Morning routines and daily habits are constantly the subject of productivity and business blogs. Mason Currey wrote a book about them, which you can see summarized here in an infographic. There’s even a whole website dedicated to morning routines.
Many individuals I follow and admire have specific routines they use to make the most of their mornings. Ryan Holiday showers, writes, and doesn’t check email. Tim Ferriss meditates, drinks tea, and journals. Nat Eliason drinks tea and reads. James Clear showers, reads, and writes. Jocko Willink gets up at 4:30am and works out.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think there’s one morning routine that’s best for everyone. We all have different constraints, preferences, and sleep schedules. However, I’ve personally benefited greatly from having some sort of routine, and so in this post I’m going to go into detail about what my personal routine is, and why I think having one is important.
Why You Should Have a Morning Routine
First, as Tim Ferriss says, morning routines help you “win the day”. If you accomplish one good thing in your morning routine, you’ve accomplished one good thing for that day, and you’re much more likely to have a good rest of the day.
Second, mornings can be one of the most predictable parts of the day if you’re disciplined, and having a morning routine will allow you to gradually tweak and add habits that you want to work on. For example, maybe your routine starts with showering, making coffee, and reading for 10 minutes. Want to learn French? Add learning five French words before you start reading. Want to start journaling? Write a few sentences after you’re finished reading. You get the point. Starting your day with some sort of planned routine, and developing that routine into a habit, will allow you to progressively add positive habits.
My Morning Routine
First, I’ll detail what I personally do in the morning, and then I’ll go into some more general rules that I think you should apply to your morning.
My morning routine generally looks like this:
Wake up early (usually 6-8am).
Turn coffee on (simple drip coffee maker). (3 mins)
Shower. (5-15 mins)
Get dressed, sit down to drink coffee & protein + greens. (5 mins)
Read (10-60 mins), drink second coffee.
Meditate (I use the Oak app). (10 mins)
After that, I’ll start my work day (I typically work from home).
The routine can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, and reading is what I vary most. If I wake up extra early, or it’s a weekend, I’ll read longer, and if I have to get work started, I can cut my routine to 30 minutes.
Each component of my routine has a purpose:
Shower + coffee: I love showering, and I love coffee, and as a result I want to get out of bed every morning.
Protein + greens drink: let’s me “skip” breakfast while still not being super hungry. I like being able to get straight into things without having to prep breakfast.
Journal: there are proven benefits to journaling, but specifically, I wanted to increase the gratitude I express (Five-Minute Journal) and reflect a bit more (Daily Stoic Journal). Basically, it’s cheap therapy and a way to clear my mind.
Read: I love reading, and believe it’s the one of the best ways to practice “deep work” concentration. Reading in the mornings also allows me to still finish approximately a book a week during busy work times.
Second coffee: the caffeine boosts of two coffees gets me awake and ready to work.
Meditate: this is one final way to clear my mind before starting work, and I find it reduces my overall stress level.
The Ideal Morning Routine
As I said, I don’t believe there is one routine that everyone should follow. But I do believe there are common things that everyone should try and do to make the most of their mornings. Nat Eliason suggested the four keys are not being rushed, not responding to anything, not reading the news, and “doing something you’ll feel good about later.”
That’s a pretty good summary, but here is my general advice for a good morning routine:
Wake up early: Up for debate, but I think this is important. I love being up early, I historically haven’t liked waking early (there’s a difference). But, I now make an concerted effort to be up as early as possible. There’s a phrase generally accepted as a Yiddish saying that says “lose an hour in the morning, chase it all day”. That’s how I feel whenever I wake up late.
Don’t respond to anything: I don’t check my phone until I finish my routine. I keep the meditation app and my e-reading apps on my iPad, which doesn’t have any push notifications or email.
Do something you’ll look forward to first thing: this is key, and why I don’t exercise when I wake up. I like exercising, but if faced with a tough workout when I need to get out of bed, I’m going to delay getting out of bed. Hot shower sounds much better to me.
Try and make it robust: I travel a fair amount, but my routine adapts well. I don’t typically have my journals, so I just take a few notes in a notebook. I have my iPad, so I can read and meditate. If I don’t have coffee, I just drink cold water. The easier it is to stick to your routine, the more likely you are to do so.
Make reading a habit: I truly believe reading is one of the most important things to do if you want to develop personally, and is the best practice for extended periods of concentration or “deep work”.
Iterate: this routine shouldn’t be something that is static forever, unless that works for you. Change things up if they aren’t working, or try adding something if they are. It’s always going to be a work in progress, but having a routine in the first place will allow you to experiment.
Don’t beat yourself up: I follow my routine probably 90% of the time when I’m home, but that often changes when I travel. The important thing isn’t that you do it all the time, but rather that you get back on track quickly when you miss a day or two. No one is perfect.
If you manage to do those things, you should find you are more productive, feel better about your days, and generally start looking forward to your mornings.
A Few Notes
On waking up early:
I’ll write another post about this, but your success at waking up early will depend on two main things:
Going to bed on time.
Needing to get out of bed to turn off your alarm.
Going to bed on time will depend how much sleep you need. Most people will need 6-8 hours. I personally need either 7, or 8.5, depending on the night, which I figured out through experimentation. You should figure it out for yourself too - just try a few normal nights without an alarm, and see how long you sleep. Some people can survive on much less, like Jocko Willink, but they are a very small proportion of the population.
Needing to get out of bed to turn off your alarm is self-explanatory - once you’re up, you’re far more likely to stay there. If you can turn it off while in bed, you’re also far more likely to stay there. Personally, I use this Phillips Wake-Up Light, plus my iPhone plugged in across the room (I actually use this spoken track by Jocko to wake up to).
On exercising in the morning:
I understand that lots of professionals have limited time to work out, and admire those that get up early to do it. I don’t work out in the morning for a few reasons:
I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I can choose when I work out.
I feel strongest around 2-4pm, yet slowest mentally, and I’m also fully hydrated at that point.
I know from experience that if faced with a workout when I wake up, I’m more likely to stay in bed (exception being if I’m meeting friends/workout partners).
That’s it! I’ll write some posts soon about evening routines, getting better sleep, and how to wake up early, which all influence your morning routine, but for now I hope this helps you kick your day off on a high note.