyelid, it is a bit ironic that I follow advice meant for professional singers. But I do give speeches for a living, and I figure if J-Lo is willing to protect her career by taking out a seven-figure insurance policy on her butt, the least I can do is choke down a glass of water every morning, just in case there’s something to it.
Once the coffee is ready, I go out to our screened-in terrace and plop down on the loveseat; always facing outside and sitting sideways with my back against the arm of the loveseat, my rear on one cushion and my feet on the other. I usually spend the next 30-60 minutes doing some kind of prayer/meditation and journaling. This part of my routine has been in effect for a solid decade now, but how exactly I do it and for how long still changes from week to week. It almost always involves reading something and then writing my thoughts about it.
Over the years, the reading has included everything from the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad Gita to the Bible and various works of Stoic philosophy. The one common thread has always been that it is some kind of spiritual text or at least “timeless” wisdom literature. That means no current events, no how-to advice, no productivity tips, no science; all of that comes later in the day. In a nutshell, early mornings are for Marcus Aurelius and Jesus; late mornings are for Stanley Milgram and NPR. For the last couple of years, the early morning routine has had more of a spiritual/mystical flavor to it rather than philosophical or wisdom-based.
Whether it’s reading, praying, or just closing my eyes and trying to pay close attention to the birds and the frogs chirping and croaking outside, the point is always to try to get in touch with something bigger than me: call it the Holy Spirit, the Force, the Field, or whatever you want. In some weird, paradoxical way, spending the first part of each morning focusing on decidedly transcendental topics actually keeps me grounded during the rest of the day. It reminds me that 95 percent of the things I’m going to instinctively want to flip my lid about during the day ahead just aren’t that big of a deal. It also helps me to not take myself too seriously, to keep myself humble (always a constant battle for a narcissist who gets paid to dish out advice), and to generally not be a d-bag to the people and the world around me.
For the past two months, I’ve been experimenting with “officially” signaling the end of prayer time and the start of the workday by jumping into a pool or taking a cold shower. I’m the world’s biggest weenie when it comes to cool temperatures, and even though Puerto Rico never gets anywhere close to what the average Northerner would consider “cold,” the water is a bit chilly at 6:00am. It snaps me to attention and hits the reset button on my brain.
After the polar plunge (okay, technically it’s more tropical than polar, but it still feels cold to me so back off, alright?), I go back to my office to start writing. For the past six months or so, when I first sit down, I’ve been reading the messages on the bulletin board hanging above my desk. I once read that Colin Powell stuck notes with his favorite bits of wisdom under the glass cover on his office desk so that he wouldn’t forget certain guiding principles (kind of like the guy in Memento, except less tattoo-y). Initially, my bulletin board started out something like that - scraps of paper with bits of wisdom, some short-term goals, and sketched diagrams for ideas I’m working on. But it quickly grew to include notes of a more… well, motivational nature.
I can say two things about this part of my morning routine. First, it works. I feel bolder, more confident, and more productive after reading the bulletin board.
Second, if I found the exact same notes on the office wall of one of my friends, I would a) laugh hysterically and then b) ruthlessly heckle him via text message approximately every day for the rest of his natural life. As such, if you thought I was going to divulge the contents of my notes on a public venue such as this, you are mistaken. But if you’re really dying to know, think Ross from Friends leaving a voicemail for himself and (sadly) you’ll be in the ballpark.
Then I write for the next three hours.
Sometime between the hours of 6:00am and 7:30am, one or all of my kids pop into my office to say “hi.” I used to forbid this. So did Stephen King until he nearly died in an accident. He then decided that the small productivity gains in his writing weren’t enough to offset those more valuable moments with his family. (Apparently, writing The Shining wasn’t enough to convince him that writers shouldn’t be isolated.) I have come to agree with him. Besides, taking parenting advice from the King of Horror just seems like the smart thing to do.
Lastly, a little before nine, I run to CrossFit, which puts the fork in my morning routine.