Honest Thoughts On Morning Routines

When I first started working from home, I knew the secret to productivity was going to be in mastering my mornings.  I’m a morning person by nature, so thankfully the actual “waking up” wouldn’t be an issue so much as what I would accomplish once I was awake.

In the past, I’ve read books on productivity and mornings and I’m sure you have seen the many blog posts floating around Pinterest.  You know the ones, “How To Have A More Productive Morning” or “5 Things Successful People Do Every Morning.” There’s this general idea that if you do not do these specific tasks to awaken your body and mind, then you may be wasting the most valuable hours of your day by accomplishing very little and simply existing.  

 
morning routines, health and wellness blog
 

The number one “absolute no” that I always read about… working as soon as you wake up in the morning.  Gasp.

I want to share my experience with past morning routines, my honest thoughts on current trends and recommendations, and how I’ve learned to sift through all of the noise and find what works for me.

To start, if you’re looking for a clearly defined list of recommendations or a plethora of “do this-then that” ideas, you will not find that here.  

I used to be a believer of all of the “must-accomplish” mornings tasks, and not because they worked for me, but because everyone else swore by them!  Have you ever found yourself doing that? Recommending something to someone else, or insisting to yourself over and over that it works when the reality is, if you did an honest evaluation you would find that not only is it not working that well, it’s actually quite a fail for you.

That has been my experience with morning routines.

As someone who once worked a rotating night shift schedule, and then a consistent day shift schedule, and now works from home, I have had a large variety of morning routines.  Honestly, some worked well, and some didn’t work at all. When I say “didn’t work,” I found that I was constantly putting in constant effort for something that should have been effortless.  I was not efficient with my mornings and I was blatantly wasting time, because I set myself up for tasks that I simply did NOT want to do immediately after waking up.

If you’re familiar with recommended morning routines then you may know that some of the common recommendations are:

  1. Morning pages/Journaling

  2. Exercise

  3. Meditation

  4. Eat breakfast

  5. Create a daily schedule

  6. Create a gratitude list

They’re all really great recommendations, but for who?  For the person who doesn’t start their work day until 9 AM?  For the person who works from home and has complete flexibility?  For the person who works part time and can dedicate 90 minutes each morning to waking up and starting their day?

The reality of routines is that there are so many variables to consider.  The person themselves must be considered, their personality, their work schedule.  What is their current routine and what are they willing to commit to? What is their past history with creating new habits?

So if recommended routines don’t work well for everyone, at any given point in time, how should we approach our mornings?  

HOW SHOULD WE APPROACH RECOMMENDATIONS?

It’s difficult to feel like we’re doing the “right” thing, when research recommends that we should put our feelings on paper first thing in the morning, and that we shouldn’t check our e-mail as our first task, that we should exercise before it becomes a forgotten thought in the day and that by creating a quick gratitude list we will start our day happier and healthier.  

When I first started working from home, my “ideal day” included 8 hours of sleep at night, waking up slowly with journaling, yoga, getting ready, and cleaning up my house for the day.  All of the recommended ways to have a “successful” start to my morning.

The problem?  I was waking up wayyyyy to slow.  After relaxing with a cup of coffee, journaling, and creating my morning schedule - I often found that I allowed those tasks to go longer than they should, or I simply didn’t have the motivation to get up and exercise after that.  I either exercised, or I didn’t (usually the latter) and then I slowly moved to the bathroom where instead of quickly getting ready, I was distracted by social media, etc. It was as if my brain wanted something to actually DO something really productive in the morning, like checking a task off of my “work to-do list.”  Instead, I was trying to give my brain time to “wake up” and I was overextending these tasks, and procrastinating moving on to the next.

Education and advice are wonderful things, but as the saying goes remember to take it with a grain of salt and if it's simply not working, be willing to admit that it just might not be for you!

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD?

I really worked on creating a morning routine, until I finally had to admit that despite all of the recommendations and proven routines, I was failing.  I was trying so hard to fit my life into someone else’s mold, and it simply wasn’t working. It wasn’t going to work, because I am not the person mentioned in those blog posts.  My days do not look like theirs. My work hours may be more or less, but they need to be scheduled at times of day that allow me to be productive.

So, I threw it all out.  I simply wrote down a list of what I wanted to accomplish in a day, regardless of WHEN it would actually accomplished.  Journaling? Yes, I still wanted to do that, but it might be evening pages instead of morning pages. Exercise? Sign me up!  But I’m going to schedule it about an hour AFTER I wake up, and have time to eat something small and knock a priority off of my to-do list.  

My day often starts with work.  In fact, it starts with a BIG task or something I really enjoy.  I wake up anywhere around 4-5 AM so that I can fit 2-3 hours of work into the quietest part of my day.  At this point, I feel accomplished and ready to move my body with exercise and spend a solid 30-45 minutes focusing on me and my health.

After that?  I feel an immense weight off of my shoulders knowing I can take some time to get ready, make breakfast, get my daughter off to school and then put in another 2-3 hours of work, typically wrapping up my day around 1-3 PM.  And the rest of my day? It’s available for hobbies, family, self-care, etc.

EXPERIMENT AND TRY AGAIN

Your morning may not look anything like mine.  And I will not be that person who recommends that you just try it.  Listen, I fully understand that waking up at 4 AM is not for everyone.  In fact, if you’ve been TRYING to wake up early and it’s not working for you then stop!  Evaluate what is actually happening. Is it the problem really with the time you’re waking up?  Or is it what you’re doing with that time?

If it’s not working then give yourself permission to stop.  Throw out your morning schedule, write down everything you want to accomplish in a day, give each task an estimated amount of time and then try again.  Experiment, give it some time, and evaluate - is it working or is it not? When it’s working, pat yourself on the back and keep going. When it’s not working?  Keep experimenting and try again.


TAKE ACTION

  • Make a list of your “must do’s” each morning. Things you absolutely HAVE to do to start your day.

  • Make a list of your “nice to do’s” each morning. Things that significantly improve your well-being, and provide a better start each day

  • Make a list of your “time-wasters” each morning. Things that distract you and prevent you from accomplishing your musts and nice to’s.

  • Give each item an estimated time. Including your “time-wasters.” For example, how long does it actually take to shower. How long do you spend on Facebook each morning before getting out of bed.

  • Highlight all of your must do’s and nice to do’s that you would like to include in your ideal morning. Be realistic about WHY you want to accomplish these things in the morning. Add each one up and determine how much time you need every morning.

  • Start slow - instead of immediately waking up 90 minutes earlier, set your alarm back by 10-15 minutes per week and celebrate small wins.