Why is cultivating a morning routine such an important idea? If you think about time on a macro level, each day we live is like a mini life in itself. There is a beginning (the birth of a new day), the end (the culmination of all our work done, or not done), and all the time in between (the actual life lived). On a micro level, how we start the day can very well set the tone for everything we do. Not just on that day alone, but in everything we truly want to do—the goals we set for ourselves and the dreams that we cultivate and strive towards throughout our lives.
What if there was a simple technique we could master that would enable us to lead our life in the most optimal way possible?
When you set up a morning routine, you provide a structure, an outline, and a foundation for all the work you will do. Once the structure is in place (which is the hardest part), the rest is just following along. The key is to be consistent. In other words, don’t just stick to the routine on Mondays and Wednesdays, just in the summertime, or just when you are in a stressful job—all the time.
Here are some tips for creating a morning routine:
1. Plan Early
Starting Sunday night, write a productivity plan. This is a list of the things you want to accomplish the next day. The items on your list can be as general as, “I want to start working out at the gym” or as specific as, “I want to read 50 pages of the novel I started over the weekend.” In terms of the number of items, don’t go overboard. The goal of this exercise is to give you a scope of what your day should be like, not a list of 100 items you’re way overdue on. Next, prioritize your items; rank them based on their level of urgency (if it’s a deadline that can’t be avoided) and how relevant they are to you (if you’re starting a fitness program this month, come up with a meal plan so you can take lunch to work, allowing you to eat food that gives you energy instead of opting for the standard cafeteria lunch every day such as pizza or pasta). You should only need 15 minutes to create.
2. Go to Bed a Little Earlier Than Usual
This is beneficial because (a) you give your brain and your body time to get a good night’s rest, and (b) it prevents you from already feeling rushed and worried about all the things you will need to do first thing in the morning. Set a bedtime alarm on your cell phone to go off 30 minutes before you need to go to bed.
3. Wake up a Little Earlier Than Usual
Start small. Give yourself a 30-minute head start to your day. Here are several ideas what to do with that time:
- 10-15 minutes of yoga stretches.
- 10 minutes of meditation (there’s an app called Headspace that teaches you to meditate by yourself for free).
- 10-15 minutes of meal prep (for an easy breakfast on the go, try packing oatmeal or granola with yogurt and fresh fruit in a mason jar; for lunch, you can even prep the evening before: a sandwich/salad combo that you pack in an airtight glass container, or dinner leftovers with a side or two of raw veggies).
- 20-minute brisk walk or run.
4. Review Your Productivity Plan
Think about how much time you’ll need for each task. Write that time down next to each task. It’s not important to be exact; a rough estimate will do. Congratulations! Now you have a preview of what your day is going to be like.
5. Take Care of Logistics
If you work or study from home, clear out your work space, ventilate the room, raise the blinds to have sufficient daylight, or turn on music to boost your mental energy. If you have an hour-long commute ahead of you, queue up several podcasts to help you increase your focus and give your brain something motivational to focus on. This can be an audio book or a podcast focused on personal development, learning, or productivity.
6. Get to Work
Go down your list as you’ve prioritized it and complete your tasks for the day without skipping any. The advantage to this method is that at the end of the day, you won’t have a bunch of work that is only half-done, which can add to your feeling of being rushed. Even if you don’t complete your entire list, you will still have made progress, and that is what matters most.
7. In the Evening, Make an Assessment of Your Day
Look at your productivity plan, check off what you completed, and note which items still need work the following day. Ask yourself if you overestimated or underestimated the time you thought you needed for each task. How can you improve your plan for tomorrow based on today’s experiences? What could you have done better or more effectively? As you think about these things, write a new plan for tomorrow, and adjust your tasks accordingly.
Once you feel comfortable waking up 30 minutes earlier, increase that time incrementally, up to 45 minutes and eventually to one hour. One day, you may even accumulate an extra hour or two of available morning time. Having enough time early in the day to do different things (physical activity, reading, work, research, preparing for the day ahead) is key to feeling productive and energized early, before daily responsibilities take over. This is the time you can completely devote to yourself, and in doing so, you will feel more successful and aligned to your key goals.
Read Nela Canovic’s comment on, “7 Steps to Developing an Effective Morning Routine” on Quora.