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My three hour long morning routine

Aug 15, 2022
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Table of Contents

At the end of 2021, I reached a low point with my worklife balance. I was in the final stages of selling my business and things were rather full on. As well as dealing with lawyers and customers, I still had to manage transcontinental customer support (most of the customers are in the US and I’m in Australia), working a day job and semi-frequently getting paged in the middle of the night due to server meltdowns. As a result of this pressure, my morning routine went out the window.

I’d previously been pretty consistent at doing meditation and some form of exercise in the morning but at that point, my morning routine consisted of getting out of bed, feeling a sense of anxiety about what might have happened while I was sleeping and immediately going to my computer to deal with a seemingly neverending stream of customer emails. If you haven’t tried this before, I recommend you keep it that way: it’s not a pleasant way to begin the morning.

Intellectually I knew it was not a good way to begin the day. What difference would it make to customers if I answered their emails 10 minutes later and did a quick mindfulness session to get myself into a good headspace? Infallible logic yet I couldn’t do it consistently. I’d make plans the night before to do yoga, meditation and go for a run but it wasn’t happening.

Blocking emails in the morning

The only way I broke out of the cycle was by locking myself out of the computer. Initially I used MacOS’s Screentime feature but I found that it was a bit too coarse grained for me because I actually did want to use my computer for some of my habits. I don’t have a TV so if I want to do a follow-along Yoga workout from Youtube, my computer is the best screen in the house.

I ultimately decided to build my own app, Focus Bear, to solve my own problem with my morning routine.

The concept was to lock all apps and websites that were not related to the habit I was doing. When I do my yoga, I would be allowed to play certain Youtube videos (Yoga with Adrienne is always a fave) but the rest of Youtube (and the broader internet) would be blocked. When I wanted to do meditation, I’d allow a different set of Youtube videos (it would randomly choose a different one each morning).

Phase 1: 15 minute morning routine

This approach of contextual blocking worked wonders for me. I began with a very compact morning routine inspired by BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits: 5 minutes of yoga, 5 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of running. On a good day, this felt ridiculously easy: I can comfortably run for 2hrs so 5 minutes is laughable. However, not every day is a good day. On days when I felt harrowed and rushed, the 15 minute routine felt barely manageable but it was nonetheless manageable.

Every week, I added a bit more time to each of the habits. Things started to calm down at work following the completion of the sale of my business in February and I was starting to be able to do a 1hr long morning routine without much trouble.

Building up to 3h

By July 2022, I was up to a 3h long morning routine. The routine looks like this:

  • Wake up (generally 6:30am without an alarm)
  • Do 5 minutes of journalling
  • Do 2 minutes of prayer/affirmations to get myself into a good headspace
  • 15 minutes of “Check for fires” — scanning emails to see if anything truly does need my attention right away. Generally it doesn’t and this quick check alleviates my anxiety and means I can respond to my North American colleagues before the end of their work day.

At this point you’re probably thinking “Hang on — you have checking emails as part of your morning routine? I thought that was the problem you were trying to solve?” True but the difference is that previously it was more like 3h of checking emails — I would get sucked into email conversations that were actually not urgent. Now I have a defined timebox: 15 minutes and no more (Focus Bear kicks me off email after the timebox has elapsed) — enough to see if there’s a real emergency brewing but not so much that I get completely sucked in. If there is a legit fire, I can extend this time period but I have to get my wife to unlock the computer for me (she has my Focus Bear password).

95% of days there isn’t anything particularly incendiary and I can continue with the next phase of my morning routine:

  • 10 minutes of yoga (following along to a random Youtube video out of the ten or so I’ve shortlisted)
  • 30 minutes of HIIT — I follow along with Shaun T’s Insanity Max workouts via (all other websites are blocked)

I’m feeling pretty good by this point. The exercise has well and truly woken me up and I’m generally pretty cheerful and ready to tackle the day.

Next up we’ve got:

  • Another 15 minutes of fire checking
  • 3 minutes of food prep (e.g. put rice in the rice cooker)
  • 10 minutes of deep breathing
  • 30 minute run

The run marks the 2/3 point. I’ve done most of the hard habits now and it’s also after 5pm in the US so I feel less anxious about new fires sparking.

For the finishing leg:

  • 2 minutes to make my bed
  • Another 15 minutes of fire checking
  • 15 minutes of meditation
  • 10 minutes of spaced repetition practice using Anki
  • 3 minutes of Mandarin study using Duolingo
  • 5 minutes to read a few pages of a book related to my work
  • 5 minutes reviewing my calendar and to-do list for the day ahead
  • Cook breakfast

All done 🙂 Because each of the habits is pretty bite sized, I don’t find it particularly difficult. If I had to look at a checklist, it would feel overwhelming but because Focus Bear guides me through the habits one at a time, it’s manageable for me.

For a while I was trying to get it all done by 8am (I often have meetings then) which meant waking up by 4:45am. That felt unsustainable — I was getting a bit sleep deprived and decided instead to wake up without an alarm and get as much of it done as possible by 8am, attend any early morning work meetings and then finish off the rest of the habits afterwards. This is working well for me. I don’t intend to increase the duration of my morning routine any further — 3hrs is already pretty long. However, I would like to optimise my bedtime so I can consistently wake up before 5am without an alarm. That remains a work in progress!

This blog post was first published in Medium

Aug 15, 2022

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