Morning Routine – The Ultimate Guide

I bet you’ve at least once in your life thought that if only you had more time. Oh, what wonders could you achieve with just a few extra hours a day! But what if I told you that’s possible? Not by magically adding two hours to your day, but by repurposing some lazy hours. I bet you have some those laying around: an hour of TV, Netflix, or YouTube in the evening can be converted into productive morning hours – by creating a morning routine!

If you hate routines and all you want to do is take your phone and go pooping, don’t worry. My purpose isn’t turning you into a robot with every little detail in it’s to-do list. Instead, I want to help you reshape your current morning routine (everyone has something they do every morning!) into something that brings joy and helps you achieve your goals tiny steps at a time. Let’s begin!

I. Prerequisite

  1. Prepare for the morning
  2. Good night

II. The Morning Routine

  1. Slap in the face
  2. Natural is the best
  3. Easy wins
  4. Nourish the body and mind
  5. Other ideas

III. Extra

  1. Experiment
  2. Examples
  3. Start with this
  4. Best tips

How to create a morning routine

  1. Start the evening before and clear your living space to neutral.
  2. Put everything ready for the coming morning: clothes, breakfast, bags etc.
  3. Plan for the upcoming day, so there wouldn’t be any doubt what to do next.
  4. Make sure you get enough good quality sleep in the night.
  5. Wake up naturally or immediately when the alarm goes off, because snoozing is like eating a cake: it tastes good, but doing that three times every morning slowly kills you.
  6. Focus on easy wins if you want to feel successful and productive.
  7. Distract your groggy brain from doing something regrettable by creating a list of activities until you take back control.
  8. When you’re fully awake, start with the main course: exercise, meditation, journaling, cold showers, etc. Now it’s time to do everything that requires daily attention.
  9. To find a perfect morning routine for you, start experimenting.
  10. For a morning routine to be of any use, it has to be consistent. Start slow, and don’t miss multiple days in a row.

Prerequisite

Before we can dive into the morning, we must get a good night’s sleep. A day isn’t an independent phenomenon that has an opening ceremony, a highlight, and a grand finale. It’s a continuously flowing, interconnected stream – today is built upon yesterday, and it’s the foundation for tomorrow. To have a happy morning tomorrow, we need to get adequate sleep and make preparations today.

Prepare for the morning

If you’re usually tired and grumpy in the mornings, you should consider offloading some of the tasks to the evening. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Clear to neutral.
    You probably don’t like to wake up to a messy bedroom and greasy kitchenware. That’s why it’s imperative to reset your living space every evening before bed. Do the dishes, put away the clothes from your floor and tidy up your desk. I know how exhausting it is, especially if it’s late and you’re tired, but it’ll all be worth it in the morning.
  2. Make decisions about what to wear and what to eat the day before.
    Put your chosen outfit wherever you can effortlessly grab it in the morning. If you can, consider making your breakfast in the previous evening as well, or at least put the required ingredients and utils at hand. If it’s something new, make sure the recipe is readily available.
  3. Pack your school, work or gym bag before going to sleep.
    It’s another tedious task taken off your morning plate. Also, put a filled bottle of water on the nightstand. Make sure you know where your phone, wallet, keys and other indispensable items are so that you can avoid the chaos in the morning.
  4. Plan for the perfect tomorrow.
    While this can be done in the morning as well, your morning self might find it more convenient if your evening self has already done it for you. And, as Thomas Frank says, it might help you to be more productive because you feel obligated to do whatever your previous self assigned you to do. It’s another series of decisions you can avoid.
  5. Outline the morning routine.
    If you let your groggy morning-brain decide what to do, you’ll inevitably end up checking your email when you actually should be heading outside for some fresh air instead. I’ll help you create that outline in a minute.

Good night

You can have the perfect morning routine all planned out, but if you don’t sleep well, you’ll feel like sh*t anyway. I’ve covered this topic (evening routine will follow soon) more in-depth in another post, but here’s what you should know now:

  1. Be consistent.
    It’s perhaps the most critical factor. Your body will get used to waking up as early as you’d like, but only if you’re persistent. Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Rinse and repeat. Of course you can stay up a bit longer on Friday nights and sleep in on Saturdays, but the less you do that, the better.
  2. Get quality sleep.
    This is also essential. Avoid exercising, heavy meals, coffee, alcohol and (blue) light a couple of hours before bedtime. Clear your mind from nagging thoughts. Dim and soundproof your bedroom, lower the temperature. Get a comfortable mattress, pillow and blanket. Remind yourself to focus on sleeping and not check the time during the night. Count the sheep…

The Morning Routine

…and GO! The alarm clock went off, you jump up and make a run for it.

Slap in the face

If you feel there’s no better way to get you out of bed than a slap in the face, you should try one of the following methods.

  • Don’t hit the snooze button.
    That will only make you feel worse afterwards. It’s tempting, yes, but destructive. If you do that, the first thing in your perfect day would be a failure. Furthermore, every time you hit “snooze” and go back to dream, your body enters a new sleep cycle. Those last ~90 minutes each and being ripped out in the middle of one makes you even drowsier than before.
  • Put your phone to the other side of the bedroom.
    When the alarm is next to my bed, I rarely get up instantly, but stay to fight the slumber instead. Putting the phone farther away has helped me leave the bed, but if that doesn’t work for you, some apps might that keep you out of bed for longer.
  • Use an app to force you out of bed.
    For example, Terminightor forces you to scan a specific NFC tag (available on F-Droid), and Alarmy – Sleep If U Can forces you to take a photo of something, do some calculations, scan a barcode, etc. Try different apps and see what works for you.
  • Spend some hard-earned cash.
    If you feel like spending some of your euros-dollars-yeniz, you can get a physical alarm clock that simulates sunrise. Another way to quickly get rid of your savings would be to follow what Thomas Frank did: automatically let your friends and followers know if you’re sleeping in and promising to give them money, unless you wake up and postpone the message before it’s sent.

Natural is the best

Conversely, here’s a radical idea: what if you could wake up naturally, without an alarm? You would feel refreshed and ready to start the day because the alarm didn’t forcefully disrupt your sleep. Letting your body wake you up will also ensure that you’ll get the necessary amount of sleep. But how to do that?

  • Go to bed at the right time.
    Then your body can get the required amount of sleep and wake up without issues. To do that, you need to know how much you need in the first place. Generally, adults need 7-9 hours, but I’d start with 9 and work up or down from there. In the sleepyti.me calculator, this would be the first time it suggests.
  • Find help from apps.
    For example: SleepCycle. It combines the benefits of waking up naturally and having a reliable alarm as a backup. I’ve used it in the past, and it often woke me up when I was in a light sleep phase. It’s not as satisfying as waking up naturally, but it’s better than a cold hard alarm.

Thomas Frank has covered waking up more in-depth in his blog. Matt D’Avella has an excellent video about it as well.

Easy wins

The most crucial element of a successful morning, in my opinion, is to avoid failures. Since the morning sets the tone for the day, you’ll feel more productive if you manage to focus on simple successes. That’s why you don’t want snoozing – failing – to set the tone for the day. Instead, let’s get some successes under your belt before the day starts.

Since your brain doesn’t function at its full capacity right after waking up, it’s bound to make some stupid decisions (like grabbing the phone and spending the following half an hour uncontrollably scrolling Instagram). To combat that, you should create a list of actions to distract your brain until it fully wakes up.

Distract yourself

  1. Go to the bathroom, brush your teeth and wash your face.
    Personal hygiene is a perfect candidate for a mindless distraction. Since you’ve already done it your whole life, your brain can handle it on autopilot.
  2. Make your bed and get dressed.
    This signals your brain that sleeping is officially over now. A tidy bedroom will help declutter your thoughts too, and wearing decent clothes will make you feel more productive and less like a slob. Furthermore, it’s relatively easy to accomplish, so you get the easy-win points.
  3. Open the curtains, and maybe even the window.
    Let in the sunlight to further signal your brain that the night is over. Letting in some fresh air will raise the oxygen levels (unless you have a well-ventilated bedroom) which increases mental performance.

Avoid doing those

  • Hitting the snooze button.
    Yes, I’ve talked about this already, but it’s crucial. There are virtually no benefits other than the momentary feeling of bliss.
  • Checking notifications, email and social media.
    Since those are very effective in dosing our brains with dopamine, we’re drawn to it all the time. And, since we don’t have full control over ourselves right after waking up, it’s an especially luring trap to fall into. They hijack our brains and waste our precious morning time, which most of us are lacking anyway. (The same goes for TV as well.)

Nourish the body and mind

You need to take care of your mind and body the same way you take care of every other important element in your life. Your car needs fuel and maintenance, your home needs cleaning and repairs, your pet needs to be fed and groomed, and so on. You need to breathe fresh air, be hygienic and hydrated, eat healthy food, do some exercise and be mentally stable. It’s not fun living in a psychiatric hospital.

Anyway, you can continue the list you were building before with some more tips:

  • Drink a glass of water.
    You probably don’t go looking for water while you’re sleepwalking, so you haven’t drunk anything during (hopefully) ~8 hours of sleep. Being hydrated is essential: most of you is literally water. It helps you flush out the toxins, improve mental performance (brain consists of mostly water too), and it may even help you control your weight.
  • Go outside for fresh air, and maybe even take a walk.
    There’s nothing quite like the cold breeze of morning air, low sun shining on your face, starting an episode of your favourite podcast, and watching people do their errands… yeah no, it’s too cold. Bye! Next time, I’ll bring a blanket and a cup of tea as well.
  • Do some light exercise: push-ups, crunches/sit-ups, pull-ups, stretches, etc.
    Even though physical activity is vital to your wellbeing anyhow, the main point is to get your blood moving. It will increase the blood flow to your brain, which in turn clears your mind and helps you focus. Besides, daily exercise can help you get pretty substantial results.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast.
    Honestly, I’ve no idea how some people can make it to lunch without eating breakfast. I won’t last even an hour without treating my tummy. But I try to make sure that “something” isn’t sugary cereal, greasy bacon or white bread. And no, flavoured instant oatmeal, granola bars and ready-made smoothies are not healthy either. Most of them contain more sugar than our whole daily suggested amount (which is 25 grams or 6 teaspoons, by the way).

Other ideas

There are endless other options to fill your mornings with, and here is a small fraction of them:

  • Weigh yourself every morning.
    As the saying goes: “What gets measured, gets managed.” You don’t have to do anything with that information, just let it sink in. If that number gets too high, you subconsciously know you should limit yourself today. And if it gets too low, you know to make sure you eat more. Be careful, though: you should use the knowledge as a motivation, not to fuel depression.
  • Meditate (or just think).
    I love this. Not the usual Buddhist-monk-type-meditation, but probing my mind to see what I stumble upon. I actually do it in the bed before falling asleep, because I’m too full of energy in the mornings to stay still and think. But meditating in the mornings is like focusing before a sprint: you throw away unnecessary thoughts and focus your mind on the upcoming challenge.
  • Journal.
    While it’s fun to look back on what was going on in your mind a year ago, it’s not the only reason to do it. The main benefit, in my opinion, is processing your thoughts to put them on paper. It has the same effect as telling about it to another person – a worry shared is a worry halved. By converting your problems into a list, you isolate them. It helps you find a solution to each one separately, instead of having to deal with a humongous cloud of every problem in the world that comes down to paralyse you one by one.
  • Reflect on your life.
    Are you happy? Are you doing everything you can to succeed? What changes do you need to make? What will the future bring? It’s easy to forget to ask the most important questions when you’re perpetually busy.
  • Take cold showers.
    Yes, you will hate it. Yes, I hate it. And yes, that’s the point. I have taken only a few cold showers throughout my life (probably because I’m a coward), but I’ve been training myself with cold water in other ways. (No, I didn’t do the ice bucket challenge – good ol’ times, though.) I went swimming instead. During the last few summers, I’ve challenged myself by swimming in the cold water (luckily, it’s nothing but chilly water here in Nothern Europe). I used to be the guy who refused to set my foot in water colder than a bath. And now: 18°C (~65°F) water is warm for me. Still can’t stand the showers, though.
  • Check out https://mymorningroutine.com/routines/ for more ideas.

If you’re someone who’s into commitments, then your morning ends when you’re summoned to school or work. If you’ve prepared everything the night before, you’ll have an easy time finishing the last item on your morning list and heading out the door. However, if you can create your daily schedule yourself or have a lot of time to spare, you’re in luck. Whatever you want to achieve during the day – be it a full workout, learning something new, or practising something old -, the best time to do it is the morning.

Extra

That should be enough to get you going. No? Okay, fine. Here’s some more.

Experiment

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Nicholas Chamfort

Starting your day with small wins (as I’ve suggested) to build up momentum is just one way to be productive. The idea above illustrates another school of thought: if you tackle the most difficult, but critical task first thing in the morning, your day will be a success no matter what you do next. After the tremendous win, it’s peanuts to do a 2-hour workout or 6-hour meditation session (I’m sure someone does that).

Similarly, many opposing views fight on probably everything: should you plan your day before or after sleep, or when to tidy the desk (if at all), or when to meditate to get the best results. Try them all and take the side that suits you best. Be an experimenter.

Examples

Thomas Frank

As the creator of College Info Geek, he writes articles on student hacks and makes videos on all kinds of productivity tips. He also hosts “The College Info Geek Podcast”. His morning routine:

  • Wake up at 6:30 and turn off two alarms – one beside the bed and one further away
  • Feed the cat, water the plants
  • Do some pull-ups
  • Go outside for 10-15 minute walk
  • Review the upcoming day
  • Make and eat breakfast – a smoothie or a simple wrap – and drink coffee
  • Read a book or long articles
  • Practice singing in the shower – yes, an actual vocal practice

Matt D’Avella

Filmmaker, minimalist, YouTuber and podcaster. Sounds like a recipe for perfection. Anyway, here it is:

  • Wake up around 7.00
  • Brush the teeth
  • Stretch for 5-10 minutes
  • Go outside for 10-15 minute walk
  • Make a cup of coffee and start working

Tim Ferriss

The author of “The 4-Hour Workweek” is a businessman, investor and advisor. He also runs a podcast called “The Tim Ferriss Show”, where he interviews the top performers from different fields. His morning routine:

  • Make the bed
  • Meditate for 20 minutes
  • Drink some tea
  • Journal 5-10 minutes
  • Have a small breakfast
  • Exercise for 20-90 minutes

Hans Kurel

Wait, that’s me! I’m truly honoured to be featured in my own writing! Here’s my morning routine:

  • Try to wake up naturally, alarm as a backup
  • Brush the teeth and wash the face
  • Get dressed, drink some water
  • Make the bed, open the curtains
  • Make and eat breakfast
  • Do some exercise (walking, stretching, cycling, etc.)

Others

Start with this

Focus on what you can do today based on the stage you are right now.

Everything-is-up-in-flames-stage.

In this stage, you have a chaotic sleep schedule, and you often stay up waaayyy too late. As a result, you either wake up at noon and oversleep or get up before scheduled event with sleep-deprivation. Since you feel groggy or have to rush somewhere in the morning, you get nothing productive done, and you feel bad.

For now, focus on your sleep schedule. Try to have set hours when you sleep most of the days. Whatever you’re currently doing in the night, move it to the morning. Playing video games or watching shows until 3 o’clock? Go to sleep earlier and continue in the morning. If you have to wake up early, I have bad news for you – you have to postpone the gaming or watching session. If you don’t prioritise your sleep now, it will get to you later. But you can’t wake up from that kind of rest…

I’m-fine-but-could-be-better-stage.

This is the stage where most people are. You go to sleep at a semi-decent time (usually before midnight) and wake up whenever you feel like or early enough to prepare for the errands ahead. You feel tired in the mornings, but it’s fine after a cup of coffee. You’d like to get more done, though (and maybe ditch the coffee addiction, too).

The need for coffee usually indicates a lack of sleep (or an addiction). There’s no need to cut coffee altogether, but wouldn’t it be great to be happy in the morning without it? Slowly, but surely decrease and postpone the amount of coffee you have in the mornings while getting enough sleep at night at the same time. Also, start preparations the night before, so you’d have a smoother morning without the coffee. After that, you can start following a set routine by using the previously created distraction-list. One step at a time.

I-already-have-a-morning-routine-stage.

Good job! But you still want to improve it, don’t you? If not, then I don’t know what you’re doing here! Maybe you’d like to wake up earlier or implement something more difficult into your morning routine. Whatever it is, there’s always room for improvement.

Now comes the hard part: getting something done. You have to start small, think baby-steps. If you want to start going to the gym in the morning, you should start by doing one push-up at home. Just one. “Wait, that seems too easy” you might say. Yes, that’s the point. The exercise itself is never difficult compared to doing it every day. Consistency is the key here. You can increase the exercise difficulty level as you get more consistent days behind you. You don’t want to do the daunting task in the morning. Instead, you want to do the easy task that stays easy because you ease into it.

Best tips

  1. Whatever you want to achieve during the day, the morning is the best time to do it.
  2. Start with small changes, one step at a time. Be it getting to sleep at the right time, postponing your coffee or doing one push-up.
  3. Stay consistent. If you feel overwhelmed, take a step back, but no matter what, don’t quit. Yes, taking a break for a few days (or a vacation) is cool, but you must get back on track after that. Start small again, but start.

Resources

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