Some of the most successful people in history have relied on morning routines to help them start their day consistently. From Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, who famously starts her day with an hour of tennis, to author Cal Newport, who heads outside for a walk first thing, morning routines help artists, entrepreneurs, politicians, and CEOs control how they start their days.
A morning routine gives you a chance to start with positive momentum that will carry you through the rest of the day. It also gives you a chance to set your priorities and focus on what’s most important to you.
Rather than letting other people, emails, and notifications interrupt you all morning and start your day reactively, creating a morning routine gives you the control to start your day in the way you want to and to prioritize what you care about most.
So what should your morning routine look like? It depends, of course, but there are some common aspects of a morning routine that can get you started and help you figure out what will work best for you.
1. Overcome Sleep Inertia
Obviously the first part of your morning routine will be waking up. But even if you’re well-rested when you first wake up, you’ll still face sleep inertia. That’s the groggy feeling you get just after waking up, which makes your eyes feel heavy and makes you feel like going back to sleep is the best thing to do.
Building elements into your morning routine to help you overcome sleep inertia more quickly can make it easier to wake up and get started with your day.
In a 2014 Matter article, Dr. Allison Harvey of the Golden Bear Sleep Research Center told journalist Kevin Roose that the best ways to overcome sleep inertia may be the R.I.S.E. U.P. method:
- Refrain from snoozing
- Increase activity for the first hour
- Shower or wash face
- Expose yourself to sunlight
- Upbeat music
- Phone a friend
When Roose tried this approach, he felt “alert and awake mere minutes after waking up and maintained my energy levels throughout the morning.”
Roose’s implementation involved using an alarm clock that lit up his bedroom with bright light, washing his face, running to an upbeat playlist, and scheduling calls with colleagues from 6:30 a.m.
2. Clear Your Mind Through Writing
If you find yourself feeling scattered or unfocused first thing in the morning, writing can help you clear your mind, deal with what’s worrying you, and prepare to focus on the day’s work. Expressive writing has been found to improve memory and sporting performance, lower blood pressure, and even improve immune function.
Journaling about work can also improve your performance and motivate you to work harder, as well as help you clear your mind so you can take in new information more easily.
If you’re not sure about starting a journal, a more specific process of daily writing called Morning Pages might be for you. According to a 2014 HuffPost blog, Author Julia Cameron created Morning Pages as a ritual to help her clear her mind every day before starting work.
The process is simple: write three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing longhand. That is, with a real pen on real paper.
Cameron says three pages is important, because it’s long enough that you’ll get past your initial top-of-mind thoughts and discover deeper, more interesting thoughts and ideas after the first page and a half. She also says writing longhand is important, because the idea is to not censor yourself, which is a lot easier on a computer where the backspace key is just a tap away.
Entrepreneur Chris Winfield managed a 241-day streak of writing Morning Pages. As he writes in his blog post, it has helped him come up with new business ideas, become more in-tune with his intuition, and work through issues that felt overwhelming.
Morning Pages aren’t for sharing, or even keeping. Cameron suggests throwing them out or keeping them tucked away in an envelope, rather than in a journal or notebook you’ll re-read. By never looking at your Morning Pages again, you’ll hopefully feel more free to express your thoughts without judging yourself.
3. Start Your Day With Positivity
It might sound obvious, but starting your morning routine with something you enjoy adds some positive momentum to your day. Many of us fall into the trap of reacting to negative news, emails, or customer support issues first thing in the morning, starting our day with negativity and setting ourselves in motion with negative momentum.
When entrepreneur Jason Zook realized he was starting every day negatively by checking his email and catching up on negative news on Twitter, he decided to swap this routine for a new, intentionally positive morning routine.
These days Zook starts by checking Instagram, where he enjoys positive photos and updates from his friends. Then he makes coffee and reads some Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. For Zook, these activities make him smile and help him relax for the first short part of his day.
Of course not all of us want to do InstaCoffeeHobbes in the morning, but you can create your own positive morning routine by finding activities that make you smile to start your day with. Maybe it’s a hobby you enjoy, like knitting, or listening to a favorite album, or playing with your kids, or doing a crossword in your newspaper.
4. Do What’s Important To You
While starting your day positively will help you control the feeling of your day, a morning routine can also help you find time to prioritize projects you care about that you don’t always have time for.
Entrepreneur and author Taylor Pearson suggests using your morning routine to build momentum in all the areas of your life you care about. He writes in his blog post, “This then is the purpose of the morning routine: You should get one ‘small win’ to create momentum in each life domain that’s important to you.”
Try making a list of all the areas of your life you want to work on every day. This might include your own business or side projects, keeping in touch with friends and family, stretching your brain, or staying fit and healthy.
For each area on the list, add one action to move it forward to your morning routine. This way, you’ll start your day by working on the areas of your life that you care about most, setting the tone for your day.
To recap, here are four ways to get you started on your own positive, productive morning routine:
- Overcome sleep inertia
- Clear your mind with writing
- Start with positivity
- Take action toward your goals
Once you’re up and running, you can adjust your routine based on your lifestyle, your goals, and even make it more flexible to account for times when you’re traveling or extra busy. With a little tweaking you can develop a personal morning routine to set you up with positive momentum to carry you throughout the rest of your day.