by Alexandra Dempsey

Productivity + morning routines

Waking up on the wrong side of the bed. You oversleep, scarf down some breakfast, struggle to find matching socks, spill coffee on yourself as you rush out the door, only to realize during your commute that you forgot to pack your gym bag. We’ve all experienced the lasting effects of a bad start to the day.

Most of us know from experience that the bad mood that accompanies a morning like that often sets the tone for the rest of the day. Turns out there’s a reason. Research has shown that a bad mood has the ability to reduce cognitive performance and flexibility – which basically means that if you’re in a bad mood when you get into work, your productivity and creativity will suffer.

These findings were mirrored in another study that examined customer service representatives’ mood and productivity. The study found that participants who were in a good mood provided better quality service and were more articulate – relying less on verbal tics like ”um.” On the flip side, those in a bad mood answered fewer calls, took more breaks, and experienced an overall 10% loss in productivity. Not only that, the study showed that workers who started the day on the wrong foot tended to remain in a bad mood or felt even worse by the end of the day.

So how do you do get your day off to a successful start?

Many look to the morning routines of successful entrepreneurs, artists, CEOs, politicians, and productivity gurus for inspiration and advice.

Benjamin Franklin was known to rise at 5 am and ask himself “what good shall I do this day?”

Anna Wintour starts her day at 5:45 am with an hour-long tennis match.

Tim Ferris starts his morning with strong tea, meditation, and journaling.

But read through a dozen more examples like these, and one thing is clear. Successful people all start their day differently, but the one thing they all have in common is their commitment to a routine that helps them stay focused, motivated, and productive throughout the day.

Why creating a routine is so important

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

A routine is a sequence of actions that you do repeatedly – things like brushing your teeth before bed or washing your face in the morning. With enough repetition, a routine can become a habit. Habits are a powerful tool for productivity because they allow us to carry out a variety of activities with little to no conscious effort.

So when all the little activities of your morning start to happen automatically, it removes the need to make all of those tiny decisions – freeing up your mind to focus on what really matters. Deciding ahead of time what’s important to you ensures that you move through your day intentionally rather than simply reacting.

Creating a routine checklist for all-day productivity

  1. Track your time and mood: The first step in creating a morning routine is understanding how you currently spend your time. Take a week to track your time. Every hour, try to jot down what that time went to. Then at the end of the day rate how you feel on a scale from 1-10.

  2. Next, create a list of activities that you need to do in the morning – this includes things like eating breakfast, showering, dressing, making kids lunches, etc. Next to each task on the list, give an estimate of the time it takes to complete.

  3. Then make a list of activities that could help create a productive tone for the day. This can be things like meditation, prayer, journaling, gratitude practices, exercising, setting an intention, listening to a podcast, playing an instrument, reading, etc. These activities should help create a calm, positive mood that energizes you for the day ahead. Again, add the approximate time needed for each activity or how much time you would like to commit to it.

  4. When your lists are done, figure out how much time you need to complete your morning routine. Next, set your wake up and bedtime based on your morning routine. For example, if it takes me 2 hours to complete my routine, and I have to be out the door by 9 am, then I’ll set my alarm clock for 7 am and go to bed at 11 pm to allow for 8 hours of sleep. Try to be realistic when deciding your wake and sleep times, if it takes you 30 minutes to get out of bed, make sure your alarm accounts for this.

  5. Finally, create a morning routine checklist (you can use our template here) to help make your ideal morning routine a habit.

  6. Try it out and adapt as necessary. Building a morning routine is something that takes time and practice. If overhauling your current routine all at once seems daunting, start by introducing one new practice per week. Little by little you’ll learn more about what works best for you and how you can make chaotic mornings a thing of the past

Tips + easy wins for any morning routine

Here are a few pro tips and easy wins to consider while creating your morning routine.

  • Eliminate decision-making: Making a lot of decisions tires your brain and reduces the quality of your decision-making. Creating a morning routine that eliminates decision-making saves time and creates a clear mind that is ready to focus. Make your mornings smoother by prepping for your morning the night before:

    • Lay out your outfit/gym clothes
    • Set the breakfast table before bed
    • Pack your lunch (or your kids’ lunches)
    • Prepare your bag or briefcase
    • Set out your vitamins

  • Drink a glass of water when you wake up: Most people get dehydrated overnight. When you spend eight hours sleeping, that also means you spend eight hours without drinking water. Drinking water is a crucial component in making your body function at full capacity. In fact, your brain tissue alone is 73% water. Drinking some water before you drown yourself in coffee is a good way to help your body wake up and get your metabolism going.

  • Exercise and stretching: Working up a sweat early in the morning is a great way to increase blood flow and oxygen, but admittedly it’s not always easy to do. The good news? You don’t have to run 7 miles to experience the benefits of exercise. A brisk walk or some simple stretching will do the job.  Not only that, stretching every day improves posture (especially for those about to spend eight hours crouched over a computer) and reduces aches and pains in the body. And of course, exercise leads to an increase in endorphins, which can help you feel great as you start your day.

  • The best mornings start at night: Creating a nighttime routine can be just as important as a morning routine. One of the best ways to ensure a productive day is to take a couple of minutes each night to reflect and create your priorities for the next day. Doing a little planning the night before helps alleviate the stress of deciding what takes priority first thing in the morning, giving your day more intentional direction.

  • Eliminate distractions: How many times have you woken up and immediately picked up your phone to check email, social media, or any other notifications, only to realize 30 minutes later that you are now running late for work and have to skip breakfast? Eliminate the time-wasting temptation of your phone with Freedom. Block distracting websites, apps, or the whole internet to create focus and calm that lasts throughout the day.

Ultimately, the key to a productive day starts with a consistent morning routine. There isn’t a singular routine that works for everyone, but there is a best way for you and with a little time, practice, and experimentation you can find your ideal morning routine.

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