What’s Your Morning Routine?

What you do the first thing every morning can make a giant difference in your life. It can determine not only what and how much you get done but how you feel about yourself. It can also make a huge difference in your health.

I know that’s true for me. Since I started writing a blog in 2000, I’ve been thinking (and writing and reading) about personal productivity, testing out ideas and drumming up new ones. Certain things were obvious from the beginning:

  • Answering email or phone calls (people were still leaving phone messages back then) was a mistake.
  • So was reading the newspaper.

I wrote several essays back then trying to figure out why I found these early morning practices harmful. I knew the effect: I felt harried and sometimes depressed and those feelings would often follow me throughout the day and I’d often go to bed unhappy with myself because I hadn’t gotten anything important accomplished – important to me, that is.

I had a theory for why reading the newspaper was bad right off the bat. It was mostly about problems. Big problems. Remote problems. Other people’s problems and tragedies. Taking in all that negativity first thing in the morning was emotionally draining. And for what purpose? It wasn’t as if I could put an immediate end to the hunger or conflicts or criminalities I was reading about. I could read the newspaper later. And so I did. I made it a practice to read it later in the day, when I was already tired. And that’s what I still do. And because I’m still tired, I read much less of the news than I used to. And that’s a good thing.

The email problem was more vexing because my email inbox contained all sorts of business and personal issues that I could not ignore. Questions to be answered. Invitations to accept or reject. Memos to be read and responded to, etc.

But I eventually figured out that however important these tasks may be to others and even to me, they were the sort of tasks that would cumulatively take hours of my time and energy and I wanted that best time and energy to improving my life. I wanted that time and energy spent on something that was important to me but not urgent, something like writing, for example.

So I came up with the idea that I’d devote the first hour of my day to doing something that was important to me, something that would resemble me being the person I wanted to be rather than the servant of a thousand tasks from other masters.

Two of these three ideas – not reading one’s email and devoting the first hour of the day to a personal priority – have since been repeated and/or discovered coincidentally by countless other Internet gurus and journalists. I suspect that’s because they are pretty much universally true. The observation about reading the news in the morning I haven’t heard repeated, but I’m willing to bet that high performance people are already doing it.

But those three “practices” are just a part of making my morning work for me. I’ve developed a handful of other, smaller practices that are helpful. You may be doing some of these things yourself:

  • I spend at least a minute smiling at myself in the mirror. I do this when I’m brushing my teeth and/or shaving. Smiling actually activates your biology to improve your mood. Sometimes, when no one’s around, I sing. Singing also improves my mood. (The happier and goofier the song, the better.) *
  • I spend one to two minutes exercising, getting the muscles moving and the heart pumping. My routine is very limited: pushups, toe raisers, squats and abs. On a good day – a day I wake up feeling energized – I might do 30 or 40 of each. On a not-good day I may do only 5 or 10. I don’t push myself to do more than I want to. If I did, I’d eventually abandon the practice. This is not meant to be an actual workout. It’s meant to get me going, like the smiling and singing does, that’s all.
  • I spend another two or three minutes stretching. I do the basic yoga stretches: sun salutations, cobra, downward dog and that cat and dog stretch. And I also stretch my hips.
  • I take a cold shower – as cold as I can get it. Now this is a little tough – especially if, even after my morning exercises, I’m still feeling a little groggy. But like the other practices, it boosts my mood and stimulates my energy.
  • I take a bit of time deciding what I’m going to wear that day. I noticed long ago that when I’m feeling down I often dress badly, wearing clothes I don’t particularly like. It feels like I’m trying to punish myself. Taking time to find an outfit that makes me feel good makes me feel a little better. I feel like in doing this I’m defying the subconscious person that wants me to have a bad day.

And finally, and this is something I’m making up right now that I haven’t done but will try…I (will) make my first spoken statement of the day something that is positive. Ideally, I will say something true and kind and positive to K, as she is the first person I usually see. But if not, I’ll say something positive to myself or the sun or the waiter. I’ll say it and I’ll mean it and it too will help me have a great day.