How I use a Morning Routine to Slay the Day

My mornings usually decide the fate of my days. On mornings I am not rushed, I am able to get more done, with the freedom to savour individual moments. Bonus points if I start my day doing something familiar and enjoyable.

Basically, a morning routine designed to make me feel happy and inspired.

PRINCIPLES & PHILOSOPHY

Why have a morning routine?

I have never been a ‘morning person’. I wake up around 8.30 AM, which is not early by most measures. But I’ve realised that how you wake up, and what you do immediately after waking up, is more important than when.

My morning routine took years to actualise. And it will probably change over time (I’d like to add some dancing maybe).

But each element of my current routine fits into a larger philosophy, which I don’t expect to change anytime soon.

Here’s how I think about it:

Deliberate acts of self-reflection: I enjoy my solitude, especially in the mornings. Typically, I don’t interact with another human being until I reach the breakfast table (dogs are a welcome exception, of course). Whether its meditating or journaling, solitary acts like thinking or writing put me in touch with how I’m really feeling in a given moment. The benefits of introspection are plenty, including a heightened sense of self-awareness and self-confidence.

Optimise the body and mind: Exercise doesn’t drain my energy, it actually helps me perform better, even on purely ‘intellectual’ tasks. On days I don’t meditate, my thoughts are scattered, I’m irritable, and less trusting of my instincts. By optimising mind and body for peak performance, I am often able to achieve a ‘flow state’, which is ideal for any creative work.

Start with something familiar: Sometimes I will wake up feeling anxious about a pending assignment or an uncomfortable conversation. To counter this, I start my day with something familiar and enjoyable, so I can ease into these ‘unpleasant’ activities. It makes it easier to “eat the frog”, as they say. These days, I start my mornings browsing through photos, videos and articles that I’ve previously bookmarked. In the future I might just dive into a virtual world or ‘redo’ a past experience.

WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE

This is what I do on most mornings:

Wake Up: Stretch like a cat, because it feels good. I find that a glass of cold water helps re-hydrate the body and kick it out of bed. If I’m out of bed, that’s half the battle won! Now the day has officially begun.

Make the bed: In a beautiful commencement speech, Admiral William H. McRaven explains the benefits of making one’s bed every morning. It’s a simple act, but puts me in an active frame of mind. It is also oddly satisfying to see the corners perfectly aligned. Anyone who enjoys crossing off a to-do list will understand. Plus, who doesn’t love coming home to a neat bed? (alone or with company)

Meditate: Probably the most important bit of my day. It takes 15 minutes, but its effects can last hours. The idea is to focus, settle the mind, and prepare it for the onslaught of information about to hit when I boot up my phone to start the day. Over a period of time, meditation provides some incredible insights, about oneself and the world at large.

Exercise: Unless my inbox is on fire, I exercise. I try to mix it up. Some years ago, I read a book about the four basic types of exercise — flexibility, endurance, strength and balance. I didn’t finish the book, but it sounds like a sensible combination. Overall, it appears a bit of stretching or yoga, some cardio and calisthenics primes the body for a great day.

Shower: Very refreshing, but also for the solitude. Unfortunately, a shower stall is one of the few sanctuaries left for an urban resident like me (I really don’t need a waterproof phone, I promise!). Occasionally I’ll have a ShowerThought.

Journal: There are many variations of this, but the Five Minute Journal always lights up my mornings. You can’t go wrong with gratitude, affirmations and introspection. The same four questions repeat daily, but it brings structure to the practice. And as a dear friend says: “Constraints can be liberating”. Now, almost a thousand entries in, I cannot imagine a better way to start the day.

Breakfast: A good breakfast makes all the difference. Nutritious breakfasts are ideal, but it has to be filling too. Eggs, fruit and nuts check most boxes.

Reflect: Perhaps my favourite part of the day. I have come to realise that my ideal day begins with something beautiful, funny and inspiring. So I set up my inbox to receive a daily digest of photos, comic strips, quotes and articles that I absolutely love — stuff I have previously bookmarked or ’liked’ in various ways. With a cup of hot green tea in hand, it’s the perfect fuel to hit the ground running!

By no means do I coast through this routine every morning. An early morning flight, late night out, or a sudden change of environment can be disruptive. But on most days, when I get the hell out of bed and do these things like clockwork, I usually end up with a meaningful day.

HOW I DO IT

* For meditation, I use The Mindfulness App. In the afternoons or before bed, I hop on to Calm for a quick 2 minute meditation.

* For exercise, I use YouTube videos, any 7 Minute Workout app and a Spotify playlist.

* To journal, I use Evernote (my digital brain) or a black Moleskine notebook (functional and beautiful).

* To reflect, I use a service called, well… “Reflect”. I’ve set it up to send me quotes, comics, photos and notes every morning. It has become an indispensable part of my mornings.

* I use Audiotechnica headphones and JBL earphones to drown out the noise. They are expensive, but I use them for 6 hours a day on average, so it’s been a good investment so far.

(Thanks to Ipsa, Badri, Abhimanyu, Parag, Amshula and Bhargavi for reading a draft of this)