The Morning Routine: How To Start Your Day Like A Boss

Whether you're a repeat snoozer, an early riser, a long shower in the morning, or a dash out of the door kind of morning person, how you start your day often sets the tone for the rest of your waking hours. There's the old adage that the most successful people are early risers, but if you need a few extra winks to power through your tasks for the day, figuring out the right balance can feel like a daunting task.
Need some inspiration? In their book My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired, authors Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander talked to dozens of high-powered people in a variety of industries and lifestyles to see how they manage their days from waking up to powering down. Ahead, Spall and Xander explain how you can take what you need from their examples, and they share three examples from different women in the book.
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Refinery29: Why do you think people are so fascinated by other people's routines?
Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander: "We think this is a combination of wanting to learn how to better ourselves through tips and ideas from other people, while at the same time enjoying the voyeurism that comes with this. We refer to our book as part instruction manual, part someone else's diary, because that's how you begin to feel about it as you go through the pages, reading one routine after another and then, at the end of each chapter, being presented with our own tips, suggestions, and takeaways gathered from the collective wisdom of the hundreds of people we've interviewed about their morning routines over the past five years."
What routines were most interesting to you or surprised you in any way?
Spall and Xander: "We loved Sonia Rao's interview as it was exciting to go deep with a touring singer-songwriter about how she gets herself ready in the morning, especially when she was up late performing the night before! We also loved reading about how three-time Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Soni tries to avoid decision fatigue in the morning, as well as about the one thing that Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, makes herself do before leaving the house every morning (the clue is in her book's title!)."
A lot of different people and industries are represented in the book. Were there any trends or similarities among them?
Spall and Xander: "We found that there's no singular best morning routine for everyone, but there are a lot of trends that come up time and again, which clearly indicate certain things are consistently working for people. For example, we quickly noticed that of all the people we were interviewing, well over 90% of them did not hit the snooze button in the morning. Many used an alarm, even if just as a backup to hedge against oversleeping, but the idea of hitting the snooze button first thing was a complete no-no to them. At the opposite end of the day, we found that a large number of the people we spoke with tidy up their home before going to bed at night to allow them to wake up to a fresh slate. James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, told us that in his house the kitchen is always cleaned and the house tidied the night before. In his words, it's 'gratifying to wake up to a peaceful environment.'"
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What might our readers learn from this book about what it takes to structure a routine that works for them in their professional lives?
Spall and Xander: "The book gives you a peek into the lives of busy, successful people, and makes it simple to replicate what they do, but that doesn't mean you need to replicate any one routine exactly. There's a great line in the book from the writer Shaka Senghor: 'Find a routine that works for you. Do not feel pressured to adjust to other people’s standards of what your morning should look like. Be flexible and know when to pivot to make things as simple as possible for yourself.' Don't feel you need to change your whole routine all at once. Keeping your routine short and easy to accomplish, especially in the beginning, will greatly increase your chances of sticking to it over the long term."
The following slides are excerpted from My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired by Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
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Sonia Rao
Singer-songwriter

"I wake up at around 8 a.m. and usually lie there for a mo­ment trying to remember my dream, and thinking about the day ahead. I’ll then shower and get dressed. Even though I work from home most days, I still like to get dressed for the day right away.

"I have breakfast, meditate for 30 minutes, and free-write for another 30 minutes. At 10, I check my email, social media, and phone. I respond to anything that needs a reply, then I turn off my phone until evening. (I turn it back on when I need to call somebody, then I turn it off again.) Phones drive me crazy— I only feel completely present if mine is turned off and put away. I know I sound like a weirdo, but it’s made me much happier to keep my phone off for most of the day.

"At 11, I do vocal warm-ups, practice violin, and work for a few hours. This is my favorite part of the day, when I can put everything out of my mind and focus on music. Right now I’m preparing for a tour, so I’m working on my live set. After touring ends, instead of practicing, I’ll use this time for writing new songs.

"At 3 p.m. I have a late lunch, then from 4 to 8 or so, I’ll work on the non-music parts of being a musician, of which there are apparently many. When I first started out, I didn’t realize how entrepreneurial being a musician would be. I love this other type of creativity, but it does take up quite a lot of time."
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Darya Rose
Neuroscience Ph.D. & Author of Foodist

"I’m very fortunate to have a home office, so I don’t have a commute. I wake up without an alarm on most days, often with the sunrise. I usually have coffee and hot muesli with cinnamon and unsweetened hemp milk for breakfast. If possible I like to meditate for 30 minutes after breakfast, before check­ing email. I never check email before breakfast. Email is one of those things that can easily seep into your life and add stress to everything.

"The key realization for me was that there’s no point in opening email unless I can actually do something about it in the moment (for example, it is hard to send important documents from my phone, so I wait until I’m at my computer). When I see emails that I can’t take care of, my mind starts thinking about them, and I can’t let go of them until I take action. I knew this intuitively, but it became incredibly obvious to me when I started meditating.

"When you meditate you try to focus on one simple thing, like your breath. When other thoughts come in you just ac­knowledge them and let them go. I noticed that if I had checked email before meditating it was far harder to focus on my breath, with most of my intruding thoughts coming from obligations that I had seen in my inbox. I’ve since found that it’s much better to get focused and centered first, then tackle email later."
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Mellody Hobson
President of Ariel Investments & Chair of the Board of DreamWorks Animation

What is your morning routine?

"Most days I wake up between 4 and 5 a.m., depending on where I am (I live in Chicago and San Francisco). I set an alarm but I often wake up before it sounds. Before I get out of bed, I check for any urgent emails or news alerts.

"I dedicate the beginning of my day to my workout and then to reading newspapers. I read physical papers every morning. I like hard copies ver­sus reading online. I read The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and recently I have added in the Financial Times. If I’m in Chicago, I also read the Sun-Times. If I have an appearance on the CBS Morning Show, I can wake up as early at 1 a.m. PST to begin the process of hair and makeup, as well as any neces­sary preparation.

"My [workout] routine varies based on where I am waking up. Through years of constant traveling, I have been able to de­velop routines in every major city. I run, lift weights, swim, and spin. If I am not able to exercise, I feel a bit foggy throughout the day. Rest and exercise are necessary for me to feel 100%. I eat after I work out. I’ll typically have two hard-boiled eggs and I drink coffee or tea depending on my mood. This is af­ter drinking two liters of water while I’m exercising.

How about morning meditation?

"I do not meditate, however my bath time is essential personal time. I take a bath every morning, and use the time to decom­press and relax. When I am running outside on cold days in Chicago, I run faster on the return leg, thinking about my bath."

How does your partner fit into your morning?

"My husband says he 'guards the bed' while I am exercising. He and my daughter are usually sound asleep at 4 a.m.!"

How long have you stuck with this routine and what has changed?

"Probably more than 20 years. In recent years, I’ve be­come a lot more flexible with my wake-up time because I have a small child. Whereas I used to be much more rigid about rising by 4 for my workouts, I am now more willing to wait for my daughter to wake up, especially if I’ve been traveling for work."
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