how to have a productive day

How to have a productive morning – 7 steps to start the day right, not earlier

I’ve never been a morning person, I’m still not. For years I’ve been wondering how to have a productive morning and for the longest time I tried forcing myself to become an early riser. Then I finally realized it’s really not about WHEN you wake up, but rather HOW you wake up.

Over the course of the years I’ve been trying, testing and failing at so many perfect morning routine attempts that I’ve lost count, but I also found a few that really work for me. Here I share the top lessons I’ve learned from my extensive research on how to be productive in the morning and years of trial and error.


How to have a productive morning?

As cliche as it might sound, a good morning routine can really set you up for success and ensure you have a great morning and enjoyable day. So how can you have a productive morning? The main things you have to do to ensure you have a productive morning are: get enough sleep, know your why & your goals, avoid distractions, have a solid morning routine and plan your day in alignment with your goals the night before.

morning and night routine

1. Know your why

There is a big difference between being busy and being productive and it is important you distinguish between the two. Productive work is what gets you closer to achieving your goals. Busy work is what you fill your schedule with in attempt to feel productive but doesn’t move you any closer to you goals. In fact, busy work is often how we procrastinate what really matters.

Knowing your why and having clear goals will set you up for success and dictate how to be more productive not just in the morning but always. Goals that excite you are the biggest motivators and will greatly boost your productivity. Being clear on your why, your goals and your priorities will ensure you have a productive day – every day.


2. Prep the day before

The best morning routine for success is the one that starts the day before. Planning your day ahead of time and prepping for it the day before will not only save you time in the morning but also minimize decision fatigue leaving more brain juice for the tasks that matter. On top of that we’re all wired in a way that puts a lot of hope into that magic day called ‘Tomorrow’ and are more likely to make good, healthy and productive choices when we plan the day the night before. Make this part of your night routine.

While still having to clock in at the office I used to be the queen of prepping it all out the night before. I got my clothes laid out, lunch packed, I prepped everything for breakfast and even got my coffee percolator set up so all I had to do in the morning was to turn on the stove. It took me less than 15 minutes from the bed to the car, but my mornings never felt rushed! These 15 minutes were enough to hydrate, stretch, get centered, get dressed & get ready. I grabbed my coffee and breakfast to go, exchanged a few jokes with my flatmate and I was ready to hit the office where a carefully planned to-do list waited for me to thick it all off.

Make a to-do list

At the end of your work day you know best what needs to happen next so jot that down. Make sure to include also include personal to-dos, errands and appointments.

Set priorities for the day

Defining priorities is what sets highly productive people apart. What is the one action that you can take which will make the biggest difference in getting you closer to your goal? This should be your priority.

Create a schedule

To-do lists work well for some but I prefer to create an actual schedule for better time management. Blocking out time for each tasks allows me to get a visual overview of my day, ensures I actually have enough time to do it all and helps me batch similar tasks together. Having a clear morning schedule ensures I know exactly what to do in the morning.

Tidy up your environment

Visual clutter and a messy environment have a much bigger effect on us than we care to admit, and not in a good way. Tiding up your workspace only takes a few minutes but can make a world of difference to your focus and motivation and will set you up for a productive day. Same goes for your home – your mornings will be much smoother when you can’t trip over a pile of shoes or toys and you have a clean cup to drink your coffee from.

I like to clean up my desk and my computer at the end of every work day. It’s as simple as putting away any papers and pens scattered on my desk, save all files and close all apps. A couple of times a week I’ll also wipe any dust, clean the screen and clean up my desktop. It takes no time at all and it gives me clean uncluttered, distraction-free workspace to get back to the next day.

Set up your cues

A lot of our actions are automatic. We see cake, we eat it. We see our phone, we use it to scroll through social media … When you’re trying to adopt new habits, or even just have a productive and streamlined morning, cues are insanely important! By setting up the right cues which trigger the good habits we want and hiding/removing the cues that trigger bad habits your mornings will be completely transformed.

A small trick that can work miracles is opening the file or app you need for your top priority before leaving your computer for the day. That way it’s there, waiting for you front & center when you turn on the computer the next morning. This is your cue to start working on it and you don’t run the risk of getting distracted by any other apps or websites you might have left open. I’ve been doing this for a while now and it’s made such a difference!

Similarly you could lie out your running shoes as a cue to exercise, have a big glass (and nothing else) waiting for you on the kitchen counter to remind you to hydrate or even set up a ‘go to bed’ alarm if you struggle to go to bed in time.

Get your outfit ready & prep what you need

I’ll talk about decision fatigue in another article but for now let’s just all agree that every decision and small action you take the night before is a decision or small action you don’t have to take the next morning. This not only frees up time but also brain power.

Try prepping some stuff the night before to optimize those precious minutes in the morning and save your brain juice for the important tasks. Lie out your clothes before hitting the hay or even lie out your yoga mat the night before if that’s the cue you need to get in the habit of exercising in the morning. If you usually take your own lunch with you to work make sure to get it all ready the night before. You could opt to prep some overnight oats for breakfast or at least put out the coffee and your water glass on the counter.


How to have a productive morning

3. Get enough sleep

In a society where hustling is the buzz word and there seems to be an unofficial competition on who gets more done on the least sleep, we tend to forget that actually getting enough sleep could make getting things done a lot easier. We all have 24h hours in a day and we’re all trying to make the most of them but sleep deprivation can cause all sorts of medical issues including mental illness, it increases the likelihood of committing errors and even causes accidents.

An adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep each and every night. Sleep gives your body a chance to heal and rest, build muscle, create new connections in the brain (yeah, it actually makes you smarter!), sort and store memories and all that stuff you probably never paid much attention to. While your consciousness is asleep, the rest of your body is working hard, really hard. So give it enough time to do its job.

While I’m fine with the occasional 7-hour (or less) night, I find that I function best when I get about 8.5 hours of sleep consistently. It might take you a little bit of trial and error but finding that sweet spot between sleep deprivation and oversleeping (also called a good night’s rest) will do miracles for your productivity, mood and overall happiness.


4. Don’t snooze

‘Just a little bit longer’ you think to yourself as you hit the snooze button and roll over. The bed is warm and cosy and it just doesn’t want you to leave. The blanket wraps you in snug and you drift back into that sleepy state … It’s a soft, warm and comfortable heaven you never want to leave.

Your body gets a bit confused, but hey sleep is great! So your brain gives in and starts releasing sleep hormones again, you get back into REM and then BANG! The alarm goes off again and it feels like you just fell off the 6th floor and then the building collapsed on top of you. You get up groggy and feeling like shit, and it can take you hours to recover. By snoozing the extra few minutes you are not getting any quality sleep and you’re messing with your body’s internal clock which could lead to insomnia and more health issues.

Getting up when the alarm goes off is so much easier when you’re actually getting enough sleep. If you often feel like snoozing, you should probably reconsider your sleeping habits and go to bed earlier (if you’re a lark), or just set the alarm a little bit later (for the owls like me). Find the right time to set the alarm for and then actually get up when the alarm goes off for the first time.


How to have a productive morning - 7 steps to start the day right, not earlier How to have a productive morning

5. Design a productive morning routine that works for you

You probably heard of the 5AM club and how making the bed first thing in the morning increases productivity and does so many other amazing things to your brain. You’ve also noticed that journaling, meditation and all that fuzz is part usually part of daily routines of successful people. On top of that you’ve been told to start the day with a glass of water and make exercise your morning habit, oh and to have 30g of protein within 30 minutes of waking up.

There seems to be a trend with fancy and complicated morning routines of successful people that take forever, make you drink vinegar, celery juice and green smoothies, work out for an hour, meditate for another hour … and by the time you’re done with it it’s almost lunch time, you haven’t gotten any closer to your goals and you find yourself hungry, tired, possibly with diarrhea and definitely ready for a nap.

If you’ve tried doing all that and if you’re anything like me you soon felt like your morning routine turned into a part time job that started waaay too early in the day, like in the middle of the night kind of early.

Keep it simple

The internet seems to tell you that you need a long and elaborate morning routine and I am here to tell you that you need a morning routine that works for you. I firmly believe that in design (wether you’re designing a routine, a logo, your life or redecorating your house), less is more. Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said that perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away, and boy was he right!

Save your energy for the tasks that matter and keep you moving forward rather than spending it all at 5AM to go through an elaborate morning routine some celebrity entrepreneur designed. What works for them might not work for you and that’s alright. If you’re a night owl there is no point in trying to fit your whole life in before 8 AM.

Hydrate

How good does that first sip of water feel when you wake up?! Your body gets dehydrated during the night so it’s important to refill those liquids when you wake up. A glass of water really is the best way to start your morning. It might be tempting to do so by grabbing a cup of coffee, but high intake of caffeine will do the opposite as it has a diuretic effect.

I start my daily morning ritual with a glass of lemon and ginger water which is packed with vitamins and minerals. There seems to be a trend that glorifies the benefits of lemon/ginger water which range from weight loss to clear skin and even cancer prevention. I can not speak to that but I did notice I got sick less since I added this little immunity booster to my mornings.

Exercise

You’ve been lying down for about 8 hours so give your body a good stretch and get that blood flowing again. This really doesn’t have to be a massive run or heavy lifting at the gym.

If you like doing a proper workout in the morning then go ahead but it only takes a few minutes to feel the benefits. A few gentle stretches, some push ups or short yoga practice will do the job just fine. If you like to keep things simple you could opt to bike to work instead of driving.

I usually do a short yoga practice before my morning coffee. Some days I’ll add a few sit ups or push ups and most days I’ll end it with a handstand which really does the trick in getting blood to my brain and waking me up.

Get centered

It’s important to start your day intentionally and take control of it before it takes control of us. Don’t let the stress take over! Taking time to get centered and intentional is one of the most productive things to do in the morning

Again, this can be as elaborate and long or as short and simple as you need it to be. You could do some journaling, write affirmations, do a gratefulness exercise, jot down what you dreamed the night before, or you could just take a few deep conscious breaths before you drink your morning coffee.

If you like to meditate for an hour every morning kudos to you, I know I struggle to keep still more than 5 minutes and need to get to work early on in the day. These days I opt to start the day with a few deep breaths, use my yoga practice to get centered and I enjoy my coffee mindfully and when possible in the sun. Simple but effective.

Eat a healthy breakfast

A nourishing breakfast is part of any and all healthy morning routines. Your body has been fasting all night so take this opportunity to give it the nutrients it needs to get back into motion.

If you practice intermittent fasting or just don’t enjoy breakfast first thing in the morning that’s fine, but make sure to start the day with a glass of water or an unsweetened caffeine free drink. Then, when your tummy starts rumbling, give it something healthy and nourishing to fuel your body with.


best morning routines

6. Avoid distractions

The whole point of getting a good night sleep and getting centered is so that we can keep our focus on the things that matter and be intentional about our day. If we let the notifications roll in freely from the moment we wake up … well, that defeats the purpose.

I’ve definitely watched too many Instagram stories before even getting out of bed and hated myself for it every single time. Now I try to keep my data and Wi-Fi off on my phone until my first break. Avoiding news, emails and notifications really helps me focus and get stuff done.

Stay off of social media

Scrolling through Instagram seems to be the go to mindless action we all opt for whenever we have a few free minutes, get bored or tired. While there is a lot of good to be said about social media, I think we can all agree that it can also be a massive time sucker and a gigantic distraction.

If keeping your data off in the mornings doesn’t work for you, consider deleting the disruptive apps every evening. If you have to install Instagram before scrolling, this extra step might just be the friction you need to skip it all together.

Don’t check your email

Let’s face it, not checking your emails is hard. What if there’s an emergency? But the truth is that there rarely is an emergency and when there is one you usually get a call. By checking your emails first thing in the morning you give away control and allow others dictate your schedule.

Emails are a massive distraction taking you away from your priority and often they ask you to do something that helps others achieve their priorities. While I’m all for helping each other out, I also believe we should be protective of our own time and prioritize what moves the needle forward. If you train yourself not to check your email until X o’clock, your colleagues will usually learn to wait and you’ll be a lot more inclined to help others out when you know you’ve already done your big task for the day.

Don’t multitask

Our brains are not designed to focus on two things at the same time and when we’re multitasking we’re actually just switching focus form one task to the other very quickly effectively making one task a distraction from the other and vice versa. Most of the time focusing on one task at the time and focusing completely will help you finish it faster and better than trying to do everything all at once. Being laser focused is the best way to be productive.


7. Focus on your priority

As already discussed, becoming more productive is tied to your goals. Focusing on your top priority first will get you in a productive mindset and is the best way to start a productive day. Remember this – a productive person doesn’t necessarily get a lot done, but it does get the right things done. Start your day on this note and it will change your life.

Read next: How to get shit done


BONUS: Make the most of your commute

Your daily commute can sometimes feel like a waste of time but it doesn’t have to be! Find a way to make the most of it by using it for some good morning habits like exercise, mindfulness, learning or calling your friends and family.

If possible, ride your bike to work. This way you’ll be getting some exercise in as well as minimize your impact on the environment. If you commute by public transport you could take this time to practice mindfulness and center yourself. Meditating on the train might prove challenging, but you could do some journaling or practice gratefulness. Otherwise, read a book. If you have to drive skip the trashy radio and listen to your favorite podcast or put an audio book on.


Check in with yourself and show yourself some compassion

Finding the best morning routine for you can take some trial and error. You need to find the right balance between persisting until it clicks in place and moving on to something that works for you and not against you. It takes a lot of checking in with yourself and really listening to yourself and your body rather than brute forcing it.

Be patient and you will find your perfect and most effective daily routine with time.

We all have 24 hours in the day and it’s up to us to decide how we allocate them. As long as your morning routine includes the principles above I’m sure you’ll be setting yourself up for success. It doesn’t matter if it takes you 15 minutes or 3 hours to get through it.

What works for me might not work for you, and that’s alright.

I’ve noticed that starting my mornings slow with meditation or journaling made me lose momentum and I ended up being lazy for the rest of the day. Since working from home I’ve managed to extend my morning routine without having to wake up earlier (win!), but I kept it relatively simple and short because that’s what works for me.

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