My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired

no title has been provided for this book
Category: Skills
Publisher: Portfolio
Published: 5/15/2018
Marie Kondo performs a quick tidying ritual to quiet her mind before leaving the house. The president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ed Catmull, mixes three shots of espresso with three scoops of cocoa powder and two sweeteners. Fitness expert Jillian Michaels doesn’t set an alarm, because her five-year-old jolts her from sleep by jumping into bed for a cuddle every morning.

Book Summary - My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired by Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander

Key Insights

What are the most productive and prolific people doing with their mornings that others aren’t? To find answers, Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander interviewed 64 successful people, including Olympic medalists to best-selling authors, on their early morning routines, from getting into the pool at 6 AM to spending the morning without digital devices. In this book you’ll find proven habits, both intersecting and unique, that prepares you to have a good day every day.

Key Points

Morning routines can be adapted to your specific needs, and inspiration can be drawn from the routines of productive people.

For those who aren’t morning people, mornings can feel like the most unpleasant part of the day. Many people who don’t consider themselves “morning people” rush through their early hours, arriving at work exhausted and disorganized.

However, not everyone interviewed for My Morning Routine is a morning person. Regardless, they started each day intentionally with routines crafted around their needs, productivity levels, and the things that bring them peace.

The authors write that in order to build a routine that’s sustainable, you have to build it and then evolve it around your particular lifestyle balance. The habits detailed aren’t universal, but suggestions to consider. In deciding whether to meditate at 5 AM or fit in writing before 10 AM, the authors suggest listening to your instincts and choosing a routine that’s unique to you.

To give yourself enough time, start by setting alarm 5 minutes before your usual time and skip the snooze button.

A successful morning routine involves giving yourself enough time to prepare for the day but setting your alarm clock much earlier than you’re used to could make it even more difficult to get up early. The authors suggest starting to carve more time out of your mornings by setting the alarm five minutes before your normal wake up time. Ease yourself into waking up earlier by adding five minutes to your routine every successive week.

This way, when the alarm rings, you’ll be less likely to reach for the snooze button. In fact, merely 34% of the interviewees hit snooze in the mornings. Though you may believe the extra five minutes of sleep are helpful, in reality, you’ll feel more tired than if you’d gotten up the first time. The authors compare it to revving a car engine before putting it into drive— you haven’t moved yet but you waste gas either way.

The quality of your morning will affect the rest of your day. Beginning the day with self-care prepares you for the emotional trials of the day.

Before jumping into your workday, give yourself some time to meet your personal needs. The workday often involves dealing with the demands of other people, so take the morning to do things that bring you peace. Many of the people interviewed start by making their bed, putting digital devices aside, and listening to soothing music. By slowing down, you protect your fragile well-being which can be frayed by the fast-paced demands of the workweek.

Author Caroline Paul begins her morning slowly at 6 AM by reading a book or an issue of the New Yorker with a cup of tea, in preparation for a few hours of writing. James Freeman does something similar, reading the New York Times in bed with his wife before beginning their workout routines.

Illustrator Yuki Shimizu takes the slower train to work to make more time for reading, a task that she struggles to fit into her day otherwise. She reports this intentionally slow introduction to the day as a calming influence on her life.

Your best work of the day can happen in the morning. Set aside this time to work on something important to you and schedule lesser tasks for later in the day.

Many of the people interviewed reported they are the most productive during the earliest hours of the day when their brains are fresh.

Photographer Andre Wagner uses these productive hours by getting out the door and photographing the early morning light every morning. He gets much of the most important part of his work done before the rest of the world wakes up.

Shame Parrish, the founder of Farnham Street, also finds mornings to be the most productive working block. With a coffee in hand, he works on the two or three priority projects of the day. He doesn’t check e-mail or get breakfast until he’s finished a “good chunk of work”.

Sheena Brady, another founder, allots the time between 7 AM and 11 AM for her company Tease Tea before spending the rest of the day at her day job.

Make the most of this productive time by scheduling an important and exciting task for these early hours. The authors recommend making a to-do list the night before so that in the morning you free your mind from worrying about how to spend your time.

To protect this precious time, the authors suggest scheduling less intensive tasks like responding to e-mails or taking phone calls for later in the day. This way, you can spend this naturally productive concentrating on urgent or engaging tasks.

There are, naturally, exceptions to the rule. An important part of L. Rafael Reid’s job as the president of MIT is to stay on top of worldly news. He starts his day by checking his e-mail and the news to brief himself on the state of the world before showing and eating breakfast. This way, he feels he hasn’t missed something important.

To mimic Olympic athletes, start your day with a workout.

79% of the people interviewed for my morning routine worked out every day. Although some preferred exercise in the later hours of the day, many of them get a sweat in early, finding this the easiest way to fit a daily workout into a busy day.

Olympic medalist Caroline Burckle makes her way to the gym at 5:30, where she swims for several hours. She finds this early exercise to be a way of meditating, preparing her mind and body for the day ahead.

Not all of us have the stamina to work out for several hours in the morning before the sun has risen. The authors explain that you’re more likely to stick with your routine if you introduce working out slowly and carefully. If an early run seems out of the question, do a set of push-ups when you wake up or some jumping jacks while waiting for your kettle to boil. Then, you can gradually increase the time you spend on a workout over time.

Julie Zhuo, a former VP of product design at Facebook and best-selling author fits 10 minutes in with a cross-fit trainer each day. The sessions are so short that they’re as easy to fit in as a walk around the block.

The authors also recommend alternating your workout routine throughout the week. Retired U.S. Army General and author Stanley McChrystal start the day at 4 AM alternating between running and weight-training, reporting noticing a difference in his fitness and motivation when he alternated between the two. He makes sure to lay his work-out gear out in the bathroom so he can throw it on and get going first thing in the morning.

What’s important, the authors note, is finding a time that fits and sticking with it in the long-term. Exercise improves well-being if it’s consistently practiced, so find a time that works with you, but not fretting if you miss a few days or take some days off.

Sherry Lansing, an executive at Paramount Pictures, alternates between Pilates and running four days a week, but sometimes misses her routine on days that seem too difficult. By building in off-days, she doesn’t feel guilty.

Sarah Kathleen Peck, another professional swimmer, starts her swims at 6:50 and finishes by 8:15. She allows herself to sleep in several times a week and takes her Sunday mornings off.

Start your day with calm and clarity by regularly practicing meditation.

Meditation has many known benefits, from stress relief to stronger concentration. Over 50% of the book’s subjects reported meditating or practicing mindfulness as part of their morning routine.

Author Ruth Ozeki practices her meditation for half an hour every morning. She considers this the most important part of her day, a Zen Buddhist priest in her downtime.

Pixar Studios president Ed Catmull spends his morning meditating for up to an hour and has been meditating every day for years. He finds this the most effective way to quiet his thoughts and avoid ruminating on problems for long periods of time.

The founder of Wild Food Cafe, Aiste Gazdar uses his meditation time to become aware of his subconscious and the ways it’s affecting his conscious life. By acknowledging the problems held onto by the subconscious, he’s able to put them into perspective and privilege feelings of gratitude in his life.

Many people feel meditation is not for them, but the authors offer simpler ways to practice mindfulness at the beginning of the day. They suggest trying a guided meditation app or taking a few minutes to focus on your breathing in bed, noticing the thoughts that arise.

Mindful practice can be integrated into an existing routine without any extra steps by paying attention to your surroundings and thoughts in mundane moments. Focus your awareness on every step of the process while washing your face or brewing coffee or think of a mantra to repeat while running or exercising. By focussing and staying present, you’re automatically meditating and can bring clarity, focus, and control to the incoming day.

Your evening routine is just as important as your morning routine.

The morning is an excellent opportunity to relax, and you can relieve demands to organize the next day by preparing the night before.

This preparation can involve small chores that will make the next day easier and more pleasant. Tidy the house, set out an outfit, and set up the coffee maker in the kitchen to make these rote chores mindless in the morning. Make a to-do list of your important activities for the next day so that you immediately know the direction of your day upon waking.

Maria Konnikova, a writer and psychiatrist jot down notes in her planner the night before, although she rarely refers to it the next day. By setting her intentions beforehand, she can recall what she needs to accomplish the next day and focus on drinking her tea and then practicing yoga.

The authors recommend taking time to do relaxing and enjoyable things in the evenings, helping yourself get a better night’s sleep.

Jose Luis Vinson takes a cup of chamomile tea before bed to wind himself down and stay hydrated through the night.

Marie Kondo, author, and organizer straightens her house before diffusing calming essential oils on the back of her neck.

Jenny Blake, an author, and speaker get into bed, writes down the things she’s grateful for, and asks herself questions about the successes and highlights of her day.

Bob Moore, the founder of Bob’s Red Mill, enjoys a book in the evenings and then picks out his outfit for the next day. He regularly finds himself inspired and engrossed by his history books, waking up in the night to continue reading.

A good night’s sleep is essential for a good morning routine, giving you the energy to do perform. The authors point out that although many claims they can function on less than seven hours of sleep, most people need between 7 and 9 hours to fully-function the next day.

Brad Feld, a venture capitalist, used to go to bed late and get up at 5 AM every day. He thought he could spend the weekends catching up on sleep, but eventually found himself miserable and spiraling into a depression from exhaustion. These days, he sleeps until his body wakes him up naturally, normally at 9 AM.

Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post, experienced a similar period of exhaustion, resulting in her passing out at work and breaking her cheekbone on a desk. She religiously practices her morning routine, putting away all digital devices, and enjoying a hot bath with candles. She makes sure she’s asleep by midnight every single night.

To get better sleep, try and get to bed early and find a consistent-waking time. Make your bedroom ideal for sleeping by making it dark, quiet, and cool, and invest in a high-quality mattress and pillow.

Try and avoid screens near bed-time, since the blue-light emanated can keep you awake and alert. Instead of internet usage, opt for a book or quality time with a loved one.

Parenting will inevitably change your morning routine, so adapt it to your family’s needs

Any parents know that once children come along, old routines become irrelevant. Parenting means becoming adaptable, but it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a morning routine.

Instead, adapt to the changing needs of your family. You can continue to use the mornings to carve out a rare hour to your personal projects or well-being.

Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General, gets up before his young twins wake up at 7:30 AM. He gives himself one to two hours of personal time to relax or get work done.

Once kids wake up, the authors found that when the interviewees put away digital devices, of which they saw plenty of during the workday, and spent the morning time focussing on the kids, they felt better about their family lives. Breakfast is a natural time to share a meal together, and carving out time to play or talk can improve your relationship. By giving your children a sense of routine, you provide them a sense of security and consistency.

Twitter co-founder uses the hour before work to spend quality time with and play with his son. They used to build legos together but they’ve switched to playing Minecraft. Emily Schuman, the founder of Cupcakes and Cashmere, spends at least an hour in the morning reading to her 2-year-old daughter, before laughing and playing together. This start to her morning reminds her of the important things in life.

When traveling, embrace change, and adapt your routine instead of skipping it. Preparing for disruption will make you more flexible.

Routines can be especially difficult for those who often travel. Traveling removes you from the stable environment that’s helpful when establishing a routine, so it’s easy to want to abandon it altogether. But the authors found that by preserving the routine even in the face of change, the interviewees continue to reap the benefits of a routine by finding an hour or two for the things they value, even if it’s at unexpected times.

Cameron Russell, a model, and activist travels constantly for her job but preserves her morning routine anyway. She makes sure she always makes time for the things she values, fitting reading into her hectic travel schedule.

Peter Balyta, the president of Texas Instruments Inc., also travels consistently. He fits in a workout by tailoring it to his environment, whether it be a run to look at the landmarks in a new city or improvising workouts with the hotel room furniture.

Even without travel, there are always days that will bring unexpected interruptions. Many of the successful and busy people interviewed know how often their routines can be disturbed by their other responsibilities. To avoid this throwing of the rest of their day, they prepare for disruption.

Austin Kleon, a best-selling author, says he welcomes disruptions as an interesting break from his routine. He embraces these moments as unique opportunities but makes sure to get back on track once the disruptions die down.

Leo Babauta, the founder of the Zen Habits blog also doesn’t mind abandoning his routine in the face of interruptions. Instead, he stays flexible by switching to a mindful morning ritual of slowing down and appreciating whatever task is in front of him.

Columnist and critic Ann Marie Cox is no stranger to difficult and disruptive mornings as someone dealing with bouts of depression. The most important thing, she says, is just to get out of bed on those difficult days. By just showing up for the day, you have something to be proud of, and you shouldn’t feel the need to please anyone else when you fall short of your morning goals. Interruptions happen, and by taking care of yourself, you are also moving towards achieving the ambitions that morning routines are fundamentally designed to support.

The Main Take-away

Mornings are the ideal opportunity to take time for yourself and prepare for a successful day, an open secret known by talented creatives and business people. Tailor a routine to your lifestyle by considering your longterm goals, circadian rhythms, and family life. While every morning routine is different, proven shared elements include waking up early, avoiding the snooze button, working out in the morning, starting off with slow and relaxing activities, and practicing mindfulness. Mornings can also be used to spend time with family before the demands of the workday. Prepare for disruptions of routines by practicing acceptance and trying your best to remain mindful in order to stay focused and calm in the day ahead.

About the Author

Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander are co-founders of where they continue to write about the productivity practices of inspiring people. Spall writes for The New York Times, Observer, Business Insider, and more. Xander works as a product designer and engineer. He works on various start-ups, products, and front-end development finding a balance between engineering, design, and product-making.


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