I’ve tried again and again and again to figure out the best way to start my days — to find that mystical perfect morning routine. Should I exercise? Read? Write? Do something else? And what about meditation and all that other crap the ‘gurus’ (ugh) tell you to do?
I got a little obsessed for a while. Mostly because I was frustrated I couldn’t figure it out. And then, slowly, I realised — there is no perfect morning routine. And, actually, I wouldn’t want there to be — because I like variety in my days, and because I’m a rebellious soul who battles against doing things she doesn’t want to do.
Having said all that, over these past few weeks, almost without trying, I seem to have developed some sort of stable routine. I follow it most days with very little effort. Wasn’t expecting that. Even more unexpectedly, I enjoy this routine and it naturally leads me to have good, productive days. I’ll share the biggest lessons I’ve learned that got me to this point shortly, but first here’s what my mornings look like right now:
My Current Morning Routine
Waking Up (and Not Doing Anything)
I wake up somewhere between 7.45am and 9.45am. This is pretty much guaranteed. If I wake up in the middle of the night for a couple of hours, I stay in bed later. I rarely get less than 8 hours sleep (and will flat refuse to get out of bed on less than 7 hours), and almost always sleep straight through the night.
I lie in bed for a few minutes, waking up. No phone, no Kindle, no laptop. Just me in my bed. Like everyone, I used to sleep with my phone next to me, but I haven’t done so for about a year. It felt weird at first. It made me almost anxious (and I don’t do anxious). I mean, what if I wanted to check something? What if I immediately needed to know what I had seen Mr Wickham from Pride and Prejudice in before? (DUH, it’s Quinn from Homeland. Sexy, sexy Quinn.) And what if a really exciting email came in overnight (hahaha, right), and how many people have commented on my Facebook post, and do I have any notifications on Twitter?
Now, I relish keeping that time just for me. Everyone else can fuck off. I have rediscovered the joy of lying in bed, doing nothing else except waking up. It is marvellous. It’s peaceful and serene. I’ll stretch myself out and curl up in a ball again. I’ll stretch some more and yawn a bit. My mind will slowly stir and start mulling over the day ahead. After 10 or 15 minutes, I’m ready. Plus, I really need to pee. I sit up, swing my legs round and plant my feet on the floor. I drink the glass of water I’d put on my nightstand the evening before. I slip into my slippers (I just realised why they’re called that) and wander to the bathroom. Then I go downstairs and put the kettle on. Up to this point, this is pretty much how all my mornings go. Wake up, drink water, pee, make tea.
Now here is where things start to diverge. If I’m still feeling a bit groggy and not-entirely-woken-up, I will return to my bedroom, tea in hand. I will part my curtains, open my window, and just stand and breathe in the fresh air and get the sunlight on my face. I drink my tea. I listen to the birds sing. I watch the squirrels being hilarious little bastards. It’s nice. If it’s pissing down with rain (hey, I’m in Scotland) I still do this, because what’s better than the sound of rain thumping on the ground?
In the past, I’d stare into the bright light of my phone to wake me up, while the rest of me was still shrouded in the dark, stagnant air of my bedroom. Fresh air and sunlight is a much better way. Nothing like nature to make you feel awake and alert!
Journalling and Planning
If I already feel awake, I go straight to my desk. There, I journal for a few pages. Each side takes about 10 minutes, and I usually do between one and three. Then I turn to a double-page spread and title the left side ‘TO-DO’ and the right side ‘BULLET JOURNAL’ (no, it’s not the same as the bullet journals you’ve heard of; ‘bulletpoint journal’ would be more accurate but that takes longer to write, and fuck it, it’s my journal).
I return to both of these pages throughout the day, ticking things off my to-do list and adding bulletpoint notes of how I’m spending my time. Beginning both of these pages so early in the day makes me feel calm and in control. On the next page, I might start a ‘NOTES’ section, but I don’t do this straightaway. I only do it when I decide there is something I want to note down.
Reading and Showering (Not At the Same Time, No)
And now, another divergence. At this point, several things factor into my decision about what to do next: Do I feel gross from being in my PJs too long? Do I have a lot of work to do today? How hungry am I? Depending on my answers, I will either make another cup of tea, sit in my armchair and read for a while (this is when my Notes page often begins), or I will take a shower and get dressed, ready to tackle the shit out of my day.
Then: BREAKFAST. I might listen to some music as I cook and eat, but I often don’t. Silence is nice in the mornings. But so is singing and dancing, which I am guaranteed to do if I listen to music while cooking. I don’t wash my dishes after this meal. I only eat two meals a day, and I have enough dishes to last me those meals without washing anything. So I wash all my dishes in the evening. Washing your dishes twice a day if you don’t have to is just a waste of time.
Starting the Day
From this point on, the rest of my day is free to take in whatever direction I want. Often, I will head to my co-working office. Sometimes I’ll stop in a coffee shop first to get some writing done (I don’t like writing in my office, which is ironic, because that is where I am writing this — but when inspiration hits, you’ve just gotta go with it, amirite?).
Maybe I’ll take a day to go to a gallery or something. Whatever, it’s my life. Either way, I usually have a good day, because I’ve prepared for a good day.
How I’ll Tweak My Morning Routine in the Future
This is not a perfect morning routine, and I will continue to tweak it in the future. Right now I’m contemplating how best to fit exercise and regular writing sessions into my days, for instance. It would make sense for the exercise to come before the shower, of course. And I’m probably awake enough to do it after my journalling and planning (I’ve usually been awake for about an hour by the time I finish this). But then I’d probably need to eat as soon as I’d showered, which would mean reading would have to come later in the day. But that’s okay. I’m just making this up as I go along.
How to Develop Your Own Morning Routine That Works
So what exactly is the point I’m trying to make here? Well, over my frustrating period of experimentation, I learned a thing or two (or six) about how to develop a good morning routine.
1. Stop Sleeping With Your Phone
I know, I know. I titled this post ‘5 secrets’ and then go on to tell you the most obvious fucking thing ever about why your morning routine is failing. AND YET YOU’RE STILL BLOODY DOING IT.
If you’re serious about developing a better morning routine, this is hands down the first thing you should do. Leave your phone in another room. Turn it off. Throw it out the window. Whatever works. But you must stop sleeping with the damn thing by your bed like a pacifier. It’s okay to not have something to amuse you the second you wake up. (Bonus points: going to bed without your phone is good for you, too, because you’ll get to sleep faster.)
Until you make this change, you won’t be able to develop a good morning routine, which means you will start every day of your life feeling pissed off at yourself. Is that really what you want? No? Then make the change. If you’re not willing to do this, what hope do you have? I mean, come on, how hard is it to just leave your phone in a different room at night?
And let’s take it one step further: No books, Kindles, laptops, or any other entertainment devices shall be called upon when you wake up in the morning. Because again… an hour will pass, and you will still be in bed. Nope. You don’t need to be entertained every moment of the day. You just don’t. Especially not in those peaceful first fifteen minutes. Where the hell did that need even come from? Fuck you, social media!
2. Stop Doing Shit You Don’t Enjoy
For a long time I battled with trying to find the perfect, most productive routine — but that’s all for shit if you don’t actually enjoy it. If you don’t like doing the damn routine, how long do you think it’s going to last, exactly? I learned this lesson when I conducted a 28-day experiment in which I worked out first thing every morning. Ugh.
So, seriously — what would you enjoy doing in the mornings? Does my tea and journalling sound nice to you? Give it a shot! Or maybe you’re more of a coffee-and-newspaper kinda person? Hell, maybe you’re even one of those crazies who does like to work out straightaway.
And don’t give me any shit about enjoying starting your day by browsing on your phone. Doing something because it’s easy is not the same as doing something because it’s enjoyable. Protip: if you hate yourself afterwards, maybe you didn’t enjoy it all that much. (Except for angry sex.)
3. Stop Trying to Manipulate Your Natural Sleeping Rhythm
I have a friend who is constantly bemoaning the fact that her days get off to a shit start. She wakes up too late, stays in bed too long, never starts work early enough… I say fuck that. Does it really matter what time you get out of bed? You’re still going to be awake for the same amount of hours, no matter when you get up. Who gives a fuck if you wake up at 10am and don’t start your client work until 2pm? It doesn’t matter.
If you want to start getting up earlier, ask yourself why. If it’s because you truly think you will enjoy doing so, awesome. Go for it. But if your reason is that you think it’s what you should do — because that’s what professional, respectable people do — Fuck. That.
4. Stop Striving for the PERFECT Routine
Striving for the perfect routine fucked me over time and again. I’d get pissed off that I couldn’t make this work. Why couldn’t I just figure out the best way to start my day, then do the exact same thing each morning and go on to have perfect, streamlined days? Oh yeah — because LIFE.
I still don’t always follow the morning routine I shared above. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that there will always — always — be interruptions, distractions, things that throw you off track. A few weeks ago, I got into the habit of taking my laptop to bed because I got addicted to a show on Netflix (Death Note!). I only did this for two or three nights, then I mentally slapped myself, binge-watched the rest of the show during the day, and vowed not to take my laptop to bed any more. So shit like this still happens sometimes. Of course it does. But — what’s that saying? What you do every day matters more than what you do every once in a while. So god damn true.
5. Allow Your Routine to Shape Itself Over Time
This is my newest lesson. I’d say my new morning routine didn’t even begin with an intentional change I made to my mornings. It started back at the end of November, when I completely cut out all processed foods from my diet, along with a bunch of other stuff I no longer eat for health reasons.
Good habits build on other good habits. My healthy eating gives me more energy and makes me feel great. I feel more alert as soon as I wake up, which makes it a lot easier to get out of bed. Plus, I feel better about myself mentally, which makes doing things I know will make me feel good easier. As a result, my new morning routine has unfolded quite naturally.
Not that you need to cut out all processed foods in order to start your days off right. So I guess what I’m saying is: don’t try to force a huge new routine on yourself all at once. Take it a step at a time and go where your personal rhythms naturally lead you.