Photo by Olu Eletu

Bitesize Advice on Improving Your Morning Routine

Benjamin Spall
6 min readDec 30, 2015

Last year I wrote about the lessons I’d learned asking a little under one-hundred strangers about their morning routine.

Now, in something which may become a coffee-fueled annual tradition, I would like to share with you some bitesize pieces of advice on improving your morning routine, taken from the 53 new routines we’ve added to our collection in the last year.

On Email

In 2015 our participants were as unimpressed by email as they’ve always been, with the vast majority of them choosing not to answer email until later in the day.

Darya Rose, an author and neuroscience Ph.D living in San Francisco (who has since relocated to New York City) commented that:

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. When I see emails that I can’t take care of my mind starts thinking about them, but can’t let go of them until I take action.

Veerle Pieters, a Belgian graphic/web designer, and the author of the hugely successful Veerle’s blog, puts her urgent emails first, before putting off the remainder until later in the day:

I’ll answer the most urgent and important ones, before hiding the Mail app and starting working on my projects. I’ll get back to my email later in the morning to answer the messages that remain.

On the other hand, M.G. Siegler, an always-on-the-move General Partner at Google Ventures, could never be accused of mincing his words on the topic of email:

I have a deep hatred of email, so I try to do it once a day and ideally not turn it into a back-and-forth volley.

On Coffee

At My Morning Routine we make it easy for you to dive into our data to explore key findings from our ever-increasing archive of morning routines via our Interview Statistics page.

From this page you can clearly see that, despite trailing water by twenty percentage points, a whopping ~31% of our participants drink coffee first thing in the morning.

When we asked photographer (and Instagram’s former Community Evangelist) Jessica Zollman what her first drink is in the morning, she quickly answered:

Coffee. Always coffee, right away. If I could set up an IV drip of caffeine to wake me up in the morning without doing serious damage to my body, I would.

At the other end of the spectrum, Ash Huang, an independent writer, designer, and illustrator living in San Francisco, noted that her and coffee have something of a complex relationship:

I don’t drink coffee anymore. It ruined my stomach and skin, and it reminds me of stressful, sleepless times in my past. Now when I do treat myself to coffee I jitter like a dashboard hula girl, so that’s typically only on weekends.

A lone wolf among his peers (and, it seems, his loved ones), M.G. Siegler is all about him and his Frap:

I drink a bottled Starbucks Frappuccino while I [read articles online], which abhors some people, including my fiancée. But it’s my one vice, something I’ve done since I was a kid.

On Work

Everyone has different working schedules and habits and, as a result, not all of our participants touched upon their working habits as part of their morning routine because, frankly (and sensibly), many don’t work during it.

When a participant did speak of their working habits, the results were instructive.

Mason Currey, author of the celebrated book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (a book which, coincidentally, does touch upon the daily working habits of a great number of individuals; if you’re enjoying this article, read Mason’s book) noted of his writing routine:

Some days, I sit down to write in the morning and it’s just impossible; other days, it’s almost effortless. And I wish I could just take the effortless days and leave the miserable ones, but it seems like it’s the miserable days that enable the effortless ones, if that makes any sense.

Award-winning Japanese illustrator, Yuko Shimizu, who is currently teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, spoke of her love of reading on the train during her morning commute to her studio in midtown Manhattan to fuel her creative output:

To have a creative output, in my case drawings and illustrations, I need creative input, inspirations, and influences. I need to experience things I don’t experience on my own.

Photographer Andre D. Wagner noted his ability to adapt his morning routine to ensure he has time to explore his own creative work before starting work on a client project:

When I’m working on photo projects I will adapt my routine to it. Two years ago when I was working in a photo studio I would leave my house at 7:00am because I wanted to photograph in the subways for an hour or two before I had to be at work.

On Parenting

Many routines focused around (and changed because of) children.

When we asked Ivanka Trump, the real estate executive and entrepreneur, how her morning routine has changed over the years, she noted:

I like to be fully ready for the day before my children get up so that my mornings are completely focused on them. My alarm goes off much earlier these days than it did pre-kids!

Nathan Kontny, CEO of the Highrise contact management tool and an engineer for President Obama’s re-election campaign, rightly considers spending time in the morning with his one-year-old daughter his most important (and enjoyable) task:

No matter how the day goes, no matter what issue pops up, no matter how the business goes, I have this wonderful start to my day where I get to know my daughter more, or get to share something new with her. Getting to my email can wait until after.

Of course, children can also be fairly testing, especially in the morning. Claire Díaz-Ortiz, an author, speaker, and early Twitter employee who now lives outside Buenos Aires, Argentina, noted that when she (attempts to) drink the glass of water on her nightstand in the morning, her one-year-old daughter likes to get in on the action:

I fight with [my daughter] to not steal the cup and throw the water everywhere, fling her squirming body off the bed, or eat my hand cream.

On Headspace

On being asked what their most important tasks are in the morning, our participants this year often answered this question with something of a philosophical framework.

Austin Kleon, a New York Times bestselling author of three illustrated books (and one of my favourite Twitter follows) noted that:

The biggest task [in the morning] is to try to keep my headspace from being invaded by the outside world; to be alone with my own thoughts before I can sit down and make something.

Chris Baker, a former art broker at just seventeen, was even more succinct in his response:

Controlling the five inches in-between your head. No one can take away your attitude or desires away from you.

Whereas Elle Luna, an artist and designer living in San Francisco, and the author of The Crossroads of Should and Must went down a different-yet-still-related path:

Right now, the first thing I do when I wake up is try to remember my dreams! Do you remember your dreams? 60% of people say they don’t dream at all, which isn’t actually true, and of the people who admit that they dream they forget 95–99% of those dreams within the first ten minutes of being awake.

Finally (and just for fun), on being asked how her morning routine has changed over recent years, Olimpia Zagnoli, an Italian illustrator for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, and La Republic (to name but a few) noted that:

It changes every day. Probably now that I’m 31 it got a little more serious, with more natural rhythms. I don’t fall asleep at 4:00am after a marathon of pop corn, a full television series, and make up tutorials anymore, so my mornings are usually more healthy.

Thank you for reading, and happy new year! If you’re interested in getting a brand new morning routine in your inbox every Wednesday, please consider subscribing to My Morning Routine today.



Benjamin Spall

Excessive tea drinker. Author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio/Penguin). Married to my worst enemy.