“I find that checking my phone [in the morning] tramples over my positive vibes, because we all know that checking messages is like rattling a wasp nest.” – Stephanie Lee Share this quote on Twitter

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Stephanie Lee

What is your morning routine?

I always claim that one of my life’s greatest achievements is being able to wake up without an alarm (unless I have a dreadfully early morning meeting - sigh). My body seems to automatically wake between 7:30 and 8:30am most mornings, no matter what.

Wouldn’t it sound nice for me to say that my sheer passion and love for what I do inspires me to jump out of bed every morning? In reality, that’s only half-true. It’s really the thought of breakfast that gets my butt moving.

After throwing on comfortable lounging pants and going through my multi-step skincare routine that I learned from after watching Korean beauty videos, I head straight to the kitchen to boil some water. I like drinking semi-hot water first thing in the morning. This is also when I prepare breakfast.

I resist the call of my phone’s emails and social media first thing. I find that checking my phone tramples over my positive vibes, because we all know that checking messages is like rattling a wasp nest. Instead, I mentally prioritize the first thing I should work on when breakfast is done, which is usually writing.

Perhaps the most important and recent addition to my routine is that I write in the Five Minute Journal while I have my breakfast. In particular, the question of “What would make today great?” has empowered me to think about not only goals I want to accomplish but also little things, like “Call mom to tell her I love her” or “Enjoy Netflix today without feeling guilty.” I find that I’m often so obsessed with “doing” that I don’t stop to think about how doing certain things make me feel or why I do them in the first place. “What would make today great?” changed the game for me.

After that, I make and have my sweet, sweet brain fuel (coffee) and set the timer for an hour to write for my own projects. Then the day is mine.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I’ve only had the privilege of waking up whenever I want in the last year and a half, but waking up for breakfast and coffee have been essentials of my morning routine for at least six or seven years now.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

I’ve cut out more things than I’ve added. I used to work out first thing in the morning to “get it out of the way,” but my weightlifting routine usually sent my energy crashing within a couple of hours. Now, I don’t work out so early in the morning unless I absolutely have to. I also used to check social media pretty much as soon as I woke up, which took too much mental energy out of me so early in the day, so now I keep my phone out of the bedroom.

A recent and awesome addition to my routine is writing in the Five Minute Journal, mentioned above. I have been loving it - not necessarily the journal itself, but the practice of thinking about the day positively.

What time do you go to sleep?

The frequency of my travels messes up my sleep schedule, so it depends.

I usually go to bed between 11:00pm and 1:00am, but I strive to be in bed before midnight. I’ve discovered that my sleep pattern is really subject to the environment and its pacing. In Tokyo and Hong Kong, where there was hardly a difference between 6:00pm and midnight, I picked up night owl habits just because everyone else seemed to be up late at night. When I was in Boise, Idaho, and the North Shore of O’ahu, I automatically went to bed around 10:00pm.

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

By the time bedtime comes, my mind is filled with random thoughts that come to me throughout the evening. This part of my bedtime routine is crucial for me - I have to banish those thoughts from my head. If I don’t take the time to tease them out, I can’t sleep peacefully because I get too excited or too anxious about losing them.

I therefore spend between 20-30 minutes free-writing my thoughts in a journal (nothing fancy - just something I bought from the dollar store). This has been a meditative and uninhibited form of creative expression for me in which I can actually feel present. It’s liberating because I don’t have to think about who’s reading it. It’s all mine!

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

Breakfast is usually a bowl of piping hot oatmeal mixed with protein powder and milk. As you can probably tell, I like hot foods and drinks more than cold items.

When I’m traveling I am more flexible with my breakfast choices and usually go with the city or country’s indigenous breakfast. For example, in Japan, I often had a thick piece of toast with jam and egg whites. Whatever the breakfast, though, I always make sure to include protein.

Do you have a morning workout routine?

Working out is definitely as important to me as breathing, but I now schedule it as a midday break to help me recharge and just, y’know, actually leave the house for a bit.

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

As a cartoon guy falling off a cliff would say, “Noooooooooooooooooooo.”

No email in the morning for me. In recent years, I’ve learned that email is a poor use of my fresh morning brain, which brims with creative energy and willpower. Of course, I’m lucky enough to be in a position where I know that ninety-nine percent of the emails I receive overnight aren’t so pressing that they must be answered, or else!

I check email a few times in the day, once I’ve been awake for a few hours. I start drafts by typing “Hi so-and-so…,” so I know that I need to reply but not until much later in the day.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

Eating breakfast, and making sure I write for myself before I write for others.

What and when is your first drink in the morning?

Semi-hot water, then coffee.

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

If nothing I’m working on is particularly nagging at me, I let myself sleep in on Saturdays. I might also make a fancy breakfast like waffles or pancakes.

For the last year, I’ve claimed Saturday as a day for me and the things that I want or have been wanting to do. It’s something I call “F*** Yes! Saturday,” which is the philosophy behind my website.

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

Although I’m based in Los Angeles, I come and go as I please like a traveling, nomadic freelancer (a.k.a. digital nomad), spending many of my days elsewhere, like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, or London. I make it a point to set up a new “home base” wherever I am by establishing norms like a morning routine, and I work from there.

As the environment differs, the nuts and bolts of my routine often get thrown out the window. I have to fight hard to re-establish those vital elements of my routine, such as eating breakfast and getting coffee.

It sounds simple, but the actual preparation and system behind getting breakfast and coffee looks very different and requires a whole new series of steps from place to place. Whenever I go someplace new, I have to spend a week figuring out the how part of my routine and establish that feeling of familiarity.

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

Not having a morning routine is like leaving the house without pants on. It’s just weird. The morning routine keeps me grounded and gives me momentum to stay focused and productive.


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