Ah, mornings. A good morning routine can seem like it will really set the productivity tone for the rest of the day. Some days you’re dialed into every detail: cooking a big breakfast, experimenting with new hairstyles. Other days… well, you’re slipping into the office through the backdoor with yesterday’s shirt on. It happens.
While a great morning moment can feel pretty magical, there’s more to the perfectly productive day than mystical forces at work. A morning routine that leads to productivity is in fact a science that you can implement in your own life.
But is there a right way to have a productive morning? After analyzing the advice and routines of six top productivity experts, it became clear that there are a few important elements that many successful people include as part of their day to have a productive morning.
Productive Morning Habits That Work For Everyone
To get started, watch this short morning routine video for how to make the most of your valuable time when trying out new daily habits:
Doesn't seem so bad, does it? Let's dive into the details of these great productive morning routine habits, and how successful people get them to stick day in, day out.
1. Wake up at YOUR right time.
We've all heard that morning people are the most productive people: “You've got to be part of the 5 am alarm club! If you've slept in past 6 am, then you're behind already!” or the infamous "The early bird catches the worm!" Groan.
According to a 2012 study published by the American Psychological Association, participants who self-identified as "morning people" reported feeling “happier and healthier than night owls.” One hypothesis from the research, however, is that the typical 9-5 workday is geared to benefit those who function at their best earlier in the day.
While it’s true that many people who wake up earlier are often more productive, that doesn't mean night owls can't have a productive morning that leads to a productive day. Their “mornings” take place a little later, but can be productive nonetheless.
Mike Vardy, productivity writer, speaker, and podcaster, says on his blog, “Look, I’m a night owl – and proud of it. Why? Because despite having many say that my sleeping habits make me less likely to achieve, I prove them wrong. I don’t just do that every once in awhile. I do it every single day.”
The most important thing isn't what time you wake up - it's getting in tune with your body's clock. According to Sleep.org, your body actually knows what it should be doing and when. Don't force yourself to be part of the 5 am club if you can't fall asleep before midnight.
Getting enough sleep and waking up when your body is ready will lead more often to a productive day than forcing yourself out of bed hours before your brain is ready—that's a recipe for burnout. Plus, the habit won't last long. If you're not a morning person, you can't force it and your body will only work with you for so long before it says "no more!"
If you’re trying to figure out your optimal time of day in life, check out this useful guide for finding your most productive hours.
2. Eliminate decision-making tasks in the morning.
Sometimes the best way to have a productive morning is to get a head start on it the night before. Many productivity experts and successful people spend their evenings preparing for the next day because it makes their mornings free to get an early start on important work.
American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault ends his evenings by writing down three things he wants to accomplish the next day.
Planning the evening before is effective because we have a limited amount of willpower and decision-making ability every day. The thought of making too many decisions in the morning will slow you down and drain your brain for the rest of the day. If you can eliminate decision-making from your mornings, you'll have more energy and time to have the most productive morning you can!
So write out your daily to-do list the night before like Kenneth Chenault. Subscribe to the concept that an AM routine can start in the PM: Pick out your outfit. Pack your lunch and your backpack for work. Want to read a book in the morning? Pick it out the night before and put it out somewhere obvious so you see it first thing. If you want to work out in the morning, sleep in your gym clothes.
3. Create a morning routine to focus your mind.
Perhaps the most important element of a productive morning is your routine. Nearly every productivity expert recommends a morning routine, although each one is just a bit different! It isn't so much about what is in your morning routine, just that you have one.
According to Claire Diaz Ortiz, productivity expert and author of Design Your Day, the best thing you can do to be productive is to create your ideal morning routine. She explains that how you start your day anchors you and ensures you stay focused on what is most important. You must master a consistent morning routine to achieve your highest level of productivity!
Although there's not one morning routine that works well for everyone, there are some key elements that make a morning routine most effective. If you analyze productivity experts' morning routines, you'll find a few things in common. They mostly all have an element of focus on big picture goals, gratitude, and planning for the day's time.
Productivity coach Zack Sexton’s morning routine looks like this:
- Water (20oz. often w/ lemon)
- Cuddles (w/ fiancée Nikida)
- Read something inspirational (often in sauna)
- Shower (if sauna-ed)
- Look at calendar
- Start first journal entry in Evernote (including prompts about something learned, things to be grateful for, and what to focus on for the day)
Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, starts his morning with five minutes of yoga stretches, while doing the following:
- Mentally recitation of his personal mission statement
- Listing three items of gratitude
- Reminder of his three big goal areas (Health, Wealth, and Love)
For each of these goals, Kevin also things of what tasks he’ll do that specific day to get closer to achieving them. "All that takes about five minutes," he says.
You don't need a lengthy meditation routine. Yoga, meditation, journaling, reading or a quiet walk—focus on the outcome, not the practice to get the most out of this special time where you can focus on yourself and center on your heart's content. You just need something that helps you set your mind on what you want to focus on for the day, and set your heart and mind in the right attitude for the day.
4. Move around and hydrate.
Health is important. When you feel great, it will make it all that much easier to handle that alarm. You might not be excited about the idea of a morning workout. Maybe it's hard enough to just get out of bed, let alone run around the gym. But you don't have to lift weights or go for a jog. Simply moving around will get your blood flowing and help you get your day started. Many successful people start their mornings with a little movement, so here are a few ideas to add some more health to your life:
- Kevin Kruse does a daily 20-minute HIIT session on the treadmill.
- Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square, jogs every morning.
- Howard Schulz, CEO of Starbucks, bikes first thing.
- Congresswoman and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi power walks before she sits down to work.
- Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk works out with his personal trainer.
- Shark Tank investor Kevin O’Leary gets on his elliptical or exercise bike.
- Starwood Hotels CEO Frits van Paaschen runs 10 miles each morning!
While you're moving around (and working up a bit of a sweat), make sure to stay hydrated. What you put in your mug matters: Drinking water in the mornings will kick start your day and give you lasting energy all day long.
Jeff Sanders (author of the 5 AM Miracle and host of the podcast by the same name) says his favorite morning habit is to drink one liter of water within the first 45 minutes of bouncing out of bed. He says: "Hydration is incredibly important, especially after waking up. I always find that this larger quantity of water provides incredible energy and prepares my body for the day ahead."
5. Eat the frog... or the tadpoles.
After you get your personal morning routine organized, it's time to take action for a productive day.
Brian Tracy, author of "Eat the Frog," bases his morning philosophy off of a quote from Mark Twain:
"If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long."
The "frog" he is talking about is your most important task or work—the one you're dreading the most because it's so big and important that it’s looming over you. Building the habit to do your biggest task first can give you a huge boost of accomplishment first thing.
But starting the day with your most daunting task is, well, daunting. It can be too easy to procrastinate, making it even harder to get your day started. Sometimes, clearing away a few small tasks early on can give you the momentum to tackle your frog. In a study of creative work inside businesses, researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer found that making incremental progress, a.k.a. small wins, leads to more productivity in the long run.
Whether you work better by eating the frog, or tackling some small tadpoles first, find your ideal rhythm and get started right away!
Create Your Ideal Morning Routine For A Productive Day
Mornings don't have to be rough. By doing a few focused things when you wake up, you can set yourself up for more productivity throughout the day. If it seems daunting to overhaul your morning routine all at once, introduce one new practice a week and see if you notice improvement.
After all, they say if you win the morning, you win the day. Don't we all want to win at life?
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in January, 2017 but has been updated with a whole heap of new information and ideas.