Early Morning Sunrise

How to Have a Morning Routine

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Having a solid morning routine can help you super-charge your productivity and finally complete your daily to-do list. Morning people are known to get more done, and some research suggests they are friendlier people.  I have been experimenting with how to finally reclaim my mornings and starting my days earlier in order to add precious (and productive) hours to my week – and as that post was quite successful, I thought I would share how to create your own early morning routine. After all, it cannot be a coincidence that highly successful CEO’s (Disney, Twitter, Coca Cola, Nike) all have early mornings in common.

Here are the tips of what has worked for me:

First of all, I think its important to start your morning experiments by being prepared to fail. Knowing that at first it might be a little tough to get into a new routine, shifting your sleeping patterns and getting up at a new time is a good start. If you don’t manage to get up at your target time (say, 5:30am), it’s OK! You can try again tomorrow. Being prepared to have a few ‘fails’ means that you won’t give up that easily and you won’t become discouraged once you hit the first couple of setbacks.

Now that you’re prepared to get started, the first step is to break the day in different stages:

[heading2 title=”Waking Up” pitch_text=”The first steps to having a great day.”]


1. The Night Before

Possibly the most overlooked component of waking up early. Personally, I think this is the most important part.
Get Enough Sleep. This might seem obvious, but people trying to wake up early often just think its a matter of setting the alarm for an early hour and the rest will follow. If you know what time you want to wake up (5:30am in my example), you need to know how much sleep you need to be fresh in the morning. Then, you can start backwards. If you want to wake up at 5:30am, and you need about 7 hours of sleep, you should aim to be in bed by 10~10:30pm.
Plan Ahead. Prep your lunch if you take it with you, sort out your plans for it otherwise. Set out your clothes and get your gym bag ready.

Avoid electronic devices. I used to think this was a bit of a myth at best, and at worst, a big exaggeration. It turns out, it’s done wonders for me. Avoid screens (laptop, TV and even phones) for at least an hour before bed. Try to read a book (a novel works best), even if its just a single chapter to disconnect from your day. Alternatively, a long walk before day will clear your mind, helping you to fall asleep faster.

2. Waking Up

The actual challenge. Know that the first week or so, it will not be that easy. It’s OK to struggle a little, but try your hardest not to hit the snooze button or else it will quickly become a habit. The key here is to create a simple routine for the very first part of your day so you don’t have to think too much.

Have a Mini Routine. Having a step-by-step routine helps your auto-pilot take over and get your day going. I recommend an alarm app like “Morning Routine” (how fitting). I have set it up like this:
  • Alarm goes off, and will not stop until I scan a barcode (bottle of water in my fridge, forcing me to get out of bed).
  • Then an another app opens automatically (Headspace, for a quick 15-min meditation) a minute after.
  • About 18 minutes after the previous alarm (so I can finish the Headspace session) another alarm goes off, and I need to scan the barcode on the coffee maker to stop it.
  • This last steps opens Spotify, so I can automatically play some music to start the day, go do some exercise, or whatever is planned for that particular day.

Avoid Hitting Snooze. Researchers say that you are likely to re-start your sleep cycle if you enter a snooze loop, and you will feel groggy longer. Also, if you hit snooze a couple of days in a row, you will automatically start hitting it every day, without even realising. A tip? Keep your alarm/phone a little far from your bed so you have to get up to turn it off.

– (Optional) Use a Sleep Tracker. Using a sleep tracker like a Jawbone UP or similar helps to set a smart alarm that wakes you up during an optimal window. It’s done wonders for me!

Having a simple routine, where you start your day the same way each day helps to cue your brain to move towards the next easy and achievable goal. After a few days/a week of repetition, your mornings will become incredibly smooth!

3. Exercise

Early Workouts. Try to go for at least a quick workout. Yes, even if you haven’t eaten (you can take advantage of the benefits of Intermittent Fasting – more on this soon), it’s good to have a quick workout, or at least a decent stretch session. This gets your blood flowing, activates your brain, and you are more likely to be alert in the early hours, when your decision making is at its best. I try to switch up between a run (if in a rush or if feeling a little lazier) or a gym workout.

Don’t skip your workout, regardless of how tired you are. It’s better to have a shorter exercise session than none at all. Once you get outside for your run, or get to the gym, you will be very pleased with yourself and your day will seem to glide very smoothly. I recommend exercising in the morning, as towards the evening your will-power will be close to depleted and skipping your exercise session becomes incredibly easy.

[heading2 title=”After ‘Waking Up'” pitch_text=”Having a productive morning.”]

I am a fan of small steps and little victories, so I try to break down my mornings into slots, just like my waking up process. Here is what has worked for me:

The First 15 Minute Slot

  • Avoid going through your email immediately. This can spiral your morning off course as you get distracted with tangents. Remember, if it was an emergency, you would have received a call; hardly anyone emails about a crisis.
  • Your To-Do List. Prioritise the items on it – have a two minute mind-sweep, and plan your day when you are still fresh and concentrated on your priorities will help you have a consistently productive day. Even if towards the afternoon you veer off topic, you are more likely to have accomplished more by then, and getting back on track is much easier.
If you don’t keep a to do list, try to answer the following questions (try even if you do!):
  • How can I add value today?
  • What can I make better?
  • What am I grateful for today?

I have taken this a step further, and I use The Five Minute Journal, and I cannot recommend it enough!

The Second 15 Minute Slot

Studies show that top leaders schedule their most important items in their to-do lists as early as possible, so they can fully focus with no distractions, and really get a lot done on the most pressing issues.

Tackle your most important issues. Look at your to-do list and focus on the two most important items only, even if they seem slightly more overwhelming. This way, even if you have a tough day, you can look back and you will feel like you accomplished enough.

The Third 15 Minute Slot

Work on your passion project or your ‘idea on the side’. You do have a side project, right? If not, start one right now! Having a creative side – and this doesn’t only mean art, it can mean something that makes you step outside of your comfort zone – helps you stay engaged and relaxed throughout the day and will help you perform better at work.

[heading2 title=”Take Control of Your Day” pitch_text=”Follow through your great morning and have an amazing day”]

I am a fan of early mornings. They set the tone for the rest of the day and help me accomplish a lot more. In the morning you can accomplish bigger tasks and important decisions before you run out of ‘credits’.

Try it out for a month, you might surprise yourself with how much you can accomplish!

Dawn Landscape

Experimenting with Early Mornings

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Lately I have been experimenting with early mornings. I normally wake up at what’s considered a normal, or even early time, however, I wanted to see what I could accomplish by waking up earlier and adding extra time to my days. I constantly see around the web so many articles about how successful people wake up early. Would my productivity go up? Would I just be grumpy and sleepy? I had to find out.

There are very few things I hate more than rushing places, feeling I might be late. Starting my days earlier has been great, I feel like I have reclaimed my days and they belong to me again, not my clock. I also think that an early starts sets the tone for the day – I am more productive and accomplish more – and better!

I consider myself a fairly natural early riser, being able to wake up without an alarm by about 7am most days. So for this experiment I decided to push things a little, and change things up by trying to wake up by about 5:30am during the week and about 730~8am during the weekends. Essentially, I wanted to add about 2 hours to the early part of my days.

[heading2 class=”” style=”” title=”Finding The Extra Hours”]I’ve learned that waking up early starts the previous night. If I want to wake up earlier, I have to sleep earlier to get the same amount of sleep and really to make the most of those extra hours. There would be no point with the experiment if I were to wake up at 5:30, if I would be getting coinsiderably less sleep. That would lead to me being grumpy, not performing as well and just ruining it all. After tracking my sleep patterns with a Jawbone UP for a couple of years, I know roughly how much sleep I need.

Also, I recently read a guideline that breaks down the amount of time people need:

  • Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)

So, for me, the bare minimum is about 6 hours, with 7 being my ‘minimum sweet spot’

  • Under 5 hours. Horrible. Hate it. That’s that.
  • Under 6 hours. I can go for a couple of days, but my mood and mental performance takes a hit very quickly.
  • About 7 hours. Minimum to be on the ‘sweet spot’, where I can last most of the day at a good level, where I dont think my mood is affected, and I feel fresh in the morning.
  • About 8 hours. Great, but hard to maintain, especially with demanding days
  • Over 9 hours. Not great, I tend to wake up dazed and confused, and it takes me a while to clear the ‘fog’
The experiment started by organising my evenings to try and get those 7 hours. Lots of early nights, and changing my evening routines – especially during the week!
Then the waking up at about 5:30am started, and I began playing around how to use that extra time. The idea was not to have more time to procrastinate or to just extend my day. The whole point was to claim a bit of time as my own, to work uninterrupted and to try and achieve as much as possible.
[heading2 class=”” style=”” title=”Using This Newly Found Time”]My idea with starting early was to add some personal time, some introspection, some health focus and some uninterrupted work. This is how each day (roughly) looks like:
  • Monday: Meditate for 15 mins. Set weekly goals and big tasks for each day. Write.
  • Tuesday: Gym. Write.
  • Wednesday: Run. Meditate for 15 minutes. Take calls with the team abroad.
  • Thursday: Gym. Take calls with the team abroad.
  • Friday: Short workout (varies between gym or shorter run). Meditate for 15 minutes. Recap the week, seeing what was good, what could have been better. This also helps me have the rest of Friday to catch up and make up for what could have been improved, finishing the week in a good note.
  • Weekends: This has been the hardest to maintain due to HK’s active nightlife. Starting about 7:30 to 8:am, I try to mediate then go for a hike. Mornings then continue with a book, a magazine (normally Time), or the newspaper, until about lunchtime, where I try to be a little more sociable.
I have realised that keeping a certain level of flexibility is really important. the idea is not to become a slave to a new routine. I try to leave wiggle room and extra time to deal with things as I go along. Also, this is an ongoing experiment, so I expect my morning routine to change quite a bit. More about morning routines soon!
[heading2 class=”” style=”” title=”Final Lessons”]Waking up this early has not been easy. At first, I was quite tired for a while, but I think I am finally getting the hang of it. Obviously, my early morning routine failed a couple of times – but I had anticipated that. Waking up extra early did mean going a little antisocial for a bit, but in the end, I think it has been worth it. Morning time just became my new best friend; and it can be yours too. Using the morning hours may be a good path to a more successful and healthy lifestyle, so I think I will stick with this it for a little longer. I will continue to tweak my evenings, and my early mornings in the hope of really finding my groove.
So – its time to Rise and shine!