How to find your morning routine (when you hate mornings and dislike routine)

After being featured in last month’s Psychologies magazine talking about the power of a morning routine a few people have asked me to share more about them. Morning routines are big business – a quick Google search will return apps, books, blogs and guides, along with tips from famous CEOs and a growing number of productivity experts. Then there are the health benefits. It would seem that being an early riser could make you thinner and happier. You could get more done and even live longer.

In fact, there’s much more material out there than you could possibly get through in a morning, so how do you make sense of it and more importantly, how do you make it work for you?

Hate mornings?

You’re not alone. For some people it might seem like a complete non-starter – I’ve definitely worked with people for whom the words ‘morning’ and ‘routine’ are instant turn-offs.

Many of us don’t like mornings because they’re cold, dark and early. We don’t like routine either, because of the connotations it comes with. Routine is boring, samey, unexciting. We’d much rather frame ourselves as spontaneous and dynamic, carpe diem and all that.

Above all, we just don’t have the time. What we have instead is stress, families and jobs. Hal Elrod begins his bestselling book ‘The Miracle Morning’ describing the way millions of American settle into mediocrity, so where does deliberately building in more routine fit with that?

Running to keep up

Now, I’ll happily admit I’m a fan of The Miracle Morning, so here’s how that equation plays out. The problem with daydreaming about our spontaneous and dynamic selves is that we’re generally doing it amid the chaos of real life. It’s a bit like running with a stack of plates that’s gradually tipping over – the more they tip, the faster you have to run. But the faster you run, the less control you have.

Every day is different and I don’t mean that in an inspirational sense. Each day brings us new challenges, whether we want them or not. By not having a morning routine we’re doing ourselves out of the opportunity to start every day match fit.

Are you reacting to the day or preparing for it?

Time and routine can be really touchy subjects. Suggesting that people aren’t making the most of their day can understandably touch a nerve with people who already feel they’re up against it.

Richard Branson famously extolls the virtues of routine. Oprah Winfrey is up and about by 6:00am without fail. Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz likes to rise at 4:30am (albeit with caffeine on tap) and Apple CEO Tim Cook rises each morning at a frankly obscene 3:45am.

But most of us aren’t a Branson or an Oprah and we don’t have an army of assistants to delegate to. That’s one of the issues with the morning routine movement – at its worst, it can feel like the slightly smug preserve of the already rich and successful. But it’s a real shame to dismiss it as such.

To function in business and leisure in any other way than performing a plate-spinning act, we need a good foundation. A routine that works for you can be a framework to build the day you want, instead of simply coping with the day you get.

How my routine looks

I first decided to experiment with morning routines because I was tired, really tired. I was running a business and looking after two young children while my husband held down a full-time job. That’s a familiar story for people all over the country and it’s a fairly safe bet they’re really tired too.

Still, I’d read and heard about morning routines and anything’s better than feeling exhausted, so I gave it a go. I ended up with four components: meditation, journalling, reading and movement.

Meditation, I’ll admit, doesn’t require me to get up. Neither does hitting the snooze button, but there’s a bit more to it than that. Meditation is about starting the day in the right state and filtering out the myriad distractions that can otherwise get in the way. If you’re new to meditation there are plenty of good apps to guide you – Headspace and Insight Timer are among those I’d recommend.

Next comes journalling. This took me a little while to get right, but it’s a way to make sense of the morning’s jumble of thoughts on paper. It’s part to-do list, part gratitude and positivity exercise. Importantly, I’ll always end with the three goals for that day.

Chris Marr’s daily journalling challenge has also helped me stick to this.

After that, I’ll read. It’s another thing that it’s all too easy to not have time for. But it’s a bit like working out – if you haven’t been much of a reader lately, you’ll find you’re out of shape. Like the gym, stick with it and you’ll get back into the rhythm. For me, it’s business books, for you it may be Voltaire or Harry Potter. It doesn’t matter, the key is to switch the brain on and maybe even learn something before the day begins.

Finally, movement, which could be yoga, a run or even the gym depending on how I’m feeling that day. That’s an important point; this is the routine that works for me, but it took a while to find and it may yet change over time. It takes practice to get into the habit and there’ll be days when you’re more receptive to it than others. But to add to the long list of proponents, it really has changed things for me. It’s upped my energy, my creativity and the positivity of my outlook. It also puts me in a better frame of mind to engage with my clients and help them to achieve what they want.

That’s mine. Now find your own

With my routine, we’re not talking hours and hours – each part takes about 10 to 15 minutes, but what they add up to is an hour of getting myself mentally and physically prepared for the day. It’s an hour a day that works for me.

The key is to find what works for you, whether its three hours or 30 minutes. It’s not an off-the-peg thing. You’ll see lots about the spiritual importance of making your bed in the morning, planning tomorrow’s wardrobe or brushing your teeth with Zen-like calm. If those things work for you then great, but picking someone else’s routine from the shelf (or a blog) won’t work. That makes it a fad, and fads fail. Your routine has to be about you so that it pays off, hopefully for many years to come.

It sounds great, but I commute

So do most people. In fact the UK currently has the longest commute times in Europe. In England, the average commuting time per day is now about an hour, and for one in seven of us it’s two hours or more.  What would you normally do in that hour? Maybe you’d read, or perhaps more likely, you’ll scroll through your social media. If you’re using public transport your commuting time could be spent working on something like journalling, or it that doesn’t appeal to you, plug your headphones in and see if you can take your mind far away from the train journey.

It’s all too much like hard work

Yes, it is. Getting into a routine is something that won’t come easy. Unless you’re an early bird by nature it’ll take time. But it’s odd how dismissive we can be of the idea. You wouldn’t join a gym, do one workout and then decide it’s pointless because you’re not a gym person, you feel exhausted and you can’t see any results.

We know that getting fit takes sustained, regular effort. We know that saving money requires discipline and goal setting. It’s the same with morning routines, for the first days or even weeks you might not feel great, but given time, I’m certain you’ll see the benefits. Train your body and mind to understand that this is the new normal and you’ll be glad you reclaimed those hours.

One final point, if you’re still a confirmed late starter, consider this – between 9 and 5, Monday to Friday, you’re working for someone else’s benefit, be it your boss or your clients.

The hours you reclaim in the morning – those are for you.

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