Your morning routine can make or break your day. The more you up your morning game, the better you will feel for the rest of the day.
The good news is it’s surprisingly easy to make your mornings exceptional. Yes, you’ll have to put some work, but it’s much easier than you’d think!
Let’s start with the infographic. If you need additional details, check the text below.
How to Craft the Perfect Morning Routine
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<p><a href='https://neverproductive.com/morning-routine-infographic/'><img src="https://neverproductive.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Morning-Routine-Infographic.png" alt='How to Craft the Perfect Morning Routine' width='700px' border='0' /></a><br /><br /><strong>Infographic from the <a href="https://neverproductive.com">Never Productive</a> blog!</strong></p>
I’m glad you said that. Here are the details:
Waking up (even if you have trouble waking up)
First, coffee is amazing. Coffee is full of antioxidants, fiber, and precious mana that wakes you right up. Awesome stuff.
But, I do not recommend waking up with coffee.
It’s a waste.
Drinking coffee habitually every day will skyrocket your tolerance. Yes, you can take a week off coffee to basically reset that, but there is a better way.
You should be drinking your cup of joe strategically. Maybe before a workout or an hour after your lazy wave after lunch. Strategically.
This will make sure your coffee hits you hard, at the right time, and give you the most energy.
But this poses another issue – how to wake up without coffee?
When you imagine training in the morning, is your mind conjuring images of 2-hours of sweat and pain?
Does the thought of it hurt?
Well, it shouldn’t. Some people do exercise for 2-hours in the morning and love it. If you’re not one of those people already, you don’t need to become one to wake up properly.
Start Small (5 to 15 minutes small)
If you’re not actively training or hate it in the morning, you should not train a lot in the morning.
Take things slow. Make baby steps towards building great habits and in time you’ll be training longer than you’d ever expected.
Start with 15 minutes – yes, it should be too easy.
If 15 minutes do not feel easy to you – start with 5 minutes.
The truth is, you need just a little exercise to get the blood flowing, so don’t worry about it.
Effective exercise, not long exercise
I’m an effective guy. I love to KISS and passionately hate any time-consuming cardio. But, I hear you say, cardio is awesome and great for your health. That’s true, that’s why I do HIIT.
HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training.
High-intensity interval training (I’m using HIIT from now on, remember it) has several benefits over steady-state cardio. Here are some of them:
- Time-efficient – Yeah, baby, you can have a ton of benefits in a lot less time. Most HIIT sessions are between 5 and 15 minutes.
- Easier – You exercise for less time and on top of that you have low-intensity periods to rest (kinda).
- Better for losing fat – HIIT is better for fat loss than steady-state cardio.
- Improved insulin sensitivity – Insulin resistance is one of the main causes of obesity and type-2 diabetes. Insulin sensitivity (yes, the opposite of insulin resistance) is greatly improved by as low as 7.5 minutes of HIIT per week.
Note: Keep in mind, this is cardio I recommend for your morning routine. Long steady-state cardio might be very useful for winding down and relaxing after a long day.
So, how to do you do HIIT?
How to do High-Intensity Interval Training
The good news is that you can do a HIIT session with just about any exercise. Standard cardio exercises are a better fit than most of the resistance training exercises, but you can pick pretty much anything. Here are some examples:
- Jumping Jacks
- Push Ups
High-Intensity Interval Training consists of two intervals:
- High-intensity interval. You simply give it your all and run, spin, jump as much as you can in this interval of time. The duration can vary between 30 seconds and 90 seconds between programs.
- Low-intensity interval. You actively rest in this period. You can lightly jog, stretch, or just walk around – just don’t sit still to prevent your body from cooling down too much. This period is usually between 1 and 4 minutes long.
Just remember to warm up a bit beforehand.
Here’s a HIIT training to start with:
Tabata Training is a popular form of HIIT. It consists of:
- 8 rounds
- 20 seconds of high-intensity followed by 10 seconds of low-intensity
- 4 minutes in total – 8*(20+10) seconds. If you’re like that, you can skip the last 10-seconds of low-intensity action and get the daily training over in 3 minutes and 50 seconds!
Also, here’s a useful Tabata timer you can use to track your sessions. I use it in the morning to do a session of push-ups or jumping jacks. Wakes you up in a flash!
That’s it. You can find a ton of other workouts on youtube or just make your own.
Stretches in your morning routine
This is a no-brainer. Using your phone for 1 hour a day? 2 hours? How about your tablet or Kindle?
This leads to what is colloquially called Text Neck. Basically, your neck and shoulders are stiff and often in pain.
So, how do you prevent any neck/shoulder pain that your tech can cause you?
Add some of those stretches to your morning routine:
Also, do you happen to sit for hours every day?
To prevent the damage from sitting, you need to focus on stretching your legs. Check this article in the Act of Manliness for a list of 7 great stretches to help with that.
If you really enjoy stretches, I’d suggest visiting a yoga class. It’s a great way to keep your body mobile and relax at the same time.
Showers are best served cold
Have you ever tried bathing with cold water?
Yes, I know, it sucks.
But what if I told you, it’s super healthy?
And burns calories?
And it can even become enjoyable?
Adding cold water to your showers is actually an awesome idea. Here are some of the benefits of cold water:
- Improves circulation
- Relieves depression and reduces anxiety
- Reduces stress and increases your resilience to stress
- Improves your skin and hair health
- Boost your immunity
- Burns Fat
All in all cold is good for you, eh?
So, does the thought of icy water make you want to quit waking up?
It shouldn’t. You can easily add water to your comfy hot shower. Just turn off the hot water for a minute once or twice during your shower.
Cold you just try it already? It’s not that hard.
Have you heard of those weird people who wake up and start their day filled with zest?
You can be one of them!
The good news:
- You don’t need to be a morning person
- Waking up early is optional – wake up early when you have to or want to
Let’s start with the obvious:
Are you getting enough sleep?
Getting enough sleep
87% of people are most likely guilty of not getting enough sleep. Are you one of them?Note: How awesome 87% looks (and feels). Almost as if it was a result of meticulous scientific tests. It’s not – I made it up.
You know you need to sleep just enough. We all do. What happens, though?
If you’re like most people, you don’t sleep enough on workdays and oversleep on the weekend.
Both suck. Not sleeping enough and sleeping too much greatly increase your mortality rate.
Sleeping enough is fine in theory but how much sleep do you actually need?
How much sleep do you need
First, start with 7.5 hours of sleep. I’ll help you personalize that in a bit.
When you’re asleep, your body moves through the different stages of sleep in cycles. One sleep cycle is around 90 minutes long. That’s important because you don’t want to wake up in the middle of a cycle – that’s when you’ll feel the worst. Best time to wake up? Right after a c
Best time to wake up? Right after a complete cycle. Your body does that automagically if you’re not using an alarm to wake up.
For that reason, make sure your sleep duration can be broken down into 90-minute intervals. This will greatly reduce the chances you’ll wake up tired in the middle of your sleep cycle. Of course, 7.5 hours of sleep equals to 5 full cycles.
So, following that rule you can easily come up with the two other durations of sleep I’ll recommend – 6 hours (4 cycles) and 9 hours (6 cycles). Don’t focus on the actual duration though, focus on your energy levels instead.
9 hours of sleep. Here are some reasons you might want to sleep more:
- Genetics and habits. Your body might need more sleep. Undersleeping is extremely draining and you’ll pay dearly for the “bonus hours” you’ll get by sleeping too little by being tired and unproductive.
- Physical activity. If you live an active life, you should consider sleeping longer. If you’re already sleeping 7.5 hours and start actively training, you might need to bump your sleep up to 9 hours. I sleep for 6 just hours on rest days but I go up to 7.5 hours when I do resistance training.
- You’re forgetful. Memory is affected by sleep a great deal. If you feel your memory is slipping away, more sleep might be the solution to that issue.
6 hours of sleep. Here are some reasons you might want to go with less sleep:
- Genetics and habits. Your body might need less sleep. Oversleeping can be as draining as not sleeping enough so don’t force yourself.
- Good sleep environment. Improving the quality of your sleep can reduce the quantity you need. Make your bedroom pitch-black, silent, and a tad chilly to achieve the best conditions. Exactly like a cave (bat-cave)!
- No blue light. Blue light messes your circadian rhythm and throws you off the good-sleep horse. Get rid of it via flux (free for PC/Mac), Night shift (iOS setting), Night mode/Free app (Android), or Blue light blocking glasses
Also, the more regular your sleep regimen is, the better quality of sleep you’ll enjoy. Keep that in mind.
Now, after you’ve picked the duration of your sleep, it’s time to calculate your bedtime. Here’s how:
Wake Up Time – (Sleep Duration + 15 minutes of winding down) = Bedtime[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Move when you go to bed to wake up earlier. Don’t under sleep!”]
Yes, you’ve read that right. You shouldn’t just sleep less when you want to wake up earlier. You need to build the habit of going to bed earlier if you want to raise earlier. Just sleeping less isn’t sustainable long-term.
No snoozing! Put the alarm in the other room.
Don’t even think of clicking that snooze button!
When you hit the snooze button two things happen:
- You fragment your little remaining sleep. You’re unable to enter deep sleep and thus any sleep you’re getting is light and unsatisfying.
- You start a new sleep cycle. Since you don’t have anywhere near 90 minutes of sleep after you snooze, you’re going to interrupt it. Interrupting your new sleep cycle “enhances” the first hour or so of your day with sleep inertia. You’re tired, groggy, edgy, and overall unpleasant. The sad thing is that even coffee and a cold shower can’t fully negate all the nasty effects.
Just don’t. You’re not gaining anything even though your limbic system might claim the opposite at the crucial moment.
So, how do you get out of bed without snoozing?
Here are strategies you can use instead:
- Put your phone in the other room. The walking wakes you up quite a bit. That’s what I’m currently doing.
- Use the 5-second Rule. Count 5-4-3-2-1 in your head and then stand up. It’s an effective starting ritual. I also suggest getting Mel’s book with the same name if you want to learn more applications of the principle.
- Download Alarmy (Sleep if you can). Alarmy is an app that gives you several options on how to turn off your alarm varying from shaking your phone to solving math equations. Guaranteed to wake you up!
- Buy a Clocky clock. This little bugger simply runs away if you snooze it. Literally, jumps down your nightstand and gets you to chase it. Like a digital pet without being nice and fluffy.
Wake up with a purpose
You’re 14 years old. Your dad is taking you fishing for the first time (you have yet to discover how boring fishing is). How excited are you?
Yep, very excited. You can’t wait to go to sleep and wake up 1 full hour before the alarm feeling fresh and ready for that adventure.
Imagine waking up that way every day. You no longer hate waking up, you jump out of bed and get ready for adventure, instead. It would be a cool way to start your day – inspiration instead of coffee.[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Inspiration instead of coffee.”]
Yes, you won’t be able to feel that brilliant every single morning. No person with responsibilities and problems does.
But what about half of your mornings?
Easy. You can even get most of your mornings that awesome.
So, to get there you plant the seeds the evening before. Here’s how:
Wake up with a goal
First, you need something to look forward to. Not something grand, the opposite is actually better – an achievable, even easy, goal will give you momentum for the rest of the day.
What you want though is to make it grand in your mind. See yourself doing it first thing tomorrow. Get excited over finishing that one thing in the morning. Obsess over it.
Should you write down your goal
You’ve probably heard about the Harvard (or Yale) study in which the 3% of students with written goals ended up earning 10 times more money. I’ve read about it in tens of books and I just found out it doesn’t exist.
The good news is that the Psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews found the same thing. Not only he found the study to be inexistent, but he stepped up and done a study on writing down your goals himself (a randomized control trial). Here are the summarized results:
- Writing down your goals increases the chances you’ll do them
- Public commitment further improves your chances
- Accountability combined with the above points you’ll get the most significant results
So, yes writing down your goal for the next day will increase your commitment to it.
Also, sharing this goal with a friend or a loved one will be even more helpful. Don’t be weird though, calling a pal of yours at 2 PM telling him you’re writing a blog post the next morning isn’t something they’d necessarily like (trust me on this one).
Do a bit of the task
Do you know the feeling of being interrupted in the middle of something to get taken away and tend to something urgent? What happens?
You can’t stop thinking about what you were doing, you can’t wait to get back to it and finish the task. It’s impossible to stop thinking about it too – your brain automagically does it.
Here’s how to use that to improve your mornings:
- Pick a task in the evening (write it down for bonus points)
- Start working on that task for 5 to 10 minutes
- Stop working on the task when it gets interesting
This requires a bit of practice (it’s not easy to stop once you’ve started), but can you guess what happens the next morning?
You jump out of bed 30 minutes early excited to finally finish what you’ve started.
Suddenly, coffee is not important, you’re not groggy, and you feel great (as long as you can get to the doing part). How does that look compared to your regular mornings?
Dedicate the mornings to you
If you’re like most people, you’re spending the majority of your time serving others. During the day you serve a company build products or help people and when you get home you serve the people close to you. So, when was the last time you dedicated some time for yourself?
When did you decide to spend a day, hour, or a minute solely for your sake?
No, time spent on Netflix chilling does not count.
You need dedicated time for you tomorrow. Something to make her life a tiny bit better. Your life will get exponentially better if you regularly spend a little time serving tomorrow’s you.[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Your life will get exponentially better if you regularly spend a little time serving tomorrow’s you.”]
What better time to spend on tomorrow’s you than today in the morning?
Other people’s issues can wait
Forget social media and email. Once you get wrapped up in other people’s problems, you’ll have a hard time focusing on yourself. Give yourself at least an hour in the morning (whenever possible, of course) to spend in a social blackout. This will give you the space to think and focus on yourself.[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Forget social media and email in the morning. Other people’s issues will still be there in an hour.”]
Again, don’t wake up with Facebook and don’t write a quick reply to that message/email before getting out of bed. Below you’ll find a myriad of valuable things to do with the precious first minutes of your day.
Make yourself better
The best thing to do with your limited time in the morning?
Learn.[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Be the best, learn more than the rest!”]
You live in the knowledge economy. The more you know, the more you’re worth. You’ll do more impact on a daily basis, help more people, and become better proportional to the amount of knowledge you already have.
But you already know that. So, what better time to increase your worth than in the morning as you start your day. Make the person who you’re today a bit better than the person you were yesterday.[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Make the person who you’re today a bit better than the person you were yesterday.”]
Here are some examples of how you can make yourself better every day:
- Discover new ways you can excel at your job
- Find new strategies to better connect with your family, friends, and colleagues
- Hone an old skill or learn a new one
- Learn new things about the world every day
I’ve gotta be frank, I’m not a big meditator yet. I’ve recently started exploring the process out of pure nerdiness – I’ve read one too many papers on meditation’s benefits.
I learned the initial process in Chris Bailey’s book The Productivity Project. If you’re into listening to educational audiobooks (you should!) or love the smell of books – you can start there.
But wait, you want a quick guide?
Sure, here goes:
- Find a comfortable place to sit and sit up straight
- Run a timer on your phone for 5 minutes. Place your phone in Airplane mode or Do Not Disturb mode and set it face-down nearby. (I recently went to second grade – 10 minutes)
- Notice your breath – feel the air through the whole process of inhaling & exhaling. This is supposed to be a bit boring, don’t look for a hidden meaning, a magical zen state or anything like that.
- When your mind wanders off and starts thinking about all the other super-fun stuff, simply bring your attention back to your breath. This is the part in which you’re directing your attention to something that’s a bit boring and sticking with it (imagine flexing your mental bicep).
- Continue coming back to noticing your breath after your mind wanders until the timer rings
With this, you’re basically training your brain to focus on whatever you want to. The better you get, the easier time you will have focusing on work (which is loads of fun compared to feeling your breath).
That’s it. Yes, it’s simple. Although meditation lacks adrenaline, it has its’ own charm. Give it a shot!
Channel your innate curiosity and passion towards something awesome. Spending just 15 minutes on your favorite project (or hobby) will do several things:
- Make you a tiny bit better than you were yesterday – incremental progress is key to awesomeness
- Any interesting project will get you to learn new skills or develop old ones
- You’ll get invigorated and motivated for the day ahead
- The momentum you’ve built with this easy task (it’s easy to work on your favorite things) will help you tackle hard and complex issues
It’s one thing for me to go to bed thinking “I’m spending the morning getting my car fixed” and another thing to go to sleep thinking “I’m spending the morning working on my blog”. In both cases I’ll end up doing the bit I dislike (I’m bored to tears by anything car related), but with just 15 minutes towards something I love, I can make everything much more enjoyable. Try it out!
Eat that frog!
So, after all those awesome steps, you need a grand finale for your morning. Something so awesome, that makes the challenges of the day easy. The goal is that after that finale, you can go to bed happy with what you’ve done today, but having the rest of the day to do even more.
So, are you ready? I want you to… dramatic pause…
Eat that frog!
Saying that in the title kind of kills the drama, I know.
You’re not eating an actual frog, but what if you have done just that?
The fax isn’t working in the office? That’s not a big deal, Sarah can wait for a few minutes. That’s nothing compared to eating a live frog.
You have a few hours of difficult work? Let’s go, just no more frogs!
The guy in the car in front of you is annoying as hell? While being slightly annoyed, you remember that you’re not eating any more frogs today and that makes you happy again.Note: pick your favorite annoyance – from diving slowly to having a mohawk.
Now, what does that tell you? (Besides “don’t eat frogs” :D)
Perspective is everything. If you set your “difficulty” bar high, everything will pale in comparison. In other words, if you start with a hard task, most of what you have to do will be easier. If you start with the hardest task, everything will be easier.[sharable-quote user=”neverproductiv” hashtags=”neverproductive” tweet=”Perspective is everything.”]
So, how to apply this to your morning routine?
Basically, you’ll “eat a frog” at the end of your morning routine. The frog will be the task on your today’s agenda that you dislike the most. Any task that you’d procrastinate on (even with work) or even put off for the next day is perfect.
Now, picking up the hardest task of the day and doing it doesn’t necessarily need to happen in the morning, but I’ll highly recommend doing it then. Here are a few reasons why that’s a good idea:
- The earlier you finish your “frog”, the more of your today’s items will be easy in comparison.
- If you’re keeping a hard task in your mind for a long period of time, you’ll get mentally drained.
- The momentum from your awesome and productive morning routine will make starting your hardest task much easier.
Yeah. Here’s the action plan:
- Do your awesome morning routine.
- Crush your hardest task of the day.
- Enjoy the rest of your day to its’ fullest extent!
This profound insight comes from Brian Tracy’s book that’s not surprisingly called “Eat That Frog”. While I’m giving you the gist of it, the book contains many more insightful ideas and applications, so I wholeheartedly recommend you to get it!
How your future mornings will look like
You woke up, jumped out of bed without snoozing, and started your day with a few push-ups and cold shower. Now you’re full of energy!
Doesn’t sound like you? Let me add a little detail to the picture:
You woke up to the sound of your alarm. On the scale from 1 to 10, you were motivated at the humble -5. You reach to snooze the damn phone, but it is in the other room. You jumped out of bed and hurried to your phone (you don’t want your kids awake just yet). Now, of course, when you’re standing you don’t feel like going back to sleep, so you turn it off without snoozing.
- You don’t know what to do just yet so you decide to follow my advice to exercise. A few push-ups seem the easiest thing to do at the moment.
- Feeling better about yourself because of the push-ups, you head to the shower.
- You decide to start with some cold water, just to be badass. After shivering for 10 or was it 15 seconds under the cold water you’ve had enough of your cold shower. You turn up the hot water and enjoy your bath. You’re ready to start the day.
- Surprisingly, you’re full of energy!
The first version looks too perfect. You’ll have some of those mornings but more often than not your day will start in a very similar matter to the second version.
Now, the second version might seem “half-assed” and I exaggerated it a bit to make that point, but it is still a great way to start your day. Even by picking the path of least resistance, you’ll be able to end up feeling great if you follow a good strategy.
You might never be a morning person, but you can have awesome morning nevertheless. Yeah, you will be groggy and feel bad for a bit, but you’ll still be able to accomplish a ton.
Now go and seize your mornings!
What’s your favorite way to start the day?