Read the full interview here: Sonia Rao's Morning Routine or below.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up at 8:00ish (the “ish” is my hitting the snooze button for an extra fifteen minutes) and usually lay there for a moment trying to remember my dream and thinking about the day ahead. I’ll then shower and get dressed. Even though I work from home most days, I still like to get dressed for the day right away.
I have breakfast, meditate for thirty minutes, and free-write for another thirty minutes. At 10:00am, I check my email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and my phone. I respond to anything that needs a response on these, and then I turn off my phone until evening. (I turn it back on when I need to call somebody, then I turn it off again). Phones drive me crazy - I only feel completely present if mine is turned off and put away, so I try to do that whenever possible. I know I sound like a weirdo, but it’s made me much happier to keep my phone off for most of the day.
At 11:00am, I do vocal warm-ups, practice violin, and work for a few hours. This is my favorite part of the day, when I can put everything out of my mind and focus on music. Right now I’m preparing for a tour, so I’m working on my live set. After touring ends, instead of practicing, I’ll use this time for writing new songs.
At 3:00pm I have a late lunch. I like to get out of the house, so I’ll run an errand, go for a quick walk somewhere, or call my mom. From 4:00pm until 8:00pm or so, I work on the non-music parts of being a musician, of which there are apparently a lot. When I first started out, I didn’t realize how entrepreneurial being a musician would be. I love this other type of creativity, but it does take up quite a bit of time.
Around 8:30pm, I usually go meet someone for dinner or drinks. After working at home alone all day, I try to make sure I go out and see people in the evenings. Sometimes, if I’m in a good workflow, I’ll go three or four days without seeing anyone; this feels okay, though, and is exactly what I need in the moment.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
This has been my routine for the past couple years. It changes depending on what phase I’m in. When I was recording my album in Nashville last year, my schedule was wake up, go to hot yoga, have breakfast and a smoothie, have some coffee, do vocal warmups, record in Alex’s (producer) studio from noon until midnight… and repeat.
When I’m on tour for the next couple months, I’ll be driving and performing almost every day, so it will probably be sleep, drive, play a show, and repeat. I’m really hoping to do some exploring, though, since I haven’t been to many of these cities before.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
I keep changing it, playing with different routines to see what feels best. Even though I’m self-employed and could technically set whatever hours I’d like, I’ve found that I’m most productive and happiest when I stick to the same schedule that most people around me are on.
It’s kind of a “feeling in the city” thing - I like to sleep when others are sleeping and have brunch on Sundays like everyone around me is doing. When I’m out in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, I start thinking, “Am I doing this life thing wrong? Why am I the only person here at Trader Joe’s right now?” and so on, and I start to question all my life choices. To avoid this crisis, I try to stick to a “normal” schedule for the most part. I used to work at a consulting firm, and when I first quit to work on music full time, I thought I would have a non-schedule schedule, writing only when I felt inspired and so on. But I like showing up to write or practice every day, whether or not I feel like it. I think that’s what keeps me moving forward, both in terms of productivity and creativity.
Productivity-wise, I am way too moody of a person to use the “work when I feel like it” method. I would never get anything accomplished. Creatively, I love sitting down at the piano each day and writing whether or not I feel like it. It’s the best therapy. Usually the first few songs I write after sitting down are terrible and I throw them out, but then that third song will be one that I keep. And it reminds me why the “butt in chair” method works, and the cycle continues.
What time do you go to sleep?
I’m usually in bed between 11:30pm and midnight.
There are exceptions, of course. I might go out with friends. I might have a show. After a show, I am too wired to fall asleep right away, so I’m up later on those nights. I like to read for a while before falling asleep. Actually, I don’t think I can fall asleep without reading. It’s tough for me to transition from being awake to sleeping without focusing my mind on another story.
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
Yes, and yes. If I actually get eight hours of sleep, then I don’t hit the snooze button, but otherwise, I hit it once or twice. Going back to sleep feels too good not to do it.
Right now, there is a lot to do before my tour, so I set an alarm every day. On tour, after driving and singing so much, I will probably let my body wake up when it wants to instead of setting an alarm. It’s really important to me to stay healthy and feel good on tour. I want to enjoy it, not struggle through it.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I eat as soon as I’m showered and dressed, so typically a half hour after waking up. I usually have toast with butter and a cup of chai.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
No. I always wanted to be that kind of person, but I hate it. I took a morning spin class once, but it’s so awful. This extremely cheerful person is yelling at you to bike faster, and it’s 7:00am, and it’s all terrible. So I haven’t been back.
I moved to New York from Los Angeles a few months ago. When I was in LA, I was doing hot yoga a few times a week in the evenings. But since I moved to New York, I’ve just been trying to walk for an hour a day, which is pretty easy to do here, even if it’s just walking to meet someone for dinner. I might try to find a hot yoga studio here, though, because I miss it.
Do you have a morning meditation routine, and if so what kind of meditation do you practise?
I meditate for thirty minutes each morning and free-write for another thirty minutes. I’m not sure what type of meditation this is, but I just sit up against my headboard on my bed and focus on my breath. If my mind starts to drift to a thought, then I bring my attention back to my breath.
Mantras and guided meditations feel distracting to me, and I like the simplicity of focusing on my breath. I used to have trouble sticking to a meditation routine, but last year I did a one-week silent meditation retreat and it really changed me. I fell in love with meditation, so now, instead of meditation being something I have to do, it’s something I look forward to doing.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning, or leave it until later in the day?
I usually check my email at 10:00am, but sometimes I check it right after waking up.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
When I go to sleep I put my phone on airplane mode. Sometimes I don’t check my phone until after meditating/writing.
I don’t keep Facebook or any social media apps on my phone. When I used to have Facebook on my phone, it was a terrible thing to check as soon as I woke up; rather than waking up and being with my own thoughts and mood for the morning, I would know about everyone and their moms’ lives before 9:00am. And that’s not how I want to start my day; no offense to everyone’s moms.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Drinking water and taking a moment to feel thankful for another day (this is cheesy as fuck, I know, but I’m trying to answer honestly here). I lose perspective quickly and tend to get lost in the unimportant details of my life. Morning is when my mind is quiet and clear, and when I’m able to see how lucky I am to have another day ahead of me.
I like to have this moment every morning, even if it’s brief, while making tea. I tried to stop drinking caffeine for years, but I’ve given up. I love it and always will.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
I drink a glass of water and then a cup of chai. I drink two more cups of chai as the day goes on. Many more if I’m writing songs that day. If not, I switch to decaf tea and drink that instead.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I usually work on weekends, but I’m more relaxed about my routine. I’ll meet up with friends for brunch or drinks, or I’ll visit my family.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
I love to feel steady and grounded, but with music there is a lot of unpredictability and travel. I think that’s why I create a schedule for myself when I am at home. It gives me a sense of rhythm.
When I am on tour for the next couple months, I’ll be moving between thirty-four cities and I want to feel steady somehow. I will definitely write and meditate each morning; besides these two things, though, I’ll leave the rest unscheduled. The shows are already so scheduled, so I want to use whatever time is leftover to explore the cities I’m in and write new songs.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
Following a routine is good for me and it allows me to write and practice and play shows, but if I do that for too many weeks in a row, I start to feel like a robot. So every so often I like to completely ignore it and see where the day takes me.