How to Build the Perfect Morning Routine (and Why You Should)

by Corey Pemberton 8 Minutes

earn more moneyA tale of two mornings:

In one morning, a guy I’ll call Gary springs out of bed well before dawn. He stretches and does a quick workout before hitting the shower. Then it’s time for a green breakfast smoothie, and a little quiet time to meditate and reflect before he gets to work.

In another morning, a girl I’ll call Jill drags herself out of bed after hitting snooze for the fifth time. Bleary-eyed and half asleep, she takes a quick shower, throws on some clothes, and grabs a thermos of coffee before speeding away to the office.

Which morning sounds more like yours?

If you chose Jill’s morning, you aren’t alone. So many of us struggle during those first few hours. Things would be different if only we had a decent morning routine…

Now’s the time to make that a reality. Instead of rushing around, you can radically transform the way you spend your mornings. You can use that time to set yourself up for success.

Setting Our Own Schedule Gives You Freedom, but It’s a Double-Edged Sword

As entrepreneurs, we have much more control over our schedule than a typical employee.

There’s awesome freedom in that, sure. But the extra responsibility to manage our time and find a way to get the important work done makes it a double-edged sword.

How we start our days has a huge effect on the quantity (and quality) of our work. The first hour in particular builds momentum and sets the tone for the rest of your day. How we spend days determines our outcomes in business and in life. So, successful mornings lead to successful lives.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t give our mornings nearly the attention they deserve. We treat them as burdens instead of incredible opportunities to set ourselves up to thrive.

Why Morning Routines Are Worth Your While

A quality morning routine will leave you energized, refreshed, and eager to take on the day.

You only have so much energy and willpower to spend. As a massive review of 83 scientific studies confirmed, these things are highest shortly after you wake up.

A lack of a routine leads to decision fatigue. Because no morning is ever the same, you waste willpower making hundreds of tiny decisions which have little to no impact on your life (red shirt or blue shirt, bagel or toast, etc.). Your work the rest of the day suffers.

Without a routine to guide you, it’s also easy to get sucked into reactive tasks and other people’s demands for your time instead of doing what’s truly important to grow your business.

How to Build a Morning Routine from the Ground Up

It’s not like you’re trying to make your mornings chaotic and stressful. Maybe you’ve played with different morning routines in the past. Things go well for a while, but then you find yourself falling off the wagon and unable to stick with your routine.

Or maybe you’re just creative and independent. One of the major reasons you got into business for yourself was so you wouldn’t be bound to a schedule. The idea of a morning routine might sound too restrictive. But a little structure doing the first part of your day helps you get everything done, which frees up time to improvise as much as you’d like later on.

If you’re ready to navigate your days with less stress, more productive work, and guilt-free evenings with family and friends, give the following tips a try:

Track How You Spend Your Mornings Now

build a morning routine

Image credit: Kanban Tool

You can’t stop the bleeding until you figure out where you’re cut. Where is all of your morning time going? It can be hard to tell when every new day feels like a completely new set of struggles and obstacles to overcome.

Tracking how you spend your mornings now will help. Seeing everything laid out on paper (or in a computer document) makes it easier to spot your biggest time sinks. And tracking your mornings regularly will help you identify patterns you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Try this little tracking experiment for a week or two. Before you even think about building a new morning routine, just note how much time you spend on different activities for the first two hours of your day.

It might be painful seeing all that wasted time laid out in front of you like that. But it’s an extremely important first step. You’ll figure out where the holes are, as well as establish baselines about how long you need to take care of the essentials (like showers, grooming, breakfast, etc.)

Once you’ve tracked your current mornings for a few weeks, it’s time for the next step:

Pinpoint Good and Bad Habits

good and bad habits

Image credit: The People Speak!

The first step of creating your ideal morning routine is figuring out what it looks like.

When you study the routines of extremely successful people, it’s easy to get intimidated. They seem to get so much done in those first few hours – dozens of important tasks while you struggle just to make it to work on time.

There’s no need to feel overwhelmed. Remember: a routine is nothing more than a series of habits you do every morning.

So let’s start there. Review your document where you’ve tracked how you’ve spent your mornings the past few weeks. Which behaviors repeat themselves over and over again?

Once you pinpoint which habits you’re doing already, it’s time to separate the good from the bad.

“Bad” morning habits stress you out and sap your time and energy. They include things like:

  • Hitting the snooze button
  • Checking your email first thing
  • Lying in bed not doing much
  • Surfing the web or playing around on social media
  • Reading inflammatory “clickbait” websites
  • Not giving yourself enough time (rushing to work)
  • Anything else that puts you in a reactive, not proactive state

Once you’ve nailed down the bad habits you want to get rid of, consider which habits you’d like to do more of. “Good” morning habits are things like:

  • Exercise, stretching, and/or yoga
  • Reading
  • Eating a healthy breakfast
  • Listening to inspiring music or watching inspiring videos
  • Rising early
  • Meditation
  • Getting hydrated
  • Spending time with your family before work

Now that you have which habits to avoid and which to embrace, you can start thinking about building your morning routine. You might not know exactly what your ideal morning routine should be until after you start building it. That’s okay. You can use these lists of habits as guidelines and tweak them over time.

If you don’t know where to start, check out the brilliant website My Morning Routine. It dissects the mornings of entrepreneurs, artists, and other successful people. Browse around and find someone whose routine you’d like to emulate.

Introduce Gradual Changes

gradual changes

Photo credit: Pixabay

You might have big plans to spring out of bed at six every morning, exercise, and launch into a productive day. That’s great! We can’t make real change until we’ve clarified exactly what we want.

For a lot of people, the problem lies in the execution. They decide to make big changes to their morning all at once, jumping from no routine at all straight into a strict one.

These people have good intentions. They try hard, but most of them end up frustrated and overwhelmed. The demands on their willpower are just too great.

Working yourself up to your ideal routine gradually increases the your chances of being able to stick with it for the long haul.

If your morning is a mess right now, start with a small and manageable change. For the rest of this week, set your alarm 15 minutes earlier than normal. Move it ahead another 15 minutes next week, and the one after that until you’re waking up at your ideal time.

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with the new habit, you can move on to the next thing you want to tweak: grooming, breakfast, exercise, and so on.

Instead of demolishing your old ways and trying to change everything at once, you can replace bad habits one at a time. This helps you build your willpower muscle like going to the gym and gradually adding weight. Before you know it, your mornings are two or three times more productive than before. And you’ll be used to it so it won’t feel like work.

Stack New Habits on Top of Old Ones

habit stacking

Photo credit: Ryan Harvey

A sequence of habits, when one leads directly into another, is how routines are born.

Think about all the things you do when you’re in the bathroom getting ready. You brush your teeth, shower, shave, wash your face, and so on. It doesn’t feel difficult because you’ve trained one action to follow another. If you can make your entire morning routine a single habit stack, you can get through it with hardly any effort.

Say you want to wake up early. You gradually set your alarm earlier and earlier until you’re waking up at your ideal time. That’s awesome. Next, consider how you can “stack” that habit with another one.

What’s the very next thing you’d like to happen when you get out of bed? For me, it’s going into the kitchen and drinking two glasses of ice cold water. I don’t even have to think about it anymore. Waking up acts as a trigger to get the water.

Once you’ve got the next habit in the stack down, you simply tack on another. You wake up, have your water, then head into the bathroom where you brush your teeth.

This makes building a new routine manageable. Instead of worrying about radically transforming your morning, all you have to think about is “what happens next.”

Keep stacking one habit on the others, and eventually you’ll find yourself with a dramatically different routine – one you can get through without even breaking a sweat!

Get Started the Night Before

morning routine night before

Photo credit: Wonderlane

What if you know what you want your morning routine to look like, but you’re still having trouble making it happen?

Starting the night before will help. A little preparation and planning before you get to bed can make it easier to build good morning habits – especially if you don’t have a routine right now.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself (and something that not nearly enough of us do, unfortunately) is to get enough sleep. If you’re chronically sleep-deprived, it’s almost impossible to stick to the plan. You’re tired, cranky, and you just don’t have the willpower you would have had after a restful night’s sleep.

Once you get your sleep schedule taken care of, here are some other ways you can make your mornings easier to manage:

  • Pack your lunch
  • Lay out your clothes
  • Make a short list of the most important projects you will tackle
  • Declutter your work space

Break The Rules Every Once in a While

break the rules

Photo credit: Drewski Mac

A morning routine can transform your life, leaving you healthier, happier, and more successful.

With all that said, we’re still human. Every once in a while it’s time to free ourselves from a rigid structure. If you’ve followed a routine for three weeks in a row, don’t beat yourself up if you decide to take the occasional weekend day off.

Sleep in. Go to a diner and get yourself some pancakes for breakfast. Try something new. This flexibility is one of the coolest things about running your own business. You can use it to live life to the fullest.

Occasional interruptions of the morning routine are healthy. And they can help you appreciate the structure you’ve created in a whole new way.

Transform Your Life

The best morning routine is one that energizes you and empowers you to take on the day. What works best for you might not work for your spouse, friend, or coworker. And that’s okay. Keep experimenting and trying different habits until you find the perfect fit.

If you still can’t bear the thought of waking up before the sun, don’t worry. When you wake up is much less important than how you wake up. Will you spend the first few hours setting the tone for success?

Now you can. Give the tips above a try, and remember to focus on gradual changes. Before you know it, you’ll completely transform your work – and even your life.

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by Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.