How do you spend your mornings? Most of us know from experience that our morning experience often shapes the tenor of the entire day. If you have a relaxed, productive morning, chances are that you’ll face the rest of the day feeling positive and energized. If you have a hectic, stressful, and disorganized morning, then you’ll spend at least several hours afterwards trying to shake the emotional residue of that experience off your mind.
If you have a family or you also have a full time job, mornings are often one of the few hours in the day where you actually have time to devote to yourself and your work. One way to make sure that these mornings are as smooth and productive as possible is by creating a morning ritual that you follow every single morning upon waking.
What’s the big deal about a morning ritual?
Morning rituals are often a common tool for creative and successful people. A few years ago I read the excellent book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life” by dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharpe where she described that her morning ritual started by taking a cab every morning to the gym. That ride in the cab is how she signaled to herself that it was time to get in the creative mindset.
Writer Toni Morrison arises each morning while it’s still dark to make a cup of coffee. She then watches the sun rise while she drinks it. She said that transition from dark to light is her signal that it’s time to work.
This year I was finally inspired to implement this tool in my own mornings after I listened to an interview of Hal Elrod the author of the “The Miracle Morning“ on an episode of The Eventual Millionaire. The Miracle Morning is a book about becoming successful through personal development and how to implement a version of Hal nicknamed “The Miracle Morning” into your daily routine. After studying the habits of successful business people and creatives, Hal found that most started the morning with some type of personal development activity, like mediation, exercise, writing, or reading. For his mornings, he implemented all of those activities where he would start off by meditating, then do a bit of journaling, and then finally end routine with thirty minutes of exercise.
What’s in my morning ritual?
I decided early on to keep an outline of my routine in Evernote. I wanted to be able to access it from my computer, iPad, or phone since I’m usually close to one of those devices most of the time. And since much of what is in my routine involves Evernote, a calendar, a task manager, and other apps, I thought that would be a great place to store it.
My daily morning routine consists of these steps.
- Wake up at 5:00 – 5:15– My usual waking time was around 6, but adjusted my wake up time to accommodate my routine.
- Read over Annual Review Highlights– In an earlier blog post, I outlined how I did an annual plan for 2015. I really want to concentrate on accomplishing most if not all of the goals on that plan. So I listed the main highlights from my annual plan in Evernote and linked it to the note that outlines my morning ritual. Now, first thing every morning I remind myself of what I really want to accomplish for the year.
- Read over my business mission statements– Quite a while ago I created mission statements for my jewelry business and for this blog. The next step after reading my annual review highlights is to read over my mission statements to remind myself why these goals are important.
- Read “For Procrastinators”– I’m a terrible procrastinator. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to control for as long as I can remember. There’s this wonderful passage I found on the Brain Pickings blog by the Greek philosopher, Seneca on procrastination absolutely knocks me off the procrastination train every time I read it (if you’re a fellow procrastinator, you can read it here). I found that reading this passage is a great prep for my next step…
- Check over daily todo’s– Much of my todo list for the week is filled out during my Sunday Weekly Review session (more on that in a later post). So this is step is a matter of reviewing what’s on the list for the current day, making minor adjustments, and generally getting what needs to be done clear in my mind before the day officially starts.
- Work on most important task– Originally, the next step on the list was to read, either one of the articles on my todo list or some pages from whichever book I’m reading currently. Since one of my goals for the year is to read a lot more, I thought that the mornings would be a great time to tackle that task. Plus it would knock a couple of tasks off my to do list early in the morning. After about a week of trying it I found that was not the best use of my time.
I quickly discovered that a long day of working on the computer, going to meetings, and running errands, followed by an evening work out and dinner, the last thing I wanted to do was to perform some task that required more than a handful of brain cells. Reading is my form of relaxation, something I could easily do to unwind after a busy day. My most important todos typically involve writing, planning, graphic design work, and generally a host of things that I can perform better after freshly awaking from a good night’s rest. So after checking over what’s on my todo list, I pick a todo that’s high on my priority list and begin to tackle that. Even if I don’t finish it by the end of time allotted for my routine, I still feel that much more accomplished.
- Exercise– I end off my routine with about 30 minutes of exercise.
Developing your ritual
After a few weeks of trial and error, I’ve found that this daily ritual has been working out very well. Before I started this routine I had tried to wake up earlier on occasion to get some extra work done. Or rather I rose early with the intentions of getting some work done, but more often than not I ended up doing fairly unproductive tasks like checking email, surfing the internet, checking out Twitter and Facebook, or even (gasp!) watching that TV show I missed the night before.
For me, formalizing this into a daily ritual that I check off and do every morning helps to put me in the right mindset for the rest of the day. It’s not so much about waking up at 5am, but rather the stuff I do after waking up.
My ritual is formalized into a list of actions that I go over every morning. Yours doesn’t have to be. Your ritual could be as simple as getting up 20 minutes early to make coffee and watch the sunrise, like writer Toni Morrison does. Your ritual could be getting up to get dressed to exercise at the gym while listening to some workout music to get you pumped up. Or your ritual could be to get up and journal about what you dreamed about last night. Or you could read a chapter out of the latest business book or a fun novel while you drink a cup of tea.
Think of some of the things that you’ve been meaning to do that you feel would improve yourself and incorporate them in your ritual. These could include:
- Anything that requires a bit of creativity or brain power
- Any type of self-improvement activity
Remember that this time is to be spent on yourself and your work. Avoid doing things during your routine that doesn’t have that focus. This includes things like:
- Checking email
- Reading/listening to/watching the news
- Checking into social media
Meh…I’m not a morning person
You don’t have to wake up at 4 or 5am in the morning to make this work. Start at your normal waking time and try to get up 20 to 30 minutes early. If you normally wake up at 8 am, try waking up at 7:30 am. The goal is to build in 20 to 30 extra minutes per day so that you can go through your ritual without moving around the rest of your day.
Make getting up early pleasant as pleasant as possible by putting on some soft music, or having a cup of coffee or tea. Pick a comfortable, stress-free spot for your morning ritual. Once you go through your routine for a few days, your body and mind will come to expect and look forward to these mornings.This time in the morning is for yourself and your work. Avoid what doesn’t have that focus. Click To Tweet
Do I have to wake up early every morning? (i.e. weekends too?)
At first I would wake up at 5am during the weekdays and then change my wakeup time to 7am on the weekends so I could sleep in a bit. I quickly found that didn’t work as well as I thought it would for a couple reasons:
1. Your body gets trained to wake up at a certain time and constantly changing your wake up time can confuse it pretty quickly. I’d automatically wake up at 5am on Saturday and then roll over to sleep until 7am only to find that it made it that much more difficult to go back to waking up at 5am on Monday.
2. You risk losing that extra bit of time to be productive. Most of the world is still usually asleep at 5am (if you’re a parent of a young child, this point is debatable). There’s no phones to answer, no appointments to get to, no errands to run, and usually no one else making demands on your time. This gives you a window where you can completely concentrate on what you want to accomplish.
Two weeks into starting my morning ritual, when I was still waking up at 7am on the weekend, I had a surprise visit by a family member right when was in the middle of working on my high priority task. That morning visit stretched into the entire day and by the time that visit was over it was Saturday evening and I was in no mood to tackle the rest of my task list. Had I stuck to my 5am routine, I would have been able to get my most important thing done that Saturday and not felt guilty about blowing the whole day.
So, the short answer is, no…you can adjust your wake up time for the weekends if you want to. How you design your routine is completely up to you. Just make sure the change doesn’t change how effective your routine is in the long run.
And there you have it! So what do you do in the mornings? Feel free to leave a comment and share your own morning routines.
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