The Importance of a Good Morning Routine (and How I Do Mornings)

Photo by Hannah Wei

What’s the secret to a good life? How do you get from the life you have to the life you want? How do you escape from the daily grind that keeps you where you are?

Inherit lots of money so that you don’t have to work a day job? That’d be nice, but it’s not likely to happen for most of us.

Try to make progress on your goals on the nights and weekends? It’s possible, but you’re going to be worn out from your work. You’ll just want to relax and chill out.

So what do you do?

I’m currently reading a book called The 7 Minute Solution (it’s really good). Here’s a line that caught my attention:

The secret to true productivity and meaning comes from getting the right things done by giving your highest value activities the highest priority.

What does it mean to make something a highest priority? It means it’s more important to do than anything else. You do it first.

If you want to do the most important things first, you need to intentionally craft a morning routine to create change in your life.

Small wins repeated everyday that lead to big wins and lasting change. New skills. Better health. More energy. Finished projects. More income.

3 steps to create a successful morning routine:

1. Start planning the night before

  • Identify the small steps you can take everyday to get closer to your goals. In The 7 Minute Solution, author Allyson Lewis says to “Analyze the pay off of every task on your list. Your highest-value tasks will have a measurable payoff directly related to your values, purpose, or goals.” Figure out what your goals are and make a little bit of progress towards them everyday.
  • Get enough sleep. After using the Sleep Cycle app for over a year and keeping track of how I felt/performed everyday, I figured out that I need either 6 or 7.5 hours to operate at peak efficency. When you don’t get enough sleep, you suck at life.
  • Wake up without an alarm clock, if possible. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I’ve noticed that I feel far more rested and happy on days when I wake up without an alarm.

2. Review your plan first thing in the morning

  • Make sure you know what you’re supposed to be doing every morning. Plan your morning the night before.
  • Avoid getting sucked into email or social media or taking care of shallow tasks. Once you start down this rabbit hole, it’s hard to get back to the truly important things. The shallow work can wait.
  • Turning off your phone helps, don’t open email or twitter or news. These are all places that lead to more consumption and shallow tasks.

3. Stay focused and get it done

  • Distractions will try to pull you away. Stick to your plan.
  • It’ll take a few weeks but it will eventually become habit.

Aneeqah asked: What should a morning routine consist of? Exercise or meditation or something else? What are the best activities to do as soon as you wake up to start your day off productively?

My Morning Routine:

  1. Shower
  2. Coffee/breakfast (something light and healthy like yogurt, eggs, or fruit)
  3. Light exercise (pushups, squats, plank, stretching)
  4. Meditation or Yoga (10 minutes)
  5. Reading (1 chapter or 20 minutes)
  6. Study (right now it’s Codecademy, I’m learning Javascript)
  7. Practice music (currently learning Ableton and Ableton Push 2)
  8. Ironman Training (and I combine exercise with listening to audiobook or podcast)
  9. Write or record a screencast

Q: What If I Have a Day Job That I Have to Wake Up Early For? What If I Have Kids?

Sharisse asked: If I virtually do not have a morning to myself, do I need to wake up even earlier or can I develop a successful nighttime routine? (currently waking up at 5:15, kids to daycare by 6:30, dayjob starts at 7:15 am)

Can you wake up earlier? Yes you can. Will it be easy? Hell no. If you want to wake up earlier, you have to go to bed earlier. That takes sacrificing your evening hours which are often spent going out or hanging out with friends.

Q: What About An Evening Routine? Doing the Important Work After My Day Job?

I used to work a early morning shift; 5am-3pm at a job I really didn’t like (making spark plug boots and head gaskets at a manufacturing plant). I had to wake up at 4am just to get to work by 5, so I ended up spending all my nights and weekends working on my goals.

You can get stuff done in the evening, but I’ve found that I’m more productive first thing in the morning after I’ve had a good night’s rest, a shower, and a cup of coffee. But if I had to, I could make progress on my goals in the evening too.

I have an evening routine too; I record a daily journal video, review the day, write about what happened and how the day went, and plan out the next day.

But my evening routine is not the most productive part of my day; it’s more about making sure I set myself up for a good day tomorrow.

Q: What If I’m Not a Morning Person?

You can be the person you want to be. If you want to be a morning person, you can be. If you want to be an evening person, you can be.

I used to be a night owl. I got things done. Then I tried getting up early and I got even more things done. Try it for yourself and see.

Excuses aren’t going to get you the life you want. Only actions will.

Q: What If I Break Routine? What If I Can’t Stick to It?

Julia asked: I’m really bad at building and implementing routines and often just go with the flow after a while and forget about the structures I built before. Any ideas how to keep a routine a routine?

I’ve been using as well as my Self Journal. And my calendar. And Omnifocus 2.

I like because you can check things off and write little notes for yourself.

It takes daily attention. Daily focus. Have your routine written down something (either on paper or digitally) and look at it every morning.

Q: I Don’t Have Time for a Morning Routine, I Have Too Much to Do Already

Sounds like you’re happy with the way things are going, you can ignore this blog post and keep doing what you’re doing!

This blog post started as an outline for an episode of Fired Up Mondays, a members-only podcast on the seanwes network.

If you’d like to learn more about how I plan out my day, check out episode 257 of the seanwes podcast: Planning Your Day for Maximum Efficiency in Under 5 Minutes and Still Accounting for Unplanned Events.