Your morning routine is the set of actions you do right after waking up to prepare yourself for a more productive and focused day. Since your morning routine sets the tone for the rest of your day, these precious first hours count for a whole lot.
More important than perfect optimization is trying to avoid or break any bad morning habits, like constantly waking up late or groggy, rushing to get out door, or feeling unsure about how to approach and prioritize the day.
The good news is that every morning you have a chance to craft a better day. If you’re currently working on a side project or a full-fledged business, you’re especially familiar with how important it is to make the most of your time. With that in mind, let’s review the basics of building a morning routine to supercharge your day.
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Why your morning routine matters
It’s not rocket science. Although lots of articles seek to prove the weight and worth of morning routines by referencing scientific studies, academic papers shouldn’t necessarily be your motivating factor—averages mean little to the individual, and morning routines are as personal as they come.
Instead, let’s talk common sense. Simply recall a relatively standard morning you’ve had that, while free from any emergencies or major hurdles, didn’t lead to an ideal day. For me personally, that looks something like this:
Wake up and immediately grab my smartphone, slightly blinded by the bright screen on my still sleepy eyes. Dozens of notifications sit unanswered between various apps, social networks, emails and text messages; a small handful are important while most are pointless distractions. I turn on the TV while getting ready and zone out for a bit. Now I’m running late for a meeting so I head out the door without breakfast and rush to the office to start the day.
Your morning routine unequivocally lays the foundation for the rest of your day.
These scattershot mornings are a part of life—I’m not implying the scenario above can be completely avoided, or that you couldn’t make a full recovery and have a productive day. However, there is some obvious room for small improvements. And when an unfocused morning becomes the default, it can begin to take its toll, all thanks to a few small choices.
More than that, there’s a compound effect to consider. One hectic morning shouldn’t concern anyone, but what about when it becomes your default? Every day ahead of you includes the morning you wake up to; why not spend some time figuring out which routine helps you embrace and make the most of each one?
What a morning routine might look like
You get to determine how simple or complicated your morning routine is, though obviously I’d encourage you to start with something simple. A new routine can consist of just one or two things.
There’s by definition no right or wrong way to create a personal routine, or any rules around what a morning routine has to look like. In the end, it's really whatever makes you feel better, more productive and alert for the day ahead.
Here's an example just to give you an idea:
- Wake up 10 minutes early to meditate
Here’s another example:
- Wake up 30 minutes early
- Stretch for 10 minutes
- Write down goals for the day in order of importance
Here’s another example:
- Wake up 1 hour early
- Read for 20 minutes
- Write down some ideas for your business
- Drink a fresh fruit smoothie
- Work on the most important task of the day
Finally, one last example:
- Wake up at 6am
- Meditate for 10 minutes
- Exercise for 5-7 minutes (pushups, jogging etc.)
- Drink a tall glass of water
- Define your tasks and goals for the day
- Begin your day
The most important aspect of any routine or habit is that it’s made up of actions you can commit to doing everyday. It’s better to do things you can sustain than to dream up an ambitious but unrealistic routine. Focus on whatever gives you the greatest benefit for the effort, remembering that it may take you some time to figure out which activities truly help to set you up for a successful day.
Ideas to try in your morning routine
Although there are a lot of options to consider including in your morning ritual, there are some common activities that are worth noting since they can serve as a strong starting point. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular.
While the supposedly beneficial habit of drinking eight glasses of water a day hasn’t stood up to scrutiny, we do know that our bodies need to stay hydrated. On top of that, many of us wake up from a deep sleep feeling anything but, so it can make sense to start your day with a full glass of water to immediately rehydrate the body.
An article in the Harvard Medical Journal describes a good breakfast as “one that delivers some healthful protein, some slowly digested carbohydrates, and some fruit or vegetables.” That’s worth keeping in mind when figuring out your ideal breakfast, though obviously there are alternative approaches like intermittent fasting that skip breakfast altogether.
Exercising is a popular and highly-touted activity to consider adding to your morning routine. Exercise actually gives you more energy, especially when you commit to exercising regularly. And remember exercise isn’t limited to a full workout at a gym. Just a few minutes of bodyweight exercises, a jog around the block, or a short yoga session can provide a significant boost to your energy levels.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re going to be busy. A business is rarely built within the boundaries of traditional work hours. There’s usually more to do and never enough time to get it all done. Having dedicated family time in your morning routine can be important for far more meaningful reasons than pursuing a productive morning—this is time you can use to be fully present and to avoid letting work consume the rest of your life.
Few people would argue with the benefits of reading; it exposes you to new ideas that can expand on what you already know, or those that completely challenge your existing opinions. As the saying goes, “If you want to learn a new trick, read an old book.” If most of your current daily reading is done online, try changing it up and actually grab a physical book that captured your attention, but that you’ve yet to finish. Or, choose a brand new one.
Writing offers a bevy of benefits. It helps you form more coherent thoughts and flush out ideas that are stuck in your head. This doesn’t mean you need to write a book or a blog post. Just writing down a few ideas in a journal can be a useful exercise when easing into the day. Though, you may also find that journaling is equally useful at end of the day as a way to reflect on how things went.
There’s something to be said for silence, especially in a time where we are constantly bombarded with the sounds of dings and rings from your smartphone. A few moments of pure, uninterrupted silence can be a golden opportunity to clarify your thoughts and mentally prepare for the day.
Many people are initially hesitant to try meditation. Maybe it’s a branding problem. In reality, meditation can be as simple as combining silence with deep focus. In fact, many describe meditation as the practice of training the mind to be present. There are a number of guides you can use to start a simple meditation practice each morning.
When there’s lots to work on it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and to lose focus of your priorities for the day. To combat this, try writing down your three most important goals and objectives first thing in the morning, beginning with the one that you absolutely must finish.
💡 Note: Remember that these are just a starter list of a few traditional items to add to your morning routine. The recipe you use to build your personal morning routine will vary, because it has to be based on what works for you.
How to create a morning routine
1. Begin with your anchor
Start by choosing one habit you think will have the most impact and make this your anchor by consistently making it a part of your morning. After speaking with UJ Ramdas, co-founder of The 5 Minute Journal, he suggested:
Stick with your first task for at least a month before adding anything else. This habit should become so much part of your morning that your day feels strange if you don’t do it.
For many people, this anchor is often waking up a little bit earlier. This is a big one because it allows you the time to incorporate other habits.
2. Add elements as needed
Once your anchor has become solidified in your routine, begin adding others in the order you feel most comfortable, slowly implementing each one so that you don’t overwhelm yourself or overcommit. Overcommitting is one of the biggest reasons people give up early and revert to old habits.
3. Switch things up and experiment
If a particular habit isn’t working for you and you’re not seeing or feeling the benefits after giving it a fair chance, don’t be afraid to toss it out. Over time, you’ll learn what works best for you. Keep the best, discard the rest and soon you’ll have a morning routine that truly prepares you for an optimized day of productivity and hard work.
4. Stick with it
Most importantly, once you've discovered what works for you, keep going. Make your morning routine an unwavering part of your day, like brushing your teeth. In time, any consistent routine will become second nature.
Make the most of every morning
Combined with the sleep you had the night before, your morning unequivocally lays the foundation for the entire rest of your day. It will take time to develop a morning routine that works for you. What’s important to remember is that each and every morning, you either benefit from or pay for the decisions you made at the start of the day.
With so many mornings to meet head-on, there’s plenty of incentive to spend a little time cultivating a morning routine that will help you face the day calm, collected, and ready to do the work that matters.
Do you already have a morning routine? If so, which habit or activity helps you the most in the pursuit of a productive day?