When you start your day with healthy habits and focus on what is important to you, there’s no denying you’ll get off to a good start. The benefits of a structured morning routine are undeniable and if you’re in search of inspiration look no further than My Morning Routine.
The website, founded in December 2012 by Michael Xander and Benjamin Spall, aims to bring readers a brand new, inspiring morning routine every Wednesday to help set them up for a more productive and enjoyable day. Whether you’re looking for ideas to mix in to your current routine or are searching for a complete overhaul, My Morning Routine wants to help.
The two founders took some time to chat –
What was the inspiration behind My Morning Routine?
Michael: The idea for My Morning Routine evolved over time. It’s hard to pin it to one specific event, but Tim Ferriss’ book The 4-Hour Workweek and Joel Gascoigne’s blog certainly pushed the right buttons in my brain to build and launch it in December 2012, with my co-founder Benjamin.
Up to that point I’d been kinda obsessed with optimising workflows, not just with the goal of increasing my productivity, but also with a view to providing increased freedom and happiness. My Morning Routine represents that, bringing our audience a continuous stream of ideas to mix into their morning.
Since launching My Morning Routine we’ve noticed that more people are starting to realise, as we did, that there is a better way to start your day than rushing through your precious few morning hours before you head into work or school.
Your morning sets the stage for the rest of your day. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get-up very early; it means doing what’s important to you.
How do you find participants? Do you approach them, do they approach you?
Benjamin: For the first two years of the site’s existence we almost entirely published routines from people who would fill in a small contact form on our website saying they would like to participate. This method worked well in the beginning as it allowed us to build up a vast vault of morning routines while being able to treat the site as a smaller side project.
Since then, for the past eighteen months or so, we’ve for the most part been approaching individuals we want to interview on the site to see if they’d like to be involved.
There are a lot of people in the creative industries on your website; do you think there’s a link between a structured morning routine and creativity?
Michael: Yes and no. As a creative person myself, I think a structured morning routine can help to set the stage (and make time) for what’s important to you, and most importantly it saves our brain mental energy, because most decisions are already automatically handled by our good habits. Jenny Blake, Ivanka Trump, Melody Wilding, and many more of our participants all cherish the benefit of mastering this so-called phenomenon of “decision-fatigue”, where our habits make our ordinary decisions for us, so that we can use our energy solely for our most important tasks.
I also said no, because from time to time I experience days where I have to throw my structure out the window in order to allow myself complete creative freedom. This is often the case when I start working on a new project, or when I’m just too excited to get started in the morning.
To summarise, a structured morning routine is essential for me on most days, because it allows me to get into the flow of creativity without burning mental energy on ordinary decisions. However, when I wake up already in the flow, I just go with it!
Two of you are involved in the project – who does what?
Benjamin: Michael focuses on the tech (coding the whole thing) and design, I focus on the copywriting, editing, and sponsorships. We jointly do business admin and marketing.
Who has been your favourite participant?
Michael: It’s hard to pick one specific participant as they all have interesting takes in their own way, but I really enjoyed how artist, designer, and writer, Elle Luna captures her dreams each morning. It’s a very unique creative habit. But, as I said, there are just too many to choose a true favourite. For more, subscribe and we’ll show you ten of our favourites.
Benjamin: I agree with Michael that it’s extremely hard to pick just one. With that said, I really enjoyed reading Yuko Shimizu's routine because it feels like an extended Humans of New York story.
What are your morning routines?
Michael: My alarm is set for 6:00am, but I get up whenever I wake up and feel ready (I don’t snooze); usually that’s between 4-5:30am. I almost never need my alarm as I’ve followed my routine seven days a week for over two years now. My internal clock is great at predicting when it’s time to get up!
I used to not use an alarm on the weekend, but I’ve learned that I feel much fresher and more balanced when I get up at about the same time every day. This also means I have to be strict with my bedtime, which is between 10:30-11:15pm every night.
Upon getting up I drink a big glass of water, let some fresh air into my apartment, and do three sets of push-ups and air squats to energise myself. I’ll then fix myself some oats with cornflakes and milk, or sometimes I’ll make an egg, bacon, and cheese burrito. I’ll then either read a book for an hour, go for a walk with weights in my rucksack, or catch up on Twitter and articles that I’ve added to my reading list. I’ll then hit the bathroom and get myself ready for work.
Benjamin: My alarm is set for 7:30am, and that’s usually exactly when I’ll get up. I’ll do some light stretching exercises before heading into the kitchen to make a breakfast of oatmeal, omelettes with avocado, or toast and fruit for my wife and I while she gets herself ready for the day.
Once breakfast is ready we’ll sit down to eat it together while discussing the day ahead, our plans for the weekend, and anything we’ve read in the news lately, all while keeping a close eye on the clock! When breakfast is over we’ll pack our bags (while shouting “Keys, wallet, phone!” to each other to ensure we haven’t forgotten anything), and head out the door.
Have you adopted any of things from the participants you’ve had?
Michael: After doing this for almost three and a half years, I still love the topic and enjoy exploring new ideas from our inspiring personalities on a regular basis. What sticks in my mind are often the little hacks, like to force you out of bed by placing your alarm far away from your bed, putting your phone in airplane mode to avoid distractions, or using social accountability to form habits.
How did you settle on the 17 questions you ask every participant?
Benjamin: It was less a case of settling on them than build them up (and replacing some) over time. If you go all the way back to our first published routines you’ll notice we used a few questions then that we have since discontinued, or merged into other questions.
What’s next for My Morning Routine?
Michael: Since the end of 2014 we started to describe My Morning Routine as more of an online magazine than a blog, as we added (and have continued to add) several more functionalities to the site.
Features that we’re especially proud of are our Interview Statistics page, where we make it easy for you to dive into our data to explore key findings from our ever-increasing archive of routines; and Routine Sorting, which allows you to browse our morning routines based on informative data points.
Our main focus is and will always be to get inspiring ideas in front of our readers. I can’t reveal any specific projects that we’re working on right now, but be assured the likelihood that you’ll find it interesting and helpful are high.
I thought I’d share my personal morning routine here in the hopes that it inspires the curation of your own. I’ve asked myself some of the same questions Michael and Benjamin ask their participants.
As always, I don’t get paid, accept things for free, or use referral links to earn a commission on anything here. I think people who accept cash or freebies to provide a ‘recommendation’ — even when they’re transparent about the fact they’ve received compensation — are boasting that their integrity and honesty depends on remuneration.
What is your morning routine?
My morning routine is both quick and simple. I wake at 5:20 a.m. and head straight to the bathroom to wash, tone and moisturise my face, and to brush my teeth. I’m using products from Australian brand Aesop at the moment. Their toothpaste and mouthwash provide a luxurious start to the day and are perfect if you don’t want to blast your mouth with the rude taste of mint before sunrise.
After spritzing myself with whatever perfume I’m using (currently Tacit or Lush’s 29 High Street), I head back to my bedroom and put on the clothes I laid out the night before. I usually don some Calvin Klein jeans and a jumper or t-shirt depending on the weather.
I then make my bed before grabbing my bag and heading to the kitchen to make a coffee. I’m fond of Modern Standard coffee at the moment and I’m making it with a De’Longhi Espresso maker. It’s cheap and cheerful but provides a better shot than those horrid capsule machines. I’m then straight out of the door, coffee in my Kinto travel tumbler, which I consume on the train with some podcasts, an e-book, or a healthy dose of window-gazing.
I intentionally travel early (before 6:15 a.m.) to avoid crowds and have some time to myself before my day begins. I like both the physical and mental space in the morning. I sometimes walk around London – Hyde Park in the morning belongs to geese, runners, horses and I – or will sit in a park before heading to the office for 8. No matter the route I take on my way in, I’ll always pick up breakfast.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I tend to grab breakfast once I’m within walking distance of the office, usually two hours after I’ve woken up.
Since this is partly about recommendations: Abokado have really nice bagels, Pod sells expensive but delicious scrambled eggs, Pure serves some good breakfast wraps and for the days I’m feeling something sweet, Fabrique has sticky cinnamon buns. I might opt to visit a local café on my way in. Kioskafé – a two minute walk from Paddington station – is relaxed and a great place for picking up some print whilst social enterprise Redemption Roasters – with a number of outlets around the city – is a good way to insert some social action into your morning. You can read more about Redemption Roasters in my newsletter, Recently #006. If I’m feeling exuberant, I’ll pay a visit to the Monocle Café in Marylebone and order their £7.50 chicken katsu sandwich. I don’t do that regularly though!
All of them, needless to say, also do fantastic coffee. Kioskafé and Monocle serve Allpress, Abokado serve Climpson & Sons and Redemption roast their own in partnership with prisoners at a number of sites across the UK. I’ll grab a flat white from wherever I visit.
What time do you go to sleep?
I hit the hay between 10 and 10:30 p.m. on a normal weekday, later on a weekend.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I tend to carry the same few essentials with me every day. I take my iPad and my Keys to Go Keyboard, along with the stuff I assume everyone else carries – I'm using a nice key cover from Bath Leather Goods at the moment and my cardholder is from Laperruque.
If I’ve been using gadgets at home, I’ll make sure they’ve got sufficient charge and are in my bag before I go to bed. Charge on my phone isn't so much of a problem – I've got an iPhone XR, which has the largest battery life of any iPhone to-date, with an Apple Smart Battery Case, meaning I get about three days of juice from a few hours on the charger.
I’ll also look at the weather forecast for the following day and pick what I want to wear before going to sleep. That might mean looking out a coat or an umbrella, depending on what the forecast has in store. My favourite app for checking the weather is Weather Underground although it has gone dramatically downhill in recent updates – I find the default Weather app to be useful too.
Finally, I’ll grind my coffee for the morning and put it in the portafilter of the machine so that all I need to do is turn the thing on and let it work its magic. It's not 'freshly ground' but there’s nothing worse than the sound of a grinder first thing.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
I use two alarms; a Lumi Bodyclock Go 75 which gradually gets lighter over a thirty minute period before the time it’s supposed to wake you up, and my iPhone, which sits on its wireless charger on the opposite side of my bedroom.
I’ve made a conscious effort in the past few months to try not to sleep with technology in arms reach of my bed as I know I’ll end up using it long past the time I should.
Thanks to the light from the Lumi, I usually end up waking before my iPhone alarm. I don’t snooze, mainly because I don’t leave myself enough time to, but also because the alarm sounds on the iPhone are awful and I want to beat my phone going off. When I’m out of bed, I’m up.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
After turning off the alarm, I’ll leave my phone on my bed until about 5:40, which is when my girlfriend wakes up. When I’m on the train, I’ll set up a podcast or an audiobook and try to avoid touching my phone unless I need to.
I might whip out my iPad and write in Day One on my way into work if I feel compelled enough to do so. Journaling is a habit I’ve been trying to get into for a while – a digital version of morning pages, in particular – but I’ve been struggling. If you have any advice, let me know!
I specifically purchased my iPad as an ‘offline iPhone’ after I was prompted to do so by design-led technology company Punkt. The iPad requires some more steps to get it connected to the internet so I only do that when I really need to. It means I can work on things within Apple’s ecosystem, which is where all my stuff is, without inconveniencing or distracting myself too much.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
I have all of my email accounts on my phone but I leave work email until I’m at a place that’s more suited for answering it: my desk. My commute is my personal time – I almost look at it as a time for ‘life admin’ – I’m writing this post from it! – and I actually rather enjoy answering my own email on my way to and from the office.
I once heard that your email inbox is akin to a to-do list that is dictated by other people. I agree, so I try to avoid answering emails outside of these time so that my time at home is truly my own.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
Other than the aforementioned Weather Underground and Day One, I use the sounds on the Calm app to help me get to sleep. I particularly like the rain and white noise sounds. I might meditate before I start my evening routine but I very rarely listen to one of their sleep stories.
I've been using a Simba mattress since the middle of 2017, which I can't recommend enough, and used both Calm and Simba's sleep spray in the past too. You just spritz it on your pillow and snuggle into the scent of lavender. Whether it works or is just a placebo I don't know but I'm currently using the sleep spray from This Works.
From about 2016 to the middle of 2018, I used to wear fitness trackers that tracked sleep also. I stopped because I found them unhelpful in doing the one thing I purchased them for – helping me sleep. I found I’d just stare at the app and past sleep scores into the night.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
I want to say journaling, I have to say coffee. Coffee is a ritual in and of itself.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
This routine definitely changes! I wake up between 7 and 8 a.m. on weekends or on days I’m off, unless I have something specific I need to do. Once I’m awake, the first few steps remain the same. I’ll make my coffee in a mug instead of a travel tumbler and since I’m not travelling to London, I’ll eat breakfast at home. Instead of my usual weekday opulence, I’ll probably opt for something like toast.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
It remains largely the same in that I wake up, head to the bathroom, and then get dressed. If I’m staying with my girlfriend, we will usually go out for breakfast. I wrote about some of my morning routine with her in my newsletter, Recently #009.
If you’re ever in Gloucester, I heartily recommend this routine: Go for breakfast at Jane’s Pantry – the staff are chatty and vibrant and the food is beautiful. Wander around the Cathedral for the morning (entry is free) and then stroll through town for coffee at Guru Coffee House. Pop down to the Quays, a five minute walk away, for a spot of afternoon shopping and grab dinner whilst you're there – I recommend Coal. Go for the Coal burger, add pulled pork!
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
If I fail to follow my morning routine, I’ll be late to the train station which means I’ll be catching a later (and busier) train. I’ll arrive in London later, which means I might not have time to amble before heading to the office. The Underground is likely to be busier, as is the office itself. All of this spells disaster. Those first few hours are vital for me to get in the right headspace.
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