Suzanne Gibbs Howard
Suzanne Gibbs Howard is a partner at IDEO, and the founder and dean of IDEO U, a learning platform where anyone can learn to solve anything creatively. She currently lives in San Francisco, California.
What is your morning routine?
During the week, I wake up some time between 6:00 and 7:00am, and as late as possible on weekends. I don’t like to see the hours before 6:00am, so if I need to wake up before then, I lie to myself and set my clock forward and still set my wake up time at 6:00am. This little joke on myself always keeps me happy.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
Years. And the thing about not seeing the hours before 6:00am has been there all my life.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I’m always tweaking my routines and rituals. For example, I’m a morning workout person. If I don’t work out in the morning, it doesn’t happen. And if I don’t get enough exercise, I’m not as nice of a person. (I like to be nice.)
Recently, I’ve gotten back into climbing because I found a great workmate who loves it too. I also started working out with a coach another morning a week. The big idea [for me] is to get exercise in before the day gets too hectic, and to use the sweat to set the stage for greater calm.
What time do you go to sleep?
Sometime between 11:00pm and midnight. My days are hectic straight through until my daughter goes to sleep and I wrap up any work. I need a little time to relax and wind down in the evening before trying to sleep. This might be a glass of wine, spending time with my husband, or even going out for a weeknight social event with friends.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I check in on what’s happening the next day before I climb into bed. Since every day is a little different for me, having a clear sense of what the next morning will be like helps me relax.
I also love my wind-down rituals; some of my favorites include playing cards with my husband, watching some mindless entertainment on demand, reading, hot tubbing, having a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and generally reminding myself that my problems are small.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
The alarm clock is always set during the week. I’m not a snooze-button-hitter; it’s against my religion.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I eat somewhere in the first hour of the day. Often after some exercise and a shower. Breakfast time is family time. Even if I have a breakfast meeting, I still eat at home first because I like to eat eggs and drink coffee while sitting with my wonderful daughter and husband.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
Morning exercise is important to me, but equally important is variety. I blend in indoor climbing, elliptical, a boot camp, and—every once in a while—yoga.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
Over the years, I’ve practiced meditation on and off (I spent a year studying Tibetan Buddhism in a divinity school). Recently, I’ve gotten into using Headspace, usually when I take a morning off of working out, on weekends, and sometimes on public transport. It’s especially useful if I have an extra-challenging day ahead.
When I was studying Buddhism, I learned that even a little bit of meditation goes a long way. Five or ten minutes can have an enormous effect on my day. I also learned to try to calm the stresses of everyday life with little moments of reflection and calm. I’m not saying I have that down by any means. But it sure helps to feel that clarity every once in a while.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I try to stay off social media, email, phone, and text for the first half hour of the morning just to get my head around my larger vision for my day. That’s the ideal, but it doesn’t always happen.
I hate to admit it, but I check email on my iPad while I am on the elliptical. Usually that results in nonsensical e-mails to other people because typing while working out is a very bad idea. At this point, my workmates and friends know what is happening when they get an email that makes no sense from me before 7:00am. It is an annoying habit that I need to break.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
Headspace is fantastic, especially if I have an extra challenging day ahead.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
It helps me have a great day if I sit down with my family over breakfast. Chatting about what we all have going on, while holding a warm cup of coffee, is a happy place for me.
After breakfast I shift gears into work mode, but I sometimes get one more breather. I typically ride my Vespa to work, and whenever possible, I get one last dose of clarity by riding a slightly longer route that takes me down along the San Francisco Bay.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Bourbon at 6:15am. Just kidding! Coffee, at about 7:00am. Did I mention that I love coffee?
How does your partner fit into your morning routine?
My husband is also into morning workouts. So his motivation aids mine. I get my space by getting up earlier than he does because I don’t like to rush in the morning. Rushing in the morning makes the rest of my day feel off balance.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
Weekends are their own thing completely. Being social is central to my wellbeing, as is time outdoors. Weekends are all over the place, and I love that. They keep me creative. I relish getting up without an alarm when I can. Getting up to get outside is not a problem. But I also enjoy going out at night, socializing with friends, dancing, music, great meals, and parties. I will give up sleep for socializing and play.
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 for work some weeks and for fun on weekends. I find creative ways to flex my rituals to fit my mobile life. There’s always some way to work out, breakfast to enjoy, and a warm cup of coffee to hold at breakfast. But coming home is never a bad thing either. The rhythm of my rituals can pick right back up again.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
My rituals flex throughout the week rather than rigidly staying the same every day. If I need to be at work early, and need to skip exercise, it’s no problem. There’s always another day.
Anything else you would like to add?
I think of my mornings as a series of rituals. Rituals set the conditions for my day and help me stay grounded and creative. Exercise, a calm shower, a good breakfast with my family, coffee, and something to get a bit of perspective before the craziness of a regular day kicks in. My rituals always have flex in them because I like every day to be different.
I’m a huge believer in rituals as a means of shaping our days through beliefs and behaviors. Rituals re-boot our bodies and set our minds for resilience. Through IDEO U’s course on Leading for Creativity, I’ve shared teachings about the power of rituals to hold a culture of creativity. And I practice small rituals in my own mornings and throughout the day.
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