I have a weird fascination with morning routines. I’m obsessively interested in how everyone and anyone spends their waking hours and what works for them. It has always amazed me how varied routines are and how utterly different the things that people need to begin their day well really are. (I’m also obsessed with people’s work or studio spaces as well as their creative processes…I can’t resist any reference to them!)
There is a lot of advice out there about productivity and morning routines and I think just about everyone is now familiar with Tim Ferris’s famous “win the morning, win the day” quote.
While I suppose I’d like to “win” the day as much as the next person, I find myself less interested in the purely “productive” aspects of people’s routines and more interested in how their routines impact things like how they feel about their days, their work, their creativity.
My mornings drastically impact my days and while I can technically be “productive” regardless of how my mornings go (let’s face it, as a small business owner, there is a never-shrinking list of “tasky” things that can always use some attention from me, and that don’t always require much in the tank to get through them), if I’m going to write or do creative work that stretches me, there are definitely some mornings that set me up better than others.
My mornings are also where I cultivate a few key habits that help me manage my curiosity. I know that might sound odd given that I hold curiosity to be a highly valued trait, but let’s face it- unmanaged curiosity can look a whole lot like A.D.D. with a big ol’ pile of half-baked ideas and never finished projects. (Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything, *cough*cough*).
Just in case you share my fascination and want to know what I’ve found to be my own set of most effective routines, here are a few things that I’ve found make up my ideal morning (note the word ideal…this is not every morning and most are some combination of these things, not all of them…):
Early wake up. I never want to get up early (ever!), but I always love being up early, so I try to do this most days.
In an ideal world, I’m up and out of bed at 5am. It doesn’t always work that way. Days that Justin works, he’s up at 5:45 and I kind of feel like an asshole to have my alarm go off 45 minutes before his and disrupt that final bit of sleep before he needs to go save lives and stamp out disease. Especially because I have a hard time not snoozing. But 5-ish is my perfect wake up time to have the morning I really want to have.
Things that make getting up early easier:
Go to bed on time. Duh? But a 5am alarm means a 9pm bedtime, which can seriously sneak up on me. It means winding toward bed and doing betimey things around 8:30, which comes up fast, especially on days that Justin works and doesn’t get home until 7:30 or 8pm. But it makes a difference and is key to to early mornings.
Coffee coffee coffee. In that ideal world we’re inhabiting, this looks like a coffee pot set up with a timer the night before so that I wake up to a hot cuppa waiting for me. Yes and yaaaaas. (I don’t want to hear a peep from any coffee purists out there about the quality of coffee from a coffee pot…I don’t care. Whatever quality is lost in the process is more than made up for by it being hot and ready to go into my mug the moment I wake up. Oh, and there being a whole pot of it…as in multiple cups without any additional effort on my part. Long live the coffee pot.) When we live in Kippee and there is no coffee pot, this looks like a set up electric tea kettle and our Aeropress and a lot more patience on my part. But nothing happens in my morning until coffee does. For you non-coffee people in the world, well, I’m just not entirely sure that you are of this planet and I’m not sure how to speak to you, so you’re on your own for this one.
Know what I’m going to do first and where I’m going to do it. If I don’t know why I’m getting up, there’s no way I’m leaving my cozy bed at 5am. I have to have a reason- a clear one- and I need to do it a place that is appealing. If I want to write first thing in the morning, the prospect of sitting at my cold desk isn’t going to pull me out from under those covers. I need a cozy chair or sofa or to plan on climbing back in bed to do it. In the summer, a place to sit outside works. But it has to be intentional and it has to be appealing or I’m definitely going to cave into the urge to check out another snooze button dream.
Meditate. Sometimes it’s 5 minutes, sometimes it’s much longer, but meditation is a priority in my mornings and makes a world of difference to how I move through my day (week, month, life…).
When I have a good place for it, it’s nice to make more of a ritual out of it. One of my favorite things is to simply light a candle where I’m planning to sit and say, “With this light, I greet this day” and let it burn while I sit before blowing it out and moving on with my day. Sometimes it’s all I can manage to simply plop down wherever and sit with focus for 5 minutes (though I often find that when I sit for 5, I realize that I really can spare 5 more and end up sitting for 10, which works better for me generally). If you are feeling all eye-rolly at the idea of meditation, read this and just give it a try for a week and see if it makes any difference. It’s so simple and makes such a huge impact.
Read. I love to read and have realized over the years that there are different books that work at different times for me.
I always read when I go to bed, and those books tend to be my “brain candy” (young adult zombie apocalypse novels, anyone???) on my Kindle. I love that kind of reading and wouldn't give it up, but mornings are for the good stuff.
Mornings are for the reading I want to be awake and engaged for and often (but not always) I get to do this with a “real” (a.k.a. actual paper) book. Sometimes it’s learning and growth (writing books or books on creativity or living your best life or meditation technique or spiritual practices) and sometimes it’s just well-written work that I want to really soak in without dozing off (I’m reading Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams right now and it is so, so, so beautifully and powerfully written). My morning reading tends to be a mere chapter most days, somewhere around 10-15 minutes, but it often leaves me with ideas I roll around in the back of my head all day and a good dose of inspiration to motivate me to keep moving forward in my life and work.
Write. Mornings are, hands down, my best writing time.
I’ve kept a journal more or less continuously since the summer before 9th grade and the majority of my journaling in recent years has happened in the morning. I don’t follow any structure to my journaling (though I’m always inspired by Julia Cameron’s ever-popular morning pages method) and there have definitely been periods where my journals have been nothing but self-indulgent drivel. But at other times I’ve had big ol’ breakthroughs or worked through a difficult period or simply marked time in a way that has been meaningful and helped me feel connected to the time and place where I was in that moment. Over these last years of traveling and moving every three months, my journaling has been a key piece of how I rooted myself when we landed in a new place. Pulling Tessie up in bed with me, pouring a steaming mug of coffee, and simply describing and capturing my surroundings, helped me feel grounded in the new place. The mornings I journal are where I feel her absence most acutely these days.
Aside from journaling, though, mornings are when I draft these blog posts, when I work on articles or stories or other pieces of writing that may never see the light of day. The words come most easily to me first thing, in the quiet before I feel the pull of obligations or other people and their needs or expectations. Mornings feel spacious to me, with room for everything I want to say and don’t yet know how to voice, room for me to learn and practice without judgment.
Move.Okay, I admit that I am pretty bad about this, but I’m working on it and have finally found a way that works.
Over the years, I’ve committed time and again to going to early vigorous yoga classes or for a run or getting a workout in first thing. It makes so much sense, I know! But here’s the thing. I get real mad about strenuous activity before I’ve had time to be quiet in the mornings and it will throw me off for the rest of the day (despite the smugness I also feel about having done it ). Summers are easier- getting out for a trail run in the morning woods is a gift in itself, and that makes it work, but I have been known to get downright rage-y going to 5:30am yoga in 10*F (and I love winter) and the pissiness can be hard to shake off for the rest of my day.
I’ve realized that morning movement is more accessible to me if I either limit it to 15 minutes or so of yin or a slow gentle flow yoga or I wait until I’ve done my quiet things first (meditated, drank some coffee, read/wrote/, etc). I’ve noticed that I’m at my most creative in the mornings and I almost always lag in the afternoons, so waiting to exercise until the afternoon often gives me the time I need to do good work in the mornings and also revive me in the afternoons (there is nothing like a trail run to spark ideas for me).
Alrighty…this post has turned into a monster, but leave me a comment and tell me what YOUR mornings look like- what works for you and what doesn’t? I’m so curious!
**P.S. If you’re curious, here are a few people who have shared their interesting takes on mornings and morning routines: