Are Morning Routines Worth The Hype?
Why They Might Be Killing Your Productivity And Well Being
Morning routines. They’ve almost become conventional wisdom. I have tried many of them. I once even had a checklist because the list of to do’s was too large to track. It had become ridiculous and pointless. I was doing all these things that were supposed to benefit my well being and expand my creativity. It turned out that my routine caused me stress and stole time from my creative work.
I began to question my ritualistic morning activities when I asked myself these fundamental questions.
“What is a morning routine for? What is its purpose?”
I shrugged. I had no idea. I thought the answer should be to improve my mental health and flex my creative muscle. If that’s the case, then why was it causing more stress and hindering my output?
What Do You Want From Your Morning?
I wake up by 5:30 AM. I have two hours to myself before I embark on my thirty-minute commute to the office.
Those two hours comprise about 80% of my daily writing time. Why waste it on brewing foul smelling herbal teas, impossible yoga poses and a desperate search for meditative bliss? There are benefits from all of those things, but those activities eat up time.
It also brings up a math problem. If I spend one hour going through my daily rituals, then I’m left with one hour to do my work — the stuff that matters to me.
To determine the purpose of your morning routine, you need first to decide what you want.
What is your top priority? What do you want to accomplish more than anything else?
I have a daily goal of writing for two hours. That usually translates into about two-thousand words.
Now that I know my priority let’s return to our basic questions.
“What is a morning routine for?” What is its purpose?”
Pick one of those questions, whichever resonates with you. Here is how I answered it.
“To put me in the best position of accomplishing my top priority of writing for two hours.”
I have a day job, so my time is limited. I need to make the most of my available free time. The more I try and fit into my morning routine, the more I inhibit the possibility of reaching my goal. So I need to ask myself this final question.
Do As Little As Possible
“What is the minimum number of things I need to do to get the most out of my morning?”
I brush my teeth, drink a glass of water, and pour a cup of coffee. And then I begin my task. I don’t need anything more than that to begin my work. I want to dedicate those two free hours to writing before I start my day job. That means limiting my morning ritual to only what is necessary to accomplish my primary goal.
What About The Benefits From All The Wellness Activities?
Is there really a benefit? If those extra activities prevent you from achieving your primary aim, how does it make you feel?
It made me feel anxious and stressed, wondering where I’d find the time to do work of personal importance. I don’t know if this is true for everyone else, but the discrepancy between my desire to pursue personal goals and a lack of available time is one of my most significant stressors.
Do what matters most first. Do everything else later.
There are a ton of stories out there on the subject, and I’m convinced there’s another reason behind the popularity of morning rituals. Excessive morning routines give us an excuse to avoid doing work that matters.
“I wake up at 5 AM and swim, do yoga, contemplate life, meditate, read my goals out loud, repeat my positive affirmations ten times, prepare and consume my magic smoothie with an unpronounceable exotic mushroom extract… and then I grab a cup of coffee and frantically rush to the office.”
Great, what do you have to show for that morning routine? It gives us a feeling of accomplishment. You were busy. You did a lot of stuff. What did it do for you?
If you have tons of free time — I mean the kind of time that gives you the freedom to spend an entire morning contemplating ancient Greek philosophy and debating Game Of Thrones theories on Reddit, then spend all the time you want with your morning routine. By the way, if that’s you, I’m envious.
But what if that’s not you? Maybe you wake up early with the hopes of squeezing in an hour or two of meaningful work before you head off to your day job, or before your day to day responsibilities kick into overdrive. I’m not suggesting we entirely eschew morning routines. Rather, limit it to the bare necessities.
What About Peace Of Mind?
Some folks make the argument that without a morning mindful practice they’re not able to relax or focus on their work. Yeah, I guess that might be true for some people.
But here’s what I find mindful.
At 7:30 AM, I head off to work having already completed my primary daily writing goal. I don’t have the anxiety of unfinished business hanging over my head. I begin the rest of my day with a sense of accomplishment. I can relax on my way to the office and not worry about fitting in time to do the work that matters to me.
I do follow a meditative practice in the evenings, and I exercise several days per week after work. These are priorities, but neither is my top priority. Before you create your morning ritual, you need to get clear on your number one priority and then construct a routine that supports that priority.
Construct Your Morning Routine
Ask yourself the three questions.
- What is my primary goal? Is it writing, exercising, painting, working on your side business? If you skipped it, would you miss it or feel anxiety?
- What is the purpose of my morning routine? To put you in the best position of accomplishing your primary goal of…
- What is the minimum number of activities I need in my routine to get the most out of my morning? What are those activities?