Routines are powerful tools for productivity. Not all parts of our day require us to be fully present or mindful. We can use a routine to help make the mundane things we have to do easier to accomplish. By using a routine, we can conserve energy and save it for when we need to do creative and deep thinking. This “switching off” of our brain actually gives it a chance to subconsciously mull over our existing projects and half-formed thoughts and develop new solutions and ideas. This is why we often get great ideas in the shower or driving to the store.
Try grouping together mundane tasks and completing them all at a certain time in the day. Think of things you do at work or at home that you need to do but that can be done on autopilot and how you could routinize them.
Routines can also be used like habits to help prime the brain for the day to come. Morning routines are an important part of a productive day. They help us focus on the big, important work that needs to be done to move you towards your goals. Instead of letting our day be dictated by problems or e-mails (which often bring problems), we can control how our day starts and what will be doing. When contemplating a morning routine, the first thing many people will say is, “I am not a morning person.” But are you? Perhaps you are not a morning person because you say you are not a morning person. What would happen if you were to change that narrative in your brain, to tell yourself you are a morning person or to encourage yourself to not fall back asleep and see the morning through?
Truthfully, you do not need to wake up early in order to have a great morning routine. Your routine can vary in length from one hour to 10 minutes. You just need to leave enough time to complete your routine in a relaxed manner. We spend enough – too much – time in our day rushing about. Your morning routine should not be one of those times. In addition, what does it mean when you cannot get out of bed on time? When you stay in bed until the very last possible moment? You are purposively delaying your day, and the only reason you would delay living your life is because you are not happy, excited, or stimulated by what the day has to offer.
I wrote about my morning routine here. Your routine does not have to be a copy of mine, or really even look like mine. You need to engage in activities that will you get energized to dominate your day and achieve your goals. Below are some examples of activities you can use to create your own unique morning routine.
- Meditation/Mindfulness/Deep Breathing
The benefits of meditation are too numerous to detail here. In the book Tool of Titans, author Tim Ferriss summarizes scores of his interviews with the world’s highest performing individuals. Over 80% practice meditation and mindfulness and almost all of the remaining 20% have meditation like practices where they listen to a song over and over or repeat a phrase to get them in a focused state of mind. This practice can last from 5 minutes to 20 minutes or more.
Morning writing can take many forms. You can use a journal, an electronic file, or random pieces of paper to write about the day ahead – what you want to accomplish and what challenges you foresee – or write about what you accomplished and the obstacles you overcame the day before. You can write about your dreams, things for which you are grateful, or past accomplishments. One writing exercise I have found particularly helpful is spontaneous writing. Do not read anything before you start writing. You want your brain to be awake but also fresh. Put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just start writing. You can write for a set time or for a set number of pages. You can write about anything that is swimming around in your mind, or you can use writing prompts. Spontaneous writing can be a good way to get your creative juices flowing and discover thoughts and ideas that have been lurking in our brains just beyond our reach.
The morning can be a good time to engage your brain in learning. You can read, listen to podcasts, or watch videos. The brain is particularly receptive first thing after waking up, so this could be a great way to learn a language or pick up new ideas to improve yourself.
So far all of the suggestions have been about how to improve our mental health, but our physical health is just as important. Exercise is a great way to start the day. Far from tiring you out, a good workout in the morning gets you energized for the day. Plus, doing cardio and other exercise on an empty stomach helps the body better burn stored fat. You do not have complete a triathalon. You can do simple things like jump on a trampoline, stretch/perform yoga poses, or do some bodyweight exercises like push ups, pull ups, dips, and jumping jacks.
- Other Activities
You can also add affirmations, visualizations, practices of gratitude, or whatever else you think will help you better prepare for the day ahead.
Think about what a meaningful morning routine would look like for you. To start, pick one or two things and start doing those in the morning. You can start with short durations with the intention that you will increase quantity of activities and duration as you practice more.
Make the decision to start a morning routine, set your alarm clock, and follow through with it. How you feel in the morning – or at most times during the day – is based on your attitude and outlook more than anything else.
If all else fails, if you do nothing else, make up your bed. This starts out your day with a win.
An evening routine is a great way to end the day, relax, and get ready for a great night’s sleep. The most important part of an evening routine is reflection. Take some time to reflect on your day and work. How well did the day go? Did you get your important work done? Most critically, what activities energized you and put you in a state of flow? Plan more of those activities in the future. What activities exhausted you and made you feel like time was dragging on? Plan less of those activities in the future.
Make sure to prepare for the next day. Have a plan for what you want to work on and complete and get everything you will need together and ready. You do not want to take time away from your morning routine trying to find the running shoes you will wear to the gym after work.
Pick a time to stop working and stick to it. Whether you are spending your evenings working on personal or professional projects, you need to have a firm stop time to allow your brain and body to get ready for bed.
Reading is a great activity for after you have stopped working. Reading slows down your brain, relaxing you for the night’s sleep ahead.
Get lots of sleep. Sleep is when your brain and body heals, rests, and grows. Sleep is vital for physical and mental health, and you should never cheat yourself of it. In the evening, stay away from things that will interfere with your sleep like alcohol, caffeine, and heavy foods or make you feel crappy in the morning like alcohol.
5 AM Miracle–Jeff Sanders
Morning Miracle–Hal Elrod