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The Morning Routine: Neal Sales-Griffin

This month, we chatted with Neal Sales-Griffin. Neal is a venture partner at MATH, the managing director of Techstars Chicago, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Northwestern University, and a 2018 Chicago mayoral candidate. We chatted with Neal to learn how a man who wears many hats structures his day.
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The Morning Routine is a monthly interview series that we created to satisfy our curiosities around how highly productive people tackle their days.

What does having a routine mean to you?

I think of routine as kind of like having an operating system. Most of what life is about for me, and I believe for many others, is progress. So you have to basically incorporate certain activities within that system that you think contribute to that progress as best as possible.
What does a typical morning look like for you?
I usually wake up between six and seven o’clock. I set a just-in-case alarm but I don't use it 90% of the time, I wake up naturally at that time without any prompt.
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I head to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face. While I’m in the bathroom, I visualize how I want my day to go and play out different scenarios. Based on that mental exercise, I'll execute that process, knowing that there will be some barriers depending on what unpredictable factors come into play.
Do you spend a lot of time in the bathroom?
No, super quick. Five minutes. Then I’ll have some coffee and check the news.
Where do you get your news?
I have a custom feed on Reddit. I’ll also check Hacker News and I’ll occasionally check Twitter. Just enough for me to understand if the world is on fire.
Do you typically work out in the morning?
Yes, I don't work out every day but when I do work out it’s in the morning. I used to go to the gym around 6:30 am but recently upgraded to a Tonal. It’s a new habit that I’m trying to establish.
What are the non-negotiable parts of your morning?
I don’t have many non-negotiables. Not even coffee. I like having coffee in the morning, it’s a nice habit and, to me, it tastes like productivity, but I don't need it. I don't crave it.

Definitely no eating, I’m not hungry in the morning at all.
What are your oldest habits?
I always have a to-do list and if there’s something on that list that’s time-intensive or important I’ll make sure to block off my calendar to work on that specific task.

Keeping things tidy is another old habit. I’m uncomfortable when there’s disarray and I need a pretty pristine environment to work in. If you see tidiness and cleanliness around me I’m probably in a good mental headspace and if you see clutter and mess I’m probably stressed out.
What are your newest habits?
I had a very tense and aggressive schedule when I was running for mayor three years ago and picked up some new habits as a part of that like meditation and intermittent fasting.

I also recently got into riding a motorcycle. I love taking little evening rides to go run little errands. I’m an introvert and a homebody and that gets me excited about leaving the house.
How has intermittent fasting helped you?
I don’t impress upon anyone adopting my way of doing things because I reserve the right to be wrong…I think we got put on this breakfast, lunch, dinner construct and we’re basically economically conditioned to think that those are important to do in that order, in that way. I think that’s some bullshit. I only need one meal and it's good mental discipline and exercise to recognize that. You might want to eat because you enjoy it but you don’t need to and you actually benefit more in the long term by limiting how much you consume and when you consume it.

It’s a mental hurdle that I'm able to overcome almost every single day that I'm quite proud of developing a habit around.
What was your longest fast?
I went for nine days once, which was awesome. I wasn’t planning to, it was kind of Forrest Gump-like, I just kept running.
How do you incorporate meditation into your day?
For me, it's very utilitarian. It's not particularly spiritual or deep. It allows me to reinvigorate whatever progress I need to make for the rest of the day. It's like the clarity of pipes. You're getting rid of the gunk. It's almost like making a pit stop.
How long do you meditate?
At least 10 minutes. Sometimes 30 or 45 but usually 10 minutes.
How do you typically structure your day?

My calendar is usually full and given the nature of my work I’d say two thirds of my day are in conversation or interaction with others. But that last third is really important, that’s where I’m able to create and produce something.

Work for me isn’t something that’s confined from nine to five. I disproportionately concentrate work during that time but I’ll typically put something on for entertainment in the evening that I can passively consume while I knock out some additional work.

How do you transition into the evening?
Cooking is my transition into the evening. I only eat one meal per day and that’s my way of saying “you’re making a meal, your day is done, you’re going to enjoy it, and then you’re winding down for the day.”
Do you have a bedtime routine?
I’m usually listening to something. It’s a 50/50 split between music or a podcast or something on YouTube.

I like to send myself to bed with creative energy and inspiration.