What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 5:30am and very, very quietly leave the house (I have two small children), run five kilometers to my office, shower, and get dressed.
Once I’m at the office I tackle the hardest part of the entire day—deciding on the one-three things I want to accomplish before I go home. (Hopefully I’ll accomplish more, but if it comes down to it, these are the essentials.) From 7:00-11:00am, I have four hours of “monk” time as Cal Newport calls it in his book Deep Work. During this time, all notifications are switched off and I permit myself only to write, read, and think.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
This routine is the reason I was able to write Be More Pirate in just twelve months. This year has been more chaotic than most. I had never launched a book before, and how much there is to do took me by surprise.
Another major change is that I’m also back to being a one-person band. This time last year I was CEO of a one-hundred-person organization, but now I’ve got to do my own contracts, social media, finances, and administration, as well as the actual making stuff bit that I love.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I used to make long lists and get frustrated when they were never completed. Then I realized it’s about trying to “do less better” and finding maximum impact opportunities. So, now I try to write a list of no more than five things. (In the last couple of years I’ve realized that if I could write a list of just one thing, that would by far be the best way to start the day.)
What time do you go to sleep?
Between 10:00-11:00pm, usually. I aim to get 6-7 hours of sleep as often as possible.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I put out the following things for the next morning the night before:
- My clothes, so I don’t wake up my wife
- My running kit, so I can’t back out of it
- My glasses, wallet, etc., so I don’t forget them
- My phone, so it’s charged (I never take it to bed)
It’s all to give me the impression (albeit a false one) that when I get up at such an ungodly hour, the day is already running smoothly.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning?
I’ve spent days researching the best wrist-worn alarms—sort of a Fitbit with a vibrating alarm. Our small Victorian house, plus two small children, plus the wife I want to keep happy, plus the fact that I hate having my phone by the bed, equals no noisy alarms.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
Water (often with lemon juice squeezed into it) before the run or walk to work. At work, I have a coffee whilst going over that day’s priorities. After that, porridge or toast so I’m not distracted during the focused work.
And about twenty cups of tea (no exaggeration). Sometimes I make two cups of tea at once if there’s not a big enough mug available. Yes, I’m British, why do you ask?
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I like to run or walk in the morning. Gyms in the early morning are full of bright people doing brightly lit things, which no one should be exposed to before at least a dozen cups of tea! I might get up early, but in a private sort of way. People who get up at dawn and make a big deal about it are not to be trusted.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
I used to have one and I loved it. It was the fifteen-minute daily mindfulness on Headspace, and even though I know it was good for me, I’ve found it stressful to be mindful this year. Counterintuitive or completely daft? I know, but with the book launch, the reinvention of my career, my new baby, etc., I can’t handle fifteen minutes of not thinking. I need to think and win every second of every unforgiving minute. (I realize I sound like a freak as I write this.) I hope to get back to it next year.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
Email is a losing battle for masochists. I created a folder called “actively ignore,” and towards the end of the day I put mostly everything in there, so at least I feel I’ve exerted some degree of control over the otherwise tyrannical rule of the inbox. If there’s a worse way to organize your time than starting with your inbox, I’d like to hear it.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I took all the apps (Instagram, Twitter, email, etc.) off my phone, and it’s enhanced not just my morning routine but my life by a long ways. The early morning compulsion to check status updates, notifications, followers, and so on becomes the crack habit of the soul if not kept in check.
Humanity at its lowest ebb is finding yourself sat doing a poo before 6:00am while checking Facebook.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Getting out of the house without waking anyone up. Getting into a positive state of mind. Deciding what action is going to make the biggest difference, and agreeing with myself to achieve it.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
A big glass of cold water, ideally with fresh lemon squeezed into it. Then, after the run or walk, a large coffee. (I’ll stop mentioning the tea.)
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
If I don’t wake her up, it’s all good. If I do, it’s not.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I haven’t had a lie-in for six years, except for one Father’s Day. My body clock tends to wake me up at 5:30am, so this is my one chance to meditate, reflect, and think on the week. But really, I’m just waiting for one of my daughters to wake up. From that point on, Saturday and Sunday mornings are for playing with them, reading books, baking cakes, or going wherever the mood takes us. We usually get in a few good hours whilst giving my wife a proper lie-in after the week.
Once everyone’s up, if we don’t have plans, it’s breakfast together and then, before the day kicks in, I like to go to the gym (when it’s not busy and I’ve had enough tea to face the bright people and bright lights).
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
I travel a few times a month and find it very hard to follow the same routine because the goal is always to get to the next place or to get home by the kids’ bedtime. So the “monk” time usually becomes the journey time.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
If I don’t edit the day’s priorities, if I’ve succumbed to anxiety, or (worst of all) if I’ve decided to clear my inbox, then the day is fatally flawed. If I fail, I’ll be in catch-up mode for the rest of the day, with an air of awkwardly catching up but never achieving it that even Sisyphus would find exhausting… which, to be honest, is today.
I love the idea of a morning routine, and when mine works those are my best days. But the routine is only one part; it’s the discipline, determination, and dedication to stick to it that matters.