In an ideal world, we would all pop up out of bed refreshed and ready to go — no snooze button necessary. Then we would ease into a yoga flow, maybe take our four-legged companion out for a run and still have time to sip on some freshly brewed coffee on our patio. But the reality is that we often slap the snooze button until we’re forced to wake up in a dreary and frenzied panic. We skip breakfast, throw on some clothes, and then rush out the door.
What’s the big deal, right?
Quite the contrary. According to Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander in their book, My Morning Routine: How Successful People Start Every Day Inspired, “The way you spend your morning has an outsized effect on the rest of your day.” In other words, the choices we make in the first hours of our day sets the tone for our productivity and mood for the rest of the day. Starting your morning off with a positive, calming and focused routine is like having a strong foundation to build your day upon.
Don’t worry, they’re not suggesting that everyone wake at the crack of dawn. The perfect routine varies from person to person. There’s not one trick that’s guaranteed to give you a good day. It will take experimentation and trial and error until you find what clicks with you, your lifestyle, and your interests. On that note, as your life grows and things change, so will your routine. “You don’t work for the routine,” they write, “the routine works for you.”
To help you figure out your optimal morning formula, here are 25 do’s and don’t’s from Xander and Spall. Test a few of these out to see how you can become fueled and ready to take on the day.
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1. Do switch out your background noise
While it’s great to stay informed, listening to the news as soon as you wake up could negatively influence your morning — it tends to be pretty stressful, after all. Trade your morning debrief for some relaxing classical music. Save the hard-hitting news for your desk.
2. Do compromise
Sometimes our schedule doesn’t exactly match up with our partner’s, but that doesn’t mean we should forget all about them when coming up with our morning routine. Find harmony through compromising. If you wake up earlier than your partner, consider waiting to eat breakfast until they’re awake, or maybe brew them coffee for when it’s their turn to rise. It’s the little things that count.
3. Don’t forget to say goodbye
How easy is it to forget about kissing your partner or kids goodbye as you all rush off for your separate days? Take a moment to give each other a proper goodbye with kisses, hugs, and “I love yous.” It might sound cheesy, but trust us, it’s good for your emotional well-being and mood.
4. Do wake up five minutes earlier
Have you ever vowed that tomorrow will be the day you wake up for that early morning workout only to drop that plan the second the alarm clock goes off? Instead of trying to rise a whole hour earlier, follow the good ol’ model of baby steps. Xander and Spall suggest inching your alarm clock back by manageable increments of five minutes. Before you know it, you’ll have an extra 30-minutes in the morning.
5. Do make your bed
Making your bed is one of the simplest things you can do to prepare your mind for the day ahead. (Hey, if the military insists soldiers do it, then you know it’s probably pretty productive.) In the same vein as not doing work in your bed, having an orderly bed is like having an orderly mind.
6. Don’t stay indoors
Boost your vitamin D levels by taking your routine outdoors (if the weather permits.) Go for a run, bike ride, or even just a stroll around your block to get some sunshine and fresh air. It’s the most natural way to wake up, wouldn’t you say? Plus, it keeps you from waking up at the last minute and rushing out the door.
7. Do be grateful
It’s been found that the simple act of expressing gratitude can make people happier. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Incorporate a gratitude practice into your routine. It can be as easy as saying three things you’re grateful for aloud or writing an actual journal entry or letter.
8. Don’t hit the snooze button
We’ve heard it all before — even though most of us still do it anyway — the snooze button does more harm than good. Trying to catch a few extra z’s while you’re being stirred from your REM cycle can make you even groggier.
9. Do break things down
When we know we have a big, scary project to do, we can wake up already stressed (if we manage to fall asleep at all). Since that’s no way to live, Spall and Xander recommend breaking that project down into smaller, less intimidating tasks. They’ll be easier to tackle and feel less stressful.
10. Do write a to-do list
A classic to-do list is a great way to make sure you know how to start your day off. Depending on your preference, you can write it before you go to bed at night or first thing in the morning. Goodbye, decision fatigue.
11. Do embrace the early morning sweat
Though the thought of waking up for an early morning workout with no coffee in your system may seem unappealing at first, it can actually provide you with a really strong sense of accomplishment. Even if the rest of your day goes poorly, you can still feel good about working out and getting those endorphins up, without the caffeine jolt! That’s something to be proud of.
12. Do pick out your outfit ahead of time
Laying out your outfit the night before is an easy way to reduce decision fatigue. Now there’s no more running late because you didn’t know what to wear or something didn’t look right.
13. Do meditate while commuting
Rather than dread your morning commute to work on the bus or train, turn it into a 30 minute-long meditation session. Download a pre-recorded meditation and transform your mundane everyday commute into an escapable moment for just you and your mind.
14. Do follow your meditation with something
Meditation helps clear our mind, so it would be wise to follow it up with something like free-writing or if you have time, a yoga flow. Take advantage of that state of zen!
15. Don’t forget about the nighttime
Start your calming morning the night before. Having a nighttime routine that helps you unwind through activities such as reading for pleasure or drinking chamomile tea can set you up for a more relaxed morning.
16. Don’t sleep with electronics in the room
Make like Ariana Huffington and create a ritual in which you remove all electronics from your bedroom. Seriously though, that blue light only stimulates your brain and makes it harder to fall asleep. Also, your eyes will thank you.
17. Don’t forget about the little ones
FYI, kids thrive on routine. Consider what your little ones need and then build your routine around it. (But don’t forget to include some “me time”!) Starting kids off on a routine while they’re young can help reduce morning chaos in the household.
18. Do keep things interesting
Waking up every morning for the same workout can feel boring and not very motivating. Make it a part of your routine to try new things, like a different dog-walking route or a hot new workout so that you look forward to getting out of bed.
19. Do check your phone last
A common habit that didn’t exist ten years ago is checking your phone while you’re still in bed. Instead, try keeping it on airplane mode in the morning and then look at it right before you’re out the door. This way, instead of getting stressed over all the things to do at work, you can spend your morning getting ready with a clear head.
20. Don’t agree to morning meetings
Xander and Spall suggest keeping morning calls and meetings to a minimum since these hours are the most productive. Allow yourself to concentrate on what’s important to you and your day by scheduling meetings after lunch.
21. Do set your coffee machine
Consider preparing your coffee machine the night before so you can wake up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Your future self will thank you.
22. Don’t change it all at once
Overhauling your entire routine is like trying to break five habits at once — it’s nearly impossible to sustain in the long-term. Instead, treat yourself to the same kind of gentleness you’d show to a toddler who hates change. Trade habits in, one at a time.
23. Do keep your home clean
Imagine waking up feeling great and ready to take on the day, only to walk into your kitchen and face a mess of dishes from the night before. Not so relaxing anymore, huh? Cleaning your home before going to bed makes the next morning a little more pleasant.
24. Do really commit to one or two things
Even when you find a routine that works for you, you’ll still have those days when it feels like everything is falling apart, through no fault of your own. During those frustrating mornings, stick to one or two core parts of your routine to help you regain your sanity. Maybe it’s your meditation session or morning cup of tea. Decide what gives you structure.
25. Don’t beat yourself up
On that note, we shouldn’t feel bad about ourselves if we abandoned most of our routine because, well, life happened (as it tends to do). Sometimes we’re unable to stick to it because we’re traveling, or we have a friend in town, or maybe we stayed out just a little too late the night before. We should enjoy these moments too, they help make life exciting. What matters is that we keep the bigger picture in mind, trust the process, and return to our routine the next day.
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