The Morning Routine - Your Secret Weapon For a More Productive Day

For me, starting the day without a pot of tea would be a day forever out of kilter.
— Bill Drummond

   What we do in the first moments of our day has a profound impact on the way that day will carry forth.  It sets the tone for the hours of work, learning, and interaction to come.  A statement such as this seems readily apparent for a lot of us yet few consciously take ownership of its implications. 

    I know because that used to describe me.  At about 7:00am or 7:30…or 9:00am... or whenever I decided to get up I would stumble out of bed, perhaps use the restroom, and then wander into the kitchen as the 8-10 hours without consumption would awaken my appetite.  After stuffing my face with whatever seemed easiest to make that day I would willingly follow my flurry of thoughts around my apartment, easily distracted by whatever stimulus was coming in.  Maybe I would look at my phone and see a text that came through over night.  Perhaps the computer would open up and I would check my inbox to see the non-urgent emails while playing music to fill the audible vacancy.  

    Then midway through my morning I would check my watch and a bit of panic would enter my mind as the realization of only having 20 minutes to get ready for work, or school, or whatever it was would come into my awareness.  I’d rush out the door, hop in the car, and…oops, I almost forgot my gym bag!  From there I would spend my hours responding to the various happenings that pop up in my day, fielding things as best as I could as they were being thrown at me.  By the time I made it home at night I would throw my things off and plop myself down, exhausted, while simultaneously patting myself on the back for “killing it today”. (ha!)

    That is, of course, until a simple and powerful concept floated into my consciousness - the morning routine.  I can’t attribute to when or where the idea started manifesting itself in my life but slowly over time I began to realize the importance of ritual and preparation before I began my day.  I started to understand how necessary it was to guard my mental space before I let the external world in and I also came to learn how much productivity there is to be had before being swept up by the momentum of the day.

    After implementing a morning routine I found myself taking charge instead of constantly reacting to things and feeling knocked back on my heels.  I felt prepared and better able to forecast what was next to come.  My entire day, despite any craziness in my schedule, never seemed to go off the rails and over time I noticed a sense of ease that came over me.  I felt more care free yet at the same time I was more productive than I had ever been.  This powerful tool radically changed my demeanor throughout the day and thanks to certain elements, such as a quick mobility routine and body prep, I even noticed changes in the way my body was feeling.  It was amazing.  It’s now been some time since I first settled on any sort of routine for my morning and that routine as changed, grown, shrunk, and mutated many times over.  But no matter it’s form, it has always had the same effect of focusing my mind and body to take on the day.  

    The power of a good morning routine is something that many of the world's top performers are starkly aware of.  As such, they’re morning routine is an important and uncompromising part of their day.  Here are a few examples:

Anthony Robbins (@TonyRobbins) , world-renown businessman, life coach, and author of several books such as ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ calls his routine “priming” and he does it every morning, whether at home or traveling for business.  Immediately upon waking he does a cold plunge into frigid water to jump start his nervous system.  From there he does breathing exercises meant to change his body's physiological state and help him focus.  He then spends 3-5 minutes consciously expressing gratitude for things appreciates in his life and spends the next few minutes thinking about his “three-to-thrive”, the three things he would like to do or accomplish in the next 6 to 12 months.  After a short refueling at breakfast he is ready to go.

Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) starts her day with 20 minutes of meditation before hitting the treadmill or elliptical and prepping her mind with games on her iPad, like scrabble.  From there she fuels herself with a healthy breakfast, often times a green juice or smoothie, and then she’s ready to get down to business.

The first thing Tim Ferris (@tferriss), best-selling author and host of ‘The Tim Ferris Show’ podcast, does is make his bed.   He says that by doing this he can start every day having already accomplished one thing.  He then sits down to do 10-20 minutes of transcendental meditation, he exercises for a minimum of 30 seconds (setting the bar low so he’s not dissuaded against it), and has some strong tea.  From there he’ll journal for 5-10 minutes to orient himself for the day and then it’s off to the races!

Charles Poliquin (@StrengthSensei), one of the top strength and conditioning coaches in the world, begins his day by going into his journal and writing down what he is most proud of accomplishing that day before it already happens. Then he writes down three things he’s grateful for and keeps it simple, appreciating the little stuff such as having a great hotel room while traveling.  He goes even further by pairing these practices with a nightly routine where he sits down with that same journal and writes down three fantastic things that happened that day and three things he could have done better.

MY MORNING ROUTINE

After learning the routines of the world’s most productive people I’ve slowly developed my own routine over the years.  I’ve experimented a lot and many habits have come and gone, everything from meditation to handstands.  Here is what my current morning routine looks like:

7:00am - Wake up

7:05 - Drink a glass of lemon water + pink Himalayan sea salt

7:06 - Hit the yoga mat to do some basic spinal mobility movements and sun salutations

7:15 - 3-5 minutes of the Wim Hof Method breathing exercise

7:20 - Take a cold shower to further awaken the central nervous system

7:28 - Begin cooking a big breakfast with lots of protein and fats (e.g. 6 eggs, 4 slices of bacon) and eat it with a big glass of water

7:50 - Brew Coffee

8:00am - Drink coffee and ruminate on the important tasks of the day.  Create "action items" list

8:10 - Time to work!

 

HOW TO DESIGN YOUR OWN MORNING ROUTINE

The reality of morning routines is that we all have them.  We all have a general outline of certain things that we do upon waking and before our day starts.  The varying degrees to which that routine is effective and serves us very much depends on how much we’ve consciously chosen that routine and vetted its worthiness.  So my advice is simply take time to do just that.  Take time to sit and write down what things you’ll do in the morning and when.  Also important, be sure to write down the things you’ll avoid doing in the morning to maintain clarity and focus.  Here are a few aspects of what I believe is an effective morning routine:

Prepare the body

    Taking time to awaken the body is one of the best ways to rev up the engine and get your body and mind to a state of peak performance.  There are many ways of doing this.  You can start by having a light yoga practice that is done upon waking (e.g. sun salutations), a morning mobility routine, or indulge in some cardiovascular training like a morning run or bike ride.

Prepare the mind

    Our mental state is transient and it is sometimes difficult to focus our minds to the task at hand.  However, the ability to focus and be more effective is something that can be cultivated.  I am a firm believer in meditation and the research is there to support its benefits.   But there are many ways to get your mind in the right place for the day to come.  Beyond meditation you could start your day with 20 minutes of reading an inspiring book, listening to an interesting podcast, or playing simple games that are meant to improve cognitive function.  All of these things will help you to warm up the mind and prepare it to handle the big stuff later on.

Proper Nutrition

    Consciously choose your breakfast to fuel your day.  Only you can know what it is best for you in the morning.  I believe in starting my day with lots of proteins and fats.  This not only keeps me satiated through the morning but it gives me the necessary brain fuel and building blocks that my body needs to handle the first, most productive hours of my day.  Other people such as Malcolm Gladwell (@Gladwell), journalist and best-selling author of books such as ‘Blink’‘Outliers’, and many more, believes you should start your day hungry to do your best work.  He only has a cup of coffee before starting work and waits until lunch to have his first meal.  It’s up to you to discover what helps you perform at your best.

Plan the future

    Finally, the last thing that I think people should do in the morning is spend time visualizing how they want things to go in the future.  This is not necessarily some "hippy woo-woo" visualization practice.   Nor is it the naive belief that you can manifest the things you want in your life by simply believing it will be so.  This is a concrete practice of deciding upon certain actions you'll take for desired outcomes.  It can be as simple as making a to-do list (or as I prefer to call it an “action items” list).  All that you’re meant to do in this time is think of what you wish to see in your future and write down a few actions that will steer the course of your day in that direction.

If you’d like to figure out how to optimize your day through having a well thought out morning routine but are not sure where to start, here are a few habits you can experiment with and try to adopt as a part of your day:

  • a glass of water first thing in the morning

  • 10 minutes of guided meditation (here is a great source for guided meditations)

  • hanging from a bar to release your shoulders

  • journaling for 5 minutes (see: ‘The 5 Minute Journal’)

  • listening to a favorite podcast

  • taking time to brew your coffee and drinking it in silence

  • 5 minutes of calisthenics and stretching

  • a morning run

Just as important as the habits you want to cultivate in your morning routine are the habits you want to avoid.  Here are a few I suggest you stay away from so you can start your day off on the right foot:

  • checking email before it’s time to work

  • looking at social media

  • eating sugary foods at breakfast

  • watching television or morning news

  • stressing or worrying over the things you cannot control

So fine tune your morning routine and pay attention to what effects it has on your day. Experiment with different habits and then whittle it down to it’s simplest and most effective.  Not only will you find that you’re thinking more clearly and feeling better, but you’ll be put back in the driver seat and steering your day in the direction you want it to go.