Wake up (wake up)

Grab a brush and put on a little make-up: this is the Cynic's Guide to morning routines

Every day, the first thing I do is wake up.

In my experience, that’s the best way to start a successful day, and I haven’t missed one yet.

It is, of course, 3 AM, the time all high-functioning people awake. The bright stars shine, brightly. Elves are abroad, softly singing songs of long-lost Valinor. Normies would never witness this.

I go for my first of several runs, bowels loosened by my pre-bedtime breakfast of Soylent, castor oil, and vitamin R. Then I go for a run using my feet, and legs.

As I complete the marathon, the sun is rising. I pause to do my morning breathwork, staring deep into the baleful yellow eye of Earth’s only known star. My eyes water gratefully.

From there it’s a quick trip home, deftly avoiding the odd tree or car that seems to rise up above the black void that has opened up in my vision — as a result of, I presume, mindfulness. Then it’s to work, at whatever vague thing I do. After thirty minutes of prompting ChatGPT to give instructions to the people who I have artfully coerced to do my job, the working day ends and I do my first hour of mindfulness. Then there’s lunch, a quick skip across the pond in a private jet to do lunch with the latest PM, then golf, followed by 19.2 minutes of extremely high quality time with one of my children, not sure which. I journal on the flight home — there’s nothing like flying for getting writing done — slug my soylent cocktail, and at long last slip into bed at 5:30 PM, utterly spent. My wife nudges me with a light in her eye, but I’m already snoring, satisfied in a way that mere intimacy with another human being can never provide.

In case you can’t tell, I was being sarcastic.


Routines are a whole thing in self-improvement land. Search Tik-Tok for “morning routine” and prepare to be (if you are me) incredibly bored by beige weirdos earnestly explaining how and why they get up at 5 AM to journal before nipping to the gym, interposed with people dunking on people who get up at 5 AM and journal before nipping to the gym. Such is modern life. Everything is polarised; pick a side.

The routines of the famous make even richer reading. Here are the daily routine and affirmations of current jailbird and former Theranos CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, written down on (of course) a piece of stationery from a high-priced hotel.

This shit is bannannas. B-A-N-N-A-N-N-A-S.

Celebrity routines are even funnier. Because the job of most celebrities is to go to the gym in between acting gigs, their routines can be as wild as their imaginations can make them. From an interview with the Sunday Times, here is Orlando Bloom’s routine:

I’m a Capricorn, so I crave routine. Fortunately my partner is really into that too1.I chant for 20 minutes every day, religiously. I’ve had a Buddhist practice since I was 16, so that’s infiltrated my whole being. I’ll read a bit of Buddhism and then I’ll type it up and add it to my [Instagram] Stories. Other than that, I won’t look at my phone yet. I don’t want to be sucked into the black hole of social media.

I like to earn my breakfast so I’ll just have some green powders that I mix with brain octane oil, a collagen powder for my hair and nails, and some protein. It’s all quite LA, really. Then I’ll go for a hike while I listen to some Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots.

By 9am it’s breakfast, which is usually porridge, a little hazelnut milk, cinnamon, vanilla paste, hazelnuts, goji berries, a vegan protein powder and a cup of PG Tips. I’m 90 per cent plant-based, so I’ll only eat a really good piece of red meat maybe once a month. I sometimes look at a cow and think, that’s the most beautiful thing ever.

There’s a doctoral thesis in there. I find “brain octane oil” especially intriguing, but so are beautiful cows and an entire food pyramid masquerading as “porridge.” Let’s not get too hung up on Orlando’s relatively sane routine, though, when we could be looking at Mark Wahlberg’s, which he posted to his own Instagram.

-   2:30 a.m. — Wake up

-   2:45 a.m. — Prayer time

-   3:15 a.m. — Breakfast

-   3:40-5:15 a.m. — Workout

-   5:30 a.m. — Post-workout meal

-   6 a.m. — Shower

-   7:30 a.m. — Golf

-   8 a.m. — Snack

-   9:30 a.m. — Cryo chamber recovery

-   10:30 a.m. — Snack

-   11 a.m. — Family time, meetings, and work calls

-   1 p.m. — Lunch

-   2 p.m. — Meetings and work calls

-   3 p.m. — Pick up kids from school

-   3:30 p.m. — Snack

-   4 p.m. — Second workout

-   5 p.m. — Shower

-   5:30 p.m. — Dinner and family time

-   7:30 p.m. — Bedtime

This came out a while ago so better sleuths than me have covered it, including the 2:30 AM wake-up, the venality of mingling “family time,” with “meetings and work calls,” the improbable 30 minute golf game, and the 1.5 hour snack2, followed by another hour spent in a “cryo recovery chamber,” whatever that is, to deal with whatever the snack was. An elephant, I assume.

This has been the stuff of mockery for a long while. In the Ancient Times circa 2016, some daily routines — from routine dudebros, not celebrities — went viral. Because the Internet is actually not the bastion of permanence we all thought it was but an ephemeral void populated by ghosts, I can’t find it anywhere. From memory, it was stuff like “I wake up to the red light alarm I had installed to deal with my SAD and go stare at the sun3 for twenty minutes, before meditating and making myself a kale shake.” At the time, it received plenty of mockery on Twitter, whose users love a new Main Character.

And I feel that is just a bit unfair.

The trick is that writing anything down in a deliberate, ordered, meticulous format automatically makes whatever you’re doing seem psychotic, even if it’s painfully ordinary.  For example, here’s how my day actually tends to go.

I wake up and listen to Leo chatter to himself in his bed. Eventually I hop up, get him out of bed, change him straight away if I smell anything suspicious, stumble to the kitchen, put the kettle on, sit Leo down and give him whatever he’s getting for breakfast. Then I’ll grab my phone and read whatever’s at hand - emails, messages I got during the night, the usual social media time-suck. Often enough I’ll follow that by grabbing my laptop and tap away at work stuff (or, too often, hop down unhelpful time-wasting rabbit holes like checking my various inboxes over and over and over) in my pyjamas while I slurp at a coffee. Some days, I’ll fit in a run or a bodyweight workout. At some stage I will have a shower, followed by making the bed, and then the day is a miscellaneous hodgepodge of work, meetings, bouncing off unhelpful websites and time-sinks, responding to a sporadic but constant patter of notifications, making food, dad tasks, eating food, putting Leo to bed, staring at a big screen while taking breaks to stare at a smaller screen, sometimes writing something like this newsletter, then bed.

Fairly normal for a dad who works from home and thumps a keyboard for a living, I assume. But watch what happens when I write out the same thing, add some extremely hypothetical timestamps, plus a bit of of flowery description and self-help psychobabble.

  • 7 AM: I awake, watching the sun slip through the gap in the curtains and feeling my heart swell with love as my son laughs himself awake. I leap out of bed, stride purposefully into his room and help him begin his day.

  • 7:15 AM: I begin my morning routine in the kitchen, relishing the aroma of coffee brewing. I take my coffee outside, and drink in the cool morning air and bright sun. I also drink the coffee.

  • 7:30 AM: I prepare my son a healthy breakfast of oats and milk, with a touch of cinnamon and honey. Sometimes I add a little fruit — perhaps peach, or kumquat.4

  • 8:00 AM: I begin my working day, responding to emails and requests from clients and colleagues.

  • 8:30 AM: I drop my son at preschool, watching him skip happily away and chatter with his friends. I am truly #blessed.

I’ll stop there or it will go on for another thousand or so intolerable words. I was starting to feel queasy so I can’t imagine how you were doing.

The reason I bring this up is because we all have routines, whether we know it or not. I don’t have a set bedtime or an alarm, but since I started wearing a smart watch I’ve been amazed by how consistently I go to sleep and wake up very similar times. Without planning or meaning to, I do nearly the exact same things every morning, with slight differences.

My realisation is that if I nudge just a little bit more purpose or planning into things I already do I could get quite a lot more done with very little additional effort. To take one example: what if — once I was on my computer — I didn’t flick between social media, work emails, and random internet bright lights and loud noises, instead concentrating on just working, or just socializing, or just scrolling? Or how about if I cleaned the kitchen while my son eats his oats (with just a soupçon of cinnamon) instead of zoning out at my laptop? Going a little further — what if I bundled up my heavy day-job workload into a specific time-bracket, thereby carving out time for my elusive alleged hobby, actually fucking painting?

Doing these fundamentally sensible things has occurred to me many times in the past, and I’ve even given it a go a few times, but I’ve never stuck the landing. I think the reason I have struggled with intentional routines — as opposed to the unintentional ones I follow effortlessly — is, I think, twofold: I haven’t wanted to buy into the psychotic cult-like thinking of extreme routine-followers, and because I feel all plans are doomed to fail. The problem with a planned schedule or routine is that it will inevitably, often immediately, break. If you have anything like a normal life, something unforeseen will come up. In the likely event that whatever life throws at you is going to take more than thirty minutes, your precious schedule is fucked. And then, instead of feeling joy from having answered work emails or stared at the sun for the requisite twenty minutes, you’re staring down the black hole of an early-morning failure.

But perhaps the fact that celebrity routines are stuffed with obvious lies should be a clue: a perfect routine simply isn’t possible. So what needs to change is the expectation of perfection. Of course it’s not always going to work. It just needs to mostly work. And you don’t need to get up at 2:30 AM with the elves.

An image suggesting a morning routine, featuring a coffee, a diary (with an entry that reads "stay healty") and, for some reason, pinecones.
“Stay Healty.” And don’t forget to eat your pinecones.

So — how about you? Let me know if you’ve had any success planning routines, or sticking to them, or if you’ve had more luck throwing yourself before the whims of chaos. I reckon both are valid, but if your plan involves shutting yourself in a freezer for an hour every day, maybe see a doctor first.

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  1. Orlando Bloom’s spouse is Katy Perry, who is a Scorpio, so I guess both star signs are routine-compatible?

  2. This routine fascinates me, not least because it features at least six meals (including the snack that apparently lasts for more than an hour.) In fact, if you count them, and rename appropriately, each day Mark Wahlberg eats: Breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, and dinner. Dude’s a hobbit.

  3. I will talk about the sun thing in another newsletter because it’s a great example of something I keep finding in self-improvement: a piece of unusual advice that’s in certain ways backed up by science, with very important caveats, and which is immediately ruined by algorithm-addled influencers and authors whose entire job seems to be taking science wildly out of context.

  4. All of this is true except the kumquat. I don’t actually know what kumquats are.