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…
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The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
~ Lao Tzu
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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Lose an hour in the morning, and you will spend all day looking for it.
~ Richard Whately, 18th-century polymath
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.
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.”
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.
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.