The problem with the “morning routine”

The morning routine is one of the great topics that a productivity blogger loves to post about. We want to see what other people do, we want to hear a simple, step by step to become the next big thing. It’s been a thing for a good long while now, Ben Franklin said “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” That might be not the first case, but it is certainly the most notable.

While there is sure to be some science in there regarding our circadian rhythms, or some psychology about routine, there is also a lot of subjective data points. The biggest sticking point, of course, is that some people aren’t morning people.

I’ll regularly catch myself frustrated with these recommendations as the bloggers posting them seem to indicate there is one only one way, and this is it. I get it, to get people paying attention you have to make some absolute claims. Nobody wants to read “what if you do this” type posts as they are little more than thought exercises. But there is some benefit to letting people figure this stuff out on their own.

I’ll throw my hat into the ring. I tend to go to bed around 10, but spend at least an hour reading before I roll over to sleep. I wake with the sun, so in the summer I’m often up before 6 and in the winter I’m sleeping past 7. I don’t punch a clock, so if I get to work at 8 or i get to work at 9:30 I’m fine. I’ll admit I’m lucky in that regard. The question is how do I spend my mornings? I agree with the idea of routines, removing micro decisions. For breakfast I do “butter coffee” which keeps me from being tired or getting caffeine jitters easily until 12-1 pm. I take care of the pets… but at present, thats the extent of my routine. I would like to write more, but some days I don’t know if that’s what I want to be when I grow up. I’d like to design more, working out solutions to problems in my workshop, or with my house. I also play games, video games. It’s been a while since I mindfully sat down to meditate, or do yoga. Both things I know I should do. I’m horrible about stopping my distractions to do my good things.

So there you have it, worst productivity guide ever. I like to think I’m not abnormal in this regard, but I know nobody aspires to my “mess around until I have to be busy” routine. But there is a lesson to learn in it. Some days I’m happy for this luxury. Some days I’m happy to have the option and freedom to not be 100% productive. Some days I’m able to catch myself and point out that whether I’ve just launched a million dollar idea or I just spent the last 15 minutes on the floor petting and loving on my dog, happiness is there. I don’t have to be rich or uber productive to be happy. But there are other days…

Other days, I am disappointed with how much time I spent browsing Reddit and Imgur. Other days I go to bed with little filling my mind of what I did that day and I’m frustrated that my biggest memory of the day is waking up. Other days I wish I was actively improving the world. Other days I wish I had just done these things in the morning to be more productive or to accomplish things.

I don’t like the other days where I’m disatisfied with my life. (Why would I?) But the beat of the world has good and bad days. I try to look at the “bad days” with an eye to what made them bad, or what made the “good days” good. I don’lt think my lazy good days are sustainable… at some point I’m bored by that standardness and I want to do more with myself. The lessons I take from both days are these, and they feed to my original comment about “best morning routines.” I feel the best on days where I feel like I did accomplish something. I feel pretty awesome right now for actually changing browser tabs and creating. I feel great that the past 2 days were spent in my workshop working on a loft bed for my son. I feel great that I have a workshop in a yard big enough for my dogs to have zoomies with minimal restriction.

For a morning routine, I say this.

  • Sleep as much as you comfortably can, try to live without an alarm clock if you can.
  • Be mindful when you can, if you have time to meditate, do that, othewise just try to be present as you do your standard tasks. Appreciate the smell of your coffee or the taste of your yogurt.
  • Exercise or stretch as your body allows. I go bouldering 2-3 times a week and go on 2-3 mile walks 3-4 times a week. These happen later in my day. If I can, yoga or weight lifting feel best in the morning.
  • Journal or drop notes as you feel inclined. I think a daily journal is idea, but if you just do it a couple of times a week it still feels good to just think about your life. Try to be thankful for your good stuff.
  • Plan what you can, when you can, the way you can. I find that just starting my day in an “organized” fashion sets me in the right state of mind for the rest of my day. I don’t plot every event, but I try to allow that I want to accomplish certain things. For me, it feels better to think about what I want to do tomorrow as I’m lying in bed. Often my sleep time gives me ideas.
  • Eat healthfully and mindfully. This one, I do encourage eating as healthy as you can… but that means different things to different people. As I’ve gotten older, I don’t burn calories so readily, so I’m “intermittent fasting” to get my metabolism doing it’s thing. I like bacon and eggs. My suggestion for “healthy food” is as little processing as possible. Eat as close to raw as possible, or at least try to eat things that didn’t have to go through too many processes to make them last longer. If the thing you ate was alive a week ago then you’re in great shape.

For me, my goal is shaping up to performing some routines in the morning every morning just so I don’t have to think “what will I do today” but keep them loose enough that I’m still able to move slowly. I won’t be getting up earlier (though I might try going to bed later.) I’ll aspire to define 3 things that will make me feel like my day was a good one each day. (I like 3, it’s a simple enough number that I can create a list without getting caught in the details.) I’ll push to spend at least 15 minutes each day jotting down thoughts, digitally or analog, to at least “groom” my mind for more organized things later.

We each have our own goals, we each want to accomplish our dreams, we each feel we’re unique and special. If this is the case, why spend that time trying to live other people’s life? Set yourself up for success by loving yourself first, then start your day (at whatever time) enjoying being yourself. Pursue your happiness first, see if you can let that bubble out into making others happy second, and finally if you make some money then that’s just icing on the cake.

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