I’m in awe of people who get a lot done.
Folks like Tim Ferriss, Cal Newport, and Barack Obama. People whose schedules I know are crazy busy, but still they manage to pump out project after project, or take on seemingly herculean tasks — like running The United States of America (while somehow still managing to follow the ins and outs of the college basketball season? I have no idea has he does it!)
We all have the same amount of time in a day, yet some people seem capable of squeezing every last ounce of productivity out of their 24 hours. Which is why I’m intrigued by the concept of “the morning routine.”
I have a theory that those who get a lot done start their day on a productive note. If you read interviews about the morning routines of successful people, you’ll notice they are usually creatures of habit. But that’s not necessarily news; we all have certain rituals and routines that make us who we are.
What intrigues me are the specific habits that lead to success and productivity.
And while everyone is different, there definitely seem to be some patterns. Here are a few I’ve noticed over and over again:
- Waking up early
- Drinking a glass of water
- Physical activity
Whenever I’m at my best, I always have a structured, predictable routine. For example, during college my routine was based around hitting the gym before class. Since I was one of those crazies who took early classes (I wanted to get them out of the way for the day), that meant I had to get in the gym early. So I set my alarm to wake me up half an hour before the gym opened, and warmed up some oatmeal topped with fruit and peanut butter, while SportCenter played in the background. When I was done eating, I walked the five minutes over to the gym and worked out. Then I went home, showered, and headed to class for the day.
The whole routine was probably two hours long, which seems to be the sweet spot for effective morning rituals, and I always felt energized and ready for the day ahead.
My Morning Routine
Lately I’ve been thinking about how I can turn my current morning routine into one that will launch me into Productivity-landia (pilot episode coming soon…). I’m generally pleased with what I’m able to accomplish before 9:00am, but there are certain things I still struggle with.
For example, I’m definitely a morning person, but have also come to understand and value the importance of sleep. Lately I’ve prioritized trying to get 8 hours of sleep over waking up earlier to get things done, but have struggled with whether I’ve found the right balance for me.
I also know a few things about myself that have helped me identify what I’d like to accomplish in the morning. Here’s my current short list, along with reasoning for doing each first thing in the morning:
Write more frequently – Writing is a skill that comes with practice. It’s also an activity that requires a certain mindset, and my head is often most clear to write in the morning. I’ve also found that if I don’t write early in the day, it’s hard to carve out the time and muster the motivation to get it done later on. I’ve tried regularly writing in the morning before, but those attempts fizzled without a concrete goal anchoring me to the habit. Thus the 500 Words Every day challenge.
Meditate – Like writing, meditation is a practice I’ve long wanted to develop. The benefits of skilled relaxation (reduced anxiety, calmer moods, less stress) are appealing to me. Much like my previous attempts at writing more regularly, I’ve tried numerous tactics to meditate more frequently. I even recently completed a 30-day meditation challenge. Some relevant lessons learned include:
- Meditation works! Even 10 minutes of sitting in silence helped me have a more even-keeled approach to external stimuli throughout the day.
- Meditating in the morning gets my day started on a positive note, and provides a reference point for my mind and body to return to when stressful events come up later in the day.
- If I don’t meditate first thing in the morning, it’s much harder to carve out a regular time later in the day. Doing it before bed can work for me as well, but I always felt better after meditating in the morning.
Exercise – Working out in the morning is probably my longest-running habit. It’s been a staple of my morning routine for many years, leading back to my early college days. Getting the blood pumping and endorphins flowing always seems to gear me up for a productive, high-energy day. There’s also a dramatic sense of accomplishment that comes from exercising in the morning. Most of the time I’ve just accomplishment the most physically taxing part of my day, which reduces anxiety and gives me confidence I can handle what the day throws at me. Plus, once I’ve worked out for the day, I no longer have to worry about squeezing it into my schedule later on. The rest of my day can flow cleanly, I can have a more predictable eating schedule, and my body can rest and recover while my mind takes over the day’s tasks.
Eat breakfast – Finally, I have to eat! Breakfast remains one of my favorite meals of the day. I love sitting down to a filling, nutritious meal in the morning, especially after a solid workout (see above). It just seems to start my day on the right note, and gives me energy to power through the rest of my morning. In my ideal world, I’d eat a breakfast comprised of protein, healthy fats, veggies, and possibly some fruit if I’ve worked out that morning. My final requirement is to sit down and enjoy my meal. This is a difficult requirement to cram into a morning routine, but my goal is prioritize health as well as efficiency, and I believe slowly enjoying food is something we should all prioritize.
So there you have it. Those are the major activities I’d like to accomplish in my morning routine (for now). I’ll also add one more task to the list – Planning.
Taking time to intentionally write down my priorities for each day seems like a good idea. Inspired by Steve Corona, listing my primary commitments and things I want to accomplish should be included, as well as a place to write down any “distracting” thoughts I have throughout the day. If I capture these thoughts and get them out of my head, I know I’ll address them later and stop stressing over them. I haven’t decided whether it’s best to do this at the start of each day, or before going to bed the night before, so I’ll probably play around with this one a bit to get a feel for what works best for me.
Putting It Into Practice
Two weeks into the 500 Words Every Day challenge seemed like a great place to start implementing an effective routine. I’ve already committed to writing every day, and I have several deadlines approaching over the next couple weeks I need to stay on top of. In other words, my time is tight. Therefore, it’s more important right now than ever that I’m efficient with my time, and have the energy to accomplish everything I’m working on.
Starting last Monday, here’s the approach I’m currently taking to revamp my morning routine:
5:30AM: Wake-up, go to the bathroom, etc.
5:32AM: Drink a glass of water
5:33AM: Meditate for 10 minutes
5:50AM: Sit down and write 500 words (~30 minutes) – It doesn’t matter what I write, just write!
6:20AM: Head to the gym, pool, or work out in my apartment
7:00-7:15AM: Shower in my apartment
7:30:-8:00AM: Cook breakfast and eat it at my kitchen table. Usually consists of three eggs, non-starchy veggies, a leafy green, a healthy fat (e.g. avocado), and berries with almond butter (especially after working out)
That’s been my schedule for the last few days, and I have to say it seems to be working. I feel more accomplished before 8:30AM than I normally do by noon, and my body and mind seem more relaxed. On paper it looks more regimented than it actually feels, and I’ve found the structure helps me block out distractions, ironically giving me the space to enjoy what I’m doing in the moment. There’s enough accountability built into the system to trust that I’ll get to the other items on my list. I don’t have to worry as much about doing something important later because I know it will get done.
Who knows if I can keep this up over time, or what tasks I’ll want to add in the future. We’ll see. The most exciting part to me is tweaking and testing the routine to find the formula that will most effectively leave me feeling energized and productive every day.
What do you think? Can I keep this up? Do you have a morning routine that’s worked for you? Let me know in the comments.