Winning the first few hours of the day is every productivity enthusiast's dream, and yet, a lot of us struggle to get the most out of this vital period of our day.
In this post, we will explore ideas around mastering your morning routine and some actionable tips that you can use to kickstart this practice.
Why is it essential to win your mornings?
Winning the first few hours of the day lets you set the tone for the rest of the day.
The beginning of the day is also when you tend to have the highest levels of focus and high cognitive bandwidth.
Setting the agenda and working on it early helps us get more productive, achieve goals, feel organized, and do this with confidence.
Setup to master your morning routine
Like most aspects of productivity, the first steps of mastering your morning routine begin way before you even wake up.
The setup happens the evening or the night before, where you strategize and execute a few things that will put you in an excellent position to win your day.
Write down your priorities for tomorrow
The worst way to go into a new day is not knowing what to do with it.
Hence, it is always better to list your priorities the night before and some tasks to help you move the needle on those priorities.
A famous productivity method called the Ivy Lee method has been around forever, which advocates for setting up your priorities and associated tasks the night before.
Single tasking is the way to go where you just focus on one task and avoid any and all distractions that come your way.
Finally, once it is done you can move on to the next task with that good feeling of accomplishment.
Also, pick no more than 5-6 tasks and order them based on priority, and remember to move on to the second task in the list only after you are done with the first one.
Practice a digital curfew
To wake up feeling great in the morning would require you to have a few sound sleeping habits, and one of the key habits is stepping away from all digital devices at least 30 minutes before you hit the bed.
Ideally, you don't look at screens, especially ones with blue light, as they can impact your ability to wind down and experience deep REM sleep.
Keep your room dark, quiet & cool
Most of us can't sleep in a room that's well lit because the light fools our brain into thinking that the sun is still out and it is far from bedtime.
Hence, you must keep your room dark and make sure you don't let flashes of light hit your face during the night as this might interrupt your sleep.
It is also good for your room to be quiet and without a lot of disturbance for the same reason.
Finally, people tend to sleep better in cool rooms. So experiment with the temperature a little bit and once you find your sweet spot, use that to get deep sleep.
Place your alarm far from your bed
You'll likely hit snooze when you make it easy to hit snooze. So the best way to ensure that you wake up when the alarm rings is to make sure that you put a few things between you hearing the alarm and the snooze button being pushed.
If you have to get up off your bed and walk 10 meters to your kitchen to switch off the alarm, you are more likely to stay awake instead of hitting the snooze on the second ring because it is within your hand's reach.
Regulate fluid intake
You don't want to stress your bladder or nervous system while sleeping. Hence, it makes sense not to consume alcohol, coffee, or drink lots of water/juice close to bedtime.
Multiple research papers have concluded that alcohol should not be consumed at least 3 hours before bedtime.
And it is not just alcohol; even coffee close to bedtime is not a good idea, given the negative impact that caffeine induces on our sleep cycle.
Finally, avoid drinking too much water and juice before bedtime as well. You might have to tend to nature's call right in the middle of the night, possibly ruining your deep sleep.
Setup logistics in advance
If you have a plan for tomorrow and it involves a few things to be ready, the best time to do it would be the night before instead of waking up early morning and figuring out what is where.
If you want to hit the gym tomorrow morning, pick your gym clothes and lay them out; find your shoes, place a fresh pair of socks next to them, etc.
If you wake up early and start your day by scrolling through your Instagram feed, that is not the best use of your precious morning hours.
A lot of people start their day by browsing through social media feeds that are at best distracting and often negative or draining.
Mornings are meant to be the most productive hours for a lot of us, wasting it on drainers like social feeds and group chats is not the best use of your time.
The same holds good for emails, DMs, etc.; you shouldn't waste your time on distractions that you can otherwise handle during less productive hours of the day.
And it is not just digital; even a messy desk is not ideal if you plan on hitting the ground running early in the morning.
Clean up your desk the night before and remove anything you don't need for the following day.
Mornings are all about getting important things done. So keep all physical and digital distractions away.
You could do many things the night before, making getting started the next day much more manageable and pleasurable.
Early Morning Best Practices
We just went through all those steps you can take before you even wake up, and now that we have them ready, let's look at what you can do in the morning.
Wake up at your time
While waking up early to claim your day is ideal, we don't live in an ideal world, and everyone's sleep patterns are different.
Hence, it is good to understand your chronotypes to structure your day optimally around your sleeping patterns.
You could be a bear, a lion, a dolphin, or a wolf, irrespective of the chronotype, given enough time and consideration, you'll be able to figure out what the ideal wake-up time for you is.
Once you figure that out, your mornings become a lot easier.
Don't hit snooze
As discussed earlier, the snooze button is critical to your day, so you should stick to it once you have identified the ideal wake-up time.
Hitting the snooze button right at the beginning of the day makes you start your day with a failure, and you don't want that.
So as soon as the alarm rings, wake up and sit upright, do a quick stretch so that you are out of sleep mode, and only then switch off the alarm.
This will ensure that you don't immediately go back to sleep.
You can also do a few pre-determined tasks to help you get out of sleep mode, like shaking your phone a few times, performing simple math problems, taking a picture through your window, making your bed, and humming your favorite tune.
Eliminate unnecessary decision making in the morning
Mornings have to be mostly about execution, and you don't want to be worrying about making task decisions in the morning.
A good part of your morning would be wasted if you woke up early and wondered about all the possible tasks you could pursue.
The time to do the strategizing is the night before, and once you have your priorities/focus areas set, you only need to keep executing.
Pre-plan precisely what you need to do in the morning the night before and write them down. You could use a simple to-do list to maintain a list of 5-6 things you want to be done, which would suffice in most cases.
Less the ambiguity, more the time you'll have to do rather than be stuck in analysis paralysis.
Mastering the Morning Routine
Now that we have discussed things you can do the night before and things you need to remember the morning of, it is time to look at actual action items for your early morning routine.
FYI, there are some set programs like the 5 AM club that you could explore. The goal of this list is to keep things flexible so that you can choose what works for you and practice it.
Stretch & Take Fluids
As soon as you wake up, get up and do a quick stretch to let your body feel loose and comfortable.
You don't have to attempt advanced stretches from the beginning; start with simple stretches for 5-10 minutes.
Once you are done stretching, drink at least half a liter of water to rehydrate yourself from last night.
Time Requirement: 10 minutes
Prioritize your day
Take 5-7 minutes and pick up the list from last night to mark your top priority items.
If you can estimate how long a particular task might take, consider blocking that time on your calendar/daily schedule.
You can either use a digital tool like Google Calendar or a simple notebook to time block. Pick the most important task and try to complete it right after your morning pages session.
Time Requirement: 10 minutes
Meditate & Visualize
You stretched your body, and it feels better, so it is only rational to do the same for your mind. Meditation can help you keep your mind calm, reduce mental chatter, and helps refocus your attention on important things.
Reducing mental chatter can significantly improve your ability to think and execute tasks.
You can get started with an app like Headspace or Calm and use many of their themed meditations and visual exercises.
We recommend getting started with something known as the Noting Technique.
Time Requirement: 10 minutes
Create Morning Pages
Tim Ferris uses this journaling method to take things off his mind and dump it into these pages.
This practice aims to take all your nebulous thoughts, fears, anxieties, etc., and dump them into three pages every morning so that you can move on with your day.
Time Requirement: 15-20 minutes
Handle the Most Important Task
Once you are done with morning pages, quickly pick up your most important task (Eat the Frog) and work on it for no less than 25 minutes.
Pick the next most important task if this task can not be during the early hours.
The goal is to use this peak cognitive ability to accomplish something of value at the beginning of the day.
If the task takes a bit longer, consider adding those minutes to your 25 minutes limit but if it is very long, then finish what you can in 25 and move on to the next activity.
Time Requirement: 25 minutes
Do your cardio exercises
It is ideal to get your body moving early in the day and improve blood flow to different body parts.
Cardio is helpful because it lowers blood pressure, regulates weight, and improves brainpower.
For cardio, you can choose to go to your nearest gym, or even a quick run would do.
However, if you want to get the most out of your time and have lasting benefits for the rest of the day, HIIT might be your best bet.
Time Requirement: 25 minutes
Shower & a healthy breakfast
Post-workout, take 5-10 minutes to let your body settle, and then take a shower/bath, preferably with warm water.
Once done, head over to your kitchen and grab a healthy breakfast that is preferably high on proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Get small quantities on your plate and eat them slowly for best results.
You can go for as many servings as you want until you feel full, but remember to eat slowly to give your body enough time to know when you are full.
Remember not to watch TV or scroll through your social feed while eating, don't distract yourself from this activity.
Time Requirement: 15-20 minutes
Get some sunlight and/fresh air
Sunlight can help you regulate the melatonin production in your body, so you must experience it at the beginning of your day.
Sunlight is also a good source of Vitamin D, which improves your immune system.
Some fresh air will also help break the monotony of indoor life.
This could be in the form of a quick 10-15 minute walk where you let your mind wander and explore ideas, scenarios, etc.
Time Requirement: 15 minutes
Eat the next frog
Once you are done with the walk, get back to your work desk and tackle the second biggest frog in your task queue.
If your first frog is still not done, continue working on it.
Either way, get at least two 25-minute sessions out with 5-minute breaks between them, working on your most important task(s) for the day.
Time Requirement - 60 minutes
And that is it. Move on to the rest of your day.
With this morning routine, you'll be able to get the most out of your day without feeling overwhelmed or constrained.
You can, of course, customize this to best suit your work/lifestyle, but the underlying goals have to be maintained: precise planning, good exercise, ideal nutrition, and getting things done.
Thanks for reading.
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