My Morning Routine

For the last few months, my creative output has been in a rut. I didn’t understand how or why. I don’t attribute it to “writer’s block.” (The idea of “writer’s block is stupid. Typing the words is cringe worthy.) The problem, I realized, was how I batched my work.

My Old Morning Routine

Wake at 6 a.m. By 6:30 a.m., I’d sit to write (having washed up and eaten first.) I’d squeeze in 60 minutes of work before getting ready for my bike commute to work. A quarter of that time I spent “ramping up” so actual production lasted 45 minutes. Work consisted of a blog project that’s been in the works (and can hopefully talk about soon) or a script.

The problem was I didn’t protect and cultivate how I spent that time. For example, blog posts were a linear process: research, write, edit, polish, search for images, format the post, check the display, and schedule, in that order.

This methodology was neat and simple. It was also wrong. It didn’t leverage that Golden Time in the morning: alone, with an unopened inbox. A time to be completely selfish. I should carve out this time specifically for activities that require complete focus: writing and editing for content. The rest: polish (line editing), searching for images, formatting, display and scheduling don’t require the same level of concentration. Why waste my most precious commodity (uninterrupted time) on these activities?

I changed the morning routine to leverage this commodity. I want the best opportunity to do good work, and batched the work differently to focus on the right things at the right time.

alarm clocks

My New Morning Routine (for now)

Monday through Wednesday: I wake at 5 a.m. I wash up, drink a protein shake and make coffee. I’m sitting and planning my day by 5:30 a.m. Basically, I ask myself: what do I want to accomplish with my day? What projects will I work on and in what order? If I could only accomplish one thing, what would it be? Sunday evenings I queue up a shortlist of work, so I already have a good idea of the projects and the order to approach them.

From 5:30 a.m. until 7:30 a.m., I only produce. I don’t research, I only edit for content, and I don’t post. It’s about creation only. In the morning stillness, as the sun rises outside the back patio, before the Los Angelinos climb into their steel boxes and head for the 10, I produce more in a single day than what I’d produce in an entire week, under the old schedule. Batching time and work gives me the opportunity to melt into the work, something the old routine didn’t provide. I don’t listen to music. I don’t open a browser. I don’t fend off non-stop interruptions, spending half the time rebuilding momentum or recapturing a train of thought. (This applies not only to writing, but at work, as well. Carving out time, when I’m not under siege by requests from any of the three bosses, or the phone isn’t ringing every 45 seconds, I can attack a Literary Option Agreement long enough to make my comments, or study a lawyer’s comments on a deal to acquire character rights to an Author’s best selling series.)

That is my Monday to Wednesday routine. Thursday I sleep in until 7:30 a.m. I don’t do any work on Thursday morning. It’s typically the only day I drive to work (depending on my drinks schedule) so I practically wake up, eat, and then I’m out the door. On Friday mornings, I wake at 6:30 a.m. and line editing or research before headed to work. This type of low-intensity work I spread throughout the day. Saturday mornings I switch back to high intensity, content producing work.

High Level Thoughts on a Morning Routine

  • Importance of “rest” days – my “rest” days are analogous to working out rest days. In order to produce, you need to recover. I recover on Thursdays and Sundays. Most days I go to sleep around midnight, so by Wednesday morning at 5 a.m., I am sluggish. The way I push through is knowing I have a rest day coming up.
  • Urgency – The first two minutes after waking up feel are the most difficult. It’s warm and comfortable and I have the love of my life asleep next to me. Drifting back to sleep is all I want and on the weekend I’ll occasionally indulge myself. But lately, I’ve been more aware of a sense of urgency. It comes from a combination of things, I think: being in my late 20s, surrounding myself with people who’ve pushed themselves to accomplish great things, being aware that now is the time to take risks and work on projects that I can point to and say, “this may not work” and still effortlessly bounce back from the consequences. This won’t be true forever. The urgency helps propel me out of bed in the morning.
  • “Next action” – I always mark exactly where I ended in a post or idea. It’s eloquently notated with (yes, in all caps) “MING YOU ARE HERE.” It’s difficult to miss. I also write in my project to-do list the next two steps in completing a task, so I always know the direction I’m moving in. This is as simple as, for a blog post, “look up images” and “format post.” At work, it’ll read, “study reversion clause” and “memorize book royalties and break points on the LG contract.”

I’ll adhere to this morning routine for the next six months. Circumstances change, however. For example, if I got a new job, or if I start a new project that involves filming on the weekends — the morning routine needs to flex with these changes. The important idea is: revisit your routines every few months, even if you “feel” like you’re accomplishing a great deal in its current iteration. Can you batch your time and work better? Are you leveraging your greatest resources, at the proper time?

Photo Credit: Nikola and Tamara

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