What is your morning routine?
I usually wake up between 6 and 6:30am. I live in New York City, so I have blackout curtains to keep my room pitch black, and a sunrise alarm clock brings enough brightness into the room to slowly wake me up.
After waking up, I make a cup of coffee (Keurig), turn on an acoustic playlist that plays in all the Sonos speakers throughout the apartment, and then spend 30-60 minutes reading non-fiction on my Kindle. Usually it’s a book on management, leadership, personal development, or behavioral psychology.
I try to spend those 30-60 minutes sitting in various positions (chair, squat, split stretch) to work on my mobility. I then use the Headspace app to meditate for fifteen minutes, seated comfortably on my couch.
Next, I sit down at my computer and try to write uninterrupted for 2-3 hours: my phone is in Do Not Disturb mode, I’m signed out of my team chat program, I have activated Freedom so all time-wasting websites are blocked, and my favorite playlist on Spotify (a series of vocal trance mixes) is on.
Four days a week, between 10-11:00am, I’ll head to the gym to do a sixty-minute strength training routine, followed by lunch, and then I’ll check in with my team and start my afternoon.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I’ve been following this particular routine for nearly two years.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
When I first started my website, I would get all of my writing and important work done between the hours of 10:00pm and 4:00am, before waking up at 10:00am and repeating the process.
I initially assumed that I was just a night owl and I could only work after others had gone to bed (and I couldn’t distract myself). However, since signing a book deal two years ago, I implemented environmental hacks (blocking websites, phone in DND mode, etc) to transition myself into a morning person. I simply had to built a system that allowed me to work distraction free.
What time do you go to sleep?
I go to bed between 10 and 11:00pm most nights. If I go out and stay out late on a weekend, I still try to get up as early as possible and then take a nap later on that day to stay on routine.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I don’t have a TV in my bedroom, and I try to read for 15-20 minutes every night before bed. I make sure I’m reading fiction (usually fantasy), as I find if I read non-fiction it makes me come up with ideas and my brain won’t let me sleep.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I use a sunrise alarm clock that slowly gets brighter over the course of twenty minutes before it triggers a bird chirping sound until I turn it off. My alarm clock is clear across the room, so I have to get out of bed to turn it off. I don’t snooze or lay in bed - when I get up to turn the alarm off, I’m up.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I actually don’t eat breakfast. Other than a cup or two of black coffee, I don’t eat my first meal until after my workout (see my article on intermittent fasting).
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I have a regular workout routine, but my morning involves some basic mobility work to improve my flexibility and mobility: sitting in a squat, neck and joint rolls, forward bends, downward dogs, and a few other poses.
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practice?
Meditation is something I’ve flirted with off and on for years - I’ll go a month without meditating, and then go a month meditating for fifteen minutes every day. I’ve found the most success following the guided meditations in the Headspace app.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
If I’m behaving, I don’t check email until after my morning writing session. I know that all it takes is one email to get me lost in busy work and ruin my morning, so I do what I can to block Gmail (and don’t have it on my phone) in the morning so that I get the most important task (usually writing an article or working on my book) out of the way before I can be distracted.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
When I need to be really productive on my computer and write articles (which involves searching the internet for research or studies), I use a program called Freedom (mentioned above) to block all time wasting websites (YouTube, Gmail, Imgur, Facebook, BuzzFeed, etc).
I wrote my book using a program called Scrivener, which has a daily word count progress bar that I needed to fill up every day. After being afraid to start my book for months, it was this method, breaking the goal down into a minuscule word count every day, that allowed me to tackle the project and finish on time.
I also have a plugin installed on all my computer browsers that disables my Facebook newsfeed. I can still use Facebook for work purposes (checking in on the various groups we have for our company), but I’m no longer distracted by links to BuzzFeed or pictures of babies or YouTube videos of cute animals. This has been a game changer for my productivity.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
I don’t sleep with my phone in my bedroom, but I’ll grab it first thing in the morning to use the Sonos app and get music going immediately upon waking up.
I have all notifications turned off on my phone, don’t have Facebook on my phone, and do whatever I can to not check Instagram, Twitter, etc, but it happens from time to time.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
90% of the time, it’s writing - it’s where I can make the most impact and leverage my best skill to help my company, so I’ve tried to structure my days so that it’s the first thing done before checking email, before the rest of my team is awake, and before I do anything else that could derail my day.
Even if my afternoon is clogged up with meetings or interviews, I know if I write every weekday morning, I am making my company better.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I try to stay on target with my weekends, waking up around the same time. If I stay out late with friends, it might mean I’m not getting to bed until 2-4:00am. On these days, I find I still wake up between 7 and 8:00am without an alarm, and even though I’m exhausted, I force myself to get out of bed and recover with a nap later on that afternoon.
Although I don’t make myself write on the weekend, I do still read and go to the gym on Saturdays.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
These days are tough, as traveling - especially to different time zones - can really throw a wrench in my morning routine… so I plan for it. I try to do more writing ahead of my trip, or spend most of my time creating new content, so when I’m not at my creative best on the road, I can still edit old content and keep us on schedule.
I do my best to follow a similar routine when on the road, working out of hotel rooms or coffee shops in the mornings and using my afternoons to explore or do what needs to be done, but I know I’m just not as efficient on the road so I don’t beat myself up over it.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
I’ve noticed more and more how important this routine is for me to be my best self and create the best value for my team and community. All it takes is one morning meeting or interview and it can ruin an entire day’s worth of writing - my brain rationalizes and says “I only have sixty minutes instead of my normal three hours, better just do some busy work.”
I know that sometimes things happen and my mornings can get thrown off occasionally, so on those days, I just accept it and do my best to clear the rest of the obligations off my plate so I can get right back on schedule the next day. If I miss two days in a row, it makes the habit of creative writing much harder to pick back up. Like a muscle, it needs to be worked out!
Photo of Steve by Will Byington.