A Beginner’s Guide to Morning Routines

Every morning I wake up at 6 am. By the time I leave for work, around 9, I’ve meditated, stretched, exercised, consulted the weather, assessed my mood and state of mind, gone over my schedule, picked out a list of tasks for the day, gone through my email, read the news, watered my plants, showered, and groomed.

Depending on the day I may have worked out more, strengthened my voice with some vocal exercises, or written either in a paper journal or on this very blog, as I’m doing now.

This wasn’t always the case. My snooze button could tell you as much. For a long time my morning routine consisted of sleep, sleep, drowsily convince self doesn’t need to attend that 9 am class, sleep some more… shower and dress as fast as possible, head out.

It’s not that I didn’t aspire to do things with my free time. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it in the morning, and once freed from school, or work, I was often too tired to do much of anything. I felt like I was wasting my time.

I want to share 3 ideas that helped me break through.

Humans Require Daily Maintenance

It started with some shoulder pain. I’m a software engineer, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of computers, often with a bad posture. And so, I started experiencing shoulder pain, especially towards the end of the work day.

In looking for solutions I realized that I was going to need to stretch and do some simple exercises every single day, probably for the rest of my life. It dawned on me that there were many things that humans need to repeat every day to stay healthy and sane.

It’s a notion I had previously rejected. Chores were chores, and I wanted to spend as little time doing them as possible. Sure, I had to sleep. And eat. And clean, I guess. But the 14 leftover hours were all about freedom and exploration. I wanted to do new things and reach milestones every day. I was wrong.

I use my body and mind all day long, and so do you. It’s a complex machine. It works best with daily tune-ups. And yes, they are incredibly repetitive. But they’re also, without a doubt, the best use of my time. I am happier and more productive than ever.

Slow Progress Is Sustainable Progress

The bad news is, this isn’t a miracle solution. I don’t have a “morning routine” pill to sell you. Building a routine takes patience and dedication.

The good news is it doesn’t require bursts of painful effort either. Your best bet is to start small. Pick one thing you’d like to do every morning. Something that only takes a few minutes. Maybe you’d like to meditate. Maybe you’d like to drink water and eat a fruit. Whatever it is, figure out how much time it requires, and set your alarm clock to wake you up earlier by that amount of time.

You may not be able to wake up at 6 am, yet, but I bet you can wake up 5 minutes earlier than you normally do without too much effort.

Do that small thing for a few weeks. You might be eager to reach certain goals, but understand that the path to success is one of slow, incremental progress. Don’t pressure yourself. If you try to do too much at once you’ll deplete your willpower and give up.

Once you’ve become comfortable and confident in your ability to do that small task every morning, add another one to your routine. You can see where I’m going with this. Repeat this process until you have the routine you want. Soon you’ll be amazed at the results you get from doing simple, small things consistently.

You Can’t Break a Flexible Routine

My routine is always evolving. I think about what I could add or remove. I experiment. For a while I would pick my tasks for the day as the first thing. By the time I got to the meditation part of my routine my mind was already buzzing with thoughts about what and how I would do these tasks. Now I meditate before anything else.

Think of your routine as being flexible and adaptable. Over time your needs will change. This is true of long term goals and priorities, it is also true from one day to the next. For example, I stretch every morning. I have 2 lists of stretches. One is very thorough, the other one is shorter and eliminates some of the harder stretches. Depending on my energy level I might do one or the other.

Finally, be kind to yourself. Some days you may need to skip parts of your routine. Perhaps you need to recuperate sleep, or you really don’t feel like it. That’s OK. Give yourself a break and adapt your routine to what you’re able to do that day.

Epilogue

Nowadays I couldn’t imagine not having a morning routine. My habits are ingrained and the benefits obvious. Give it a try. You’ll never look back.

The Engagement Responsibility

I grew up in France. I went to school there, where I developed a keen sense of criticism. One of my recurring complaints was this: We had textbooks, yet teachers made us transcribe their own paraphrased version of all the lessons. There I was, spending hours a day copying information I already had.

Over the years I became less and less motivated. At one time an allegedly bright student, my grades started to deteriorate. Eventually I was described as a slacker.

Now, teachers dedicate their lives to education. They’re meant to help us discover and reach our potential. We rely on them to produce well-adjusted, happy adults. We give them about 20 years of our lives… But for all that responsibility the only advice they ever gave me was “work harder.”

See, I thought being a teacher meant being responsible for teaching. They thought it meant dispensing information. Whether us students learned the material was of little concern.

Here’s the thing, “teachers:” If we don’t learn, you haven’t taught.

But I suppose I did learn something, albeit outside of the curriculum. Me, you, students, all people… We do our best work when we’re engaged. If you’re any kind of leader, a manager, a teacher… own that fact! Give your people the right to be engaged. When they’re not, see what you can change.

Speed Writing

Writing is badass. It’s an accessible and indelible way to make a point. And you get to polish that point for as long as it takes. I enjoy that process, and admire the product. Simple, clear, penetrating words that propagate new ideas and change minds.

But I suffer from perfectionism. I write slow, edit a lot, and often give up midway through. What I share must be worthy of my romanticized view of writing, or so I feel. And yet, what I’ve realized today compelled me to write and share this as fast as possible.

My expectations are too high. Amateur musicians don’t compete with Yo-Yo Ma. Nor do they expect to delight their early audiences. Getting good takes practice, lots of it. I’ll never learn to write good essays if I never finish them. I won’t learn to penetrate people’s minds unless I share what I produce.

And so my experiment begins: Anything I publish I will write in one hour or less. Anything I start writing I will publish. No expectations, just determined practice.

The Best Time to Post on Hacker News

For weeks now I’ve been gathering data on Hacker News submissions, looking to answer the question: what is the best time to submit content to Hacker News?

A few hours on the frontpage can bring in tens of thousands of visitors, but only about 13% of all submissions make it (and not always for very long). You need good content for that, of course, but as you’ll see, the timing of the submissions is also worth considering.

Reaching the Hacker News Frontpage

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The first thing I did was look at the percentage of submissions that reached the frontpage depending on the hour slot at which they were posted. This value peaks at 18% from 7 to 8 AM EST, which is almost a 40% increase from the all-around average.

Now, if you just want the bragging rights that come with reaching the frontpage at least once, that time slot is your best bet. You might then realize that frontpage status is fickle. With nearly 10% of submissions not making it past the 10 minute mark, and some staying featured for much longer, the average time spent on the frontpage is clearly worth factoring in.

Staying on the Frontpage

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So we see submissions from 8 to 9 PM EST will stick to the frontpage for 11 hours on average, in contrast with early morning which bottoms at 6 hours. Now, we could combine this with the likelihood of reaching the frontpage and get the best of both worlds, but, as you might have realized, we’d be neglecting another important factor.

If we submit something at 8 PM and it spends 11 hours on the frontpage, most of that will be night time in the US. Whereas if we post at 7 AM, it’ll spend less time on the frontpage, but all of it will be during daytime.

To figure out which is more interesting we need just one more data set: Hacker News’ hourly traffic. That way we’ll know how much every hour of exposure is worth. Unfortunately, because I don’t have access to that information, this piece of the puzzle will have to be an approximation.

Estimating Hacker News’ Traffic

Luckily we don’t need precise numbers of visitors. Knowing how hour slots fare against each other will suffice. Our best bet then is to look at the voting activity.

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It does look like US visitors command the lion share of Hacker News’ traffic, with spikes from morning until lunch, and then back again at the end of the day. The 4 PM dip is rather intriguing: is it the most productive work hour for hackers? They might also have read everything at that point, though I suppose the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

The Best Time to Post on Hacker News

We are now well equipped to answer the question that started all of this. We can look at the average traffic we would get from reaching the frontpage at any given hour, and if we factor in the likelihood of actually reaching the frontpage, we can decide on a best time to post on Hacker News to maximize our expected exposure.

Aaaand, the best time to post on Hacker News is…

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9 to 10 AM EST. Generally speaking, 7 AM to noon is better than any other time.

Don’t Worry About Your Productivity, Worry About You

After years of roaming the Internet, its video clips, its news aggregators (I’m looking at you Reddit and Hacker News), I’ve become very familiar with a feeling of restlessness. Like I want, or need, to constantly feed information to my mind.

Now I think I’m not alone when I say this frequent need to consume content has taken a toll on my productivity. At the very least, if it hasn’t been too detrimental to my work, it might not be the best use of my free time.

But, as with all things enjoyable (and Internet seems to be in good standing with the short-term pleasure centers of our brains), it’s a very tough habit to kick. Ultimately you’ll always wonder why abandon something you enjoy, and you’ll think about going back often.

Today, I’m happy to say I have kicked this particular habit, and I don’t think I’m going back, ever. And the reason is precisely the restlessness I mentioned earlier. I realized, in fact, I was no longer enjoying the moment. I couldn’t pause anymore. I felt averse to things that didn’t hold my attention like my computer screen can.

So I stopped. I stopped using Internet as a time-filler. I stopped time-filling altogether. My overarching philosophy now is to immerse myself completely in what I’m doing at any given moment, to do only what I’ll be glad I did later, when I look back, and to always take my time.

This for me means no more Reddit and Hacker News, no more casual Youtubing, no more games for gaming’s sake. I’ve stopped using my Rapidshare account aggressively. I’ve even cut back on listening to music while I work. I already didn’t Facebook or Tweet.

Instead I read carefully selected books. I write, I exercise, I spend time with the people I love. Sometimes I do nothing, because sometimes nothing needs to be done.

I don’t plan my next entertainment fix halfway through the present one. I don’t feel guilty for squandering my time. I’m not as stressed as I used to be. The realization that this was really having an impact came to me in my car, actually. It struck me that I wasn’t paying close attention to my speed anymore, because I didn’t care about going as fast as I could. I didn’t care about passing other cars, or getting to places quickly for no particular reasons. I didn’t mind red lights or small traffic jams. I could coexist with a population of idiot drivers.

As far as I can see, cutting back on constant content consumption has been the root cause for what feels like a very refreshing change of pace. This to me holds infinitely more value than the idea of “being more productive” and it goes to show that these habits can in fact be detrimental to our mental health and to our enjoyment of life in general.