The Morning Rituals That Power My Productivity
How I went from burned out to creating a powerful morning routine for success
Your mornings can set the tone for your entire day.
It can mean the difference between a super-productive day or a sluggish one.
Yet many people take their mornings for granted. For them, the time between waking up and getting to work is a blur, but bad habits like repeatedly hitting the snooze button are not as insignificant as you may think.
The tone of our mornings has a powerful ripple effect on our mood, happiness, and focus for the rest of the day. It becomes a cycle: wake up stressed, spend the rest of the day feeling that way, go to sleep feeling anxious, and repeat.
On the other hand, morning routines provide a way to feel accomplished and reach new levels of success… all before 8 a.m.
There’s why many highly successful leaders — from Benjamin Franklin to Oprah, Bill Gates, and Anna Wintour — have crafted morning rituals that maximize their energy, productivity, and creativity all day long.
I’m a huge believer and evangelist for the power of mornings and daily routines. I shared my A.M. rituals over on My Morning Routine.
What is your morning routine?
My mornings are all about creating positive momentum that will propel me through the rest of the day. That starts with moving my body. Through personal experimentation I’ve found that when I wake up my body, my brain follows.
Before heading to the gym or out for a run, I mix up a protein shake and sit down at my computer to filter my inbox. Taming my messages gives me a sense of command and a productivity boost. It’s a quick win that allows me to then immerse myself in my workout and enjoy it fully.
When I get back home, I shower while oil pulling and have a quick slow-carb breakfast while watching a lecture or taking in something inspiring like a TED, 99U, or CreativeMornings talk. Learning something and exposing myself to knowledge right before diving into work gives me jolt of motivation and gets me revved up to tackle big projects.
I do my best work in the morning when I’m the freshest (though more and more I surprise myself with afternoon productivity bursts!). Over the next 2–3 hours I work on projects that require the greatest mental energy and focused attention; usually those that are heavy on writing or thinking strategically. I define my to-do list the evening before and schedule high-priority projects in my calendar as part of ending my workday. What gets scheduled gets done, so putting projects on the calendar ensures I stick to what’s important and avoid distractions or getting sidetracked.
How long have you stuck with this routine so far?
I’ve been experimenting and iterating on this current version of my morning routine for about two years.
How has your morning routine changed over recent years?
As a child, I was a night owl. I often stayed up well past midnight into the early morning hours. Though I began to wake up earlier throughout my college years, after grad school I found myself burned out and confronted with the need to change my habits. I was constantly tired and struggled to have enough energy to get through the day. I was burning the candle at both ends: working long days (including weekends), commuting 4–6 hours every day, and band-aiding my exhaustion with caffeine.
When I learned to value energy management over time management (a concept from Tony Schwartz’s book The Power of Full Engagement) is when things shifted for the better. Most of us realize we’re more productive at certain times of the day, but a key to benefiting from this information is being able to identify those times and adapt our schedule accordingly. Pay attention to the times when you’re at peak productivity and when you’re least motivated.
More importantly, if demand a lot from yourself, you must build in periods of rest for recovery and rejuvenation — or you may face burn out. Most of us, even when we try to relax, still impulsively check email and social media, so we never fully disconnect and recharge the way we need to.
This compulsive behavior is the result of a four-part negative feedback loop associated with technology addiction that I break down in my program, REWIRE, which is designed to help you take back control of your time, rewire your digital habits, and live a more balanced life in just thirty days. I struggled with being “always on” for years, and I saw many of my clients faced the same issue, so I put together this program to share how I was able to finally break the cycle and find ways to mentally recharge.
Creating an effective morning routine has been one of the most beneficial energy management strategies I’ve found. Mine is rooted in regulating decision fatigue which, in simple terms, means limiting making small decisions throughout the day to conserve willpower for important choices. We humans have a limited amount of brainpower for making smart choices, and that cognitive reserve is depleted throughout the day. It’s why successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg wear the same outfit every day: why waste mental energy on picking out clothes when you could put that decision-making power towards changing the world?
That’s why my morning rituals are so important to me. They allow me to wake up, hit the ground running, and shift straight into executing efficiently and effectively. With mundane decisions on autopilot, I don’t have to worry about decision fatigue or getting mired in choices that drain me. Instead, I save my mental and physical energy for the good stuff: creating, connecting, problem solving, and more.
What time do you go to sleep?
Most nights I’m in bed by 10–11:30pm. Right now I wake up between 5:30–6:30am.
I’d ideally like to shift toward rising earlier to create even more time in my mornings since I cherish them so much. That’s a goal I’ll be focusing on in the coming months.
How soon after waking up do you have breakfast, and what do you typically have?
Within the first thirty minutes of waking up I consume protein and plenty of water to prepare me for my workout.
This past year I overhauled my diet, and my first order of business was cutting out sugar in the morning. I replaced my breakfast of fruit and yogurt with a clean, probiotic morning meal of eggs, greens, and raw sauerkraut. I’ve never felt better.
Do you have a morning workout routine?
I do a cardio and strength workout in the morning while listening to podcasts. I also do yoga. It helps me unwind and decompress so I save it for the evenings.
How about morning meditation?
Morning workouts are meditative for me. It frees up my subconscious. Some of my best thinking happens when I let my mind relax and wander.
There are so many benefits to mindfulness, so I make a point to search for reflective time throughout my day, even if it’s in small ways. If I’m stuck on a long line or delayed on the subway, rather than be annoyed, I see it as an opportunity to reflect and practice being present and in the now.
Do you answer email first thing in the morning, or leave it until later in the day?
I zero my inbox at the end of each day (some of my favorite tools that help with this are Boomerang, FollowUpThen, and Unroll.me), which means I’m greeted with a pretty manageable inbox every morning. My strategy is to filter my messages first thing, clearing out trash and processing anything that can be done within two minutes. Only after I’ve worked on my big projects for that day for at least 1–2 hours do I then turn my attention to answering other emails.
Do you use any apps or products to enhance your sleep or morning routine?
What are your most important tasks in the morning?
Incorporating movement, indulging my brain in something intellectual, and connecting with the people I love.
What and when is your first drink in the morning?
Good old H20! Before breakfast I also drink warm water with lemon and an apple cider vinegar tonic to support gut health.
Do you also follow this routine on weekends, or do you change some steps?
I like to slow down and savor weekend mornings, most often with a longer, more indulgent breakfast and tons of quality time with friends and family. Saturday and Sunday are my recovery days so I aim to unplug as much as possible. This personal “scheduled maintenance” approach, as I like to call it, is essential to my wellbeing and helps me crush it the rest of the week.
On days you’re not settled in your home, are you able to adapt your routine to fit in with a different environment?
A key to successful habit formation is bulletproofing your routines against the craziness of daily life. Any time I embark on changing an aspect of my morning ritual, I consider scenarios that might derail it (like being away from home) and prepare accordingly. If I’m traveling I’ll map out a workout before leaving or scope out dining options. A little preparation goes a long way!
ps. If you want to take back control of your time, rewire your digital habits, and live a more balanced life in just 30 days, check out my course, REWIRE.
Melody Wilding teaches human behavior at The City University of New York and is a nationally recognized Master Coach who distills psychological insights into actionable advice. A licensed social worker trained at Columbia University, she’s helped thousands of professional women and female entrepreneurs master their mindset and emotions for greater success. Melody has worked with CEOs and executives running top startups along with published authors and media personalities.
Originally published at melodywilding.com on June 8, 2015.