Catherine Duc is a financial paraplanner by day and a Grammy-nominated composer, multi-instrumentalist, and remixer by night. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.
What is your morning routine?
I wake up around 6:15am and drink a large glass of water before preparing my breakfast. I listen to podcasts while preparing and eating my breakfast, alternating between The Productivity Show, The EDM Prodcast, and various finance and personal development podcasts. I also check my music-related email during this time.
I’ll then clean up the kitchen and get ready for work (my day job is in finance and I do music part-time). It’s only a ten-minute walk to the train station, so I walk, although there are two bus routes right outside my apartment that go to the station. I really enjoy walking, and the fresh air wakes me up. There’s a small waterfall on the way, so it’s very picturesque.
The train ride into the city (Melbourne) is about twenty minutes, so I use that time to do a bit of reading for leisure. In the mornings, the train is super crowded and has standing room only, so it’s impossible to read a large technical book. Sometimes you can barely get your phone out!
I then walk from the station to the office. After turning on the computer and unpacking my things, I make coffee on the espresso machine at work. I used to make coffee later in the morning, but I find having coffee first thing makes me really productive (yes, I know I’m addicted!) and allows me to do a lot of the work that requires concentration during the first two hours of the day. There are not many phone calls until mid-morning, so this is an ideal time to power through the to-do list. I always schedule my tasks the day before, with the most important tasks first, while also being conscious to build in some time for other things that may come up throughout the day.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
My main routine has been fairly consistent since I started working (I’ve only missed breakfast once!), but I’ve added some things in over the years, such as listening to podcasts and reading during breakfast.
What time do you go to sleep?
I aim for 11:00pm, but it usually ends up being midnight because I get sidetracked doing music-related things.
Do you do anything before going to bed to make your morning easier?
I pack my work bag with some non-fiction reading (at the moment it’s The Mastering Engineer’s Handbook) and some lighter material, like a travel book. I’ll then prepare my lunch and figure out what I’m going to wear the next day. I even set the breakfast table! This way, I don’t have much to think about in the morning.
I put my phone on airplane mode at around 10:30pm and leave it on overnight until I’m ready to check my phone in the morning. (I used to get some calls from overseas contacts who weren’t aware of the time difference.)
Do you use an alarm to wake you up in the morning, and if so do you ever hit the snooze button?
On weekdays, I set my phone alarm, but I don’t on the weekend. I haven’t hit the snooze button in a long time because I’m semi-awake on most days before my alarm rings.
There was an incident once when I used an analog alarm clock and the batteries ran out, so I woke up quite late, but luckily I still managed to get to work on time!
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
I eat breakfast within ten minutes of waking up—I can’t function in the morning without sustenance. I mostly alternate between oatmeal and toast. I change up the oatmeal recipe with different fresh and dried fruits, spices, flavor extracts, nuts, seeds, and yogurts. I also have tea (Earl Grey or Irish breakfast are my favorites) on weekdays and coffee on weekends.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I exercise later in the day on weekends (yoga and walking). I also walk a lot each day—to the train station and office, during my lunch break, and also during the workday, as my company’s office is spread over two floors and the stairs are quicker than the elevators.
Do you have a morning meditation routine?
On the weekends I’ve been reading The Complete Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron during breakfast (it’s three books in one, so it’s taking me a while to get through it). When I do yoga on the weekends, mostly from YouTube videos, there’s usually a short meditation part at the end.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning or leave it until later in the day?
On weekdays, I quickly check my music-related email while I have breakfast in case something needs to be attended to. Most of my correspondence is from contacts in North America and Europe, so a lot of emails come in overnight. I only check my work email around mid-morning after I’ve done about two hours of work that needs a lot of concentration.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
I don’t use any apps, but as I noted earlier I listen to a podcast called The Productivity Show, and that has some really great tips for doing things more efficiently and effectively. The email method I mention in the previous answer was recommended by them.
How soon do you check your phone in the morning?
I check it while having breakfast. That said, as soon as I finish eating, I turn the internet off so I don’t get distracted. I do listen to podcasts as I get ready, though.
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Attending to any urgent music correspondence and leaving for the train station on time.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Water within the first five minutes of waking up.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I’m usually awake around 6:30am but I try to sleep in a bit. I take more time over breakfast on weekends. I might make oat, buckwheat, and banana pancakes. I also read instead of checking my phone and listening to podcasts.
I’ll then compose music from 9:00am onwards, as there are no distractions in the morning, and I won’t use the internet until mid-morning. I used to mainly compose new age music (the genre I received a Grammy nomination for), but recently I changed to remixing songs in downtempo and EDM (electronic music production) styles. I have done remixes for The Corrs, XYLO, Paloma Rush, and British singer/songwriter Ben Hobbs. (This is my latest remix.)
For remixing, I listen to the original song and get separate tracks for vocals and as many of the instrumental parts as possible. We use Dropbox to transfer the files. I then repeatedly listen to the song and other songs in the style I want to do the remix in and take notes on paper before I actually use my music software. I then go through my software and sample library to find suitable sounds.
I do most of the composing and arranging in my head while I’m walking or traveling because I can hear most of the final arrangement. Then it’s a matter of working on the different sections mostly in order, although sometimes I get ideas for other sections or will get stuck on a certain section and need to revisit it later.
After the remixing is done, I send a Dropbox link of the MP3 to the artist and cross my fingers and hope for the best! If they’re happy, it’s onto mastering, which is either done by myself, the artist, or a professional. For the last remix we had Gene Grimaldi master it. (He’s been nominated for two Grammy’s for his work on Lady Gaga’s albums.)
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
When I’m traveling, I usually go out for breakfast and check email and the weather on my phone before reading travel books or guides. I really enjoy traveling and exploring.
What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?
My morning routine is pretty simple, so it’s like I’m on autopilot. If I inadvertently miss something (like packing my lunch), it’s no big deal; life is too short to worry about the small things.
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