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My Morning Routine As A Remote CEO And Why It’s Always Changing

Prefer to listen? Here’s the audio version of this post! 

Working remotely and having the opportunity to work from home, coffee shops, coworking spaces, or wherever else I might feel the most productive, means that I can design my own mornings because they don’t necessarily need to be spent commuting.

I’ve gone through many different morning routines over the years, and I don’t believe there is one perfect routine for everyone or even just for me. My morning routine is constantly changing and evolving.

So many times I’ve gotten my morning routine into a really great place, and then suddenly something happens like I take a trip, and my whole morning routine is entirely thrown off. Once I’m back in my regular location and trying to keep working on my morning routine, I’ve found that I can’t jump back into the place it was previously I know I need to slowly build it back up. Often times I’ll go to the gym and do just one exercise to kickstart it again.

A little while ago I had the chance to do an interview about my routine with the folks over at My Morning Routine detailing not only my routine but my philosophy around how often it should change and what I do when I fail at my routine. Here’s an excerpt from my interview, the full interview is over here in this blog post and for more morning routines they have a book full of them.

What is your morning routine?

I try to make sure I get at least 7.5 hours of sleep. Sleep is important! Right now, I wake around 6:30 am and drink 500ml of water as soon after getting up as I can. I quickly check company emails for any emergencies, and then most days I do 30 minutes of cardio (swimming or running) and then 10 minutes in the sauna. Then I have a simple breakfast, before starting work. This gives me the best start I’ve found for my day, gets the endorphins going, and makes me feel refreshed and ready to make progress. I know my morning routine won’t stay this way forever, though.

How has your morning routine changed over recent years, and are you currently experimenting with adding or removing anything from your routine?

It’s always changing, and I believe that should be the case. Routines are powerful when they become rituals that no longer require conscious thought and willpower. However, without iteration, they can become stale and can be hard to keep up.

In the last few years, changes I’ve made have been to bring exercise earlier in the day, and make it a top daily priority. I’ve also recently developed the habit of drinking a significant amount of water early in the morning: usually one liter by 10:30am.

Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?

I prepare my exercise clothes or swimming gear, to make that zero effort. I put my phone on to charge on the opposite side of the room so it isn’t the first thing I have within reach when I awake. I have 30 minutes of reading time on my Kindle to wind down from bright screens and give myself the best possible sleep. Most nights I journal to get thoughts and challenges from the day out of my mind and processed.

Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?

I generally check email for anything urgent, but I very rarely answer emails first thing. There are more important tasks I want to put my freshness and a full tank of willpower into.

How soon do you check your phone in the morning?

I check it immediately for any urgent email and then don’t check it again until after exercise. During breakfast, I often use it to catch up on social media and read articles using Pocket, which I then add to Buffer to post interesting articles and my comments to social media.

What are your most important tasks in the morning?

It depends on the day. I generally theme my days. Some are focused on managing and supporting my awesome executive team. Other days I’m working on the product, putting together documents for strategy and process improvement or digging into customer research or product metrics to find opportunities. Once a week I have “deep work Wednesday”, where I aim to have little to no meetings, and use lengths of unscheduled time to read and reflect on high-level vision and strategy.

On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?

I know that the routine will be harder when I am in a new location and environment. I strive for the core pillars of good sleep, exercise, and water first thing, and don’t try to achieve the same full routine I have when I have had several weeks to build up the consistency.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day? 

I used to allow failing an aspect of my routine to negatively impact my whole day. I now see life as a continual fluctuation of routine. There is no constant but change, so if I fail, I know that I need to take away one or two layers of my routine, and get back to the basic pillars: good sleep, a mindful start, exercise, and water. If I fail, or I’m building back routine after some time away, I will do a quarter mile of swimming instead of a mile, or do 10 minutes of running instead of 30. The key is to do each element, even to a tiny degree. Once each aspect is minimally in place, I can build on it further.

Over to You

I’d love to hear from you in the comments! What does your morning routine look like? How often does it change? Were there any parts of my routine that were unexpected to you?

 

Cover photo by Bailey Zindel

  • Neph

    Cool, thanks for sharing.
    Question: How much of your success would you attribute to your morning routine?

    Mine has been messy for the last couple of months since projects and responsibilities are changing a lot in my workplace. However I really find this useful and I kind of see a bunch of opportunities to improve my morning schedule.
    On the other side, I was wondering if you have always been this aware on the importance of having a morning routine or is it something that your role at work suddenly demanded. I ask because I kind of see a pattern among executive and CEOs and their morning activities.

    Best regards and thanks!

    • Great question, thanks for sharing!

      Firstly, I believe that the “morning routine is the answer to everything” narrative around success is over-used by blogs and the media to the point where I feel like it’s pretty much generally false :)

      That said, I can think of a few specific times for me where I’ve had periods of time I didn’t have my routine (morning routine, or generally) in a good flow, and then I made a change and felt much more productive for the couple of months following it, and felt like some of my biggest accomplishments came from that.

      As an example, even in the early days of Buffer, adjusting my routine was a key change I made. When I first started working on Buffer, I was still doing client work full-time, 5 days per week. For a few weeks, I was trying to do my daily client work and then in the evening focus on Buffer. I found it really hard to be motivated, other than through some passion I had to work on it. But I’d often feel drained from the day and get very little work done. I then decided to make a change, wake up early and do 1-2 hours of work on Buffer before I transitioned to client work. It made a massive difference.

      So, the answer is probably “some of my success can be attributed to getting a good routine” but I wouldn’t say it has to be a “morning routine”. It’s more about being deliberate and strategic with your time and what you do in the time you have.

      Hope that helps :)

      • Neph

        Joel,
        This is absolutely insightful and I really appreciate your feedback. I’ll be looking forward to improve and chage some habits on my schedule and daily routine.
        Thanks again and keep up the awesome work on Buffer.
        Best regards from Mexico 🇲🇽

  • Thanks for sharing!

    My morning routine starts with me measuring my weight and body fat, meditation, then running for 20 – 30 minutes. From my personal experience, a mindful start and a quality session of physical activity are essential.

    I used to experience very unproductive days whenever I screwed up my morning routine. But after spending some time to reflect on these incidents, I see it more as a false belief and negative attachment to the morning routine itself.

    Like you’ve mentioned, the core pillars of a good night and morning routine are more important than the details itself.

    Since then, I made a quote “It’s never too late to do the right thing” as my laptop wallpaper as a reminder when I get ready to work.

  • Good stuff Joel. My routine has changed a lot over time as I’ve tried over 100 different rituals. My stalwarts are meditation, stretching and thinking of 1 thing I’m grateful for. I’ll do these when travelling too, even if stretching means touching my toes and meditation means 30 seconds while walking. Other key parts of my current regular morning routine are reading 10-20 pages and working on my blog… which is about creating good mornings:)

    I totally agree that there is no perfect routine and it’s all about strategy and intention combined with life stage, priorities and availability. I recently compiled a list of all the morning rituals I’ve tried, heard about, or want to try… I figured you may be interested so here’s the post of 127 rituals! – https://www.creategoodmornings.com/morning-routine/

  • Michelle Epstein

    Thanks for sharing Joel. I have been trying to focus on my morning routine and this is definitely going to help guide me.

    Question: How do you think the deep dive Wednesday impacts your week and if you miss it how does that impact your productivity?

    Thanks again!

  • Dear Joel, I’m a fan. I shared a few thoughts I had when reading your post, here: http://cluetail.com/en/water-transparency-and-getting-things-done/, including: What’s the hurry with that water? What tools do you prefer for Getting Things Done (GTD)? And how to make a strong case for transparency?

  • Laura Hanson

    Thanks for sharing, Joel! Using the power of routine and developing habits that center and energize you on a daily basis highlights my mission as a health & wellness mentor. Feel free to check out my article for more on this: https://laurajhanson.com/blog/2018/4/11/why-a-mindful-routine-can-enhance-your-productivity

  • Excellent blog post. Very informative one. Thank you!

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