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Morning Routine

A lot of ink has been spilt on the best way to start one's day. Here I offer to pour out more. This is what helps me get up and running.

I've been a productivity junky for some time. A "lifehacker" if you will (I welcome your hate mail). Three and a half months into a new year, I think it's a good time to evaluate the some of my productivity tools and strategies. Among those strategies that I find to be most crucial to my performance throughout the day is the morning routine.

Here's the thing: I'm not a morning person. I've fought the might to force morning habits on myself over the years to no avail. My brain simply needs some time to warm up to its full potential. Perhaps it's because of this that my morning routine is even more important. How I spend the early (relatively speaking) sets the pace for my brain's settling into what needs to be done for the day.

Like many things, this routine is a work in progress. I'll do my best to keep this post up-to-date as I refine my tactics and strategies.

Step 1: Going to sleep

First things first: I try to keep my bedtime and wake-up time somewhat consistent. Sometimes life finds a way to disrupt that, but it's helpful if I can keep my body on a consistent internal schedule. Before I can have a solid morning, I need to make sure I have a good night's sleep. Some lifehacker gurus thrive on four hours of rest and somehow manage to operate at full capacity day in and day out. I, unfortunately, was not blessed with this superhuman ability. I do well with around seven to seven and a half.

Since I often feel most creative and productive in the evening, I like to stay up late to get personal things (and sometimes work things) knocked off my to-do list. I am typically in bed by 11 or 11:30. Pushing it later than midnight means I'll either lose precious sleep or I'll rush myself into work the next morning, and either way I'll end up skipping out on key steps in my routine the next day.

Time Investment: 7-7 1/2 hours

Step 2: Waking up

I set my alarm to 6:30am and get out of bed promptly (most days). I do struggle with insomnia depending on my general level of stress or anxiety, so this doesn't always go according to plan. So if sleep meds are involved, I may be a bit more sluggish than I'd like.

Time Investment: 2-10 minutes

Step 3: Move

I'll repeat: I'm not a morning person. The quickest way to get me jolted right out of the bat is a little physical activity. I don't typically do a full-on exercise routine in the morning, but I will knock out a set of pushups first-thing to get me moving. One of my goals for 2019 has been 100 pushups every day, and I like to get through at least half of those in the morning to get my blood flowing. If it's a weekend or off-day, I may decide to extend my move phase and go on a run. But for a normal workday, pushups are enough to get me ready to go.

Time Investment: 1-2 minutes

Step 4: Shower and shave

9 days out of 10, this is just showering. I keep a beard and work remotely almost entirely so I can skip shaving as much as possible. But since no one likes a neckbeard, I do try to keep that in check when needed.

That said, a nice warm shower shouldn't need much of a sales job. This is the step that makes every succeeding step move much more quickly than they would without it. Never skip the morning shower.

Time Investment: 10-20 minutes

Step 5: Write

Daily journaling has become an important part of my day-to-day, albeit begrudgingly. My mind moves a lot, but putting those thoughts into coherent sentences is often a struggle. Forcing the habit in the form of journaling (rather than blogging) has been helpful. Primarily because I care less if the writing is decipherable to anyone other than myself.

My main reason for writing (I do this twice daily, but we'll focus on morning writing here) is to capture my thoughts in the moment so I can return to them later when my thoughts and memories may have changed. My daily goals derive in part from my morning writing. If I'm thinking about something after I wake up, chances are that it may be important enough to capture and turn into an actionable goal later on.

Secondarily, but still important: writing does for the brain what pushups do for the body. Journaling is my morning mind workout. Not too intense, but just enough to jog my thoughts and set myself up to tackle more challenging mental exercises that will come my way.

Time Investment: 10-12 minutes

Step 6: Breakfast

This step is probably the first to get skipped if I'm in a rush. But if I'm intentional and manage my time properly, taking the time to cook breakfast provides a few benefits.

First off, I don't meditate. Just like waking up at 4am, meditation is one of those tactics everyone in the productivity game seems to swear by. I myself have never found the practice helpful. That being said, I do get similar benefits when I cook breakfast. I make one of two meals [almost] every morning (eggs, toast, and smoked turkey sausage, or occasionally a fruit smoothie with Greek yogurt). Throw in a cup of cold brew coffee, and that's pretty much it. I don't have to think about much while I prepare it, but it forces me to think just enough to maintain a sense of presence in what I'm doing. It forces my mind to slow down and focus on the task at hand, which brings me the same sense of calmness I assume others get from five minutes on Headspace.

I'm also useless when I'm hungry. So breakfast helps.

Time Investment: 10-20 minutes (preparing + eating)

Step 7: Cleanup

I hate having a messy space, and I hate dedicating an entire day (or even several hours) to cleaning. Dedicating just a few minutes each morning to cleaning the house goes a long way for me. Make the bed, take clothes to the laundry, put away dishes, and clean up my desk. It takes very little time, yet somehow provides a world of peace.

Time Investment: 5-10 minutes

Step 8: Hygiene

Brush and floss, kids. I don't think I need to explain why this is important. Y'all take care of your gross selves.

Time Investment: 3-5 minutes

Step 9: Set daily priorities

The only way I know whether or not I'm being productive is if I know what I'm trying to produce throughout the day. If I don't have a daily list of priorities my day feels aimless, and I usually end up spending time on less important tasks.

Daily priorities always follow larger priorities and goals. That said, things come up and we can easily find ourselves distracted or off-task throughout the day. It's important to leave space in your day for these distractions, but not too much. You need to find the means and will to push back on or delegate one-off tasks as much as possible--especially if they serve little function towards other goals you've established.

Time Investment: 5-8 minutes

So that's it. All in (minus the previous night's sleep), that's roughly an hour to an hour and a half that I need for myself before starting each day.

Everyone is different, and has different circumstances and priorities (I'm childless and have no commute most days, both which make a world of difference). As such, please do not take this as some sort of productivity gospel. Ultimately you have to do what works for you and adapt to reality where necessary. What's most important is to experiment and find a routine that fits your life and impacts your days, weeks, months and years for the better.