How to Avoid Feeling Like Garbage in the Morning

I, like many, am not a morning person — but planning my morning in advance allows me to treat mornings like a skill to improve on, rather than a dread-filled requirement of life.

If you don’t like to read, here’s what I’ll be discussing:

  1. Doing something analog (no screen) for at least 30 minutes before bed
  2. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day
  3. Structured morning routine: Wake up early, 7-Minute Workout, meditate, breakfast, a good drink, thinking, and planning

Say No to the Blue Light

Bad news for you late-night Reddit-browsers — the use of a phone or laptop late into the night and right before bed leads to low quality sleep. Since so much of our free time comprises of screen time these days, it makes sense that winding down for bed would involve a screen as well. Tonight, try to shut off your screen 15 minutes before you go to bed and do something (anything) that doesn’t have a screen to fill that time. You might be thinking “I don’t read, draw, or write. What now?”. We’ll talk about journaling and planning later, but that is a very good way to spend your analog time.

A good place to start, while not completely analog, is with podcasts or audiobooks. It involves some screen time, yes, but most podcast and book apps have a timer functionality that let’s you set a run time for listening before bed. This means, for example, you can set your phone to play the podcast 99% Invisible (highly recommended) for half an hour, and it will automatically pause after that time. At that point, take your earbuds out and go to sleep. Minimal screen time close to bedtime means better sleep, plus you’re spending that time winding down from the day’s activities. There are so many ebooks and podcasts out there that there really is something for everyone, so no excuses.

Consistent and Sound Sleep

Achieving this makes a huge difference for how you feel in the morning and how you spend your day. Obviously, the duration of sleep will play a large part in how rested you feel — but different people need different amounts of sleep to feel their best. So finding your sweet spot (not too much sleep to cut into your day, and not too little that you’re a zombie at work) is the logical first step to perfecting your mornings.

Consistent sleep / wake times also play a large part in the quality of sleep you get. For many, their wake time is determined by responsibilities they have for the day, whether it be work, school, social engagement — whatever. People with dynamic schedules, like self-employed people and college students, may have to adjust their sleep window every so often, but the important thing is to experiment with what works for you in the most effective way for the longest amount of consecutive nights.

Exceptions

Of course, there will be times when breaking your consistency will be necessary. All-nighter to meet a deadline? New Year’s Eve outing? You’re likely going to need to sleep in. That’s fine. Just plan your day around waking up a few hours later than you usually would, and make be careful to get back on track for the next morning if possible.

Sleeping 12 Hours is Overrated

For me personally, I wanted consistency to prevent myself from sleeping in ridiculously late into the day on weekends, or if my class schedule allowed it. Not only did this waste valuable time for classwork, exercise, etc., but it also made me feel groggy for the whole day, meaning less productivity for the limited time I had in the first place. Not ideal. This made me feel busier than I had any right to be — all because I didn’t take my alarm seriously and succumbed to the loving grasp of my bed too often.

Morning Routine

There’s no point in putting effort into making a consistent sleep schedule and maintaining good “sleep hygiene” if you regularly sleep in past your planned waking time. And even if you wake up on time, what’s the point if you don’t use your morning to set yourself up for success?

Never thought that this crooked light switch would be so important for my morning routine.

Get Up — Or Else: Satan’s Alarm Clock

Even though I’m not a morning person, it feels great to get a good head start on my morning by waking up early and getting stuff done while most people are still in bed. Sounds very overachiever-esque, but just try it a few times. Keep in mind though — the earlier you want to wake up, the earlier you’ll have to go to bed to get your Goldilocks amount of sleep. Lately I’ve been shooting to wake up at 7:15 to leave for work at 8:15 — not super early, but good enough. In the end, you want this to be a sustainable way to start your morning (I’ve tried waking up at 4:30am regularly—fun but painful). Even waking up half an hour earlier than you usually do for work can feel gratifying and help you feel more productive and energized. If you can stay awake, that is.

Physically Get Up

I’ve found that the easiest way to not fall back asleep after my morning alarm is to have to physically get out of bed to shut the alarm off. It sounds sadistic, I know — it certainly is. But if you want to feel better about your morning, a cruel alarm to keep you disciplined is key. For the perfect morning routine, waking up on time to accommodate the rest of your routine is the hardest part. The rest is easy.

For this, I use an app called Alarmy, which allows you to set your alarm to only turn off when you take a specific picture. So every morning I have to get out of bed, walk across the room, take a picture of my light switch (sometimes it takes a few tries), and only then will the alarm turn off. You can’t mute the sound. You can’t just close the app. You’ve now been woken up. Don’t you dare touch that bed again. The alarm can sense weakness.

Stay Awake

So you’ve silenced the alarm from hell — excellent. Consider it your first victory of the day. Now, to make sure that your bed doesn’t regain its hold on you, immediately get your blood pumping without a having to leave your house (nobody likes to get dressed until they have to, anyway). I use the 7-Minute Workout via FitStar on my Fitbit Blaze. The version on my watch is much less annoying than their video, so here are the steps written out (30 seconds each, 10 seconds transition):

  1. Jumping Jacks*
  2. Wall Squat Hold
  3. Pushups
  4. Crunches
  5. Step-Ups**
  6. Squats
  7. Bench Dips
  8. Elbow Plank
  9. High Knees (aka Run in Place)*
  10. Lunges
  11. Side Plank Pushups
  12. Side Plank Left
  13. Side Plank Right

[*] Omit this if you have neighbors or roommates who might be bothered by the noise [**] Omit this if you don’t have a stable surface to step onto

After this workout, typically you’ve escaped your bed’s grasp, and burned a few calories while you were at it. Even if it’s the only exercise you get for the whole day, it’s better than nothing. Sometimes you might feel like exercising more after you’re done — if that’s the case, don’t hesitate, because that feeling fades quickly, at least for me. Get some running clothes on and get out there.

Meditate (“Ohm”-ing Not Required)

Mindfulness meditation is incredibly simple, relaxing, doesn’t have to be tied to a religion or any other belief, and has other health benefits. On top of that, there are many free resources that you can follow along with and learn the practice on your own. The app I use is Headspace, which gives you ten 10-minute guided meditation sessions for free. All you have to do is follow along with the instructor, which mostly involves breathing deeply and ignoring distracting thoughts. They also have a subscription if you want access to more of their resources. It’s a useful method of de-stressing to start the day and eliminate any remaining temptation to climb back into bed. All you need is your phone, some headphones, and a place to sit where you won’t be disturbed for 10 minutes.

Think About Something — Anything

After you’re done meditating, it’s tempting to look at your phone to consume your social media, news, etc. Resist this temptation, at least for a few minutes. Unless it is vital for your job to check your notifications right away in the morning, taking half an hour after you wake up to be alone in your own head is refreshing. So — mute or otherwise eliminate your phone as a distraction.

Next, grab a cup of your drink of choice, caffeinated or otherwise. My suggestion is to drink something with flavor, not just a cup of water. If you want to go with a sugary option, my favorite is Guayaki Yerba Mate Enlighten Mint iced tea. Tastes great (much more natural than an energy drink) and gives you a solid 150mg of caffeine. Lately I’ve been trying to go the unsweetened route with (I swear this isn’t sponsored) Guayaki Yerba Mate tea bags — two bags brewed overnight in a large water bottle with cold water and a couple teaspoons of lemon juice. This gives you about 90mg of caffeine with no sugar or sweeteners, and tastes great. Whatever you choose, make it something you enjoy, because sipping on something that you look forward to (as a result of rampant caffeine addiction or otherwise) makes it easier to focus on whatever you’re doing, I’ve found. Now, on to the thinking.

This is where journaling comes in. No, not a diary — unless you want it to be. Take out a notebook and a writing utensil, and add something to it. A practical way to spend this time is to plan out your day with tasks you want to achieve, events you have scheduled, reminders, lists, etc. Doing this achieves several things:

  1. Focusing your mind on the upcoming day as a whole makes you more productive and less forgetful
  2. You now have a useful and simple resource to look back on to organize your day. I find this more satisfying than electronic equivalents.
  3. You now have a relatively thorough record of the day. It can be a fun thing to look back on in the future, for enjoyment or out of necessity.

If you’re particularly stressed or just trying to wrap your head around something in the morning, writing down everything you’re thinking about in full sentences can also be a valuable way to decompress before your day ramps up. The more artistically inclined might want to sketch, write poetry or prose, etc. to express themselves for a similar effect. A good method of journaling, regardless of what you want to write in your notebook, is Bullet Journaling. I recently started using this method, and I’ve found that it’s a great balance between practical organization and expression, and it’s very accommodating to any changes you might make to its structure.

My morning journaling is mostly comprised of creating a daily to-do list and considering what I want to achieve that day, but I sometimes plan for projects and create lists that I want to remember later. As much as I love technology, writing and working out of a paper notebook is incredibly satisfying and more engaging. If you’re looking for an excellent notebook to start your journaling / planning with, look no further than the Baron Fig Confidant. Perfect in every sense, and relatively cheap for a higher-end notebook — it’s definitely worth it.


So, that’s my ideal morning routine. I love hearing about how people prepare for their day, so let me know what your morning routine(s) are or your thoughts on mine. Thanks for reading.