“The first hour of the morning is the rudder of the day,” said 19th-century social reformer Henry Ward Beecher, and a couple of centuries later, the sentiment still holds true. A great morning can set the tone for a great day, while a bad morning can make us want to give up and go back to bed. So how do you have more great starts than bad beginnings?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, says Ryan Nicodemus, coauthor of Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. “That’s why finding a routine is so difficult; there isn’t a template, and everyone’s morning is going to look different,” he says. “You have to find what’s right for you.”
To design your best morning, take a look at these 10 tips from productivity experts:
While you might intellectually understand that it’s beneficial to get ready for the day, that alone won’t motivate you to do anything, says Nicodemus.
“You have to understand why you’re doing something,” he says. Write down what you want to accomplish each morning and list all of the reasons why. If you find yourself getting derailed, take out your list and review your aspirations. “Looking at your list can help you understand your priorities, and you’ll feel worse if you get off track than if you didn’t have your list.”
The best morning routines start out the night before, says John Trosko, founder of the California-based organizing firm Organizing LA.
“Lay your clothes out the night before, pack lunches, and even plan dinner,” he says. “Make sure your laptop or bag is packed, so you don’t have to think about what you need in the morning. Your day can get off to a great start if you’ve planned out your start.”
Mornings often feel hectic because you run short on time. While it seems a no-brainer, getting up 15 minutes early can eliminate the feeling of being rushed, says Lorie Marrero, author of The Home Office Handbook: Rules of Thumb for Organizing Your Time, Information, and Workspace.
“The morning is one of the best places to find extra time,” she says. “Getting up 30 minutes early means you can meditate or read, and giving yourself an extra hour means a workout.”
If you’re not a morning person, it can be hard to jump-start your morning routine. In order to transition into a productive mode, Nicodemus says you have to change your state.
“Jump into a cold shower; it will change your state immediately,” he says, adding that coffee works, as does refusing to use the snooze button. “If you’re setting your alarm 30 to 45 minutes early so you can hit the snooze button a few times, you’ll end up being more tired than if you got up when your alarm went off.”
Find out how long things really take by timing your morning routine, and then plan accordingly.
“You might think you can take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed and take care of other grooming needs in five minutes, but you can’t,” says Lisa Zaslow, founder of the organizing firm Gotham Organizers. “Use a timer to find out how long each step of your routine takes, then determine what time you need to get up based on that. Our brains are notoriously bad at estimating elapsed time.”
The biggest problem when it comes to a morning routine is distractions, says Nicodemus.
“What happens is that checking email, social media, the news, and our stocks feels like productivity,” he says. “But we’re really just distracting ourselves from what needs to be done first. Don’t allow yourself to do any of those tasks until you’ve finished your morning routine.”
Wear the same clothes and eat the same breakfast, suggests Carson Tate, author of Work Simply.
“Boring? Yes, at times. However, the goal is to minimize decision making and move through your morning routine with the least amount of mental output as possible,” she says. “The fewer decisions you have to make in the morning, the less fatigued your prefrontal cortex becomes, freeing you up to focus on strategic, revenue-producing ideas and projects. Eliminating choices is a powerful productivity hack.”
For example, Tate has two pairs of the exact same black pants and buys the same style of dress in different colors. “I can open my closet and get dressed on autopilot,” she says.
Carve out a little time to review your calendar and identify what you need to do, says Janine Adams, founder of the professional organizing firm Peace of Mind. “That can happen with coffee or breakfast, on the train to work, or anywhere else you can focus,” she says. “Knowing the top three things that you need to accomplish in a day gives you extra focus and helps you stay on task when you arrive at the office.”
Trosko has a client who challenges herself to do things that will start off the day well: “She and her husband give themselves a star for a variety of good behavior, like getting up early, going for a walk, sex, meditation, making a smoothie, Pilates, or writing,” he says. “They add up their number each morning with a goal to get to five stars.”
Let someone else do the driving, suggests Marrero.
“Taking the bus or train will give you time to read or work, and you might walk a couple of blocks, which is good for your body and mind,” she says. “Use an app like RideScout to help you investigate your options.”