We’ve all heard that to be successful you’ve got to get up at 5 am, meditate twice, do an intense workout, and be ready to start the day before the rest of the world has dared to even open their eyes. Except that doesn't work for most of us who live in the real world. So how do we create an effective morning routine? One that actually works?
There is no prescriptive morning routine
So, does this 5 am business really work? Or is there a better way?
Now, I’ve got a confession. I'm really not a morning person. For years, I subscribed to the idea of this morning routine that is being peddled by “the Gurus”. You know the one. That you’ve got to get up early and beat the day before it has a chance to strike. And I’ve tried so hard over and over again! But I just. Can't. Do. It.
And that brings me to my #1 gripe with a morning routine. There is no one prescriptive morning routine that will just magically change everything for you.
Because we’re all different.
So an effective morning routine that actually works is the bespoke one that you create for yourself. It's the one that's based on how you function best. In other words, you can ignore anyone who tells you that their morning routine is the one that you should copy. Or that you need to get up at 5 am just because Richard Branson does!
It's not all about getting up early!
If you ever read an article about a big list of people who are all successful because they get up at the crack of dawn, just remember that article was written to support the author’s point of view. And d’ya know what? I bet they’re a bloody morning person themselves!
They're not saying that all successful people wake up early. Or that that’s a contributing factor to their happiness, wealth, or productivity. It's just a coincidence. And if you did some research, you'd also find a lot of successful people who don't get up that early!
Now I have nothing against morning people. If you are one – you’re so welcome to be here, and these tips are 100% going to be useful to you too. I just want you to know you’re not broken or destined for failure if you’re not into the idea of springing out of bed like an ejector seat, singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”
How to create your own effective morning routine
So, if there is no prescriptive morning routine, what do we do? How do create an effective morning routine that's perfect for us?
Well, the good news is that there's a pretty prescriptive formula to create your own morning routine. And that’s actually better than having a one-size-fits-all routine. Because instead of just trying to fit yourself into the mold of everyone else’s morning routine, you can create the perfect one for yourself, with all of the right elements you need.
So let's dive into the stuff I have discovered over years of trial, error, researching, and figuring out what makes a morning routine work. And just so you know, I'm not going to talk about healthy eating, doing a workout, or meditating.
First of all, it's not my area of expertise at all. It's not something I’ve mastered myself and, let’s face it, we all know those are good things to do. You don’t need someone else telling you that. Of course, those are great activities you can sprinkle into your morning, but I want to focus on the more obscure stuff nobody talks about.
1. Create an effective morning routine that supports you
The first thing to do (and you've probably figured this one out) is to create a morning routine that supports you and how you function best.
If you want to get up at 5 am and that suits how you work, that's fine. If you prefer to stay up late and lie in, that’s fine too. Your morning routine starts when you get out of bed at a time that works for you. And that's going to be extra useful if you're someone who works unusual shifts, unsociable hours, or has kids to juggle.
2. Start your morning routine the night before
Sorry, what? There's no typo here. The second thing you need to do in order to set up your day properly is to start your morning routine the night before.
Every evening, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to alleviate a lot of stress, thinking, and decision-making from the following day. Think about it this way – every day, your mind has a decision and thinking budget. And we’re not as wealthy in that department as you might think! So the more you can save up those decisions, the better.
After all, when you first get up on a morning, nothing is more stressful than suddenly finding you don’t have clothes ready and having to try on 5 different outfits and figure out what to make for breakfast while climbing over the plates from the night before. No one wants to start their day like that.
So every night, I do a few really simple things that only take minutes but make a huge difference to how I start my day.
- A 10 O’Clock 10-Minute Tidy. At around 10 pm each night I just spend 10 mins tidying up and making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be – neat and in order. That avoids additional frustration the following day and helps you start the day feeling fresh.
- Get my clothes ready. I literally get out everything that I’m planning to wear the next day. I check it over to make sure it’s ready and then leave it in a neat pile on the drawers in my room. This is a really simple thing that actually brings a ton of satisfaction at the time and saves a lot of energy, wasted time, and pointless decision-making.
- Plan my day. I look over my schedule and map out all of the stuff that I want to get done. I leave it all on a hand-written list on my desk so I know exactly what’s coming. Doing stuff like that helps me be productive and make stuff happen. And whether you’ve got your own business or work in a job, this is an important step to start the day with a bang.
So why not make a list of the things that slow you down or frustrate you on a morning and then figure out what you could do the night before to alleviate them?
3. Turn off notifications on your phone
The next thing to do is to turn off all the notifications on your phone until a sensible time, and I'd say that's whenever you’ve got your morning routine done and out of the way.
For me, that’s 9.30 am. My phone automatically goes into ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode from 9.30 pm until 9.30 am. The only thing it allows are urgent calls from my ‘Favourite’ contacts. That means I have zero distractions for 12 hours every day. During that time I actually try my hardest not to look at my phone or pay attention to the things that might be distracting, stressful or pull my attention away from just being productive, sleeping well, and starting my day on my terms.
Why do this?
Because generally speaking, the notifications list on your phone is just an organized, itemized list of other people’s agendas, and it’ll pull you off-course. So from the moment you put your phone down at night time to the moment you’re done with your morning routine, you don’t want anyone else pushing stuff in front of you. This is a key part of creating an effective morning routine for yourself, trust me!
4. Pick your ‘Wake-Up Wins'
As soon as you get out of bed, I want you to make a short, sharp list of 4-5 things that take a small amount of effort and will get you a quick win. I’m talking about making the bed, washing your face, brushing your teeth, pouring a cup of coffee, etc. This is the stuff you take for granted and doesn’t really feel like you’re doing much. (And remember – you’re not allowed to look at any notifications while you’re doing it).
I call these the ‘Wake-Up Wins’. The goal here is to create a series of tiny victories that your subconscious mind will pick up on and give you a little psychological ‘pat on the back’ for.
Think about being in a car that breaks down at the side of the road. It might need pushing to try and kick it back to life. Now, getting that car moving takes a bunch of work, effort, and strength. That’s where you’ve got to push hard. But once it starts to move, it becomes really easy -all the weight somehow just disappears. As human beings, we're just like that car. Getting motivated to start moving is hard, but once you get moving, you pick up so much momentum that it’s easy to keep going.
Remember – these simple ‘Wake-Up Wins’ take almost no effort (except consciously remembering to do them) and will become really powerful habits that kickstart your motivation and the feeling of motion. That will keep you moving forward and productive throughout the day. And that's a big win!
5. Take control of your attention and intention
A lot of what makes this formula for an effective morning routine is taking control of your attention and intention. As humans, we’re naturally super-easily distracted by stuff that is damaging to our happiness, productivity, and everything else. So the next step here is to absorb some kind of positive input. Read a book, listen to a podcast or an audiobook, study something, or watch a YouTube channel on self-development.
The goal here is to learn something. You don't want to be terrified, made sad, or put on high alert. And that's typically what the news is going to do for you! I’m not saying you should never listen to the news. After all, we do need to have some awareness of what’s going on in the world. But in your morning routine, be very intentional about the stuff you absorb. You want to take stuff in that is going to help you develop as a person somehow.
Think about micro-habits here, like just reading 10 pages of some kind of non-fiction book as part of your morning routine every day. It’s really easy to do, and if you’d like my personal recommendations, I’ve put together a FREE book list of 10 books that will absolutely change your life in the next year. Those 10 pages of learning quickly add up, and you’ll find you can make it through a lot more books, learn loads, and feel inspired every day.
6. Embrace the idea of positive output
The last step was all about positive input. And that should always be followed by some kind of positive output. What do I mean by that? I mean go and make something, work on a project, do something you learned from a book or a video. For example, you could just do one of the things I suggested in this blog post, like designing your evening routine or creating your list of ‘Wake-Up Wins’.
Or this could also be the perfect time to do that workout I talked about or do something towards a new hobby, a work project, journaling, planning, etc. Just put some focused effort on positive output and creation.
Because this fires up a sense of accomplishment that is so powerful in helping you hit the ground running for the rest of your day. For me, this time is spent writing scripts for my videos, working on posts for social media, or towards my book idea.
7. Create boundaries
And the final ingredient to cook up an effective morning routine is to create boundaries. You want to put rules and parameters in place to protect your routine. Now, depending on what your life looks like will decide how much flexibility you have here. If you’re self-employed or work from home, you’ll have a different level of flexibility to someone who's employed or working from a shop or an office. But as much as possible, protect yourself from anything that is going to derail the start of your day.
For example, I don’t take meetings before 11 am so that I’m never distracted by what other people need me for. And that means I can just 100% focus on what I need to do. If you have children, for example, you want something in place that means you can either get up before they do or get them to school and then start your morning routine after that.
The boundaries you create will totally vary depending on your life circumstances. But it’s important to consider them to make sure that your morning routine actually gets done and stays consistent.
How long should your morning routine be?
So these are the non-negotiable ingredients for an effective morning routine that actually works for you and allows you to boost your productivity, get more done in less time, beat stress and anxiety, and find happiness in your everyday life. The key is to experiment with everything else in the confines of those rules.
The exact start and finish times of your morning routine? Up to you.
The length of your morning routine? You decide.
Do you work out in your morning routine or leave that for an evening? That’s up to you, too.
Create the morning routine that fits you, your characteristics, and your tastes, but sprinkle the things I’ve outlined in this blog post all over it, and you’ll get way better results!
So what will you do first?
If you'd like more tips on self-improvement without the ‘woo’, check out my YouTube channel Success Unlocked, where I share practical tips, strategies, stories, and inspiration for unstoppable personal growth to help you become the perfect version of yourself.