Of all the things you can try to improve your productivity, a morning routine is one of the most effective.
There are a number of reasons why morning routines are so useful. The first is obvious to anyone who has ever procrastinated, just getting started is often the hardest part. If you can start out with the right momentum towards your goals, you’ll avoid wrestling with yourself in the morning to get started.
The second is that the morning, particularly before the workday officially begins, is a quiet time with fewer social obligations. For many of us, the rest of the day can present a chaotic, ever-changing lineup of responsibilities, urgent errands and unexpected interruptions. The morning, in contrast, is often the most consistent part of your day.
Morning routines also set the tone for your upcoming day. Do you want your workday to begin quiet and contemplative? With vigorous exercise? Silent meditation? Creative and productive? Your morning habit can push you along a current which will carry throughout the morning and allow you to maximize whatever aspect of your personality you want to be most important.
In this article we'd like to explore a few different morning routines you can try. But first, let’s talk about what comes before the morning ritual: sleep.
When Should You Wake Up? How Much Sleep Should You Get?
When you talk about productivity, there seems to be two camps. Some argue in favor of waking up extremely early to maximize those early-morning hours. Others say getting enough sleep needs to be the priority. If you can’t go to bed by 8pm, you should wake up only after you’ve gotten 7-8 hours of sleep.
I believe the scientific case is fairly clear: when it comes to productivity, getting enough sleep is essential.
A lack of sleep causes cognitive decline, it impacts your ability to form memories, and may even increase the risk of certain diseases (including cancer). Research indicates that 7-8 hours per day is a nearly universal requirement, so those who claim to get by on four or six hours per night might be kidding themselves.
Worse, the cognitive impairment of a lack of sleep can accumulate, even if you think it has leveled off. Any morning routine you develop needs to accommodate your sleeping rhythms.
Key Lesson: Your morning routine should allow you enough sleep. Pick a time you can wake up consistently and also get 7-8 hours of sleep on a normal night.
Creating the Perfect Morning Routine
People experiment with all kinds of morning routines. Waking up super early, waking up without an alarm, exercise, learning, work and many others.
The fact is though that there isn’t one perfect routine that will make you rich, relaxed and happy overnight. Instead, there’s different routines for different purposes. So instead if suggesting one routine, we want to suggest four. These different routines have all served many people very well, so you can see which feels like the best fit for you.
The Four Key Morning Routines
1. Exercise and Energy
This routine is simple: right when you wake up you go and exercise. Before eating breakfast, checking your phone and emails or reading the news—go out and move.
The first benefit of this is that it puts fitness in that all-important first slot of the day. If you’ve struggled with staying on a regular exercise schedule in the past, this can be a good way to make sure it is a priority.
Second, this habit can wake you up. Exercise can keep you alert and mentally functioning at your prime, when a coffee may only be able to slightly prolong your later-day crash.
Recommended for: If you struggle with grogginess, you’ve had a hard time fitting exercise into your schedule and if you want to make fitness your top priority.
2. Meditation and Stillness
Contrary to the first one, this starts with daily meditation.
It’s important to do seated meditation and not do so lying down in your bed, or you’ll be likely to fall back asleep. Sit on the floor, not a chair, which is not terribly uncomfortable, but also a position that requires enough muscle tension that you are unlikely to fall asleep.
Some have found this helpful because it leaves them calm and focused. Useful if you expect to have stressful days ahead to start yourself off with a quiet mind.
Recommended for: If you want to be calm and less anxious in your day, if you’ve wanted to make meditation a priority but haven’t had time, as an alternative if you don’t like exercise first thing in the morning.
3. Get to Work!
The key to productivity is just doing the work. This routine underscores this by making getting some work done your first priority, so that your first break is the chance to eat breakfast, shower, shave and do the normal routine you’d do in the morning.
This works because it not only maximizes your time, it shifts your productivity much earlier. You finish much earlier in the day and can enjoy a less cluttered evening without guilt that you’re slacking.
The second benefit is that you get to take a break when you need it. Too many people take their break before starting, so that when they have to work they can’t take a pause for fear of not having enough time to finish.
Recommended for: If you have important goals and projects that take a lot of time. If you expect to be working a lot and you’re worried you won’t have time to do everything.
4. Plan Your Day
Mental rehearsal is a key strategy elite athletes use to ensure better performance. By imagining each movement vividly, they can perform better under pressure when the big event comes.
You can create a similar impact by planning out your day in the morning. Don’t just jot down some to-do items, but actually imagine working on them. What will be the complications? Where will you have gaps in your schedule that need filling? What will you need to focus on?