“Recognizing that deep creative work doesn’t happen in the mornings for me was key. I now use that time for self care.” – Susan Lin Share this quote on Twitter

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Susan Lin

What is your morning routine?

I wake up at around 7:30am. Mango Roll, my Mame Shiba Inu, sleeps at the foot of the bed and is ready to go when I get up. She has breakfast while I grab a cappuccino from the common area. There is an espresso machine in the complex I live in. She snarfs up her food before I return with my coffee.

I then grab a cardigan with pockets so there’s plenty of room for the keys, dog treats, and poop bags. While having my coffee, I take Mango Roll on her morning walk, which loops through the nearby park and nature trail. I don’t take my phone with me. Sometimes we’ll take longer, especially if there’s another dog that she can play with to burn energy.

When I come back, Mango is released. She drinks up plenty of water and takes a nap by the window. I fix myself breakfast and get ready for work. I don’t look at my phone until right before I leave, and only to check that nothing has come up affecting my commute, and to start the music for my walk. (After getting on the train, I switch to an audiobook.)

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

Six months, since the day I brought Mango Roll home. I’m a night owl and still identify as one, but I knew I had to adjust. Career advancement isn’t possible when the world favors early birds. I’ve tried everything from sleep-tracking to multi-phasic sleep to no avail. But the dog changed everything.

Her walk serves as a meditation for me. If we bump into a compatible dog playmate, even better. Meeting other dog-owned humans is a nice way to start the day. On weekends, I also tend to my growing indoor garden in the morning. I have eighty houseplants at the moment.

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Recognizing that deep creative work doesn’t happen in the mornings for me was key. I now use that time for self care. Sketching and writing are activities that come naturally to me later in the day.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years?

Yes. I have a vision and am making it happen one step at a time. These changes have to do with the night before.

I recently read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. Before getting Mango Roll, I enjoyed sleeping in past 10:00am and even up to 1:00pm on the weekend. That aligns with the book’s findings about a night owl’s natural rhythm and making up for weekday sleep debt on the weekend.

The book also explains why caffeine causes chronic sleep debt. I’ve tried and failed to quit coffee several times. Offboarding caffeine is a struggle because I do like the taste of coffee. However, while I can fathom giving up coffee, I can’t imagine giving up tea.

My ideal morning routine would be scaling coffee down to tea. And making sure I don’t use anything with an LED screen after sunset the night before. In theory, this means my mornings will become easier. In practice, society isn’t set up to make this an easy change. We have a social caffeine and overwork culture to overcome.

Why We Sleep also made society’s discrimination against night owls clear. I’m trading off a productive chunk of time for enough sleep. Too bad systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. Haha, pun intended.

What time do you go to sleep?

In theory, between 10:00 and 11:00pm. In reality, anywhere between 11:00pm and 1:00am. I feel guilty about it, though. I once stayed up until 2:00am to finish an enthralling book. Reading fiction before bed is not a great idea when you can’t stop.

Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning?

I set it just in case. Unless I stay up very late the night before or am depressed, I wake up before the alarm goes off.

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

I eat after walking Mango Roll. This is about forty-five minutes after I get up. I enjoy making “ten-dollar hipster cafe” yogurt. It’s Greek yogurt, granola, honey, cinnamon, and seasonal fruit. If I’m pressed for time, packet miso soup mix is clutch. You can pop it into a thermos to drink while you travel.

If there’s leftover bread, I’ll make toast. My favorite combination is smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber. If I plan ahead, I’ll indulge in congee. Congee is Chinese rice porridge. I have it with pickled cucumbers, pork floss, century egg, peanuts, seaweed, or green onions.

How does your partner fit into your morning routine?

We’re asynchronous, but sometimes we do end up leaving the apartment together for our commutes. Schedule permitting, I take Mango Roll on a longer walk on his running trail on days when we both work from home.

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

I join a tai chi group on Saturday mornings after my weekend routine. I met them while walking Mango Roll on her route. It’s one of my favorite new habits.

On Sundays, I find myself sleeping in until 9:00am. It’s a funny feeling to experience this shift as a notorious night owl. My new routine has shocked longtime friends. One of them joked, “Susan, you’re ready to become a design leader after all!”

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

I try to do the same when traveling, even if I’m traveling with my dog. The times I go to bed and wake up might be different, but eating breakfast and walking Mango Roll in the morning hold. Friends I visit often ask to join me on her walks.

Anything else you would like to add?

Get a dog. They’re the best forcing function. Better yet, get a Shiba Inu. And make sure you share its Instagram handle with me.

Photo of Susan by Helena Price.

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