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.
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.
According to Dr. Harvey of the Golden Bear Sleep Research Center, 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
Phone a friend
When writer Kevin 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 6:30am.
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 helping 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. 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. He says it helped him come up with new business ideas, become more in-tune with his intuition, and work through issues that felt overwhelming. For Winfield, writing Mornign Pages longhand is a must:
Writing by computer is more emotionally detached practice. It helps keep our inner critic alive and well since we are so easily able to go back and fix our mistakes.
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.
After your three pages are written you should find yourself more clear-headed, and perhaps even motivated and inspired to get to work. As Cameron says,
Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.
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:
Instead of looking at my phone or firing up my laptop (where I could find nagativity) while my coffee is brewing, I smile and conjure up feelings of happiness by reading a handful of comic strips.
Starting his day after his InstaCoffeeHobbes routine gives Zook positive momentum and a sense of control over his day:
By the time my coffee has finished brewing, I’ve spent 10–15 minutes doing only things that make me happy. My day has started with positivity—positivity that will be a shield of armor from the rigors of the rest of my day. If I were to start with negative influences first, the rest of the day is an uphill battle to reach positivity.
“If I were to start with negative influences first, the rest of the day is an uphill battle to reach positivity.” — @jasondoesstuff
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.
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:
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 towards 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.