Master Your Morning Routine: 8 Ways to Win Before Others Begin

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Nothing – no earthly thing – fills the soul with dread like a smartphone’s alarm clock. If there’s music on the journey to hell, that’s the soundtrack.

“Just 10 more minutes”, your inner-teenager groans. And even though you know you’ll feel terrible, you still hit the snooze button six times.

Finally, you open your eyes. But you don’t get out of bed. Oh no, that would make life way too easy.

First there’s email, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the news to catch up on. Who knows what crucial things people did while you slept!

At last, with 20 minutes to go, it’s into the shower, on with the clothes, down with the coffee and a frantic commute to work.

Let’s not even contemplate the chaos of a version with kids.

Sound familiar? It doesn’t have to.

Imagine a world where you jump out of bed full of energy. A world where you do more in one morning than you used to get done in a week.

This isn’t sleep-deprived delirium talking. Imagine a world where you can master your mornings and feel great all day, every day.

Feeling curious? Let’s look at 8 ways to make mornings magic.

1 – START BEFORE YOU PASS GO.

The best place to start your morning is the night before.

Your goal? Do all that you can in advance to make your morning as easy as possible.

First, set your priority hit-list.

Use pen and paper to capture everything you want to do tomorrow. Include anything you didn’t get done today that’s important.

Now, ask yourself one question: “If I could only do one thing on this list tomorrow, what would it be?” – put a ① next to this item.

Repeat this exercise a total of six times with the remaining items on your list.

These six outcomes are tomorrow’s priority hit-list.

Next, make your decisions up front.

Run through the first part of your morning in your head:

  • What exactly will you wear?
  • Where are your clothes?
  • What will you eat for breakfast?
  • Where are your keys, phone, wallet and bag?
  • What extra things do you need to bring with you?

Add anything I’ve missed to this list. Now prepare all those things in advance:

  • Choose your outfit tonight, not tomorrow;
  • Lay your clothes out neatly where you can see them;
  • Prepare your breakfast in advance;
  • Put your keys, phone, wallet and bag by the front door; and
  • Organise anything else (e.g., gym kit, laundry) that you’ll need.

Pre-load your bowl with your cereal, put the bread by the toaster, pre-boil your eggs – the more you do now, the less you must think of tomorrow.

The advantage of less thinking? More execution with less mental effort. Each thing you prepare is a pebble removed from your runway.

Finally, create the best environment for a good night’s sleep.

Sleep – at least 7 to 9 hours each night – is critical. This is not an article on how to get less.

Instead, here are some ways to get more “good” sleep with the time that you have:

  • Enforce a digital curfew – Cut blue light (e.g., from screens) out, or at least down around 2 – 3 hours before bed.
  • Wind down – Keep your last hour chilled. Imagine babysitting a child – what things would you avoid before sleep?
  • Sleep when you’re sleepy – Don’t push through just to hit “bed-time”. If you’re tired, sleep. Now, wake up earlier and be awesome.
  • Keep your room cool – 21 Celsius / 70 Fahrenheit is my perfect temperature. Find yours with heating, air-con, fans or a high-tech cooling system.
  • Keep your room dark – Invest in blackout curtains if you can. Try a sleep mask if you can’t.
  • Keep your room quiet – Silence is golden. Prioritise it when finding a new home. Otherwise, earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones may help.

Perhaps your partner snores, you have a newborn or you have mild insomnia – in any case, a quick google will turn up more tips.

Do your research. Become a sleep ninja. Because your problem isn’t playing too hard, it’s not recovering well enough.

Still curious? Check out Brian Johnson’s masterclass on sleep over at Optimize.me

2 – RISE EARLY.

“I’m just not a morning person! Waking up early is horrible!” – I hear you.

But can I also tell you a secret?

Waking up early is hard for everyone before it gets easy. I’ve been waking up at or around 5 AM for years and every cell in my body still groans when my alarm clock starts ringing.

Suck it up and be prepared for a few bleary days as you shift your rhythm and routine. It might suck for a couple of weeks. But, just like jet-lag, eventually everyone beats it.

Four simple steps to getting out of bed.

But how? If you’re a serial snoozer, try these four steps to get going each morning:

  1. Prime yourself the night before – Be prepared, get the best sleep you can and visualise yourself getting up as you close your eyes to sleep.
  2. Put your alarm far from your bed but near your next action – On the far wall, in the bathroom, under your clothes, by the door – the choice is yours.
  3. Count down from 5 – When your alarm rings, count: 5 – 4 – wake up, eyes open – 3 – 2 – sit up, feet on the floor – 1 – 0 – stand up and go!
  4. Make your bed – Not only have you ticked off your first chore, you’re also less likely to get in it.

Whatever your approach: take it easy. Shift your routine no more than 15 minutes earlier each day.

And remember: the hardest part of waking up for everyone is the first 30 seconds.

Why the early bird gets the worm.

Why is rising early important? Because mornings are quiet. They’re a blissful oasis of control, time and focus.

What about night owls? True, late at night is a quiet time too. And if it’s all that you have, then it can be a great time to focus.

But here are three reasons your morning-self might outperform you:

  1. Your mind is fresher first thing – Who would you bet on, a well-rested runner or the same one post 12 hours of hiking?
  2. Your mind is clearer – Like working on a chalkboard that’s totally clean versus one covered in shadows and traces of the day.
  3. A strong morning supercharges your day – The goal of a morning routine isn’t the routine itself. It’s in priming your day for success.

Of course, early mornings are a luxury some of us simply don’t have. In that case, do what you can, with what you have, from where you are.

But they’re also a life-changing time many more of us voluntarily miss.

So do what you can to rise early.

Because though early mornings aren’t essential to success, they do make the journey much easier.

3 – JUMP START YOUR BODY.

Still feeling fuzzy? Try these time-tested tricks to jump-start your mind and your body:

  • Do light exercise – Try a brisk walk and stretch to get your heart pumping and blood moving after ~eight hours of being horizontal;
  • Take a (cold) shower –  Nothing washes away sleep like water. For extra points, be brave, crank your shower to cold for instant alertness and a big boost to blood flow;
  • Drink a large glass of water – Don’t wait to rehydrate – do it first thing. For even more benefits, drink warm or hot water with lemon squeezed in.
  • Get a caffeine boost – Whether in tea, coffee, mate or matcha, caffeine kick-starts your nervous system, warms up your body and balances your blood-pressure.

I combine all four approaches in my morning routine.

Total investment? No more than 10 minutes – and yet the instant energy and hours of gained productivity are awesome.

4 – FUEL YOURSELF.

Some people love breakfast, others do without it.

I’m somewhere in the middle: I enjoy the focus I get from an empty stomach but at some point I do need to refuel.

Whatever your view, one thing is certain – food is fuel, and you should always feed yourself like an Olympic gold athlete.

The general consensus? A healthy and high protein (~30g) breakfast that releases energy slowly and keeps you fuller for longer.

2 eggs (12g of protein) with an avocado (+4g) on a slice of toast (+3g) plus a wedge of feta (+5g) will get you close (=24g). Throw in a banana (+1g) and a serving of almonds (+6g) and you’re there (=31g). For more ideas, ask Google – there are many yummy options to choose from.

What doesn’t it look like? Breakfast cereals, pancakes, muffins, sweetened yoghurt, concentrate fruit juice etc., – there’s a long list of processed and high sugar foods to avoid.

One reason we favour these foods is they’re often quicker to make, eat and clean than healthier options. To overcome this, go back to step 1. Prepare as much as you can in advance. Make breakfast the night, or even the week before. Then simply reheat and eat in the mornings.

Your body is an incredible alchemist that can transform nearly anything into energy. But abuse it too hard, for too long and a breakdown is inevitable.

So fuel yourself mindfully and not only will your body power you through the day, it will serve you through a long, productive and healthy life.

5 – GET CENTRED.

A key concept in nature, science, economics and industry is a baseline – a known and stable starting point against which all change is measured.

One of the most important things you can do in your morning routine is find your baseline.

How? Two millennia-old practices stand out:

  1. Journalling – Either unguided or guided, best performed with pen and on paper; and
  2. Meditation – Placing attention for 1 to 20 minutes (or more) on an object of focus (often the breath).

I’ve described my take on journalling here. A quick google for “morning routine journalling” will turn up many more paths to explore.

To start meditating quickly and easily, try these steps with me now:

  1. Breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds – focus on the chest rising.
  2. Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
  3. Breathe out through your mouth for 6 seconds – focus on the body relaxing.
  4. Repeat up to 5 times for a full minute’s exercise.

I simply can’t overstate the value of meditation. If there’s one exercise that’s most changed my life, and one I’ll focus on most in years to come – this is it. For more, check out this video, this book and this app.

Both journalling and meditation are powerful ways to “get to zero” first thing. But doing so is only half the battle. With your baseline established you must also…

6 – DEFEND YOUR CLARITY.

Repeat after me:

  • I will not check my emails, messages, social media accounts or the news before my first hour of deep work.
  • I will not check my emails, messages, social media accounts or the news before my first hour of deep work.
  • I will not check my emails, messages, social media accounts or the news before my first hour of deep work.

Get it? Got it? Good.

The whole point of your morning routine is to build a launch pad of energy, clarity and focus.

Do not direct your awesome and inspiring power at things as trivial as emails, social media and news.

Turn on aeroplane mode. Remove problem apps from your phone’s home screen. Disable their notifications. Delete them entirely.

The only way that other people can knock you off centre is if you let them. So don’t – defend your hard-earned clarity at all costs and…

7 – CALIBRATE YOUR COMPASS.

Why did you wake up this morning? What does success look like for your day, week, year or life? How are you planning to get there?

Reminding yourself often of your working answers to these questions is vital. And doing it each morning isn’t just inspiring, it sets the tone for your whole day.

Here are three lists I read quickly each morning to calibrate my internal compass:

  • My Mission – My purpose, the reason I am here, the principles I value and a snapshot of what success looks like for my life.
  • My Focus Areas – The big parts of my life (people, learning, writing, freedom etc.) I’m committed to this year.
  • My Outcomes – Currently actionable outcomes I’m committed to realising in the next 12 months.

If you haven’t got these and aren’t sure where to start, read Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Crunch) and Allen’s Getting Things Done (Crunch).

For now, review your schedule and to-do list. What’s coming up today, tomorrow and this week?

Calibrate your compass. Remind yourself where you are heading. It will save you a whole lot of time getting lost.

8 – EAT YOUR FROGS!

The world is still silent. You’re well rested, well fed, centred and calibrated. You feel stable, powerful and primed. So what’s next?

Next, it’s time to act. It’s time to channel this energy, this power, this focus into a single point – the most important task you currently have before you.

Perhaps it’s a work project, perhaps it’s reading, exercise or planning your wedding. Perhaps it’s spending time with your partner and family.

Whatever it is, make anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to work on it now, before you leave home.

Not sure where to start? Grab your hit list from step 1. The item with a ① next to it is your most important task. If you finish it, or it’s not yet actionable – move to item ②, then item ③ and so on.

Completing just one of these items will give you an enormous feeling of power, progress and momentum. And on a good day, it’s not unrealistic to finish all 6 items before you step out the front door.

So there you have it, the power of a morning routine: a world where you jump out of bed full of energy. A world where you do more in one morning than you used to get done in a week.

A world where you can master your mornings and feel great all day, every day.

And all it took was 8 ways to make mornings magic.

PUTTING IT ALL INTO PRACTICE

What does a morning routine look like in the wild? For a real-world snapshot, here’s a glimpse at the first four hours of my average day.

05:00 – Up, drink water, do 3 sun salutations (7 minutes)

05:07 – Cold shower, brush teeth, bathroom (5 minutes)

05:12 – List 3 things I’m grateful for, journalling (10 minutes)

05:22 – Meditation (20 minutes)

05:42 – Review mission, focus areas and outcomes (8 minutes)

05:50 – First session of deep work (60 minutes)

06:50 – Breakfast, matcha, change (10 minutes)

07:00 – Second session of deep work (120 minutes)

09:00 – Walk, check emails, messages (15 minutes)

The result? By 09:00 I’m energised, centred and focussed. What’s more, I’ve already made 3 hours of progress on my priority outcomes.

Some disclaimers: I have no kids, no commute and I’ve added personal touches and changes that work well for me. The timings are rough, I keep an eye on the clock but I don’t time every action. My routine also changes based on where I am, who I’m with, how fatigued I am and what my plans looked like the night before.

The goal here is not to share a “gold-standard”, just to show you one way, my way, of putting the principles above into action.

Your job now is to find your way. Whatever that looks like. Start tomorrow. Experiment, adjust and repeat.

Find a morning routine that works for you.

And when you do, be sure to send me an email or leave me a comment.

Because I’d bet the world that doing so won’t just upgrade your mornings, it will totally transform your life.

Arthur
Arthur
Arthur is a learning-freak, slow-thinker, and writer who loves helping curious, busy people digest chewy topics fast. One of his passions is language learning. Send yourself his Free Ultimate Language Learning Guide today to save you or a friend thousands of dollars and hours on your journey to fluency.

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Hughie
Hughie

Hey dude, very nice stuff, I like your articles. Just wandering, how do you find your focus and energy levels around afternoon time? Do you start to flag quite early? I would totally do something v similar to you and wake up at 5am, but after reading the super-informative (& mammoth) article ‘Good sleep, good learning, good life’ on the Supermemo website, I decided to stop forcing myself out of bed early and instead wake up when my body wants to. Thank goodness I have the luxury to do that at the moment… But I find my energy levels, focus, mood and everything much much better as a result. Any thoughts?

Helge Gernhardt
Helge Gernhardt

Hej Arthur! Great article! I have been doing a morning routine since a couple of months now and have found it to be very rewarding for me as well. This is my morning routine:

1.) get up at 5.00
2.) put my grey sweat pants + shirt (1 min)
3.) drink 0.3 l water (1 min)
4.) slowly prepare a filter coffee – very nice smell included (7 min)
5.) track the number of deep work hours from the previous day (1 min)
6.) journal (5 min)
7.) Deepwork: learn vocabulary – for me this is Swedish (30-40 min)
8.) other Deepwork (90 minutes)
9.) breakfast

I like to have some bananas lying around, in case I get hungry before breakfast.

Moreover, I like to start the deepwork session with learning vocabulary, because this is a field, which is close to my heart and therefore intrinsically rewarding. Learning vocabulary is also an easier form of deepwork, than, for example, deepdiving into a very complex text. Doing this kind of “easier” deepwork as a first thing in the morning helps me to look forward to my morning routine and also prepares me for the “harder” deepwork that comes next.