Early morning is the best time of the day – it’s quiet and full of promise. You can positively set the tone for the whole day in the first hour by working through a consistent routine.
After my alarm goes off just after 5am, I wake up with 20 minutes of visualising the day ahead and all its potential pitfalls and opportunities, I then enjoy a shower (hot or cold depending on the season) followed by my first coffee of the day in my favourite mug whilst listening to the dawn chorus. Finally I unstack the dishwasher!
Every day after this first hour routine I feel set for a good day ahead. I have chosen my state and it is always a positive one. I have modified this routine over the past few years as I have adopted different suggestions from various people (although to be fair no one recommended the dishwasher!) and I enjoy reading about other peoples’ morning routines.
This was one such recent article in The Guardian newspaper by journalist Candice Pires where six different people described their first hour routines. It’s great reading.
The CEO: Philippa Brown wakes at 6.29am and works for 30 minutes before getting up
I reach for my phone at 6.29am – one minute before my alarm goes off. My husband wakes up about the same time and one of us goes and lets out our two Dachshunds and brings the tea back to bed.
Sitting in bed, I spend 30 minutes on emails that came in overnight. As I do this I’m thinking about the day ahead and start role-playing some of the meetings I’ll be having. I’m chief executive of a media agency and am responsible for 1,700 people, and over 270 clients.
At 7am, I go to wake up the kids. We live in a five-storey house in Fulham. Our 16-year-old daughter is one storey up and I’ll take her an apple juice and a cereal bar. Then up another flight is my 13-year-old son. He’s like me and doesn’t eat in the morning.
We built a gym in our basement and a couple of days a week, I’ll jump on the cross-trainer, switch the news on and have my iPhone propped up for any emails that might come in. It’s a kind of meditation time for me. Each morning I have a bath and wash my hair. I fill the bath with Radox and take my second cup of tea in with me. I don’t spend long in there.
On days that I have an important lunch or evening event, my hairdresser comes over at 7.30am to give me a blow-dry. He’s like family. While he’s doing my hair, I’ll be sending emails to myself. I also have a to-do book which I constantly scribble in to get rid of stuff in my head.
I don’t spend long getting dressed. I love wrap dresses, and pretty much wear the same black court shoes every day. During this time, the kids and my husband will usually have said bye. Then I pick up my briefcase and bag, run down the stairs and out the front door into a cab. I pay for a cab so I can sit in the back and work. I use those 45 minutes to go through the day with my PA, look over my to-do book, do phone calls and emails and put my make-up on. By the time I get to work, I’m ready to go.
The chef: Asma Khan wakes up every morning with a phone call from her mum
Unless the birds fighting outside my window are particularly loud, I’m always woken up by a phone call from my mother. I live in London, but she lives in a small town in Uttar Pradesh and is four and a half hours ahead. Every day she begins by asking: “Did I wake you up?” I always lie as she would feel bad if she knew she had. I never turn my phone off at night. When half the people you love are so far away, you always keep it on in case someone needs you.
It’s never a short call so I leave the bedroom so my husband can sleep. She picks up from our conversation the night before, when I’d have been preparing for a supper club or catering for a party. She used to work in food so she always wants to know how my event went. She’ll give me ideas for how I should have done it better, which is really sweet. I don’t cook anything other than what she taught me, which is the Islamic food of India.
For that first half hour of the morning, speaking to my mother takes me home. I hear her telling my father answers to the crossword he’s doing. We speak in English, but when we talk about food, there aren’t enough words for the flavours and smells and colours, so we switch to Urdu Hindi.
The night before I’ll have soaked fenugreek seeds and I’ll drink that while we talk. It tastes horrible, but I’m borderline diabetic and I drink it for my health. My mother tells me: “Eat the seeds.” I can’t believe she’s running my drinking from so far away.
After the call, I get my kids out of bed. My older son requires a lot of shaking, but the younger one is always washed, ready and has his hair combed without any prompting.
I then make myself a masala chai with leaf tea, fresh ginger and spices. I make enough for three or four cups during the day. My husband makes his own green tea. We don’t get involved in each other’s tea-making. I have my first cup with six Rich Tea biscuits. I know it’s too many. But it brings me peace. When I came to this country, I lost so many things, but this ritual is something that stayed the same.
I’d be lost without my routine. When I was small, I struggled to wake up and my mother used to bring me masala chai and get into my bed and we’d chat. On the rare occasions I can’t speak to her now, I spend the day feeling like I’ve forgotten something.
The radio presenter: Dotun Adebayo sleeps all morning and stays up all night
I wake up in broad daylight to a quiet house. I can usually hear kids on the street outside playing and people passing in cars with the music up loud, as if they’d been awake for hours. Which they have. It’s like everyone else is a step ahead and I have to catch up. It can be a pretty lonely existence working a night shift. Even when I get in at 5.30am and my adrenaline is buzzing from work, I tiptoe around as my wife and teenage daughters are asleep.
But working nights as a radio presenter comes easily to me. I was born in the nighttime and as a teenager I couldn’t get enough of it. I’ve been doing it for 16 years. It was great when my children were small because I could be around in the day for them.
Unless I have an urgent appointment, I don’t set an alarm. I try to let my body do its own thing. So I can get up at 12pm or 4pm. Often I’ll nap again later. Being a journalist, when I do emerge, I immediately go online and catch up with the news. I start with the BBC and the wires, then all the newspapers. Reading the news first thing impacts my day. It’s always in the back of my mind and I’m thinking about how I’m going to engage with it in my show later. In my profession, you take your emotion out of it, but now and then it’s not easy. For example, when Chuck Berry died, that really affected my spirits.
I run a book publishing company, too, so next I catch up with emails. The way we work now, people expect a reply within minutes. But because I’m getting to messages four hours later, I feel I have to do a really fast catch-up on them.
I never feel like eating first thing. When I arrive at work at 9pm, that’s my breakfast time. In the day I tend to lay off coffee; I don’t want my body to be too used to it so that it can really do its job if I’m on a night shift and need a big rush.
When I leave work early in the morning and my colleagues are coming in for the breakfast show, I have a smile on my face and always say to them, “I bet you wish you were on the night shift now, don’t you?” My life may not have what other people call routine, but it works for me.
The dairy farmer: Paul Tompkins wakes at 4.30am. The first thing on his mind is cows.
“How have the cows got on overnight?” That’s the question that wakes me up at 4.30am every morning. We have 200 cows that we milk and a further 200 young stock, so something’s usually happened.
As soon as I get out of bed, I’m at work. We live above our farm in Yorkshire and I don’t have time to waste because there’s a full day ahead. My clothes are in a pile in the bedroom and I pull them on as quick as I can. I head downstairs and slip on overalls, waterproofs, wellies and a hat if it’s cold. From bed to fully dressed takes me six or seven minutes. To avoid waking my stomach, I don’t drink or eat.
Every day when I step outside my back door, the farm looks a little bit different. In the summer it can be glorious with the swallows darting in and out of the passageway and over my head. In the winter it can be so crisp and cold that all the cobwebs have frozen.
I quickly get the milking parlour ready for operation, then I go to the shed, open the door and shout: “Morning, girls! Milking time.” I love seeing them every morning. Cows really like routine and they’re always ready. If I’m just four minutes late, there will be a queue at the barn door. They walk through to the parlour. I know who will come first, so if there’s one that I’m expecting and she doesn’t come, I’m already worrying. I have someone help me with the milking, but there’s an agreement that we don’t really talk until breakfast.
The cows are milked in groups of 12 and are in there for 10 to 15 minutes. It takes me about three hours to milk all of them and then I do it again in the evening. I do the same thing for every cow, every day – which makes them feel safe and secure. For me, the repetition is almost therapeutic. I cast my mind to other things that are happening in the day. There’s a lot of time so it’s important to not dwell on problems. Once I’ve cleaned the equipment, it’s 8.30am. The children appear outside the parlour door on their way to school and we say goodbye.
I head to our kitchen with some milk straight from the cow’s udder to chill it. I put it on my cereal and drink a glass. It tastes so much richer than bought milk.
I never wake up and think: “I wish today was different.” Following the same routine allows me to be efficient.
The prisoner: Peter Mack from California wakes at 4am and starts his long day with exercises and prayers
Ever since being in prison, I wake up throughout the night. First at midnight, then 3am and then finally at 4am, I’m up for the day. Lying in bed, I do 100 sit-ups to loosen my spine and keep my stomach right.
When I get out of bed I’ll brush my teeth, wash my face and shave my head. I follow that with another quick workout of 55 side bends, 50 shoulder shrugs, 50 squats and 50 push-ups.
Then I get back on my rack and put on Spotify. I listen to an Islamic call to prayer and do breathing exercises, prayers and affirmations. During this time, I’m envisaging what I want to achieve. I was introduced to Sufism 10 years ago and while I wouldn’t say that I’m Muslim, I am a believer that through religion, we all speak the same truth.
After prayers, I sit on my bed, I have my phone on my lap with my knees raised up and I write. I’ve been incarcerated for 10 years and when I was first sent to prison, I was put in solitary confinement for trafficking drugs inside. There, I began writing. I wrote on paper and when I got out of “The Hole” I typed it up on a typewriter and sent it to publishers and got my first book deal.
I write for an hour or two on whatever manuscript I’m working on. I’m currently writing a book called Brenda, about a young girl who gets caught up on the street. We’re not officially allowed phones in prison, but the security squad has been in my cell enough times to know that I’m a writer. I kind of stay out of the way and they allow me to do what I do, so long as I don’t cause any trouble. When I’ve had phones taken away from me, I’ve used a typewriter.
At 6.30am they open our cell doors, and people go to breakfast. That’s when I get out of bed properly. I generally eat in my cell. I order a food package from an outside vendor and they mail it to me. In California prisons, anyone can order food, no matter what their level of custody. I like to have oatmeal with apple, a scoop of creamy peanut butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon. Sometimes I’ll ask my cellmate to bring me back a milk and I’ll have cereal.
The mornings are when I feel safest. When I’m writing, I feel free, like I’m living outside of the walls. I’m always looking forward to that space of quiet time. Once I’ve finished writing I feel like I’ve accomplished my morning duty, it’s like getting the kids off to school.
The young athlete: Amber Anning wakes up at 6am, feeling a bit sick if it’s a race day
I only became a morning person recently. I’ve been aiming to qualify for the sprints in the Commonwealth Youth Games, but I tore my hamstring. So for a couple of months I was getting up at 6am to do strength and conditioning training before school. Rather than hitting the snooze button and finding it impossible to roll out of bed like I usually do, I’d get up immediately. I had a goal and didn’t want to waste an opportunity to train and get back to good health.
I wear braces on my teeth and the first thing I always do when I wake up is go to the bathroom and take my retainer off.
During my rehab period, I’d then go back to my bedroom and do my exercises on the floor for about 45 minutes – mainly core and back work. Listening to music with a strong beat really motivates me. Even though I’m 16, I still love High School Musical to work out to.
On weekends when I have a competition, no matter what the event, I wake up feeling a bit sick. I find it very difficult to control my nerves. I tend to not talk to anyone and just go over the race plan in my head, trying to stay positive, because when I get negative it affects my performance.
School mornings have been especially hard during my GCSEs. On exam days I had to put some of my stretches on hold so I could do a bit more revision or look at past papers before breakfast. My mum’s drilled it into me that studying takes priority over athletics.
I always get ready in the same order. Thankfully I have a school uniform because without it, I’d take ages deciding what to wear. Once I’m dressed I go downstairs and eat breakfast: schooldays it’s always Shreddies and Frosties with milk, orange juice, then toast with jam; competition days it’s always porridge with bananas. Then I get my school books ready if I haven’t already done it the night before, brush my teeth and the school bus picks me up outside our house at 7.30am.
Now that my exams are over and my injury has gone, I’ve gone back to lying in bed for as long as possible. But if I need to do early mornings again, I know I can.