How 10 Top Writers Manage Their Mornings

Lessons from how the best on Medium start their day

Joseph Mavericks
Sep 9 · 24 min read
Photo by Malvestida Magazine on Unsplash

The first hours after you wake up are the most crucial hours of your day, no matter what time you wake up. While your brain and metabolism are still booting up, you have the opportunity to program your mind as you wish — not only for a fresh start, but also for a smooth ride until bedtime.

A lot of people who reach their goals and successfully change their life do tend to wake up earlier than average. Early mornings are the best time to get work done.

  • The buzz of the day hasn’t started yet, so there are no distractions getting in your way (people, noise, errands…)
  • You have a lot more time for yourself
  • You are more focused

But everybody works differently, and you don’t necessarily have to wake up early to succeed in life. What matters is to find a wake-up routine that suits you best to achieve your goals and be where you want to be. Once you find your own recipe to get the momentum going, you will be able to drive real results. The best part about this is that the better you get at it, the more results you will get.

What Experts Do

To help you get inspiration to kick-start your day with a good routine, I interviewed ten of the top authors on Medium about their morning. They know how to get things done. Most of them created their own businesses, and they got where they are today by successfully implementing self-discipline in their life.

There are no rules for success, only consistency in the work you do. None of the people I interviewed are super-humans, and they all have 24 hours in their day, like you and I.

Let’s jump right in.


David Kadavy

David Kadavy is the author of Design for Hackers and The Heart to Start, and host of the Love Your Work podcast. He lives in Medellín, Colombia.

Whenever I wake up! I aim for 8 a.m., but sometimes I wake up before 6 a.m. I don’t use an alarm, so whatever my body needs.

Before I even get out of bed, I write at least 100 words on an AlphaSmart word processor. I do this with my eyes closed, while still wearing my sleeping mask.

You’re most creative when you’re groggy and disconnected from sensory input. I want to take advantage of those first few moments of the day to record any creative thoughts. I also sometimes write about what I dreamt during the night.

No, I skip breakfast.

It was a gradual progress over the course of years. I still tweak it from time to time, depending upon what my priorities are. I’m more relaxed about it on weekends. If I want to do it, I do. Otherwise, I skip it, guilt-free.

In my book The Heart to Start, I talk about overcoming The Fortress Fallacy. When we first start something, we tend to go too big. Start with one, tiny thing. Do that one tiny thing every day or weekday or whatever you prefer for a month. If you can do that, add one tiny thing at a time.


Nicolas Cole

Nicolas Cole is the founder of Digital Press, a content marketing agency that turns founders, executives, and entrepreneurs into world-renowned thought leaders. As an author, Cole is a 4x Top Writer on Quora and Top 30 Columnist for Inc Magazine with over 50 million views on his work. His writing has appeared in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and more. Find out more at www.nicolascole.com

Lately, I’ve been getting up at 5 a.m. This is something I’ve never done — I’ve always been a night owl. But lately, and especially due to the nature of entrepreneurship, it has become harder and harder to be productive:

  • At the end of the day
  • In the later hours of the night, because most other entrepreneurs and hard workers are also still working, sending emails, calling, etc.

The very first thing I do (which is the only reason I’ve been waking up at 5 a.m.) is to write. I make myself a cup of coffee and immediately sit down and start writing. I don’t do anything else other than that one task. I don’t check my email. I don’t think about anything “business” related.

I write and I continue working on my craft — because writing is the one thing I’ve done in my life that has had the biggest impact on everything else. Writing is how I’ve built a business. Writing is how I’ve become an author, and opened the doors of opportunity I have for myself.

If I don’t continue writing and becoming a better writer, then that means I’m not prioritizing the one thing that drives the biggest impact in my life. So that’s the only thing I focus on, and I write for about 3 hours (5 a.m. to 8 a.m., roughly).

After I’ve finished my morning writing session, I make a bowl of oatmeal with fruit and prepare to start my real workday. This means emails, responding to messages, maybe hopping on my first few calls for the day, etc.

With this 5 a.m. routine, it took me about three mornings of waking up this early to feel like I was starting to form a pattern. Already, I feel like it has started to become habitual. Of course, it takes practice to wake up when it’s still dark outside and it has more to do with getting to bed at a reasonable hour, but I see this as being a good routine to settle into for a while.

On the weekends, I tend to make the most exceptions, mostly depending on what happens the night before. There’s no chance I’m going to wake up at 5 a.m. if I’ve been out until midnight the night before. So there has to be some give and take based on what’s going on in life, what other things I need to prioritize, etc.

Morning routines aren’t anything uniquely special or difficult. They’re just like any other habit. So if you have issues sticking with a morning routine, I’d focus less on “morning” part and more on the “routine” aspect.

You can practice forming routines in just about every facet of life, so find something you can practice, build it into your life, and then try to do it again. And again.


Matthew Kent

Matthew is a happy husband and father. He’s also a writer on Medium.com and the author of Personal Finance That Works For You: How to Build Wealth, Design Your Future, and Make Money While You Sleep.

I wake up at 5:30 a.m. This gives me some time to myself as well as time to write before my family gets up.

I write in my journal. I jot down three things that I’m grateful for and I list anything that is on my mind or any notes that I want to make to plan the day ahead. This takes less than ten minutes.

Sometimes if I’m feeling groggy, the first thing that I do is a single set of max-rep push-ups next to my bed. This gets the blood flowing a little bit and helps wake me up.

I eat breakfast sometimes. Some days (usually Tuesday-Thursday, but it can vary) I do a variation of time-restricted feeding called OMAD (One Meal A Day). This ends up being a really large dinner.

On other days, my breakfast usually revolves around eggs and whatever else we have at my house (fruit, vegetables, and beans are common sides).

Saturday usually consists of multiple breakfasts (this last Saturday, I had three). This is because Saturday is my lifting day, as well as a Dunkin’ Donuts tradition that I have with my family:

  • Breakfast #1 is a bagel and milk to make sure I have enough energy to lift.
  • Breakfast #2 is usually eggs and milk, or something that can get me a little protein after I lift.
  • Breakfast #3 is a Dunkin’ Donuts chocolate frosted donut.

My morning routine probably took a good two to three months to settle into. I started it in late 2017 but didn’t hit my stride until 2018. I try to wake up early at least 6 days a week and for 300 total days a year, so there is some flexibility with holidays and getting sick and other excuses.

In 2018, I came really close to 300 days (I tracked it on a bedside calendar). This year, I’ll fall short. The biggest challenge so far to my morning routine was the first trimester of my wife’s current pregnancy. She was terribly sick for three straight months and I was just exhausted the whole time.

My big advice for someone struggling to stick to their morning routine is to try the Seinfeld Method. This is also known as the “Red X Method.” The only supplies you need are a calendar and a red Sharpie.

The name “The Seinfeld Method” comes from a story (I’m not sure if it’s true or apocryphal) where Jerry Seinfeld was asked by someone how to become a professional comedian. He told them to get a calendar and a Sharpie and to write one joke every day — and put a red X on the calendar if they succeeded that day.

This is a powerful technique because you get immediate positive feedback for carrying out your habit: you get to check a box. Once you hit a couple of days in a row, you get it in your head that you need to keep the streak alive.

Plus, with this technique, there’s no fooling yourself. You can’t say that you’re pretty sure you got up early and did your morning routine nearly every day last month if there’s only 16 X’s.


Josh S. Rose

Josh S. Rose is a photojournalist and fine art photographer, living in Los Angeles. He teaches documentary photography at UC San Diego, is an Artist-in-Residence at CalArts, top writer on photography at Medium.com and recently won top honors at the Spider Awards in the category of Fine Art Photography.

My morning wake-up time is complicated. In general, I wake up anywhere from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., but not because I want to. I have a worrying mind, so as soon as I begin to come out of deep sleep, my brain starts racing on all kinds of things.

I used to lay in bed and just delve into whatever things were troubling me, but after years of this, I’ve concluded there’s nothing healthy about it. So now I get out of bed as soon as my mind starts working. My body lags behind my brain, so I’m sort of a morning zombie, slowly shuffling downstairs to get coffee. The exact time I wake up depends on when I get to bed.

Before I shower, eat or even brush my teeth, I head into my studio and work on whatever creative endeavor I’m involved in at the time. My studio is in a back house that we built specifically for my photography and work.

These first few hours are precious to me and I purposefully don’t do the usual morning routine of getting ready until after it. I like to ride the creative mind flow of dreaming into my decisions as an artist and creator. If I do too much before I get going, my mindset completely changes and it’s just not quite as dreamy and fluid.

I will quickly look over emails, spending no more than 60 seconds on it, just to clear my conscience. But once I’m assured I have a little space to create, I might be working on some photos, doing some fine art or writing. This is my favorite part of the day, and that’s a big deal, as those hours used to be the worst part of my day.

My partner gets up somewhere around 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., and she will usually make something for me and bring it out to the studio. It alternates between oatmeal or yogurt with fruit.

It was entirely predicated on a career path change. For a good portion of my adult life, I worked at an agency. With agency life, you tend to be beholden to the job. Your morning routine is really about getting into the office as quickly as possible. You battle fatigue, being burned out, negative emotions associated with the job, and stress from near-impossible deadlines.

When I broke out and started my own thing, everything changed and I was able to design my own experiences, especially these precious morning hours. Forcing myself to get up and out of bed instead of lingering took a bit of time, maybe a year. At first it was sort of haphazard; sometimes I’d do it, sometimes I wouldn’t. Once I had a better idea of what the new life held for me and I wasn’t just in stressed-out rebuild mode, I was able to settle into it and commit. Now, a year and a half in, I think that clay has hardened.

My advice is to create a morning routine that has elements of things you love. If you love it, you’ll look forward to it and you’ll stick to it. For instance:

  • I used to hate flossing my teeth, but now my four-year-old does it with me and we have so much fun doing it together that I’m suddenly an avid flosser.
  • I despise emails, so when it’s time to do them, I get a big bowl of delicious trail mix and chomp away while I respond to it all.

I call it “hugging the dragon”. It’s about investigating those parts of your life that you don’t like and redesigning them into routines you enjoy.


Alex Mathers

Alex is a coach, illustrator, writer and business consultant from the UK. He’s worked with clients from Google, the BBC, Mars and Wired Magazine. His mission is to inspire more people to live with purpose. Find out more at alexmathers.net

My wake-up target is before 5:30 a.m. so that I can start my routine earlier and seize the day, and feel better about myself. I have no schedule apart from the one I create for myself, so I try and beat the sun to get a head start.

I wash my face, stretch and then meditate for 20 minutes. I do this to get out of my thoughts and into my body and to start the day with a good habit that sets the tone for the day.

Time for focus is important for training my mind to ignore negative thoughts. After that, I try and read or learn something for 20 minutes. Then I will write down all my goals on paper.

Not when I am doing OMAD (One Meal A Day). The ideal for me is to eat one large meal, but it is not always easy, and I do love to have breakfast at a cafe: a croissant, ham, cheese, and eggs.

It has never been easy, and I don’t always follow it to the tee. The ideal morning routine for me is to wake before it gets light, reflect, learn, stretch, journal, and write goals. It is always something that I am perfecting. I never “got there.” I don’t beat myself up about not being there yet; not being the Dalai Lama/Tim Ferriss hybrid of morning routine experts. I just have a compass that I move back to when I float away.

I would suggest being totally clear with the commitment you have with yourself before the day has started, i.e. the day before. You need to know why you’re doing this. If you don’t, you will find excuses to stay in bed and play on your phone. Break down your why, and you will find it easy.

Having an alarm in the other room is important for people who struggle to get out of bed. Have a loud alarm to walk to, far from the bed. After a while, you will start waking up right before the alarm even goes off.

I never bring screens into my sleep area, and I get off the screen at least 1.5 hours before sleep. If your plan is to get up at 5 a.m., you must go to bed early and leave plenty of time after eating to digest before sleeping. You need to know exactly what you will do and in what order.

The above are reminders for me because I don’t always get it right. For example, I followed a strict routine for months this year, but recently allowed myself to slip, and I know I need to change that!


Tara Blair Ball

Tara Blair Ball is a freelance writer and memoirist. She publishes frequently on Medium.com on multiple topics including relationships, productivity, writing, and parenting.

I’m a school teacher who needs to be at work by 7:45 a.m. I started waking up years ago at 5 a.m. to get a good 1.5 hours to myself. Since having children, I’ve kept the 5 a.m. morning routine, but I now only get an hour to myself because my children need to be up at 6 a.m. I’ve considered beginning to wake up at 4:30 a.m. instead, but 5 a.m. is hard enough!

Within the last month, I have added meditation. I use an app called SimpleHabit, and I love listening to a meditation called “Morning Meditation in Bed.” It helps me transition from sleeping to waking, especially since I now meditate right before I go to bed as well.

Meditating takes me 5 minutes total. It’s important to have a slow start to the day. Once I’m done meditating, I get up, let out and feed my dogs, make coffee, and sit down and write 1 to 3 pages about what’s going on in my life, my work, or whatever clutter is going on in my head. This I take from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a recovery program for creatives that I highly recommend.

I do eat breakfast every morning, but the time when I do fluctuates. When I do eat, I always have a protein powder shake with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a packet of Emergen-C. As a teacher and a parent of young children, I’m always around illness, so I make taking Vitamin C a priority. And 30g of protein every morning means I’m not ravenous once I’m in front of a classroom of wild students.

Since I’ve been doing it for years, my morning routine is something I’m excited to do. I sometimes go to bed even earlier than normal because I can’t wait to have that time to myself. But it didn’t use to be like that. I wasn’t and am not a morning person. I hate talking or interacting in the morning until I’ve had some time to myself and am properly caffeinated.

I started setting my morning alarm for the same time, but am working on going to bed at a more reasonable time to compensate. I started not watching TV or playing on my phone the hour before I needed to go to bed. Over the course of a week, I moved my nighttime routine back 15 minutes each night but kept my wake-up time the same. Within a couple of weeks, I had a regular bedtime and a regular wake-up time.

We make promises to other people all the time that we keep, but we rarely do the same for ourselves.

If you make a promise to yourself to have a specific morning routine that includes waking up earlier, think of it like a promise you’re making to someone else. This will help when you’re bleary-eyed and hating life when your alarm clock goes off in the morning.

Instead of hitting snooze, tell yourself, “I made a promise to me that I should keep because I’m important too!” I know it’s cheesy, but so often we neglect ourselves for the sake of others. A morning routine is a gift, one you can give yourself every single day.


Anthony Moore

Anthony Moore is a writer and the author of What Extraordinary People Know. You can find his work on Medium.com. He has an M.A. in Psychology and lives in Los Angeles. Check out his book here.

I usually wake up around 9 a.m. My wife works late, so I stay up until about 12–1 a.m. with her so we can connect and bond. Spending time with my loved ones is far more important than any work I could do at 5:00 a.m.!

The first thing I do is brush my teeth. It’s one of the best wake-up rituals I’ve ever done, and it’s helped wake up consistently — at 5 a.m. or 9 a.m.! I learned it from The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod, the best book on “waking up” I’ve ever read.

Then, I usually make a pot of coffee, which has become a ritual that sets my mind into work-mode. I have a fancy auto-drip coffee machine that I can time and automate, but I need to go through the long ritual of grinding the coffee beans, getting the filter, and the whole routine. It’s become a trigger for me to be productive (a trick I learned from Own The Day, Own Your Life by Aubrey Marcus).

I eat one of two things:

  • A healthy protein shake full of fruits and veggies.
  • Or bacon and eggs. Life’s too short not to have bacon.

I’ve gone through several evolutions of my morning routine. Back when I worked a 9–5 and was trying to start my own business, I was ruthless about my 5 a.m. wake-up routine (I had the first three hours of the day planned, down to 5-minute increment marks!)

Now that I have my own successful business and I make my own time, my morning routine is more relaxed — a benefit that came from getting my life in order and creating my own business. Discipline brought me freedom.

As soon as you wake up: brush your teeth, drink some water, and consume protein! It kick-starts your body and wakes you up. Eventually, I was able to consistently wake up at 5 a.m. to work on my side business (despite working a full-time job) without needing coffee.


Jari Roomer

Jari Roomer is the founder of Personal Growth Lab, where he shares actionable and scientifically proven self-development advice that will help you stay focused, achieve your goals, become a peak performer and live a more productive & impactful life.

I wake up at 7 a.m. I’ve found this to be the optimal time for me. This way, I get enough hours of deep sleep (I go to bed at 11 p.m.) and I’m close to my peak productivity time of 10 a.m.

I used to think I needed to wake up earlier in order to be successful. However, I’ve found that the wake-up time is not as important as the routine you follow. Besides, your optimal wake-up time depends a lot on your biological clock and is different for everyone.

The very first thing I do after waking up is to drink two glasses of water. This wakes me up and fuels me with energy. It literally takes me one minute but it makes a huge difference in my awareness level.

After 7–8 hours of being without water, the human body is dehydrated, which results in feeling foggy and unfocused. Drinking two glasses of water right after waking up is highly effective for waking up well.

Yes, I often eat 2–3 cooked eggs with spinach and avocado. This way, I get enough proteins, vitamins, and healthy fats (which are essential for optimal brain performance). I also like to make a smoothie with banana, nuts, seeds, and spinach. I usually eat my breakfast at the end of my morning routine.

I quickly adopted a morning routine because I noticed the positive effects it had on my life. I was a lot more productive on the days I followed a routine.

However, my morning routine changed many times in the past few years. As I continue to grow, my morning routine grows with me. Certain habits were less effective, so I dropped them. But every now and then I stumble upon a new habit that I’d like to try, some of which stick.

I only follow my morning routine during workdays. On the weekend, I completely relax. I do sometimes meditate or journal on a Saturday or Sunday morning, but I don’t force myself. As long as I perform at peak levels from Monday to Friday, I allow myself to fully relax during the weekend.

Make it a challenge! Challenges are much more fun than forcing yourself to do something.

My morning routine stuck right after doing a 30-day challenge around it — and it was a lot of fun too! Make a 21/30-day challenge out of following your morning routine daily, and set a reward for completing it. This will make it a lot easier and your success rate will be higher. If you fail one day, don’t immediately quit. Make it a rule to never miss two days in a row.


August Birch

August Birch (AKA the Book Mechanic) is both a fiction and non-fiction author from Michigan, USA. As a self-appointed guardian of writers and creators, August teaches indies how to make work that sells and how to sell more of that work once it’s created. When he’s not writing or thinking about writing, August carries a pocket knife and shaves his head with a safety razor. To find out more, click here.

I wake up at 6 a.m. every morning. I feed the animals, do morning chores, make lunch for my son, and get myself ready for the day.

The first thing I do in the morning is to make coffee. Without it, I don’t function well. I make pour-over coffee, so the process takes about 15 minutes. While I make coffee I listen to audiobooks or podcasts and do stretching and push-ups on the kitchen floor.

I eat a high protein/low carb protein bar and a few handfuls of nuts, with iced tea.

I do the same routine every day — unless I’m on vacation. This has taken a few years to perfect.

If you’re trying to make a new routine, use a permanent habit you already have as a cue — such as brushing your teeth. Say you want to drink water every morning. Place an empty glass next to your toothbrush every night. You can build a new routine easily with piggybacking.


John Gorman

John Gorman is a writer in Austin, Texas. Find him at Medium and Instagram.

I like waking up before the sun rises. I like being able to leisurely stroll into my day. Go for a run. Tidy up a bit. Write something over coffee. It really helps me feel like if nothing else, I own my mornings, before the day’s distractions take me away from what I wish I could be doing, I am able to dictate the terms of my first three hours. And that’s usually enough to propel through the others.

I’m a pretty lazy guy in the morning, sans caffeine. I like to at least get a cup in so I can get my wits about me and figure out what else I want to be doing. I’ll often listen to music, to get me going. Generally rap or hip-hop. Something with a beat I can bop to.

I typically don’t eat until lunch. I’m not hungry in the mornings. This is my weight loss secret: don’t eat three meals per day just because they tell you to. If you’re not hungry, you can get by with two. Coffee in the morning and sometimes a green juice. A pastry or something if I’m overseas and the bread is good.

It’s not really a routine so much as it’s a philosophy: 5:45 a.m. gives me enough time before work at 9 a.m., where I can start my day without feeling rushed. I hate feeling like I’m behind on stuff, so 5:45 a.m. was the time I agreed upon and since then I’ve kept it up. The change was instant. On weekends I’ll sleep in, usually until about 7–8 a.m.

Routines aren’t for everyone. Mornings aren’t for everyone. The key is to find a way to work within yourself rather than try and map your approach to life and your day to other people. You are not them. You are you. As long as your work gets done and you feel happy and healthy, fulfilled and organized, that’s what matters.


Lessons learned

There you have it! The ten routines of top authors! Although they all work differently, we can definitely identify some common characteristics. Here are the facts that stand out. Hopefully, they can inspire you to build a better foundation for the beginning of your day:

  • 7 out of 10 authors have breakfast every morning.
  • 8 out of 10 authors wake up between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m.
  • 10 out of 10 authors have a morning routine, at least on the psychological level. They mentally prepare for their day, without necessarily having the same practical rituals every morning.
  • 6 out of 10 authors have a practical morning routine they stick to every day (at least during the week). For most of them, it has taken months or even years to perfect.
  • 7 out of 10 authors journal and/or write their goals.

Here is the breakdown of my favorite pieces of advice.

  • David Kadavy: Start with one, tiny thing. Do that one tiny thing every day or weekday for a month. Add one tiny thing at a time.
  • Nicolas Cole: Focus less on “morning” part and more on the “routine” aspect. You can practice forming routines in just about every facet of life, so find something you can practice, build it into your life.
  • Matthew Kent: Track your progress on a calendar, one cross a day.
  • Josh S. Rose: Your morning routine needs elements of things you love. If you love it, you’ll look forward to it.
  • Alex Mathers: You need to know why you’re doing this. If you don’t, you will find excuses to stay in bed. Break down your why.
  • Tara Blair: If you promise to yourself to have a specific morning routine, think of it like a promise you’re making to someone else. Commit.
  • Anthony Moore: Brush your teeth, drink some water, and consume protein!
  • Jari Roomer: Make a 21/30-day challenge out of following your morning routine daily, and set a reward for completing it.
  • August Birch: Use a permanent habit you already have as a cue. You can build a new routine easily with piggybacking.
  • John Gorman: Find a way to work within yourself rather than try and map your approach to life and your day to other people. Do you.

Final words

I want to thank personally each and every one of the authors who took part in this. Thank you not only for taking part in my project — and also for taking the time to write insightful answers to my questions. I am deeply grateful to: David Kadavy, Nicolas Cole, Matthew Kent, Josh S. Rose, Alex Mathers, Tara Blair Ball, Anthony Moore, Jari Roomer, August Birch, and John Gorman.

This project has been really fun to put together, and it has been a great motivator to wake up earlier myself to work on this piece every morning. The final result is a great source of inspiration and ideas for anyone looking to implement or perfect a morning routine in their life.

I hope you enjoyed my article and feel more motivated about kick-starting your day tomorrow!

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Joseph Mavericks

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Learning to live with a purpose and improve myself is changing my life. I write about the journey. josephmavericks.com/subscribe

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