A Morning Routine That Works

Developing a morning routine seems to be a big deal these days . . it’s something I’m working at integrating into my life.

One issue I encounter repeatedly though are morning routines that seem completely counterproductive. A lot of what I hear, for instance, seems so insanely time consuming that it would completely blunt actual productivity. Something like:

1: Wake up
2: 30 minutes of meditation in my zen palace
3: 1 hour of yoga
4: hit the gym for an hour
5: Daily affirmations
6: Cook a healthy breakfast
7: Meditate some more
8: Quietly eat and reflect on the day ahead
9: 1 on 1 coaching with my life coach

So at this point how many hours are we at? Whenever I try something like this I’m exhausted before I even start any of my actual work.

I’ve heard a lot of successful people mention in old age that they worked too hard when they were younger and didn’t take enough time for themselves. But I feel like this is easy to say when you’ have the net worth of a small country. I always get the feeling that their morning routines were something more like:

1: Wake up
2: Work like hell

Of course what many of these people have discovered the hard way is true: that working efficiently and taking time for oneself is far superior to driving yourself physically and emotionally into the ground. So don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the morning routine. And all of the things above are great! If you have a zen-palace to meditate in, more power to you.

My gripe is simply that a lot of routines turn out to take up enormous amounts of time *and* leave you feeling drained. This is an easy mistake to make in the morning especially, when you have lots of willpower on reserve and you feel like the whole day is ahead of you!

So what I’m working towards is: a routine that integrates with my life and daily context.

For example, while part of the morning routine is to help us grow centered, focused, and good-spirited, another part of it is to maximize our motivation and productivity. And nothing gets me more to do something than to, well, go straight into doing something.

Something like the following works:

1: Wake up and drag myself out of bed (I am a disaster in the morning)
2: Drink a bunch of water and do some jumping jacks to wake me up
2: Have my coffee (auto-prepped the night before so I don’t waste time doing it!)
while. . . reviewing the goals I set the night before.
3: Straight into working on my number 1 task (often some form of writing).

But let’s take this a step further. Instead of conceiving of the routine as a list (do this, then this, then this), what if I think of it as a flowchart? There are a few essential things I want to get done in my morning routine:

  • review my goals
  • complete my number 1 task for the day
  • meditate
  • some form of exercise or gym
  • make headway on the day’s optional tasks

Here’s a flowchart I might use that incorporates all these elements. (Apologies to all you flowchart purists out there – you’ll just have to try and get the gist! I know I’m probably using the wrong shapes and missing some arrows.) Click below to check it out:

Morning Flowchart copy

Now haven’t I just taken a list and made it more complicated? I don’t think so. I’m not suggesting one actually make a flowchart for the day, but it’s certainly an interesting exercise. The idea is simply that the tasks in the routine can be put in a framework that allows for options while keeping some hierarchy.

But why is this at all useful? Here are some selling points:

  • A flowchart lets you adjust to your mood and state. Instead of simply willing yourself through a series of steps, this model gives you options so that you can incorporate an activity that suits you at that moment. This morning I was ready to work the second I opened my eyes! But yesterday I was groggy as hell so I needed to do some cleaning before I was awake.
  • You conserve willpower. By not going against your own grain, you conserve willpower, which means you have more to work with later in the day!
  • You can take breaks while staying productive and in the system. Instead of just starting to clean the house and forgetting that I have a #1 task to work on, I can clean it as a way of waking up without feeling guilty. (Of course some common sense comes into play here in terms of how long I spend waking up, and what’s on my plate for the rest of the day.)
  • It gets to the point! This isn’t so much the flowchart, but I’ll stand by my model of getting into my #1 task right away. For me at least, this gives me lots of momentum and I get far more done.

A couple other notes:

What are mini-breaks? By this I don’t mean I go watch an episode of Game of Thrones. I just do something productive that diverts my attention for 5 minutes or less. (I do the dishes, clean up my desk, etc.) I make a rule for myself not to get *completely* out of my “zone”, since that would defeat the purpose.

What if I don’t have time for an activity – say the gym? Well, I’ve still structured the chart in a hierarchical way. My #1 task is going to happen first one way or another. In theory, the gym could fit in between steps of that task, but for me at least I know that a break of that size will completely disrupt things. If I simply don’t have time (today is a great example), I can still divert that activity to later in the day. I have to accept that my willpower will be significantly less. (Note: If this is a continual problem and it means a lot to you, consider setting up a negative reinforcement!)

On the other hand, what’s up the back-and-forth arrows between optional tasks and the gym? For me, by the time I get to my optional tasks, *then* I feel like I’m on a more even plane. I’m willing to sacrifice paying the gas bill this morning if it means I can get to the gym. I’m not quite as afraid of losing focus on these activities by taking that extended break, and if I do it isn’t the end of the world.

Anyway, that’s my morning routine give or take some if/then arrows. Your mileage may vary! Give it a shot.

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