Everyone and her uncle is on a hyper-charged Morning Routine™.
Super-powered by an hour of predawn yoga, five raw almonds for breakfast, and a soothing cup of green tea before tackling their Inbox Zeros, it feels like these people have reached the pinnacle of humanity and are simply a tier above the rest of us mere mortals.
By comparison, my morning routine sometimes involves stumbling from my bed 15 minutes before I need to leave the house, sticking my head under a shower, stuffing a hat on my wet hair, and cycling into work, still half-asleep.
A far cry from the cool and calm serenity espoused by so many self-help guru nowadays.
Most articles I read on getting the most out of your day touch on a morning routine.
“It’s important to have one!”
“Start your day out right!”
“Drink water in the morning!”
However, there’s rarely any discussion about how. How can we all have the perfect morning routine when we’re all different? In these articles, there’s no acknowledgment of the fact that people have different needs, Circadian rhythms, pre-existing patterns.
It’s true that they’re important, and have a positive impact on daily productivity. Why?
What it boils down to is that it costs your brain energy to make decisions, so when you streamline your mornings to what works for you, you’re left with more time and energy for the rest of the day’s decisions.
But it’s tough to come up with a morning routine that does work for you. When you strip down what makes a morning routine successful, take away the hype and the bloated self-congratulatory advice, what you’re left with is something resembling a plan that could work for anyone. Even you!
Here are the five basic steps to coming up with your morning routine.
1. Maybe it’s not a morning routine.
There are people who flourish in the hours between 6 AM to 8 AM. There are not many of those people.
Before you begin with your morning routine, figure out if the morning is the best time for you to do this. You might be better off developing a killer evening routine that gets you properly set up for a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’d prefer a lunchtime routine that helps you fight your mid-afternoon slump.
One of my friends is at her best from 10 pm to midnight, when I am fast asleep. She doesn’t like mornings — not because she’s lazy, but just because she’s wired differently to what pop culture deems “productive.”
It would be pointless for her to force herself to do a morning routine when she won’t get any use from it.
Instead of trying to fit a square peg (your biological makeup) into a round hole (society’s idea of a morning routine), work on finding the best time for you.
2. What can you automate?
In coding, whenever I found myself copy-pasting a line of code over and over again with minor adjustments, my colleagues would holler at me until I built a for loop.
It took a little bit more effort upfront to come up with something that would loop through all the tasks, which was harder than me just mindlessly copy-pasting. I hated setting one up when, in the instant I needed to do it, it was simpler to just keep doing what I was doing.
But when it was done, it was done. I didn’t have to think about it anymore.
Your morning routine (or evening, lunchtime, whatever) should be like that. Find the tasks that require automation, like making breakfast, coffee, picking out an outfit: and automate it.
Full disclosure, this will take effort upfront. You can batch-make a bunch of breakfasts, you can build your wardrobe in such a way that any top and bottom you grab will match and look nice. Even just putting outfits together ahead of time will smooth your morning so you can focus on what matters.
Consider it an investment from present you to future you.
3. Give yourself a reward.
Streamlining stuff is hard. You’ll always have to fight the temptation of just doing it the same way you always do, which you know isn’t good, but it’s not difficult and challenging like coming up with a new way is.
Don’t rely on your better nature to get you up out of bed/out of the office/off of Twitter. You’ll find that when the time comes to actually make the effort, good intentions are not enough.
When you’ve set time aside for your routine, you need to give yourself a reason to do it.
For me, I bought myself a brand new cafetiere which was exactly $4.19 more than what I had budgeted myself. I got some schmancy ground coffee. When I get up early, I have time to sit down after I get everything else done in the morning, and pour myself a lovely cup of coffee. I love browsing social media, checking my stats (a luxury I try not to allow myself that often) and catching up on the news.
I have an incentive to get up and at ’em every morning, for my nice coffee and my social media habit.
4. Calculate the time you’ll need. Then add fifteen minutes.
When you wake up fifteen minutes earlier, your body might cry out for you to go back to bed.
All you’re doing is giving your body a small bit of sleep, which in reality it won’t miss. Instead, the fifteen extra minutes of time will remove stress from that time period and let you focus on the things you want to do, whether it’s being productive or just relaxing.
If you’re after an evening routine, you might find it hard to drag yourself away from the television or laptop or phone. You’ll reason, you can do the whole routine in thirty minutes.
You can, but that’s not the point. Don’t defeat your routine before you’ve even begun. What you’re doing is making sure you have time to do it, and do it well in a way that doesn’t add additional stress to your life. That’s important.
5. Be ready to experiment.
Everything I’ve listed here will give you the foundation you need to find what works best for you, but you have to be prepared for the possibility of failure. You will inevitably try something and find out it doesn’t work.
Don’t give up on the entire concept of a routine, but just try to vary a single factor at a time until you’ve found the one that works for you.
I used to wake up at 7:30 to give myself an hour before I left the house at 8:30. But then when I started working from 8–4 instead of 9–5, I had to shift. I tried getting up at 7, to leave at 7:30, but realized it made me feel stressed and hectic.
I’d thought that getting up at 6:45 wouldn’t work for me, because I hate getting up when it’s still dark out. But I gave it a try, and it’s helped my morning routine become less stressed. I get a lot more from those minutes now when I’m not rushing around like a maniac.
Be ready to try various aspects of the routine — and be ready to try things that are counter-intuitive. Don’t be discouraged after one attempt. The experimentation will pay off and reward you in the end.
I firmly believe that morning routines have been over-hyped beyond belief, with no obvious path for the average observer to make their own.
That being said, a set routine at any time of the day is a great way to settle your mind, streamline your day, and get a bit more out of the 24 hours we all get.
The problem stems from trying to jam yourself into what we accept is a typical morning routine. The fact is, we’re not all going to benefit from an hour of exercise in the morning, or from taking half an hour to journal. Not all of us need or will get any good results from following the traditional morning routine.
Instead, we should aim to work smarter, not harder. Forcing yourself to wake up at the crack of dawn is not the solution to your productivity problems. Finding a custom routine that works for you is.
Morning routines can be all they promise. Optimize them for yourself and find out how.
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