My Morning Routine
Part instruction manual, part someone else’s diary, My Morning Routine reveals how sixty-four of today’s most successful people begin their day — including Calm's Co-CEO, Michael Acton Smith.
We sat down with Benjamin Spall, co-author of My Morning Routine, to learn about the value of creating morning habits. We also give you a sneak peak into Michael's morning routine after the interview. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about the new book and where the idea came from?
We've come to learn that the first few choices you make every morning can unlock greater productivity, creativity, and calm—or bring out your worst self. We were wanted to know what the world's most talented creatives and businesspeople did upon waking.
So, we’ve been interviewing people about their morning routines for the past five years, and the book was a natural (and exciting!) extension of these interviews. Working with Penguin gave us the credibility to reach out to and interview people we would have struggled to get in touch with on our own, including General Stanley McChrystal, Marie Kondo, and Jillian Michaels.
Some routines are all about early morning exercise and spartan living; others are more leisurely and self-indulgent. What they have in common is they don’t feel like a chore. Once you land on the right routine, you’ll look forward to waking up. Our hope is to inspire people to create a morning routine that works for them!
What are some of the consistent themes you came across that many successful people do every morning?
One of the most consistent themes that came up time and again is that well over ninety percent of the people we interviewed for the book don’t hit the snooze button in the morning. Many of them set an alarm, even if just as a backup to hedge against oversleeping, but the idea of hitting the snooze button first thing is completely alien to them.
We also found that a large number of the people we spoke with tidy up their home before going to bed at night as a way to allow them to wake up to a fresh slate. Photographer Andre D. Wagner told us that “Waking up to a clean apartment is the absolute best. It keeps my mind clear.” We personally relate to this also; after all, who wants to wake up and have to immediately start washing dishes?
What did you learn about meditation and morning routines? Was that a habit that appeared often?
So much! We have a whole chapter in the book that looks at morning meditation routines (including meditation routines from a part-time Zen Buddhist priest, the president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, and of course Calm’s Co-CEO, Michael Acton Smith).
The main thing we learned about meditation routines from interviewing people for this book is that it’s important to partner your meditation practice (whether you use Calm, or simply sit cross-legged in silence with your eyes closed) with allowing for meditative and mindful moments throughout your day. It’s no use spending ten or fifteen minutes listening to Calm every morning if you’re then going to rush through your day creating stress at every turn. When you build in moments of mindfulness throughout your day you enhance the effect of your morning meditation practice, and you’ll be happier and more calm throughout the day as a result.
Michael Acton Smith's Morning Routine
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 7:30 a.m. and tend to potter about in a daze trying to remember who I am and what day of the week it is. If it’s a non-foggy San Francisco morning, I make a cup of tea and sit in my living room to watch the sun come up over the bay. I usually drink a glass of water and then, if I’m feeling energetic, I go to the gym.
After the gym, I shower, get dressed while listening to a news briefing, and then walk to work via a coffee shop. I spend about an hour in the coffee shop making calls to the UK, writing to-do lists, reading the news, and answering messages. I’m a big fan of working from coffee shops in the morning as I believe it’s valuable to have a space between home and the office. It gives me a chance to plan and think about the day ahead before being thrown into the noise and interruptions of office life. I love getting into a flow state when working, and coffee shops are the perfect environment for me to achieve this.
How long have you stuck with this routine? What has changed?
About a year and a half—ever since I moved to San Francisco. It’s a lot simpler and more organized than it used to be in London. Back then I had a tricky commute from Soho to Shoreditch, which made it difficult to plan much of my morning other than trying to stay sane on the Central line.
Do you do anything before bed to make your morning easier?
I put my phone into airplane mode, then plug it in to charge, face down, on the floor by the bed. I’ll read before bed most nights as I find it a great way to relax and unwind. Ninety-five percent of the time I read nonfiction.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
Unsurprisingly, I use Calm! We start every day at Calm HQ with a group meditation. We do the Daily Calm together (a ten-minute meditation on a different subject every day). It sounds unusual and very “California” but it really is a great way to start the day with the people you work with.
In the evenings, if I’m stressed at the end of the day and my mind is racing, I’ll take a bath with Olverum oil. On weekends I’ll usually start the day with a meditation at home in my living room, or occasionally I’ll go to Golden Gate Park and meditate in the sunshine. Learning to meditate has definitely improved my sleep by making it easier to switch off when thoughts start swirling around and taking over. At Calm we recently launched Sleep Stories, which are bedtime tales for grown-ups. They are a simple but very effective way to help people relax and drift off.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning?
Unless there’s an emergency or we’re in the midst of a big launch, I try not to open my phone until I’ve left the house and am sitting in a coffee shop.
Most people open up social media and email before they’ve even got out of bed, but I find that’s a rough way to start the day. I think it’s important to let the mind keep wandering and daydreaming first thing in the morning before it gets sucked into the dopamine-frazzled craziness of the online world. I usually have my most creative ideas while I’m in the shower or getting ready for work, but if I have just read something sad or negative online my mind will be racing away in a very different and less productive direction!
What happens if you fail?
I don’t worry about it. Mornings are important because they set us up for the day, but if we’re too strict and regimented we take the fun out of them, and life can become pretty dull. As with most things in life, it’s a balance that we should be constantly playing with and tweaking.