“My swimming coach taught me that no one has perfect circumstances — you’re allowed to go on and do incredible things even if you’re not feeling perfect about it.” – Sarah Kathleen Peck Share this quote on Twitter

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Sarah Kathleen Peck

What is your morning routine?

You know, I have a couple of different morning routines, each depending on the day of the week and how the day is structured.

Two or three times a week—usually Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m up and at the pool or off on a run. On those days, I wake up around 6:00am and head to the pool, outdoors for a run, or more recently; to a dance class in San Francisco.

The pattern is pretty similar: I try my hardest to get to bed 6-8 hours before I’m going to wake up, and then my alarm rings, sometime between 5:50am and 6:50am. (Mentally, I never say the word “five” about the time I’m waking up—it’s always “ten to six, or quarter of six.”) I’ll keep as many minutes as possible in bed before waking up; I only need about 10-15 minutes to get out the door.

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When the alarm goes off—this week, at 6:18am, I wake up, roll sideways and check my phone for a minute, then sit up and look out the window. I brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, grab a bit of avocado or a half of a banana (or nothing), and fill up my water bottle. I try to drink a lot of water before I get to the pool. My ride arrives at 6:30. We get to the pool around 6:50. Practice starts at 7:00. We swim a 3,000-3,500 yard set, and it’s over by 8:15. Shower and change and leave around 8:45. Get to work around 9:15-9:30, with the requisite coffee shop (and giant breakfast scarfing) in between.

At least twice a week, however—usually Wednesdays and Saturdays—I let myself sleep in. Especially during the winter months, I can hibernate like a champ. Sometimes I’ll go to bed around 11:00pm or so and stay in bed until 8:20am, jump out of bed when the alarm hits, throw some clothes on and head to work.

Sundays are my “delicious” days. I stay in bed as long as I want, whenever I’m not traveling or doing some big event or race. When I have those Sundays off, I like to stay in bed, watch the sun come up, listen to the traffic outside, and pad to the kitchen in my slippers to get a cup of coffee. Often it will be a decaf coffee, and I’ll sit in my bed and read whatever strikes my fancy. Sometimes it’s an Economist issue cover-to-cover, other times it’s catching up on all the urban patterns and prints I like to study, and sometimes it’s just grazing across all my friend’s tweets and postings and reading some of my favorite blogs.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

This has been my routine for the past couple of years.

In college, I woke up at 5:29am four times a week for morning practice, and on the weekends I was at the pool by 8:00. I feel positively indulgent in my routine today, although it’s still fairly similar—just not quite as rigorous.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I get to sleep more than I did in college! But I’m also pretty minimal in the morning.

I don’t do very much other than grab food, pack my bag, and put some comfortable clothes on. It’s probably the 20+ years of swimming, and having to change in and out of swimsuits and showers that made my routine as minimal as possible. I like to just get up and get going.

What time do you go to sleep?

This is a rhythm, too.

Probably twice a week I stay up late – until midnight or even 1:00am – because I find my stride after work hours and get lost in a writing piece that I’m working on. This happens to me a lot on Friday nights. I don’t usually go out that much (or at least I try not to), and in my college years I developed the habit of “Fridays in, Saturdays out” because we always had 8:00am practice on Saturday morning.

I love the idea that Friday has an extra five hours of time that you can create if you want to use it. Get home from work at 6:00pm, eat a slow dinner or do some stretching, and then work on your favorite project for a few hours. The trick is to make sure that it’s something you really love and want to do, not have to do.

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

I don’t use an alarm that often. On my workout days, I keep one as a backup. I have a hard time sleeping in. I hate snooze buttons. Either get up or don’t!

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

I have a hard time digesting bread products in the morning—cereal has never done it for me. I like to eat something with a lot of fat or protein in it. My favorite breakfast is avocado, kale, and eggs. I feel like Popeye and his spinach when I get my superman breakfast.

If I’m running late – or off to a morning workout – I have a stack of Luna Protein bars, which are wheat-free, low sugar and have some good protein in them. I basically look for foods that burn slowly so they keep me satiated for longer. I can’t go to work and be hungry within an hour – I won’t get enough done.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

My workouts tend to be part of larger “sets” or structural rhythms, usually by season. I tend to focus on an event each season as my workout target – during the summer I’ll do some open water swimming and train more for swimming; sometimes I’ll train for a half-marathon or a run and focus on running workouts; other seasons I’ll focus on dancing. I like to think of my workout goals as 3-4 months out, and then I vary it by season. It’s probably the high school athlete in me – I’m so used to a Fall, Spring, and Summer sport, that I still live by it.

My morning workouts are usually dictated by the season, as well as the availability of what I want to do. Right now I’m doing a lot of new dance classes, and I tend to go to those in the late afternoon or evenings instead.

How about morning meditation?

I love morning meditations. I have a few that I like to do. Sometimes I get out of bed, turn on some quiet music, leave the lights off, and do a “dance wiggle” for a few minutes in the morning. It’s like a lions stretch, a toe touch, and then some loosening up of the cobwebs in my shoulder creases and legs. I love to dance and use my body, so starting the day this way brings a smile to my face.

On my more tired, reflective, or contemplative days, I’ll go sit on my yoga mat under the window for a few minutes with my eyes closed, treasuring the space in my mind quiet.

My third favorite meditation is probably taking a short walk – even just a 20-minute jaunt. On days when my brain is frozen or I feel a bit paralyzed by the hundred-thousand tasks I feel like I have to do, I take time to move through space and breathe in order to help shake and sort out the priorities and discover what’s urgent versus what can wait.

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

Recently I got into the bad habit of checking email in the morning, but it’s a terrible habit. It doesn’t really help with productivity, focus, or my core creativity—which requires a lot of “white space” for thinking and imagination.

I’d rather not check email or messages until 10:00am or so, after I’ve thoughtfully considered the days’ space, my energy, and the big-ticket, longer term items I want to work towards.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Eating. Drinking lots of water. Ideally, moving my body somehow – preferably with a sweat, but sometimes with a walk.

Lately I’ve been paring down my to-do lists from enormous sets of tasks to a simple post-it note with my three “big ticket” items that I really want to work on. Those things that if nothing else gets finished, but I worked on that, I’ll have a sense of deep satisfaction, challenge, accomplishment, or personal happiness. Listening to my gut to discover what those things are has been an interesting exercise, and I’m getting better at finding clarity amidst all the noise of our current connected world.

So in the morning, I jot down those three things, and then I try to get one of them done before 11:00am. There’s something exceptionally satisfying about making progress on your big ideas early in the day.

In a related note, I’ve tried to stop taking any meetings or calls before midday so I can close the door and get those big things done.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Water, usually immediately after I get out of bed. Then tea or decaf coffee, or, 2-3 days a week, a regular cup of coffee. I try not to drink a regular cup of coffee every day.

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

It can be disorienting, but I’ve gotten fairly good at adapting to it. I’ve traveled enough and had enough experiences where I don’t get the right amount of sleep, or something comes up—and that’s life. It’s always a little different. It’s far less predictable than we’d hope.

In college, I had a major swimming competition come up and for personal reasons and reasons out of my control, I didn’t sleep the night before, and I had major asthma attacks all night from chemical imbalances in the pool in Chicago. I went to my coach the next morning, haggard, and said, I feel TERRIBLE. He told me to lie down for 30 minutes, pretend and visualize that I’d gotten the best rest of my life and that it was a champion day, and then come back.

When I came back he said, “Here’s the thing. If you had perfect circumstances, you could own this race. You could win. The bigger challenge is winning even when you’re down—even when you’re fatigued. Get out there and fight, despite the circumstances.” He taught me that no one has perfect circumstances — and you’re allowed to go on and do incredible things even if you’re not feeling perfect about it. Often we get so wedded to a routine that we forget that things can all go haywire and you can still do an incredible job.

Of course I’d rather get a great night’s sleep – but when the routine shifts, I just remember that we’re allowed to shift and respond to it in a multitude of ways.

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