Travel a lot? If you do, chances are you’re obsessed with your morning routine–whether you realize it or not. Wherever in the world you find yourself, you typically start your day with a few basic rituals. But maybe they aren’t so basic.
As a medical doctor who works remotely from multiple continents each year, I’ve found that not every morning routine is terribly productive when you’re on the go. In my experience, the best wake-up habits are the shortest. Here are a few ways to start your day productively–and quickly–no matter how many early-morning flights you need to hop.
Prioritize A Good Quality Night’s Sleep
A good morning routine starts the night before. Scientists have found that even mild sleep deprivation impairs parts of the brain’s frontal lobe, leading to lower overall mental functioning and poorer decision making. Getting enough sleep is the most important habit people miss when they’re traveling (sometimes unavoidably), and no amount of green smoothies or yoga rituals can make up for it.
I’ve found this particularly challenging in Indonesia–call to prayers and crowing roosters often wake me up before 5 a.m. In addition, the sun rises before 6 a.m. Being in unfamiliar surroundings (with their unfamiliar noises) can interrupt your sleep, so I’ve invested in good earplugs and sleep masks to help me sleep well.
If you tend to rely on sleeping pills, try swapping them for herbal alternatives that are non-addictive and actually work. I use a combination of several herbs that can be found over the counter in most health stores, including valerian root, passion flower, lemon balm, hops, Chinese skullcap, and slow-release melatonin (a natural sleep hormone).
Start With A Short Walk
Lots of health bloggers and fitness experts champion high-intensity interval training, with the unfortunate side effect that walking has become seriously underrated. For me, I start my mornings at 7 a.m. with a walk on the beach in Bali. I hit “play” on my podcast for the day and revel in the salty air just five minutes from my house. But you can do the same even if you’re traveling somewhere less idyllic. If you’ve just arrived in a new place and aren’t sure where to walk, try downloading apps like Hoodmaps, which shares insider tips on what you’ll find in your new area.
Write Your To-Dos In A Physical Journal
If you need to use the extra morning time for sleep, try writing down the main tasks to get done that morning in a paper-based journal. It’s key that you do this before checking email or social media. Among the abundance of productivity apps and digital planners, certain studies suggest that the brain may actually learn and remember tasks better when they’re handwritten rather than typed.
Checking emails and your social feeds is the top mistake I see my clients make when it comes to their morning habits (especially while they’re on the go and dealing with jet lag or other mental stressors). Doing this puts them in a “reactionary” mind-set, so they start their days focused on other people’s projects, whims, and requests, rather than on their own. This is the biggest pitfall to productivity, which can seriously plummet when you’re jumping from place to place.
Pick A Five-Minute Mini Ritual
None of these habits above should take much time, but if you can’t manage to fit them in, then at least commit to one “mini-ritual” of your own design. It can be as short as five to 10 minutes long. A walk on the beach or morning yoga works for me, but you don’t need a tropical island setting to optimize your day. Simply choose the most important exercises for you.
Maybe that’s five sun salutations or similar stretches on your hotel room floor–for just two minutes–that flex and extend the spine and get the heart rate up slightly, followed by three minutes of mindfulness-based meditation. Research suggests that habits like these are can lower stress levels.
Build It Up When You’ve Got The Time
On weekends or mornings when you have more time, just expand your mini-ritual into a 30– to 45-minute one.
For example, maybe you spend five minutes preparing a matcha tea or freshly ground coffee (I personally like matcha because it has about half the caffeine of coffee and it contains L-theanine, a calming amino acid that levels out the caffeine effect, to avoid crashes a few hours later); then you sip your morning beverage while listening to your favorite podcast or read for 15 minutes. Afterward, you spend 10 to 15 minutes moving–whether it’s walking, yoga, or a short workout. Finally, you spend 10 more minutes writing down your main projects and tasks in a paper journal.
The whole point of a morning ritual is to optimize your positivity and productivity from the get-go–and it doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to be adaptable. Which means keeping it short to begin with, and working in additional habits whenever you’ve got the time. Some days you will and some days you won’t, but you’ll have a simple game plan to take with you everywhere no matter what.