How many videos and blog posts have you seen where someone simply suggests to wake up at 5:30 am every morning to create a perfect morning routine to round out your perfectly organized day? It sounds nice and kudos to everyone who can pull that off! But if you’re like me, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Maybe that’s your end goal or maybe you’re just wanting a tiny bit more structure than what you’re currently doing. If something in the middle sounds nice, this post is for you.
I’ve always been a morning person, but that does not mean I can easily wake up at 5:30 am and start my day. After several failed attempts, I discovered what works for me. I realized I don’t like every morning to be identical, and I wanted a system that allowed a mix of calmness and productivity in my mornings. In this post, I’ll go over my thought process and how I pick what to spend those precious morning minutes on.
Before we get started, know that waking up ten minutes before normal is enough of a ‘routine’ to get your mind right and make you happier. You get to decide what’s important to do in the morning and give yourself moments that are completely for yourself. So let’s first start off thinking about why you like to idea of building in time to your mornings. Once you know why you like the idea of waking up early, try to keep your activities in line with that. Don’t combine too many conflicting activities or try to cram in too many things. You’ll quit even before you start.
- To Catch Up: You need some time to focus on what’s important to you. That could be your career, education, organizing, etc. Usually when you intentionally wake up early, you’re not as likely to waste precious minutes, so you’ll likely be more efficient. That, plus you may have this morning time to yourself and you’re not as likely to pick up your phone to chat with friends or family or get distracted with others’ agendas.
- Focus on a Hobby: You never consistently make time for your hobby during your normal schedule. Something always comes up and your hobby is the first thing to drop off your to do list. This includes working out, reading, doing something creative, learning something new, etc.
- Calmness: Your life is busy and you’re easily stressed or anxious. You would like some quiet time in the mornings to create a calm mood that will hopefully carry throughout the day. You shouldn’t cram lots of activities into your morning if you feel this way. Start by picking one activity a day, like yoga or reading a spiritual book, and mix it up day to day, instead of doing multiple things in one morning.
Make a List of Things You Will Actually Enjoy Doing:
There are two key factors here. If you’re not motivated to wake up early, you just won’t. If you set a schedule full of annoying tasks, you’ll always hit snooze. Sure, there may be a few things in your morning routine that will be good for you that you don’t love, but try to incorporate enjoyable tasks too. Secondly, don’t pick tasks that are easy to do throughout the day. This may be something you can start with to pick up the habit of waking up earlier, but that’s not the focus. So if your morning routine is checking emails, scrolling through social media, and loading the dishwasher, start to think about how you could substitute those activities to better create a more enjoyable morning.
So now let’s think about tasks, hobbies, and small moments you enjoy and make a big list. You’ll be able to use this list to mix and match in the next part. Do not discount the small 5-minute tasks that bring you pleasure but you’ve convinced yourself you don’t have time to do. Here are some things on my list:
- Making a proper pot of coffee in my French press
- Stretching for 5-10 minutes
- Tidying up the house, but only for 5-10 minutes. Like shoes, cups, etc.
- Reading a book, magazine, or newsletter
- Writing (this blog)
- Going on a morning walk/hike/bike ride
- Spending time in a coffee shop
- Working out
- Bullet journaling
- Organizing emails, photos, finances, etc.
Every Morning Doesn’t Have to be the Same
This is the biggest mental hurdle we may all have. We assume if we didn’t wake up and have a perfect Monday then the whole week is a wash. Or we need to work out every morning or stick to whatever repetitive tasks over and over again. But I highly recommend mixing and matching things you enjoy where every day of the week is slightly different. The same way your evening plans can change, you should allow yourself a flexible (yet planned) morning. The goal is to create a list of mixed activities, or sometimes just one, that last a total of 30 minutes to an hour. You want to have an idea of what activities you’ll do for the whole week, or at least have a plan the night before. Don’t wait until you wake up to decide how you want to spend your morning. One, because it’ll be easy to hit snooze and say you’ll try again tomorrow. And two, setting a schedule will get you excited for those couple perfect mornings where you’re doing exactly what you want. You should try to plan 1-2 mornings with special things, like your favorite workout class, your favorite morning drink (maybe something indulgent), an hour in a comfy chair just reading and drinking tea, etc.
Not only can your mornings change day to day, but they also should seasonally. The temperature, the time of sunrise, the excitement of a new season should all be embraced. From seasonal fruit for breakfast to switching up your morning drink to planning ahead and getting a walk in on a rare warm fall morning. You’ll create more memories this way and are more likely to stick to a morning routine if you have lots of good memories, instead of the same thing over again. Here’s my schedule for a fall morning (a mix of pre- and post-COVID habits).
Monday: 1.5 hour. I start my work day about 30 minutes late on Mondays and it helps get my mind right for the week ahead. I love starting off a Monday with a short walk to a coffee shop. I get a little bit of a workout in and I get a nice cup of coffee/tea that I couldn’t make a home (I’ll get something like a flat white or a chai latte). At the coffee shop, I will read a book for about 30-45 minutes and just relax there until I need to head back. I love the feeling of coffee shops, people watching, the smell of coffee, the coolness of the baristas.
Tuesday: 45 minutes. I usually take one day of the week slow. On Tuesdays, I might just make a pot of French press and stretch in the kitchen. Then I’ll just read for the rest of the time. Not every morning needs to be productive in the traditional sense. Learning and taking in the moment of a pretty morning counts as productive to me.
Wednesday: 1 hour. I usually like to knock out a morning workout midweek. I try to do one morning workout a week, one weeknight, and two on the weekends. I’ve never been a gym person, but particularly not in the morning as every minute counts and a commute to the gym isn’t in my timeframe. I’ll usually do a 45 minute walk if the weather is nice or a ride on our stationary bike in our apartment. I try to remember to lay out clothes, socks, keys, etc. the night before. But I give myself a 15 minute buffer if I’m a little behind. If I’m efficient, I’ll spend my extra time tidying up the house, like unloading the dishwasher, dusting, or doing some light organizing.
Thursday: 1 hour. I make a strong cup of coffee and a big glass of water and get an hour’s worth of writing in. I usually don’t spend this morning finishing up writing for the week following’s post, but more for future posts, where I get to be creative and I’m writing without worrying about editing. I save the editing and finalizing posts for the evenings.
Friday: 30-45 minutes. I like winding down my week with a session of stretching and some hot tea. It’s my way of calming myself before time off. I also work on next week’s to do list or do my bullet journal.
Saturday: I have to wake up to work for about an hour every Saturday, and I don’t normally wake up early. So I just make sure there are parts of my Saturday that are intentional. I always try to do something active and spend some time reading, even if it’s just 20 minutes.
Sunday: 1 hour. I take Sunday mornings slow and I usually only have two things I really want to do: read and make a hearty breakfast. I love making breakfast items that I don’t make time for during the week: waffles, bagels, a frittata. I make a big bowl of mixed fruit and a proper pot of French press. And I like to read something calming and/or spiritual for about 20 minutes.
So you’ll notice I’m not doing a huge amount in the mornings, but it’s enough to keep me happy and give myself time alone to embrace a new day. I’m not trying to change the world an hour each morning, but merely allowing myself to selfishly do whatever sounds enjoyable to me that week. Also, I keep my self-care activities to the evening. I usually pick one evening a week and go all out with self-care, spending 1-2 hours on it. Exfoliate, dry brushing, face masks, etc. Self-care is something you can definitely do during the mornings as well.
I don’t believe humans can easily focus on two things at once, but sometimes we don’t need to. Or we have a little bit of downtime that we don’t take advantage of, like brewing a cup of tea. Because every minute counts when you’re waking up early, you may want to cram in a couple extra activities in the morning. Although I love to be efficient and do recommend this, I caution you to not multi-task if it creates stress. If you feel some tension in your chest while reading this, adding in another activity in the morning may not be right for you at the moment. But if you’re curious of some ideas, here you go:
- Coffee and stretching: This is my favorite, no stress multi-tasking activity. If I’m brewing some coffee or tea, I’ll stand in the kitchen and do 5 minutes of stretching. I start with stretching my neck and shoulders to ensure I don’t get pains from sleeping weird. Then I stretch my back and belly, then my legs. I do all this standing up. Sure I don’t get everything stretched, but it’s a great way to feel some morning energy and wake myself up even before I drink caffeine.
- Podcast & walk: This is a no-brainer, but instead of listening to music, try a podcast, news, or audiobook. I go through phases where I love doing this and where I just want to enjoy the silence of a walk. It’s healthy to mix it up. If you feel anxious during a workout because you’re listening to negative news too often, go back to music for a week, or just enjoy your own thoughts.
- Self-care and reading: If you’re into self-care, try a face or hair mask while you’re reading. Enjoy a warm bath while reading a relaxing book.
Start slow. Pick one thing you daydream about doing in the mornings and go from there. Maybe it’s just enjoying a cup of tea or coffee while it’s still hot, in silence, in a comfy chair in your house. Maybe it’s a 15 minute workout. Starting your day slower and with intention can help make your entire day go better. What habits do you have to achieve more or create a calmer day?