Will Bachman: I’ve been working on eliminating routine decisions from my life wherever possible and replacing decisions with habits and routines. One are in particular that I’ve focused on for the past few years is my morning routine. I’ve tried adding and removing elements and experimenting to see what works best for me.
Hey, welcome to Unleashed, the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. Unleashed is produced by Umbrex, and I’m your host Will Bachman.
I often ask guests on this show about their morning routines because I’m fascinated to learn what habits successful people have developed. Why they choose those habits, and how they developed them and what I can steal. There’s a good new book on morning routines, it’s called ‘My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired.’ That is by Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander. Came out in May 2018. I thought the book was great and today I thought I’d share my morning routine, and I’m certainly curious to hear about yours.
My routine certainly will not work for most people. I’m not recommending the routine in particular, but more the idea of having a certain set way to start your day. I like to wake early and go to bed early, probably to such a extreme that some people might consider a little antisocial. My morning routine starts the night before by going to bed on the earlier side. Often, I’ll read to my younger daughter at night, and she’ll fall asleep by 9:00 pm. I’ll carry her to her bed and then go right to bed myself. It has happened that I’ll fall asleep while I’m reading to her and then she goes and finds my wife and tells Margarita that she put daddy to sleep.
If possible, I try to get to sleep by 9:30 or 10:00, and I’m happy to go to bed earlier. It allows me … so when I’m home in New York City, or traveling, I typically wake up at 4:45 am. I will use my phone as an alarm, but more often than not, I wake up a few minutes before the alarm goes off and generally I’ve slept in my running shorts and a tee shirt so I’m already dressed to go running. I walk our standard poodle to Starbucks, which is about a six minute walk, with the goal of arriving there right when they open at 5:00 am. If they opened earlier I might shift my routine.
I’ve experimented with this, and I’ve tried making coffee at home but this part is my preferred routine because, number one, our dog does need to get walked, and number two, I like having that half mile walk to start waking me up, and number three, I like the coffee at Starbucks better than the coffee I make at home.
At Starbucks I tie up our dog, Machu Picchu, outside, and I send 30 to 45 minutes reading a book on the Kindle app on my phone. I found that early time in the morning is, for me, the perfect time to read for a good chunk of time each day. Since the start of this routine I’ve been able to read about a book per week doing this. Typically non-fiction, sometimes fiction. So I’ve been getting a lot more long-term value and insight from reading books in the morning then from reading the newspaper.
Some variations I’ve tried. I’ve tried bringing a physical book with me to Starbucks. I do prefer reading an actual physical book and writing in the margins rather than reading on the phone, but, somehow it’s just too much of a hassle with walking the dog and handling the book, so I tend not to do that and go with the Kindle app. I’ve also tried bringing a journal to the store and writing morning pages, a la Julia Cameron. And that would be probably awesome to incorporate in my morning routine, but I haven’t nailed that yet. Reading, for me, is a good way, as my brain warms up, and I’m not able to really produce or even exercise, it’s a good way to do something that I want to get done, and it kind of eases me into the day. Plus, filling my brain with some kind of new thoughts, exposing me to some new thinking.
As I finish up my Starbucks session, I walk home with the dog, I usually stop at California Market, the fruit and vegetable market near our house, which is open 24/7 because New York City’s awesome, and there I’ll pick up milk, eggs, fruit, vegetables, if we’re low on anything. I drop off Machu Picchu at the house, and the groceries, and then I go on about a three mile run, on the Queens side of the East River, from my house to Astoria Park, running under Hell Gate Bridge and the Triborough Bridge. Usually, on the track at Astoria Park I’ll do about a quarter mile run, as fast as I possibly can, and then I’ll rest again and do it again, and for some, at least a little bit of high intensity training. Other than that track work, I’m not trying to run super fast, I’m not preparing for a race, the goal of the run really is to just wake up my body and get the kinks out of my back.
For years, I woke up stiff and had this stiff back all day, and I tried doing stretching, and it probably would be a good thing to do some yoga in the morning, but the stretching didn’t quite work for me. But I found that a three mile light run totally loosens up my back, it makes me physically alive and flexible throughout the rest of the day, and also more mentally alert and creative. On days when I miss my run, for some reason, I pay for it the rest of the day.
When I get back home I make breakfast, which is the same thing every day. Again, the idea here is to reduce the number of decisions, so I save brain power for more important stuff. For me, I found the ideal breakfast for my body is a half cup of oatmeal I’ll microwave with a cup of water for five minutes, and then I add some frozen blueberries, give it another minute in the microwave to thaw them. During the summer we pick those blueberries at Sengle Farm, near our place in Pennsylvania, and those last for a few months, depending on how ambitious we were. So it’s always fun to be eating the blueberries that we picked over the summer in my morning oatmeal.
While the oatmeal’s in the microwave, I shower, I dress in blue jeans and a tee shirt if I’ll be working from home that day, which I do on most days if I don’t have client meetings. Then, after eating breakfast I go down to my office in the basement and meditate for 10 minutes. I don’t do fancy meditation. I just follow the breath and set a timer on my phone and just try to follow the breath for 10 minutes, I’m not an expert, definitely a beginner at it. I find that the meditation does help me be more focused throughout the day, a little bit better at resisting distractions, a little bit better at observing my own emotions, and a bit better at reflecting before I react.
Then, after meditating, I write my list of action items for the day. I used to do this on a fresh sheet of graph paper and I was very particular about what paper I wanted to use, but now I’m still very particular but I use a soft color lined notebook, which I’ve decided I like better because each day I can create a knew list on a new page, but I can also flip back to the previous list to see if I’ve missed anything. I’m not best practice at this daily task setting. I know I ought to be more rigorous and identify the one big thing that I ought to do that day and do that first and so forth. I don’t that. I just write down everything I can think of that I want to get done that day, and I do star the items that are really, really important that I definitely have to get done.
I get this whole list on paper, I found that to be so important and if I don’t do that, for some reason, it really messes up my day because that allows … it frees up the RAM in my brain, it gets stuff off my brain so I don’t have to worry about remembering all the stuff that I have to do. I know it’s on the paper, I don’t have to worry about it because I’m not gonna forget about it because it’s there. Then it allows me to focus on one task at a time. Then, throughout the day, when new tasks come up, I get an email that I have to react to, I don’t get as distracted by them, I just add them to the list and know that they’ll get done.
Once I’ve written my list I go upstairs and I try to spend at least a little bit of time with each of my kids as they’re eating breakfast, asking them what they have going on that day, how they’re feeling, I tell them that I love them and I give them a huge. Then I catch up with Margarita and we do a check in and we coordinate our days and I give her a kiss. Then after this, the day starts.
The day after that it could be awesome or it could be disappointing, but no matter what happens, if I’ve done my morning routine, I got to read, I got some exercise, I did my mindfulness practice, and I told the four people that I’m closest too that I love them, I prioritize my tasks, and when those things happen, the day counts as a win.
If you found anything in today’s episode helpful, I’ll hope you’ll share it with a friend, or perhaps on social media. How do you start your day? I’d love to hear about it. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you visit our website, umbrex.com/unleashed, you can sign up to get our weekly email list and you’ll get transcripts of every episode, plus some bonus features.
Thank you for listening.