Crosswords, Cats, and Gray T-Shirts: A Morning with Drew Grossman

Boy George starts his day with 20 minutes of Buddhist Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo chanting. CNN’s Jake Tapper wakes up to email, Twitter, and cups and cups of coffee. For Cheryl Bachelder, the CEO of Popeyes, the day begins with music, reading, and writing her blog. President Obama hits the gym first thing. For Ice Cube, on a good day, his mama cooks him breakfast with no hog.

A lot happens in those first hours of the day. Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational, says people are most productive in the morning. “Not immediately after waking, but if you get up at 7am, you’ll be most productive around 8am to 10:30am,” according to Ariely.

What do you do in the morning?

For the sake of this post, we’re not going to think about how to cram the most productivity into your morning. We’re more concerned about how to prepare yourself, mind and body, for the day ahead.

The Creative Uniform

One of the most recognizable wardrobes of the last decade is that of Steve Jobs. The black turtleneck, blue jeans, and New Balances. Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake created the turtlenecks for Jobs and gifted him hundreds. According to Walter Isaacson's 2012 biography of Jobs, stacks of turtlenecks lined Jobs’ closet. Jobs’ decision to rock a personal uniform may have been inspired by Albert Einstein, who wore the same gray suit nearly every day. Or Jerry Garcia’s black shirt and jeans. President Obama also has a personal uniform, he wears black or blue suits almost exclusively.

A personal uniform saves time, energy, and precious brain power. For a piece in Vanity Fair, President Obama talked to journalist Michael Lewis about his sartorial choices:

“I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many decisions to make.”

The color of your tie is pretty trivial when you’re deciding the fate of more than 300 million Americans.

People adopt a personal uniform for many reasons. For one, once you find what works, you no longer take risks with your wardrobe. Last year President Obama took a risk and wore a tan suit during a statement to the press about the terrorist group ISIS. People were pissed. Stick to the blacks and the blues! But we’re marketers, not presidents. We love risks.

I wade in the waters of a personal uniform. I own four identical gray shirts. I wear them on days I don’t want to think about getting dressed. My uniform is a “signature gray” (as my girlfriend calls my gray shirts), jeans, and boots. My neighbors at Nebo will be happy to hear it’s not the same gray shirt worn two or three times a week. My uniform keeps me comfortable and confident, and I waste no time picking it out or putting it together. Then when I get to Nebo and Brian asks me to brainstorm blog ideas, I’m mentally fresh and not occupied with self-conscious thoughts about whether I pulled off millennial-creative-copywriter-chic that day.

Me Time Before Work Time

I became a cat guy a little over two years ago. Recently I started dedicating a few minutes each morning to checking in with the cats before I go to work and they begin their daily chores. Some people meditate, I do this. It’s important to start your day with time to yourself.

Many of us screw this up in our very first act of the morning. The phone alarm dings and we immediately check email, Twitter, and Facebook. Before our day has a chance to begin peacefully we muck it up with work, and stress, and Twitter snark, and vacation photos from friends we haven’t seen in 10 years.

In a video for Fast Company, author and performance coach Phil Drolet recommends you do the exact opposite of this. Ignore the phone. Use a traditional alarm clock and charge your phone overnight in another room. Instead of starting your day with stress, start it with some me time.

Start your day with a ritual that gets your mind and body up and running at the optimal state, Drolet says. He recommends yoga, meditation, and writing letters of gratitude. I recommend reading, doing a crossword puzzle, or walking outside.

“The most important thing with the morning ritual is to really commit to it 100 percent,” Drolet says. “It’s a lot easier if you’re doing it every single day because you don’t have to think, you just wake up and you do it.”

This sentiment has been proven by pharmaceutical companies that have found when people are required to take medication daily instead of weekly, they are more likely to follow their prescription.

Rituals are great. We’ve all read Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit (or we get the gist and tell people we’ve read it), but rituals aren’t for everybody. Sometimes all your morning needs is a little variety.

The Anti-Routine Routine

At Nebo, we’re asked to be creative everyday. We’re asked to challenge assumptions, question processes, and, when in doubt, buck the system. It’s not easy to do this every day. Especially if our lives become overly routinized. Wake up, shower, cereal, khakis, button-down, brown shoes, I-75, work. It’s hard to have an epic idea when your brain isn’t on.

According to Jim Donovan— happiness expert, workplace consultant, and author of Happy @ Work— it’s important we mix up our daily routine.

Donovan writes in Happy @ Work: “By changing your everyday patterns and habitual processes, you will be creating new neural connections in your brain. Simply changing your route to and from work will expose you to new visual and auditory stimuli.”

We have flex hours at Nebo, meaning it’s no problem to go for a morning hike, dedicate an hour to pleasure reading, or cook an elaborate breakfast. If your workplace isn’t as flexible, you can simply change your route (maybe bike?), call a loved one, or wake up a little earlier (haha just kidding!). The point being, don’t let your morning go stale. Challenge yourself to see the world differently at least a few times a month.

No matter what your routine is, own your morning. Maybe if we all take some time to get the mornings right, our thoughts will be a little clearer, our emails a little less snippy, and our work all the more better.

PS: Speaking of peace of mind, I really hope Game of Thrones didn’t actually kill off Jon Snow. He’s coming back, right?

Written by Drew Grossman on June 18, 2015


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Drew Grossman