What is your morning routine?
I wake up around 7:00am every morning, stirred not by an alarm clock but by the rustling of our dog, who is looking to go out, take a walk, and get fed. My wife either stays in bed or gets up to feed our infant son as I get up and take our dog for a run or a walk through the neighborhood or parks near our home. By 8:00am, I’ve either stopped at a coffee shop near our home or I’m making coffee at home, measuring and grinding the beans and heating up the water for our Chemex. As I make coffee and feed our dog, I listen to podcasts, usually news shows from NPR, the BBC, and Monocle.
After the coffee is done and I’ve had a quick bite, and I’ve said hello and spent some time with my son, I’m typically out the door to the gym to lift with my trainer or off to start the workday at my home office or at a local coffee shop. The key for me is that I don’t schedule things in the mornings. No breakfasts, no calls, no meetings.
In between that morning bliss, of course, comes email. I check my phone first thing when I wake up to review my email, checking in on any purchases or questions from customers for Foresight and trying to answer anything that can be immediately addressed. Many of my customers are based in Europe or Australia and I want to catch them during their workdays and respond to questions that they’ve likely asked hours ago while I was asleep. I squeeze in email as I get ready to take out my dog; I get a couple emails done while I’m making coffee; and before I leave for the gym, I work on sending emails about things I thought about during my morning dog walk.
I don’t have sharp rules about focusing on me and what I want to get done first thing in the day. Being quick to respond to questions is so ingrained in how I think about email; to me, it’s not a chore but a major form of communication.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
A few major life changes over the last couple of years have altered my morning routine drastically (see below). In its current form, I’ve stuck with this routine since the birth of my son approximately five months ago.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I’ve always been a morning person, loving to wake up and get started before the rest of my life gets going. I used to get up before 5:00am to go to the gym, to write, to run, or to commute, in each case because I simply loved to get going before everyone else. But I’ve moved a lot over recent years - from Virginia to New Orleans to New York to Pittsburgh - and added a wife, a dog, and an infant son, and thus my days have changed drastically. My mornings aren’t purely mine anymore.
The first change came when we got our dog, and my early mornings shifted from getting out the door to go to the gym to getting out the door to walk my dog.
The second change came in moving from New York City to Pittsburgh, which removed a lot of the morning breakfast meetings and shifted my morning walks with my dog around the East Village, visiting our favorite dog-friendly coffee shops, to walks through the parks in our neighborhood, making the coffee at home.
The third change came with the birth of my son this past December. This change was the largest, but all of them have had an impact. The biggest difference is that they’ve limited the scope of things to experiment with because my morning time isn’t just my own. I’m working on getting up earlier, before everyone else, so that I can start focusing on what I want to do before the day starts. I start each work day by outlining my priorities using the 1-3-5 rule; the more I can focus on the 1-3 priorities before my family wakes up, the more I’m able to get done before responsibilities start filling up the day.
What time do you go to sleep?
This year, my goal is to turn the computer off at 11:00pm. I’m not always successful because I find that I often need 3-4 hours of undistracted, focused time to work on building financial models, write articles, or really think and work through problems in my mind; often, that time is only available late in the evening. I try to limit those late evenings to a couple times a week, but my continual goal is to shift those late evenings to the early mornings.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I tend to have ideas or to-dos pop into my mind as I’m getting ready for bed, and I write them down instead of trying to remember them. I will often go to bed thinking about whatever big problem I’m working on solving at the moment. But to be honest, I have no problem falling asleep, and often go directly from working to sleeping.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
For years I used an alarm clock to get me up at 5:00 or 5:30am so I could start the day “on schedule.” But with my recent family and life changes, I’ve ditched my old morning responsibilities and thus, ditched the alarm clock.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
Breakfast for me starts with coffee. I enjoy making coffee for my wife and I at home, and we recently added a new grinder and a Chemex to our toolbox, so I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what beans we’re using, what the coffee should taste like, and what we want that morning.
Breakfast rotates between yogurt and granola, oatmeal, and eggs, usually made at home by me or by my wife. We spend a fair amount of time at home in the mornings, so it isn’t a rushed affair, and we try to enjoy our mornings with the news, breakfast, and our family before we have to move on to our days.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I’ve always been a morning workout person. I prioritize my time for exercise, whether it’s spent on a run or at the gym, above work and other meetings, and I always have. If I don’t work out in the morning, the rest of my day just doesn’t feel right.
Back in grad school, I played racquetball three times a week at 6:00am; when I lived in Virginia, I started my day 4-5 times a week with an hour of cardio at 5:30am; and when I lived in NYC, I went to the gym nearly every day to do cardio and lift at 6:30am.
But now, my workouts are a bit different. For one thing, I don’t start as early; but more importantly, they are less monotonous. I work out nearly every day but do different things. A workout could be as simple as a run with my dog in the morning, or it could be a power-lifting session with my trainer at my gym, or it could be my own self-directed workout, or it could be playing basketball or swimming. As I get older, I try to mix up what I do and focus on doing more in a shorter period of time. The most meaningful difference for me recently was adding in a trainer, which has had the biggest impact on my fitness level of anything I’ve done in a while.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
I’ve tried to make meditation a regular part of my mornings a couple times in my life, but now, with familial responsibilities, I find it hard to get up before my family to create the time for early morning meditation. Instead, that morning walk or run with my dog is how I create and clear the mental space for the day. Being outside, walking in a park, is my way to add mindfulness into my day.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I answer a lot of email first thing in the morning. Since many of my customers and clients are from outside the United States, working across timezones is a constant challenge.
I’ll usually wake up and start the day with customer service questions first thing in the morning. But it doesn’t bother me. Being responsive to questions and helping people quickly is part of what I do, and it’s tremendously valuable for me and my business. I used to work in venture capital, and in that business, being highly responsive to email is a necessity. It’s the same thing for me now; entrepreneurs have important questions, deadlines, and decisions, and they need information and direction quickly so that they can move forward.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I use f.lux on my computer (and the new Night Shift feature on iOS) to manage the color of my digital screens, to try and help both my evenings and early mornings on my devices. I use Post-it Notes and an app called One Big Thing to record my to-dos. I don’t record or track my sleep or my routine, and I don’t use wearables.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
Sadly, I check it nearly instantly after waking up. It sits next to my head on my nightstand, and thus it’s often the first thing I look at, even as I’m still waking up.
I start off by checking the weather to see what conditions will be like for my dog walk or run that morning, and then I do my usual scan of important email. I know that checking email right away is a bad thing because it’s generally bad to introduce a lot of different thoughts into my mind right at the beginning of the day. But I answer what I want and archive or snooze the rest until later in the day. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what I can’t take care of right away, and I’d like to believe that it doesn’t detract from my mental focus for the day.
What I don’t do is check social media in the morning. I don’t have notifications turned on and I have an essentially blank home screen, so I don’t just open my phone and scan mindlessly through a bunch of apps that have things they want to tell me. I check the weather, I check my email, and I close my phone.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Taking care of my family. Gym. And coffee.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
I don’t usually have anything until I get back from my walk or run, and then it’s always coffee. Sometimes I try to make sure and have a glass of water first, but often coffee wins.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
My dog and my son don’t recognize weekends, so my mornings are pretty similar.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
The biggest change for me is if we are traveling. Being in a different place changes our schedule and timing. The gym gets replaced with a morning adventure: a walk through the city, a hike in the woods, a stroll on the beach. We always try to get out the door to enjoy where we are first thing.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
Waking up early usually isn’t a challenge, but sometimes things can get in the way of my morning workout. In that case, I try to enjoy my morning shower, find my focus for what I have to work on, and carve out time later in the day to work out.