A morning routine is the key to many things, including discipline, focus, and health. Here’s mine.
Prep for the morning.
I want my morning routine to go smooth and by the numbers. Here are things I like to prep:
- My preferred caffeine delivery system. If this is coffee, I prep the pot the night before, and set the timer to kick off at 5.45 or 6.00am (if you don’t have a timer, no big deal — it’s just the press of a button at this point). If this is tea, I have the teapot ready with the tea nearby.
- My journal. I put it on the table where I’m going to write, along with my favorite pen.
- My clothes, and (if I’m going to exercise in the morning), my workout clothes. I usually put them in the bathroom or living room so I can get to them without stumbling around the dark.
Get up — early.
The key part of a kick-ass personal morning routine is getting up at least 1 hour before everyone else in the house, preferably more. This is the only way you are going to get the time you need. If this seems impossible, then try moving up your wake up time 15 or 30 minutes every week. It’s not as hard as you think, especially if you have a goal for the morning. It may, however, require you to get to bed earlier.
Personally I like to get up at 5.00 or 5.30 am. This gives me a solid 1 – 1.5 hours before I have to get the kids up or go to the office. You can make the routine work with a lead time of 30-45m if you take a quick shower, but an hour is best.
One the key things here is to get up as soon as your alarm goes off. Zig Ziglar called this the opportunity clock which I think is very apt. If you look at your alarm as the opportunity to have a great day (and not incidentally — to also accomplish your goals), then you may find yourself actually excited to get up at 5.30am. Crazy, I know.
Since I get up about an hour before my wife does, I also like to use a vibrating alarm (my phone works well), which doesn’t disturb her. But however you do it, make sure you hear the alarm. And then get the hell up.
I’m not talking about some fancy cross-legged guided meditation routine here, and you don’t need to attend a retreat to learn how to do it, either. All you need to do is spend 5-10 minutes sitting and clearing your mind. The only requirements are:
- A chair (unless you prefer to sit on the floor) and
- A quiet space.
At 5.30 in the AM, quiet shouldn’t be hard to come by, but if it is, then put on some headphones and listen to some calming (preferably instrumental) music.
(If you’re having a hard time learning how to meditate, or find that you have trouble slotting it into your schedule, check out Headspace, which is my favorite guided meditation app.)
Do a few quick exercises.
(If I’m making tea, I’ll first turn on the kettle to start the water boiling.)
This idea came from Tim Ferriss (read more about it here and here), and it’s a great way to get your mind going. Simply spend 1-2 minutes doing some quick exercises such as pushups, squats, or kettle bell. Do 5 to 10 reps of whatever it is, and make it quick.
Grab your caffeine.
If you don’t caffeinate, well, that’s cool. Just know that there are many, many ways to do it. And the benefits are pretty clear.
I’m a coffee addict, so that is usually my drug of choice. Of late, though, I’ve been starting my day with some black tea (Pu-erh fermented tea is a good way to go — but any good loose black tea such as Assam will do). I find tea to be more of a mellow way to start the day, and, since tea is less acidic, it goes better with my empty stomach (since I usually eat later in the morning.)
In any case, fill up your cup, as we’re about to get into the part where you need to use your brain.
You don’t have to do this part, but honestly, this is probably the most important element of my personal morning routine other than caffeine. As such I try not to skip it.
I’ve been using the 5 minute journal method aka ‘5MJ’. (Once again, hat-tip to Mr. Ferriss for suggesting this, although he did not invent it – it was created by UJ Ramdas and Alex Ikonn). You can really journal about anything here — and sometimes, especially if you’re working through a personal issue or trying to solve a tough problem — free form writing is the way to go. The point is to journal period, for 5-10 minutes, every day. (Ryan Holiday has his own method which is worth checking out.)
If you want to try the 5MJ, it’s pretty simple, and effective. Every morning:
- Write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for. This can be your family, etc. but it helps to get creative. What other people in your life (past or present) are you grateful for? This can include people you don’t know personally, but who inspire you. What objects (like your journal!) are you grateful for? Are you grateful for coffee, or ham and butter sandwiches? Whatever it is, say it!
- Write down 3-5 things that will make today great. These can be things you want to accomplish, feelings you want to have, or things you will say or do.
- Write down your affirmations. If you’re not familiar with this concept, it is simply a way of putting positive thoughts into words, which has an almost magical result of providing you with the confidence to be the person that you aspire to be. An affirmation convinces you that you can achieve the things that you hope or wish for yourself, simply by putting them into words (and later, actions.) An affirmation could be something that you are, but is often something that you want to be. What are your dreams, your goals? Where do you see yourself in the next year, or 5 years? What kind of person do you aspire to be? How would you like to treat the people in your life? How would you like to feel? For more inspiration on the topic, check out this article.
Finally, every night:
- Write down 3-5 amazing things that happened today.
- Write down how today could have been even better.
You can certainly use the journal referenced above, but personally I prefer to use a simple hardbound notebook like this Bookfactory journal, so that I can free journal as needed, and store all of my thoughts in a linear fashion.
If you’ve ever tried to journal before but couldn’t keep up with it — or simply have not journaled at all — I highly recommend giving this method a try. It’s simple, it’s fast, and it’s structured — which makes it very easy to do. And chances are you’ll find that you’re more clear-headed and positive about the day.
Take a shower.
In any case, the next step in your morning routine should be to shower and get dressed. Even if you don’t have to go into the office, or it’s the weekend, this simple step is key in getting your head straight for the day.
For a long time I was a breakfast skipper. This worked fine, and for the most part I wasn’t hungry (at least after the first week or two). What I’ve found though is that I am both more positive and more productive if I eat breakfast. And, there is mounting evidence to support the idea that earlier meals (and in particular breakfast) are crucial to health and wellness.
If you don’t have the time or a big appetite for breakfast (personally, I don’t), a protein bar, or a couple of eggs with some toast or fruit will do the trick. Just make sure to eat something before you head out for the day.
A few final thoughts.
- The order of this routine is my own. You should experiment and find the order the works for you.
- Ditto for the content, although the principals should apply to most routines. And if you do one thing — make it journaling, or meditation.
- You don’t have to do the same exact routine every day, or get through all items in your routine. But do at least one (aside from caffeine, which is a given!) so you feel anchored and ready to rock.
- If you fail the routine completely — which will happen sometimes — don’t sweat it. Just makes sure to try it again tomorrow, or next week.
- Some folks also like to make their bed, although I find this a challenge unless I want to incur the (morning-drunk) wrath of my wife by kicking her out of bed.