I had coffee with a friend of mine a couple days ago, and he said something that really resonated with me. He told me that when he first wakes up, he tries to immediately engage in something creative before doing anything else. He hypothesized that doing so would launch your mind into a creative mode.
Those first moments upon waking seem to be crucial for setting the tone of your day. Unfortunately, many people wake up and as we sip those first sips of coffee, we mindlessly scroll through our Facebook newsfeed, turn on the news, or scan the flood of emails that came in during the night. These kind of activities, though at times necessary, can have a dulling effect on the mind.
Try refraining from these activities for at least 15 minutes upon waking. Use those quiet moments of alone time in a mindful, constructive way. It may be as simple as writing 10 words concerning your intention for the day. I once read a book called The Artist’s Way where the author, an artist, advocated writing three full pages of stream-of-consciousness blabber in your journal before doing anything else. She said you should routinely empty your mind of all its residual junk in order to make room for new information and fresh ideas. My friend said he usually sketches or writes something. I have experienced the same therapeutic , mind-cleansing effect when I run or do yoga first thing in the morning.
Before you go to bed tonight, think about how you would like to begin your day when you wake up tomorrow. Then, lay out physical reminders that you’ll won’t be able to see past. Turn your laptop face down. Set your journal or sketch pad out on the kitchen table. Place your running shoes in front of your bedroom door. Roll our your yoga mat at the foot of your bed.
Don’t let yourself begin your daily routine until you have engaged in your creative activity. Or more specifically, identify one aspect of your routine that you enjoy doing. Personally, I hate the feeling of having not showered yet. Because working out is a priority for me, I don’t allow myself to shower until I have done some kind of physical activity (running, yoga, etc.). For you, if you derive satisfaction from checking your email, don’t allow yourself to do so until you have completed your “creative” action for the morning.
I challenge you to try this for several days in a row, and see if it alters your mindset upon waking up. In my experience, doing so allows me to approach my day with a clear, focused mind.
I strongly believe that I could not have made it through my first two years at Stanford without the early morning habit. At the beginning of freshmen year, I was constantly exhausted, underslept, and irritable. It was difficult to focus during the day because of all the activity around me. When I tried working late at night, I produced low-quality work.
I haven’t always been a morning person, but I slowly made the transition using simple tricks, tools and habits. I now wake up around 5 a.m. every morning, and those early hours are the most productive of my day.
A typical morning looks something like this:
5:00 a.m.: The alarm rings.
5:20 a.m.: Work-out clothes already on, I brew my coffee, cook an egg/feta/spinach omelette or whatever else I might be craving.
5:30 a.m.: I sit down with my breakfast and give myself at least five minutes to focus on my food and coffee. This intentional eating, coupled with a clear effort to set my intention for the day, sets a mindful and purposeful tone for the next few hours. I look over my schedule for the day, prioritize my work, and then begin, starting with the most important items first.
Note: I try to refrain from checking email/facebook/texts until around seven. No email needs a reply this early anyway. These early hours are the time for me to be alone with my work, without distraction. To reduce any kind of temptation, I usually set SelfControl for an hour and a half, having added Facebook, Gmail, etc. to the blacklist.
7:00 a.m.: Having already completed an hour and a half of completely focused work, I open my email and respond to anything pressing.
7:20 a.m.- 8:30 a.m.: This is the time I set aside each day for either yoga, running, or meditation. This time is essential for me to approach my day with a clear, stress-free mind.
8:30 a.m.: I shower, get ready, and head out the door.
By the time most of my peers are just waking up, I’ve already conquered a significant portion of my work. Additionally, instead of resenting my 9 a.m. classes for having dragged me out of bed, I am well-prepared. Rather than being groggy, I am focused and alert.
Of course, the one downside of this schedule is that I get tired earlier in the evening. Because I don’t always want to go to bed at 10 p.m., I usually take an hour-long nap between classes at some point in the afternoon. This re-energizes me for the rest of the day and enables me to work or socialize late into the evening.
It seems fitting that my inaugural post is about coffee – the substance which has fueled me through many sleepy nights and early mornings. The need to make a “perfect cup” of coffee without terribly fancy equipment and without spending $4 at Starbucks originated out of necessity – the dining hall coffee on campus was a grainy, burnt slush, and with a college student’s budget, I couldn’t afford a Starbucks habit.
A couple general thought before we begin:
- Keep your equipment clean. Any residual sediment from your previous cup with taint your coffee with a stale taste. Be certain that no grounds are caught between the three parts of your French Press’s filter – you can unscrew them and reassemble if need be.
- Buy your beans whole. If you can grind your beans just minutes before you steep them, the quality of freshness will be much better than if you have an open bag of grounds sitting out for weeks.
- Invest in a quality grinder. Though something like this might be a bit more affordable, I’ve found that a Burr Grinder, if you’re willing to splurge, makes a noticeable difference. I have the Baratza Encore Conical Burr Grinder, and I would highly recommend it. The main difference is that with a Burr Grinder, the beans drop into the blade one by one, as opposed to whirling about in one big mass. This 1) produces more evenly cut beans grounds and 2) keeps your unground beans fresh in an airtight container in the event that you grab more beans than you need.
Now that we’ve got our beans ready, our equipment clean, and our grinder in hand, let’s begin. In my experience, 1/4 cup whole beans will grind down to 2 heaping tablespoons of grounds. This is sufficient for one cup. (I just measure my 1/4 cup of beans by grabbing one handful…and who doesn’t love sinking their hand into a bag of whole coffee beans?)
Grind the beans on the coarsest setting possible. This will prevent powdery grounds from slipping through your filter and muddying your coffee. In the photo above, you’ll see I have my grinder set pretty close to 40.
Begin boiling your water. Once it’s boiled, measure 6 oz. This is the standard amount for one cup of coffee. Let the water sit for a few minutes after it boils, ideally until it cools slightly to somewhere between 195 – 205 F. Water that is too hot will burn your grounds and produce a distinctly bitter taste.
The ultimate strength of flavor in your cup with be contingent upon both the amount of coffee and the steeping time. I prefer my coffee on the stronger side, so I use 2 heaping tablespoons per cup. Feel free to use less if you desire.
Standard coffee brewing time ranges from 4-6 minutes, but I usually set my timer for 6. Remember, don’t cover your cup while the coffee brews – the grounds require fresh air to steep fully.
Stir occasionally throughout the six minutes. A light foamy layer form will form.
Once the six minutes are up, pour the mixture through a filter and into your french press. As far as French Presses are concerned, I find that the delicate glass ones are prone to break easily, which is inconvenient given how expensive they may be. If you’re living in a chaotic environment, I might suggest something as sturdy as the Frieling Polished Stainless French Press. The higher price might ultimately be worth it if you can expect to be replacing your glass press frequently.
Filter the coffee once more by replacing your lid on your French Press, and pouring the coffee into your cup.
Breathe in the fresh aroma, put your feet up, and mentally prepare yourself for your day.
More information on making lattes and other specialized coffee drinks coming soon!