The morning is a special time. It’s a time when the world seems to be in slumber. When the demands of the day are not yet fully born. It’s a chance to begin life anew and fresh.
Research is starting to show what countless successful (and happy) people already know: that taking advantage of the morning hours is a stepping stone to having a great day. Our willpower is deplated as the day wears on. The morning is the best time to get important things done. When we are productive, we feel better about our accomplishments and our self-satisfaction rises.
There are a lot of articles out there talking about how important it is to wake up early. However, waking up is just the start to a morning routine. We need to pay close attention to how best to spend the time after we rise from bed.
Treat this article like a menu of ways to radically improve your morning routine and in turn, your entire day. I’ve tried them all for extended periods, and they work! However, you do not (and probably shouldn’t!) do everything on this list at the same time. That will be overwhelming and self-defeating. Instead, pick a few things to focus on. Over time, you can refine your approach based on what works best for you.
Let’s dive into it…
- The Day Before
- Upon Waking
- Before Work
- Starting Work
- Daily Practices
- Take Action
The Day Before
Your morning routine doesn’t start in the morning. It starts the evening before! Here are some things to take care of at night that help you get the most out tomorrow.
1. Prepare for tomorrow, today
Which approach will have the better probability of success: sorting out your priorities in the wee hours of the morning, with a sleepy head and barely functional vision; or the day before when you are wide awake with the learning of the previous day still fresh in mind?
Success in the morning starts with your planning the day before. Take a few minutes at the end of your work day (or before going to sleep) to plan for tomorrow.
2. Visualize your best day
Before sleeping, prime your mind with an image of what success looks like the next day. The process is simple: while lying in bed, imagine yourself at the end of the day tomorrow; fulfilled with your accomplishments. What does that look like? What does that feel like? How did you make it happen?
3. Sleep more
The idea that top performers don’t need much sleep is false. While some people (like these crazy folks) can get by with six hours of sleep per night (or less!) they are the exceptions not the rule.
The site My Morning Routine profiles over 200-morning routines from real people. These aren’t just billionaire entrepreneurs, they come from a variety of backgrounds and have achieved differing levels of success. They all, however, seem to be accomplished in their unique ways. They are bestselling authors, inspiring creatives and successful entrepreneurs. One insight from this site is that on average, they are sleeping 7–8 hours per night!
Personally, I thrive on 8–9 hours of sleep per night, or more when I am training for an ultramarathon or doing a lot of other physical work. Sleeping from 9 pm to 5 am is ideal for me.
4. Sleep better
Quantity and quality are two different things.
I remember the first time I went into a float tank. I emerged after 90 minutes feeling like I had slept a full 8 hours! The sensory deprivation and soothing action of the salt water in the tank worked wonders on my stress and tired muscles. It looks like Steph Curry is a fan of them too.
That experience proved to me how important high-quality rest is.
If you want to wake up fully charged (and early!) be sure to optimize your sleep situation. Use blackout shades. Remove electronics from the bedroom. Cover LED lighting with electrical tape. Maintain an optimal resting temperature (the chilly pad might help if you are hot while you sleep). Use a HEPA filter (and humidifier) if you suffer from allergies. Practice Yoga Nidra or use a guided sleep meditation program to calm the conscious mind and promote rest and deep sleep (the Headspace app has some good sleep-oriented guided meditations).
Ben Greenfield offers additional strategies for better sleep.
5. Schedule your day
I’m a former team leader at Microsoft now making my living as an Executive and Career Coach. In any given week I work with 10–20 clients to help them create higher levels of performance in their work and more fulfillment in their lives.
A common mistake I witness is people not planning for their use of time. Any successful executive knows the value of a well-kept schedule. In most corporate environments, it’s nearly impossible to manage all of one’s priorities without proper use of a calendar.
If you aren’t using your calendar to plan and schedule your day, you should. Be sure to include all the crucial areas of life, not just work meetings. Block off time to account for your exercise and other important personal priorities.
As you wrap up your day, take a few minutes to schedule the following day. Even if your plan isn’t 100% perfect, this planning will improve your chance of success. Even better, plan your entire week out at the outset of each week. Then, refine your schedule as the week progresses.
6. Commit to being an early riser
I wake up at 5 am on most days, including weekends. Today (Sunday), I was up at 4:40 am. I don’t set the alarm. I just get up naturally. I wasn’t always used to this routine. Over time it has become natural.
Every person I know who has achieved success in business and seems to have a happy life follows a relatively early morning wake-up routine.
If you are like me, you will join the 5 am club and get more done before 9 am than most people seem to do all day long 🙂 .
Now that you’ve planned your day in advance let’s talk about what to do once you wake up!
Are you bleary eyed and ready for your cup of coffee first thing in the morning? Before you zombie walk over to the espresso machine, take note of these tips to make the most of your day.
7. Make your bed
Crawling out of bed at 4:40 am this morning, the first thing I did, aside from standing up, was make the bed. Perhaps this is a slight overstatement. As my wife was still asleep, the best I could do was pull the covers up and arrange my pillows! This small act got my day going in a positive way.
Making the bed first thing in the morning might not change your life, but it will give you a small sense of accomplishment. That alone, makes it worth doing. However, if you are U.S. Navy Admiral William H. McCraven, you will disagree. To Admiral McCraven, there is a life-changing magic to making the bed:
During a commencement speech at the University of Texas, the commander of the forces that organized the raid to kill Osama bin Laden delivered some key advice on success.
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed,‘’ U.S. Navy Adm. William H. McCraven told the graduates of his alma mater on May 16.
McCraven, the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, relayed several lessons he has learned in 36 years as a Navy SEAL, starting with some advice that was music to the ears of exasperated mothers everywhere.
“If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,‘’ he said. “It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.
“Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
8. Drink a lot of water
I am a stickler for water. I drink a lot of it. At home, we have water delivery from a pristine water source, untreated (chlorine and fluoride-free) and emanating from an aquifer deep beneath the Rocky Mountains. First thing in the morning, after making my bed, I drink a bunch of water. Typically 8–12 ounces. Following meditation, I will drink another 12–16 ounces.
Some people like to add fresh lemon to their water. This practice has numerous health benefits – alkalizing the body and providing a small dose of essential vitamins and minerals.
Meditation is the most powerful life-hack most people don’t use. It’s free to do, easy to learn and you benefit right from the start. Even better, the practice is infinitely challenging and engaging.
All spiritual traditions I’ve studied emphasize the value of meditation (and/or prayer) in the morning. It increases alertness. Supports effortless decision making. Enhances creativity. Promotes healthier and more mindful eating. If you can meditate twice a day, then you may also do so in the evening. However, a morning practice should be the bedrock of your daily routine. I get in at least 10 minutes every morning.
Not sure where to start? I have easy-to-follow instructions here.
Prefer to have someone guide you? Check out the Headspace app and follow the free “Take 10” program.
10. Set your intention
What will make your day great?
Ben Franklin, a brilliant thinker, is well known for his regimented morning routine. Upon waking, he always asked and answered the question, “What good shall I do this day?” Franklin’s strategy was to make the most of each day and create “Powerful Goodness” (his words).
Why not try this approach and see how it shifts your capacity to focus on what matters? It’s an essentialist practice that has well-documented merits. At a minimum, focusing on your crucial task for the day brings back feelings of control, certainty, and satisfaction to a day that might otherwise be filled with unforeseen problems and unwanted emails. This alone seems worth the effort.
Now you are awake. You have a steaming hot beverage in your hand and are ready to take charge. What’s next? Let’s take a look at some best practices before starting work:
11. No screens in the morning
Here’s a true story. I know someone who will freak out without his smartphone for even a few minutes. Even when going to the toilet, if his phone isn’t in his pocket he will get it before retreating to the bathroom to do his business.
What a sad state of reality that a device slightly larger than a deck of cards can have this level of control on our daily habits and peace of mind! Cultivate the practice of not using any screens in the morning. It helps to follow the Time Well Spent recommended practices of disabling notifications and using your smartphone as a tool (instead of allowing it to use you as one!).
I’ve taken to spending my mornings with a legal pad of paper and pen. I handwrite my plans for the day, capture any thoughts that come to mind, brain dump my morning pages, and even create outline for upcoming blog posts.
While one might think this is a highly inefficient way of working; it is not. The benefits of my enhanced focus more than outweigh any additional time I might spend transcribing notes to my computer later on. Evernote also makes it trivial to capture photos of my handwritten notes for posterity’s sake.
12. Connect to your bigger purpose
“Purpose” is a lofty term. Let’s bring it down to Earth. Your purpose is the bigger reason for why you are doing what you do in the world. It’s the thing you really care about above all else. This means connecting with your bigger goal and mission for your life.
Not sure what your purpose is? Don’t fret. Instead of your purpose, connect with something that you care deeply about in your work and life. If you have a set of written life goals and/or values, use those!
For example, my life purpose is to help create a world where the vast majority of people are proud of the work that they do and the life that they live. As a coach, I remind myself of this purpose ever day before I begin working with my clients.
13. Set daily goal(s)
If you are in the habit of going with the flow and allowing the day to unfold according to its nature, you are missing out on the powerful benefits of a goal-oriented and intentional mind.
As you start your day, consider your primary purpose or goal for the day. If you have a few, that is fine as well. I often just pick one thing to focus on. Write it down and commit to getting it done.
14. Move your body
My best ideas and most creative work has come through the aid of exercise. When I worked in my corporate job at Microsoft, I was a fan of having walking meetings (turns out Steve Jobs was a fan of them as well) or spending an hour walking on trails around our corporate campus while mulling over a problem in my mind.
There is something symbiotic about moving your body and mental function. Moreover, without a sound body and high level of energy, it is impossible to contribute and perform at a high-level day after day. Exercising in the morning is beneficial in that it raises metabolism throughout the day. It also supports stress-fighting mechanisms in the body.
15. Eat breakfast
Find a way to eat breakfast in the morning. There are many schools of thought on the optimal breakfast. Some swear by the bullet-proof style blended butter (or coconut oil) and coffee concoction. Others follow the Ferris-ian “Slow-Carb” diet espousing the consumption of 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. Still other highly successful people I know of eat only fruit before noon (I also did that for years, with great success, when I was younger and doing more physical activity).
Whatever dietary choices you want to make, keep it minimally processed and rich in fiber. Above all, eat something! Your brain runs on glucose, and a fuel-starved brain will have trouble focusing and problem-solving.
What is my breakfast now? I am a creature of habit. I love a big smoothie made with frozen berries, plant-based protein powder, unsweetened almond milk and flax (or hemp) seeds.
16. Read inspiring books
After feeding your body, how about feeding your mind?
Many spiritual traditions emphasize the reading of scriptures in the morning. What benefits might this practice hold for you? For one, reading something meaningful can help you connect to a higher ideal or purpose. It might also be a motivating force for reflecting on the day ahead.
Lately, I’ve been reading a single page from J. Krishnamurti’s “The Book of Life” each morning. Throughout the day I reflect on the meaning of the passage I read. It seems to deepen my awareness of consciousness and my human potential.
I’ve also heard good things about Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic as a tool for connecting with the Stoic principles of humility, self-awareness, perseverance and service.
17. Express gratitude
It’s impossible to feel love and hate at the same time. Likewise, it’s impossible to feel grateful while being hounded by a negative emotion simultaneously. A great daily practice is to connect with the things you are thankful for each and every morning. It’s as simple as making a list of items that evoke the sense of gratitude. Meditate on these things and allow the feeling to grow.
Now we are ready to begin work. Perhaps you are in a home office like me. Maybe you are in a busy cubicle-filled corporate workspace. Either way, follow these tips to keep your day moving forward in a positive direction:
18. Clean your workspace
A clean workspace is about more than having a strong professional image. When your desk is tidy, there are fewer distractions to pull your attention here and there.
There is also the practical benefit of being able to find things easier when your workspace is orderly. The average worker spends 1.5 hours per day looking for things! Research published in the Journal of Consumer Research and Harvard Business Review also find that disorganized workspaces impact productivity.
19. Eat that frog
There is a terrible phrase in the world of productivity coaching called “eating the frog.” The frog is a metaphor for the thing you don’t like to do. The object of your procrastination.
It’s a best practice to avoid checking your email until you have at least eaten one frog. That is to say, do a task that is vital to your having a successful day. Then, go ahead and check your email.
This practice is so effective due to the pull email places on our attention. After all, your inbox is simply a way for other people to put demands on you! Why not first take care of yourself before serving everyone else under the sun?
20. Don’t multitask
Multitasking may very well be killing your career and ruining your life. No matter how tech savvy you might be, your ability to multitask is limited by the capacities of the human body. On average, research shows frequent multitaskers are taking a 40% hit to their productivity.
As you move through your morning routine, pay careful attention to avoid multitasking at all costs. Give each task it’s full awareness, and move on swiftly as you complete them.
21. Say “hell yeah or no”
Do you have trouble saying no? I certainly do.
The problem with not knowing how to say no is that it is easier than ever for people to place demands on our time and resources. We are just a tweet or email away from feeling like we have an overloaded schedule and no hope of ending the day with a strong feeling of completion.
Derek Sivers has a solution for you. Raise the bar for what it takes for you to say “yes”. Adopt a “Hell yeah or no” mindset. Start your day with this mindset and be in a better position to protect your free time and energy for deployment against important Deep Work.
22. Connect with people
We are more connected than ever, yet more lonely than ever. Loneliness is a big deal. It’s linked to physical illness and to mental decline. It’s also seen as a strong predictor of early death (moreso than even obesity!).
As you begin your day, think about someone you want to reach out to. Then, send them an email or message. Even better, pick up the phone and give them a call. Think about how strong your social bonds will become with a daily practice of human-to-human connection.
23. Serve customers
For those who interact with their clients, there is perhaps no better way to start the workday than by directly interfacing with the people who are the customers of your business.
Craig Newmark, the legendary founder of Craiglist.org, agrees.
You are now well on your way to a successful morning and day. As your days and weeks progress, you will want to apply the following tips to continue your momentum and turn your daily routine from something you have to do, to something that just happens as part of your living a great life.
24. Weekends are no different
Don’t build a routine that only works for your weekdays. The best routines establish new patterns for living your life. They don’t just apply to work days. Whatever routines you create for yourself, keep up with them on Saturday and Sunday!
25. Track your progress
A routine is all about building a habit. Habits, when held for long enough (the latest research says 66 days or longer) require little willpower. This is the end goal for us when it comes to establishing a morning routine. It helps to track your progress. I use a spreadsheet and track a few things related to my morning routines, like my wake up time, meditation duration, and daily energy levels.
26. Review your accomplishments
Reflection is a key part of learning and improvement. At the end of your week, reflect on your achievements. What are you proud of accomplishing? What didn’t go as planned? How do you want to adjust your routines for next week?
27. What happens when you get off track?
Challenges will show up. You will get off track. You don’t know exactly when these things will happen, but you do know that they will! What will you do when adversity strikes?
One thing I have learned from my many years competing in ultra-endurance running and triathlon events is that planning for challenging scenarios is an essential part of success. What will I do when I run out of water and the nearest aid station is an hour (or two) away? What will I do if I start cramping? What will happen if I get a flat tire (or two)?
Create a plan for how you will cope. What if you wake up late? What if you miss breakfast? What if you miss a week of meditation? What if you need to go on a work trip, throwing your routine out of wack?
The easiest answer to these questions is to simply resolve to get back on track as soon as you can. Learn what you can from whatever threw you off track, then keep moving forward. Perhaps with some planning, you can mitigate the damage!
As I mentioned at the start of ths article, don’t try to do everything at once. Pick a few (or one) of the items I mention and commit to applying it to your life. Leave a comment below and let me know how it goes for you!
Also, any morning routine should serve a higher purpose and goal. Click here to get my free step-by-step guide to goal setting and be well on your way to designing a lifestyle you can be proud of!