How you start something is often how you finish it, and that couldn’t be truer than for the trajectory of each of your days. When your mornings feel chaotic, rushed, and fragmented, the rest of your day often does too. But when you start off with a centering, invigorating morning routine, that feeling follows you the rest of the day.
If you’ve been wanting to improve or simply start your own morning routine, then this episode is for you. My guest is Benjamin Spall and he’s the co-author of the book My Morning Routine, which shares insights taken from the morning routines of dozens of entrepreneurs, leaders, and creative folks.
On today’s show, Benjamin walks us through how to craft the perfect morning routine, including how to make time for it in your schedule, what activities to include, and how a successful morning routine starts with what you do the night before. We also discuss how to adjust your morning routine while traveling and when you have kids. Along the way, Benjamin gives us a peek at the morning routines of several influential people to give us some inspiration for our own routines.
Lots of actionable advice in this episode on creating a morning routine that works for you and sets you up for a productive day.
- Is there one common template for a good morning routine?
- Why you have a routine even if you don’t think you do
- Do successful people wake up early?
- The average wake-up time for people profiled in the book
- What do successful people do immediately after waking up?
- Things to do in the morning to set yourself up for a productive day
- The importance of having a fitness routine (no matter the time of day)
- Why a good morning starts the night before
- How to plan your day (without hitting your email inbox)
- What’s the role of meditation in successful people’s morning routines?
- What about journaling?
- Is there a right length of time for the perfect morning routine?
- How do people adjust for kids?
- How do you maintain routines when you’re away from home?
- Why you need to have some flexibility with your routines
- How Benjamin’s morning routine changed/improved in the course of this project
- One thing to do starting today to make your morning better
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- My interview with Duhigg about habits
- Make Every Day a Good Day With This Morning Routine
- How and Why to Become an Early Riser
- Brewing the Perfect Cup of Coffee
- 5 Concrete Ways to Develop a Healthier Relationship With Your Phone
- Solvitur Ambulando: It Is Solved By Walking
- Which Fitness Program is Right for You?
- My interview with Chris Guillebeau about side hustles
- AoM’s Side Hustle series
- Be More Productive With the Rule of Three
- The Power of Morning and Evening Routines
- 10 Ways to Make Exercise an Unbreakable Habit
- What Every Man Should Know About Sleep
- 22 Ways to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
- My interview with Dan Harris about meditation
- Ryan Holiday on the AoM podcast
- How to Stay Fit on Vacation (While Still Enjoying Yourself)
Connect With Benjamin
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. How you start something is often how you finish it. That couldn’t be truer than for the trajectory of your days. When your mornings feel chaotic, rushed and fragmented, and the rest of your day often does too. But when you start off with a centering, invigorating morning routine, that feeling follows you the rest of the day. If you’re wanting to improve, or simply start your own morning routine, then this episode is for you. My guest is Benjamin Spall, and he’s the co-author of the book My Morning Routine, which shares insights taken from the morning routines of dozens of entrepreneurs, leaders, and creative folks.
On today’s show, Benjamin walks us through how to craft the perfect morning routine, including how to make time for it in your schedule, what activities to include and how a successful morning routine starts with what you do the night before. We also discuss how to adjust your morning routine while traveling and when you have kid. Along the way, Benjamin gives us a peek at the morning routines of several influential people to give us some inspiration for our own routines. So, lots of actual advice on steps on creating a morning routine that works for you and sets you up for a productive day.
After the show’s over, make sure to check out our show notes at aom.is/morningroutine, where you find links to resources, we’re going to delve deeper into this topic. Benjamin joins me now via Skype. All right, Benjamin Spall, welcome to the show.
Benjamin Spall: Thanks for having me Brett.
Brett McKay: You got a new book out, My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired. I think people .. I’m interested, I think a lot of people are interested, what do other people do for their morning routine? I think it’s a voyeuristic part of ourselves. So, what got you looking into the morning routines of all these influential people?
Benjamin Spall: Well, you’re exactly right about being voyeuristic. That’s something that I … The way I think about it myself. But the way I came to it was around mid 2012, I was reading the book The Power of Habit, by a New York Times journalist, Charles Duhigg, and I was really interested in the idea of building something where we could really celebrate people’s habits and find these different habits, find these different ways of doing things that could be helpful for people in our daily lives.
It was around about the same time that my now co-founder and co-author Michael Zander got in touch with me. And he had the same idea of documenting what people do in the morning. We put this idea together and we created mymorningroutine.com, which it’s hard to believe nowadays because people have read about morning routines all the time. But back then morning routines really wasn’t being spoken about that much. We started publishing one new interview every single week, and we’ve been doing that coming on six years now.
Brett McKay: Wow. So you interviewed dozens of successful people to find out what they do for their morning routines. Did you find one common template or a principle for how to do morning routine?
Benjamin Spall: All right. Firstly, I would say that there’s no right way to start your day. There’s a lot of advice online, that says you have to get up at 5:00 AM, you have to do this, you have to do that. But to be honest, we really like to look at the idea of what works for you. So, interviewing people about their mornings for so long has shown me that it’s possible to have a regular morning routine without being rigid and regimented about it.
For us, honestly, it’s all about starting your morning routine with intention. What we found while interviewing people both for the website and for the book is that almost none of the world’s best and brightest leave their minds to chance. In our view, his is clearly not a coincidence.
Brett McKay: All right. They were intentional about it, but there’s a lot of variation.
Benjamin Spall: That’s exactly right. They started out with, many people, when they want to begin their morning routine, they think of what they do. We’ve had so many people come to us that say, they don’t actually have a routine, whereas in reality, if we ask what they do every single day, it is as a rhythm. You get up, you go to the bathroom, you might go to the kitchen. It’s just adding little things into that rhythm. You might want to add meditation, a little bit of working out. But when you add things within what you’re already doing, you can already build on what you have.
Brett McKay: Were you a big morning routine guy before you started this project? Or was this a catalyst for you to actually start thinking about your own?
Benjamin Spall: No, I really wasn’t at all. I was terrible, I would get up at 10:00 AM, this is back in my university days. And then after I finished school, I was a freelancer, so, I get up at the same time. It is when I started the website, it was very much an idea of using this information that we’re gathering both from friends and well known people as the site went on, I was using this information myself to actually improve my own routine. It has improved dramatically. As we say, in the book, you have to hear the same things many times over to actually get the impact of it.
A great example of this is for a long time, I kept my phone in my bedroom, right beside my head, and I would often wake up and just stare at it looking at Twitter, looking at email. But in reality, that’s a terrible way to start your day. It took me, I’d have to say, two to four years of hearing some advice from people we’ve interviewed, where they’d say, keep your phone in another room. It took me two or three years to actually go through of that. Now, I keep my phone in my kitchen. It’s a great way to actually wake up and be more intentional about your day because you’re immediately grabbing that item as the first thing.
Brett McKay: All right. Well, let’s get into the nitty gritty of Morning Routines, because this is the fun stuff. Let’s talk about the very first thing you do in the morning, which is waking up. You mentioned earlier that you see all these blog post articles about if you want to be a millionaire, you have to wake up at 5:00 Am. When you interviewed all these people, and these are people who are successful in their respective fields, were most of them early risers, or was there a lot of variation what time people woke up?
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, there was a lot of variation. To be honest, you really don’t need to be an early riser to have a morning routine. When we refer to morning routines in the book and on the website, we’re really referencing the time between you waking up and even happen to leave your home or transitioning to the next part of your day. A great example of this is if you work a night shift for example, your morning routine may start at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. That’s fine. That’s when you’re waking up.
The most important thing you can do, if you already feel like you don’t have that much time in the morning, is just to slightly increase the time available to you by getting up five minutes earlier for one whole week. That doesn’t mean five minutes a day, just for one whole week, get up five minutes earlier than usual. And then next week, add five minutes on top of that. Eventually, over time, you’ll reach that point where you’re like, okay, I have enough time for my routine, but I’m not feeling overtired. That’s a great way to increase that space to allow more in there.
Brett McKay: What is the average wake up time for people when you interviewed them?
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, the average wake up time, I actually have this in the back of the book. Here we go, it was 6:24am. That is still relatively early, but it’s not like, 4:00 AM or 5:00 AM as many articles suggests you should do.
Brett McKay: Right. I imagine when you talk to these people, their wake up times changed based on their different stage of life they were in.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, totally. We mentioned this a lot in the conclusion as well, because it’s really important to think, having a morning routine isn’t something that you get to, it’s not the case of you eventually get there, and this is your routine for life. It really is something you change over time. You just have to make sure you’re very deliberate with these changes. For example, if you go from not having kids to having kids, you’ll go from having a lot of time to yourself in the morning to really not having that much time at all. So, your routine is going to dramatically change. For this reason, we have a chapter on new parents in the book. But you really you do have these changes throughout your lifetime. You just have to recognize, am I making these changes because it’s necessary? Because in the case of a new child, or in the case of a new job, are you making these changes because you’re falling back into an older rhythm?
Brett McKay: We were talking about extremes on the waking up. What was the earliest that you can remember of someone waking up, and then what was the latest?
Benjamin Spall: I think about 4:00 AM was the average earliest. We would see that relatively often, but not all the time. A great example of that was Stanley McChrystal, who’s a former US Army General. He would often get up at 4:00 AM, and he would go for a run. It was a very intense morning routine, which to be honest, I myself couldn’t replicate. I think maybe the latest, and this may be on the website, not in the book, a 10:00 AM, maybe even an 11:00 AM. That was sometimes, I think, someone we interviewed, she just needed a lot of sleep. She personally needed about 10 hours of sleep every day. That’s why she woke up so late. We also interviewed a singer songwriter who gets up a little bit later when she’s on tour.
Brett McKay: I think that’s a good point. I think a lot of people just pressure that you have to wake up early. Not necessarily. Just do what’s good for you, right?
Benjamin Spall: That’s exactly right. We are all different and we do change throughout our lives. If you really struggle to get up early and if you’re just going to be tired throughout your morning routine, it’s much better to get that sleep in, get completely rested before you begin with your day.
Brett McKay: All right. So, let’s talk about right after you wake up, what’s something that you found a lot of people you interviewed that they did commonly immediately after they woke up.
Benjamin Spall: The best thing you can do, honestly, well, first of all, don’t have your phone by your bed. The first thing you can do is immediately get out of bed and just do the same thing every day. For many of us, we get up, we go to the bathroom, and then what do you do after that? You could go to the kitchen, you can meditate, you could work out, you can even just put on your clothes and go to the gym. But the idea is to actually do the same thing every day. We talk a lot in the book about the importance of keeping these things small and easy to accomplish.
Benjamin Spall: If you start out and decide, okay, this week, I want to start meditating every single day. If you tell yourself I’m going to meditate for half an hour, right after waking up, you are very quickly going to stop doing this. Because even after the first day, this is going to feel like a lot of time that you’re taking away from your morning and potentially even making yourself late for work. We say, keep things very short, maybe a five minute meditation, a 10 minute meditation, just that amount of time where it really is easy to get that in. I would say in terms of staying on the wrong track, the worst thing you can do is really just checking your email, checking Twitter, checking any website that you want to check first thing in the morning, it’s just a terrible way to wake up.
When we interviewed her for the book, Arianna Huffington told us that a big part of her morning routine is what she doesn’t do. The main thing she doesn’t do is check her phone. It’s really important just to be in the mindset of that feeling of calm that brings across from your sleep, and not having all the information coming to you straight away.
Brett McKay: Right away. I’ve noticed whenever I check my phone first thing in the morning, I basically prime the pump for the rest of the day where I’m going to be constantly checking social media, email et cetera. But when I don’t, it sets a stage or a precedent where I don’t do that more often. Whenever I check my phone first thing I end up being more distracted the other day when I don’t, I’m more focused.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, totally. It’s hard, it’s addicting. I sometimes wake up and I want to check what’s on Twitter. I want to have that little feeling of outrage especially in the morning but it’s really not a great way to be.
Brett McKay: Yeah, increase that cortisol to help you wake you up.
Benjamin Spall: Exactly.
Brett McKay: But with that said, you did interview a lot of people in the book where part of their job is keeping on top of what’s going on. So, they ought to check email first thing in the morning because they might have business going on in Asia and they need to know right away, and may be answer that email so they can take care of business.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, that totally is really is not a perfect system. Many times, if I have an early morning interview or a meeting, I do have to check that. There’s probably some way around it, where if you have an assistant, they could text you if something changes that you personally don’t have to check it. But yeah, sometimes you really just have to, for the psyche of your job, for the sake of the work you do, you need to check it.
Brett McKay: Another thing that I liked, and I’ve tried to incorporate this, but I haven’t been able to do it lately because I’ve got kids now. So, there’s a lot going on. But just getting outside and taking a walk first thing in the morning. It’s just so relaxing and rejuvenating. It really sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, we actually look at that idea almost in terms of meditation, whereas it isn’t a sit down meditation practice in itself, but actually just getting out there in nature is a great way to calm you down and get you ready for the day ahead.
Brett McKay: You get the blue light from the rising sun to help wake your body up even more.
Benjamin Spall: Exactly. It’s very natural for our bodies to wake up that way.
Brett McKay: I think one reason why a lot of people want to start morning routines or start getting intentional about their morning routines is they want to be more productive throughout the rest of the day. You talked about some things you can do to be more productive, like don’t look at your phone because that will set the stage for you looking at your phone and social media the rest today, what are some other things that you found that people do in their morning routine to help them be productive throughout the rest of the day?
Benjamin Spall: One thing which came up time and time again, is working out. While we have a whole chapter in the book dedicated to folks who work out in the morning, we quickly noticed that the main benefit was not necessarily working out in the morning, but actually just working out at any time in the day. Many people we spoke with including bill McNabb, who is the chairman of the Vanguard Group, he works out at lunch, and I personally work out at lunch as well. He gets that benefit as well. Even though it’s very important to actually get that workout in to pump the iron, feel everything going. Just actually getting that in at some time of day is a great way to improve the rest of your day.
One benefit to doing it in the morning is just making sure you get it in. So many people say that if they push it to later in the afternoon, later in the evening, there’s a reasonable chance that work will run over, they’ll get stuck in meetings, and they won’t actually be able to do it. That is one reason for doing it in the morning. Also working on a side project. Many people, especially right after meditating, they say a great thing to do is work on a side project. This book itself was a side project of mine for a long time.
Actually, having that time in the morning to work on something that is outside of your job, it’s outside of what you do every single day, is a great way to spend that time.
Brett McKay: No, that’s some good stuff there. I took advantage of that. When I was first starting the Art of Manliness. I started when I was in law school. At law school, you’re there from 8:00 AM to eight o’clock at night. It’s basically, a full-time job. If I wanted to get work done in, I had to do it for … I wake up at 6:00 and work on the blog for an hour or two, and then go to school and that’s how I did it for the first year or two.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, it’s the perfect time for you to just get in that work that you really feel that is important to your life. Because I was working an example, when you come home from a long day of your job, you’re not going to be feeling in the mood to get back in front of a computer again.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and with the working out, what I love about the book is that you have these like, at the end of each section, you have the reversal section. You flip the switch and like “Hey, maybe you don’t have to do this in the morning.” With the working out, I found for a while, I was working out first thing in the morning just so I could get it done. But I found that … I do barbell training. Just first thing in the morning, I’m super groggy, my joints are still creaky, my muscles aren’t warmed up. It’s just really hard. My workouts are terrible. Then also, when I had a terrible workout and things didn’t go according to plan, I will just be in a cranky mood for the rest of the day and just unmotivated and distracted thinking about man, I should have gotten that.
I finally just switched to after work, and it’s a lot better. I don’t have to deal with that anymore.
Benjamin Spall: Actually, we stole the reversal idea from Robert Greene. He writes the pile of books and those books are great. But yeah, the idea was a lot of people when we interviewed them, a lot of people were telling us one thing, but then, maybe 10%, 25% of people will be telling us something entirely different. We wanted to bring that in. We wanted to make people feel that we’re not just telling you one way to do it. We’re saying, this is how the majority of people go. But if you want to go this way, as well, that really works.
Brett McKay: Well, on the same theme of productivity, did you find a lot of people would create a to do list or look over their calendar first thing in the morning after they did meditation or working out or was that something they did the night before?
Benjamin Spall: I would say the majority of people did it the night before and that’s also what we recommend is what I personally do. The reason for that is, the night before … Well, maybe not the night before, but just as you finish work, is a perfect time to know what you need to be doing the next day as opposed to in the morning where might have grander ideas of what you can get done that day. Definitely, before you finish work, I personally, I schedule things. I make sure everything’s in the calendar for what I’m particularly doing. I also make a to do list which generally, the items near the top are the more important items, but sometimes they’ll be stuff down there that gets moved up.
That is a great way to just … it’s very simple, but it’s a great way to just actually make sure you know what’s ahead of you. Even if you don’t get it all done, it’s good to actually know what’s coming up.
Brett McKay: That’s a good point too, to have a good morning routine, it also pays to have a good in door work routine or evening routine.
Benjamin Spall: Yes. No, totally. We spoke to many people who actually their evening routines are more impressive than their morning routines. One of the ways in particular that people like to jump on the idea of an evening routine is to lay out their clothes for the next day. This can be done in two different ways. Many people if they’re working out in the morning, they like to lay out their workout clothes. The idea there is you see them in the morning and you’re much more likely to actually do it, especially if you got the shoes and everything in place. You see, and you know that that is what you need to do. But some people, they just decide to put out their regular outfits.
The idea there is to defeat decision fatigue. There’s many studies about this, but generally, in the morning, we have a certain amount of decisions we can make a day before we get a little bit groggy and we struggle to make the choices that we know are important to us. When you have your outfit picked at night time, it may be a little bit difficult at night to make the decisions. But in the morning, you don’t have to make that decision then.
Another thing people love to do in the evening is just clean up around their house. Some people, I’ve been this way myself, but some people don’t really mind it to be too messy. But for many of us, it’s great to actually just make sure the kitchen is clean, the general bedroom area is clean so we don’t wake up to a mess. I’ve definitely been in a situation where I’ve woken up to the one pan I own is at the bottom of the sink covered in mess. So, it’s a great way to actually make sure that you have what you need for breakfast.
I would say that the biggest game changer to improve your evening routine is just to make sure that you allow enough time for sleep. Many people I speak with, if they come up to me and ask me how can they improve their morning routine, I will often ask them, how many hours of sleep they get typically, or the night before. Often, this number is much lower than I would expect to be five hours, maybe even five and a half or six hours. To be honest, most of us need between about seven and nine hours of sleep a night. Often when I say this, I like to really caveat to say, just because I say seven and nine hours, it doesn’t mean that you’re a seven hour person, you could just as easily be a nine hour person.
I personally need about eight hours of sleep a night. If I don’t get that, I struggle. That’s a great thing to do with your evening. If you feel like you have to get up early or you just don’t have time in the morning, just make sure you get enough sleep especially just before you need to go to bed. That helps you increase the quality of your morning routine the next day.
Brett McKay: Got you. Speaking of laying your clothes out. You even interviewed people where they actually wore their workout clothes to sleep in. As soon as they woke up, they are ready to work out.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah. We actually, we have … Let me start with Arianna Huffington. She mentioned that she used to do that, but she doesn’t anymore. I believe the reason was because it put her in this way where working out, productive mindset in bed. She figured it was better to have a nice night dress or something, bed time clothes. Yeah, I’ve definitely heard of other people doing that as well.
Brett McKay: Also, another benefit of planning your day, planning that to do list of important things you’re going to do first thing the night before is that if you start off your day of looking at your email. Usually, your agenda is driven by your emails. Well, I’ve got to answer that email, you spend two hours, you haven’t got anything done, productive. You’ve just been answering emails.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah. It’s true. For a long time. I only started the to do list and scheduling about four years ago. After that point, it was exactly that. My whole schedule was emailing. As if my email inbox was my to do list. It’s a great way to feel productive and I believe many people still have that system now, and it really is a great way to feel like they’re doing a lot because you have that goal of archiving all your emails, and you get there. But it’s a terrible way to actually work on bigger picture goals, to actually have this kind of plan of six months out a year out, five years out. To have those plans in place, you really need to think long term and have that schedule that you stick to every single day.
Brett McKay: You’ve been mentioning meditation a lot, something people do in their morning routines. It seems like a lot of people use their morning routine, not necessarily be productive and get stuff done. But just to be … Actually their spirituality be mindful, right?
Benjamin Spall: We know in the book that even if your idea of a sit down meditation for 20 minutes doesn’t work for you, you can really learn to find meditative moments in the mundane and generally build in moments of mindfulness throughout your day. There’s great ways to do this. What you mentioned earlier, just getting out of the house and walking around. That’s a great way to feel these moments and also going for a morning run. Someone actually that we spoke to for the book, he mentioned that every single morning he’ll put on his tea kettle. He’ll put water in the kettle, he’ll put it on. And he’ll press the switch. And then it’ll be a few minutes that he’ll just sit about nothing at all.
He uses that as a timer to allow him to bring that meditative moment into his morning. But we also, in the book, we do describe, typical forms of sit down meditation. Many of the people we spoke with, write about what they do if you’re more into that. But personally, I’ve always done well. For the last couple of years, I’ve been doing a 10 minute meditation generally in the morning. If I don’t get it in the morning, I’ll push it to later in the day.
It’s just such a short amount of time that it’s easy to do. I don’t worry about it. It’s just something that I enjoy. Even though I’ve never really been able to meditate properly per say, completely empty my mind, it’s a great way to really sort my tasks for the day and this is always prior to checking email of course.
Brett McKay: Were there any journalers in their morning routines?
Benjamin Spall: There were. I think one in particular was Ryan Holiday. He journals every single morning. For him, it’s definitely a meditative practice. He’s writing about what he wants to do for the day and his faults. But many people did speak about doing morning pages as well, which is the same idea by Julia Cameron. It’s quite a lot of pages to be honest. There’s writing out your faults for the day and what you want to achieve.
Brett McKay: We mentioned all these different type of things you can do in your morning routine. You can get up, you’re going to take a walk, maybe, you’re going to meditate, you’re going to possibly maybe look over your to do list, maybe journal, maybe do some meditation. But I think one thing I’ve seen in my own life, and in the lives of people who tried to start a morning routine, they want to do so much. They try to cram in a ton. They end up … They try to cram in so much they actually can’t do their morning routine, they just give up on the concepts. Any advice there on not trying to cram so much into your morning routine? How long should your morning routines last? What’s the right link for that?
Benjamin Spall: We really don’t give a link to it. We often say it’s what you can allow, and I mentioned earlier, if you feel like there’s not enough time, then wake up five minutes earlier and go from there. But it really does change for everyone. Some people might want a two hour routine, but that might be incredibly extreme for others who might want more of a half hour routine.
I think it’s very important to just figure out what you want in there, rather than figuring out what the main length is. And then definitely starting small; 10 minute meditation, 10 minute workout, stretching routine. Really just make sure that you get all the elements in there even if it’s not for a particularly long amount of time. Then if you’re really enjoying something, if you’re really enjoying working out, you’re really enjoying going to the gym, then either increase those items at the expense of others, or just increase the amount of time of your morning routine in general.
Brett McKay: All right, so you don’t have to go big with this thing. You can just go small.
Benjamin Spall: No, you really don’t. Definitely when you go for the book, you have some extremes. I mentioned General McChrystal earlier on. His routine lasts for three, three and a half, maybe even four hours. There are extreme examples in there and they’re incredibly fun to read. But I think they’re also a great way of showing you that you can take some elements from people’s routines. You can take this from this person this from that, but you really don’t need to go the whole hog with any of them.
Brett McKay: One thing you also covered in the book, and you mentioned this earlier, morning routines with parents. Because before I had kids, I had a pretty awesome morning routine. I had so much time. I could journal for 30 minutes. I could meditate for a long time. I could do this and whatever. Then I had kids and the newborn phase is crazy. There’s no routine because the baby’s got to eat or it’s got to change its diaper. What did you find that people did? How did they adjust their morning routines when kids came into the scene?
Benjamin Spall: This was a real tough one. We want to make it clear here that we definitely acknowledge the fact that the morning routine for parents of young kids, for parents of any kids to be honest, is going to be incredibly different from a morning routine when you do not have kids. But that said, we do make the point that kids do thrive on having routine themselves. If you can get this routine as soon as possible, of course, with a new born, this is tough. But as soon as it’s generally possible if you can bring a routine into their lives that will help you as well.
One thing that we really really do advocate if possible is once you are on a sleep schedule as much as can be, once they’re on that is to try to wake up before them. This is tough especially if you’ve been up half the night with them. But when you wake up before them, you have this little bit of time and it could just be 15 minutes, half an hour, in which you can do some stuff for yourself before you have to get on with the day. This is tough, this really isn’t … We’re not advocating that this is the best way to do things. But it really is the only way to continue on with that routine when you do have young kids in the house.
Brett McKay: So, adjust your expectations. You’re no longer going to have an hour of me time. You might just get 15 minutes and you got to be okay with that.
Benjamin Spall: I think adjust your expectations would have been a great subtitle for that chapter, yeah.
Brett McKay: And then when your kids are out of the house, you’ll get back your hour of me time, and then you’ll be sad because there’s no kids in your house anymore.
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, exactly. I think we pointed this out in the reversal section of the parents chapter, is that it is only temporary in a good and bad way. You’ll definitely miss it when it’s gone, but then you’ll have your me time back. So, that’s definitely a positive there as well.
Brett McKay: Okay. Another challenge with morning routines is there’s a lot of people who travel, they’re traveling. You go to a different place where you don’t have your stuff, that you don’t have your chair to sit in that you typically sit in to do whatever you do there. How do you adapt routines or maintain a routine when you’re away from home?
Benjamin Spall: Sticking to our morning routines when we’re traveling can almost feel like an impossible task. Often, we just go with the flow and fall in and out of regular routines, with bringing in these unhealthy habits. This is especially true if you’re staying in a hotel. But what we write in the book is that you can make your morning routine work for you. It might not be exactly the same. But one way to do this is to think about how, working for example out of a hotel room can actually make you more productive. If you’re at a conference or something, you have to spend half an hour just working. If you’re in a hotel room, you don’t have any distractions. You can’t reorganize your desk, you can’t clean out the fridge, you have nothing there that many of us like to distract ourselves with. So, that’s one great way to get something out of it.
Another thing to think about when you’re going on the trip itself is to be smart about your scheduling. If you know that you sleep well on planes, you should try to work to travel overnight, so you can wake up refreshed and ready to get on with your morning routine the next day. If like many of us you know that you don’t sleep well on flights, you could just use to flight in the evenings. So you’re getting in at night and you can have that night in the hotel room.
But definitely, the most important thing to think about with regard to your morning routine when traveling, is you really shouldn’t beat yourself up. It’s totally normal for your routine to not be as far, not be as efficient when traveling. But this is tough. You just need to allow for these inefficiencies, and just know why you’re there. Know you’re traveling for work, you’re traveling for a vacation, know why you’re doing it, and just set that aside and just worry about it when you get home.
Brett McKay: I thought it was really interesting for the extreme travelers, people who were traveling all the time, they had different morning routines based on which city they were in. Because they go to the cities regularly, so they’ve been able to establish a routine. They know, “Well, if I’m in Chicago, I’m going to go to this place and do this thing before I get going to work.” If I’m in New York City, I do this or that. If I’m in Dallas, I’ll do this or that.”
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, that was pretty fascinating, and I totally see how that works. If you do have the kind of job where you are in two or three different places quite frequently, then you can create real morning routines in these places. But if you’re traveling, it’s more sporadic and more into random destinations, then definitely have the idea of what you can do in a hotel room, or what you can do in an Airbnb, or wherever you’re staying, and just go from there.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the hotel thing, the hotel trick. I’ve found … I’ve done this. This has nothing to do with morning routines, but when I’ve had a lot of work and I got to get a lot done, I need no distractions, I will actually go to a hotel here in town, pay 100 bucks and just work. Because no one knows where I’m at, and it’s just complete distraction free work zone.
Benjamin Spall: I guess it’s probably just directions and also the fact that you know you’ve paid that money and you want to get something out of that payment.
Brett McKay: Yeah. The most extreme version of that, I’ve heard there’s some guy who he needed to get a book done. So, he bought a round trip ticket to Japan. He just wrote the entire time there. Then as soon as he got to Japan, he got on the plane back and wrote it. I think he paid like $2,000, but he got the book done.
Benjamin Spall: You would want an upgrade for that. You would not want to do that in economy.
Brett McKay: Right, no. Those are extreme tactics. Those are one of those things where it’s just interesting to know about, you might not do. You mentioned this about being flexible with your morning routine. Because I think a lot of people think, okay, I got a morning routine. I have to stick to it always for the rest of my life. If I miss it, my day is ruined. But you guys said, “No, you shouldn’t have that attitude towards it.”
Benjamin Spall: That’s totally right. We always, we have this question at the end, we ask every single interviewee about from the book on the website. And the question is, what happens when you fail to follow your morning routine on any given day? It’s interesting because while some say that this messes them up for the entire day, the vast majority of people who answer this question say that they let it slide, and they just make sure that they get back to it the next day. That’s crux of the book, the most important thing to think about is when you have a routine, you can do every single day. But do not beat yourself up if you miss a day.
I always like bringing up the example of a Jerry Seinfeld, he had this example of when he’s writing jokes, he has this big wall calendar. Every single day that he writes a joke, he’ll put a big red X on that day. He calls it a chain. The point of the big red X is to say that he wrote a joke that day. And then he says, your main goal now is to not break that chain. So, just to make sure you get a big red X in the day every single day.
While this is a great idea, is a really great way to make sure you get your writing done, you get your work done, whatever you want to get done. It’s terrible if you miss a day. You feel like everything has gone wrong, and you can’t continue anymore. The point of what we really like to make in the book is that just because you miss a day, or even if you missed two or three days, don’t worry about it. Don’t aim for that to be your goal. But if it happens, if you mess up, if for some reason you get sick or something happens, don’t worry about it, and just aim to get back to it the next day.
Brett McKay: How is your morning routine changed after completing this book and working on the site for six years? What’s it looking like right now?
Benjamin Spall: It’s much better. What’s interesting is I am not an extreme morning routine person by any means. I am not getting up at 4:00 AM. I typically get up between about 7:00 and 7:30. Once I get up, I’ll go the bathroom and then I’ll come into the kitchen. And then I typically do a 10 minute meditation, followed by about, not many less than I should do jumping jacks, and then some push-ups. Then I just make breakfast my wife while she gets ready. During this time, I don’t check my phones, my phone would have been on airplane mode in the kitchen overnight. I don’t check it unless I have a meeting. But for the most part, that’s okay.
Then we just sit and have breakfast together slowly. And we just talk about the day ahead. The great thing about this routine is she has her space. She’s allowed to get ready while I’m in the kitchen making breakfast. In that time, when we’re speaking, we’re not talking about the news. We’re not talking about what someone just did in press or something like that, we’re just literally sitting down and talking about our days. It’s a really relaxing way to start the day, especially when you consider many of our lives nowadays, which is just being inundated with emails, being inundated with things to do, it’s a really nice way to continue on the calm of the night into the morning.
Brett McKay: Right. Your morning routines can be a way to connect with those you love.
Benjamin Spall: Oh, totally. So, many people we spoke with, especially those with families, with young kids, just really talk about the importance of just, if they can, often people have to leave early. But if they can, just having breakfast together, having that moment of connection. Because for many people, especially with younger kids, you make them home and they’re already in bed. Just having this time in the morning is a really great way to connect and really great way to be together as a family.
Brett McKay: I’m curious, did you come across any routines that really didn’t seem like a routine? They were just like, it’s not what a typical morning routine you think it would be a morning routine. I don’t know what I’m trying to ask here. It’s completely random, right?
Benjamin Spall: Yeah, we’ve definitely had a few others on the website. I think none of those really made it into the book. Because on the website, we’ve published close to just over 300 routines now. There’s 64 in the book, many of which are brand new, the majority are brand new for the book. But yeah, we do interviews of people sometimes. It’s fascinating. What they talk about is great. So, we do publish it, but I’m not sure if that’s entirely what you would do every day.
Brett McKay: All right. If there’s one thing someone can start doing today to make their morning routine better tomorrow, what would be that recommendation? It’s an easy, a lot of ROI, but it’s super easy to implement?
Benjamin Spall: Yeah. I would say the best thing, and this is outside of the box, but the most important thing is to just make sure you get enough sleep the night before. Like I said, so many people come to me, they say they don’t get enough sleep. But they wonder how to improve their routine. That really truly is the answer. Because if you’re tired, if you’re just constantly groggy, you’re constantly lacking in sleep, you are not going to get … You could have the best morning routine in the world. It could have all these exercise elements, that you could meditate, you could do all these things. But if you’re sleepy while doing these things, you’re really not going to get the most out of it. Definitely, the number one tip is to just make sure you’re not tied in the morning.
Brett McKay: Well, Benjamin, is there someplace people we can go to learn more about the book and your work?
Benjamin Spall: Yeah. You can order the book right now by going to mymorningroutine.com/book, which has links to Amazon and everywhere else. Or you can head to your local bookstore, Barnes and Noble or anywhere that books are sold and you can find me personally at benjaminspall.com, and on Twitter and Instagram @benjaminspall.
Brett McKay: Benjamin Spall, thank you so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Benjamin Spall: Thanks for having me, Brett, its been great.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Benjamin Spall. He is the co-author of the book My Morning Routine. It’s available on amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about his work at mymorningroutine.com. Also, check out our show notes at AOM.is/morningroutine, where you can find links to resources, where we can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. We got 4000 articles over there if you haven’t checked us out yet. Also, if you haven’t already, I’d really appreciate if he gives review on iTunes or Stitcher, that helps out a lot. If you have done that, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or family member if you think we get something out of it. As always, thank you for your continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, telling you to stay manly.