What’s one surprising key to actually having good mornings? Routine. It might seem boring, but an effective morning routine can be incredibly important to developing successful, productive, even (shocker) enjoyable days and weeks. Unfortunately, many of us seem not to maximize our mornings.
It’s only logical: If you have children (or dogs), or generally “aren’t a morning person,” your routine is a pre-dawn rush to achieve the basics. By the time you hit the office, there are emails to deal with. Then meetings. Then more of both. Repeat until suddenly it’s Friday, and you have no idea where your week went. Sound familiar?
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But a successful routine is a benchmark for good mornings, explains Claire Diaz-Ortiz, a productivity expert and the author of Design Your Day. Why? Because how you start your day anchors you and ensures you stay focused on what’s most important. According to Diaz-Ortiz, if you want to achieve your highest level of productivity, you have to master a consistent morning routine.
Okay, we get it. But how exactly do you become a master of good mornings, especially if your typical sunrise routine is more chaotic than calming?
Ah yes. Remember habits? There’s a ton of research on habit formation, and some of it even ventures outside of academia. Here are two ways to think about it:
- Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains habit formation as a three-step process:
- Cue: something that triggers you to act
- Routine: series of actions following the trigger
- Reward: self-explanatory
- Want more on this process? Watch Duhigg’s TEDx Talk on the habit loop.
- Here’s Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, on habits:
…when we change our habits, we change our lives. We can use decision-making to choose the habits we want to form, use willpower to get the habit started, then—and this is the best part—we can allow the extraordinary power of habit to take over. At that point, we’re free from the need to decide and the need to use willpower.”
Habit formation is important because it somewhat automates your life or elements of your life. If you can set-up habits around the things you want to achieve early in the day, like prioritizing your workload or avoiding the email black hole, you can have the good mornings you’ve always wanted. And it’ll be automated, so you don’t need willpower to make it happen. Even better.
So what are some habits that can make (or break) your morning routine?
Here are some small science-backed strategies to consider as you adjust the course of your morning:
Email, while great for connectivity, largely stresses us out. And most of us are guilty of email-checking long before we’re actually on the clock. According to a 2015 Reuters survey, about 80 percent of us take a look at our work inboxes before we hit the office and 30 percent of us are checking them before we get out of bed. Yikes.
If your regular routine involves checking email, you might want to rethink your strategy. Why? You fall into a vortex of reacting and responding, which increases stress and reduces your sense of control of your day. You’re still in bed, and you’re already playing catch-up. Translation: Your goals are taking a backseat.
Try this instead: We already know that your environment plays a big role in creating your habits, so use that knowledge to form a new, email-free morning routine.
- Use a real alarm clock to reduce the temptation to check-in from under the covers.
- Keep your phone out of sight until you leave for work.
- Disconnect your work email from your phone, tablet, or personal computer. (You won’t suddenly become a terrible employee, promise.) or at least…
- Disable email notifications on your devices.
This is all of us: “At most I have 15 minutes in the morning I can use.” Think that’s not enough time for a morning routine? Think again. You can get a lot done in those 15 minutes. The trick is to plan for them. And be specific about those plans.
Try it like this:
- Make a plan the night before of three to five items max.
- Write the items in an actionable, verb-driven way. (E.g., “Light stretching for three minutes, then three minutes of kettlebell swings.”)
- Tweak your environment to make it easier: Put your shoes by the bed and the kettlebell in a visible spot, egging you on.
- Wake up and execute your plan.
- Optional but recommended: Feel like a badass.
Action words and specifics can lead to greater success with task accomplishment, according to research, so you can make those 15 minutes matter. And make good mornings more likely.
Here’s a technique that can shape your morning routine over time: At the end of each day:
- Write down three positive elements of that day.
- Use a ton of detail.
- Include how you felt about them and why they might have happened.
- Jot down one constructive, could-be-improved-upon element in a similar way.*
But wait a second, that’s at the end of the day. What does that have to do with making good mornings? We’re getting there.
At the end of the week, you’ll have 21 positives and 7 things to improve on. And that’s powerful stuff. Here’s how to use it to make mornings that matter:
- Look at your positive and to-improve lists each week or every other week.
- See patterns of what you do well and what you could improve.
- Focus your morning routine on the day-to-day stuff you need to work on.
For example, if you notice your to-do-betters are about leaving the office on time, consider using your morning routine to prioritize your day. Think about what must get done before you leave work, and block out time to get those things done. (And this strategy works. Cal Newport, author of Deep Work, breaks down time-blocking in this blog post.) Now you’re solving problems, giving yourself props for your small successes, and using your morning routine for good, not evil, all because you used data (about yourself) to inform decision-making.
*Disclaimer: This is similar to the three-to-one ratio in positive psychology that’s been largely disproven as a way to increase happiness. However, we’re talking small-scale strategies for tracking behavior and using that to guide your good mornings. It works as a data-gathering strategy, not necessarily as a happiness guarantee. We good?
The importance of a morning routine is that it gets your day started properly, with less stress, more automation, and a quick win of “I did that successfully again.” It’s easier than you think…and better than drowsily responding to trillions of emails all marked “urgent.” Give your A.M. routine a little makeover and see how many good mornings you can rack up. You might be surprised.
Your turn: What’s priority number one in your morning routine? How does it make for good mornings? Tell us in the comments.
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