This week I hone a morning routine

20110429-joggers
Photo by Aquabumps

Most mornings I wake up (no alarm; between 6 -7 am) and drink a dromedary’s hump worth of hot water. While doing this I check emails and read my feeds. Then I exercise (20-60 minutes). Then I meditate, shower and eat breakfast. It’s the best bit of my day.

Granted, that was all a touch over-sharey (although I did spare you the ablutative bits). But I’m gambling on something I’ve observed over the course of my career interviewing hundreds of philosophers, writers, politicians, scientists and celebrities: everyone – successful or otherwise – likes to share and learn how others do their morning routine. Another observation: successful folk always have discernible, nay rigid, morning routines.

Warren Buffet wakes at 4.30am. Winston Churchill worked in bed until 11am, dictating to his secretaries and taking a whisky and soda before rising. P.G. Wodehouse had to eat coffee cake and read a “breakfast book” – a mystery novel. It is fascinating stuff. How someone starts their day seems to provide the perviest of insights into a person’s acumen. Nay, their soul. We take note, to see if we can launch our days as successfully as they clearly do.

Which is exactly what I did this week.

If you’re one to trawl the blogs, you’d have noticed that a growing number of life hackers have taken to opining the perfect morning routine. They generally agree exercise as close to rising is best. Charles Darwin clambered straight from his bed to his joggers. Get out the door and move before your brain wakes up and has second thoughts, goes the logic.

Uncluttery routines are also best. Leo Barbatua from ZenHabits has spent months paring his back to four things – drink water, reflect on a cushion briefly, read something inspiring, then write. He’s even cut out eating and exercising until midday so that he can get to his day better, faster. LifeClever.com invented “The 10pm Rule” which gets quoted ad nauseum in life-hack communities. It prescribes moving tasks such as grinding your coffee beans to the night before to streamline things further. At 10pm you stop everything and attend to your morning run-up. Nice idea, but personally I’m not someone to know whether I’d rather an Earl Grey instead until the mood strikes.

There’s also consensus that it’s far better to kick off the day with your most creative work. Many writers I know start typing as soon as they wake, before they do anything else. As William Blake said,

“Think in the morning, act in the noon.”

One self-styled life expert I came across says to not “react to anything until 10am”, which they might think to call “The 10am Rule”. That is, first do the stuff that matters to you, rather than knee-jerking out of the gates to the emails and demands of others.

Which makes me worry about my first-thing email habit. Although I also read about a study of top US CEOs that found most checked their emails within seconds of rising. Their argument: it gave them a head’s up on the day ahead, so that they could own it. I guess the trick is to scan, but not react.

From all my perving into other people’s daily beginnings, two truths emerge about morning routines. First, just having a routine works. First thing in the morning, we’re foggy and slant toward stagnancy. A routine gets us moving, no brain required. It gets us out of bed with purpose.

The second, having a technique that sets the tone for the day is key. It provides a launchpad that we own. It gets us sturdy so we’re not knee-jerking. Wodehouse’s “breakfast reading” sets a languid tone. My friend Kersti, a New York lawyer, reads fiction drinking coffee in bed every morning to make her feel less frantic. “It makes me feel I can do the day without losing myself.” My mum used to escape us kids by sitting in the loo to collect her thoughts. Benjamin Franklin dedicated 5-7am to the question,

“What good shall I do this day”.

This week I decided to change very little about my morning routine. It launches me just fine. Except I now pause for two minutes at the end of it and feel for the tone, the flavour. Then I hold it for as long as I can, before I lose myself to the knee-jerking.

What’s your morning routine trick? Share!

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