by Erika MacMillan, MBA
This edition of the Thriving Together Series was written by Erika MacMillan, Vice President of Sales in the medical device industry, soon to-be children’s book author, and work-life integration and well-being enthusiast. Instagram: @erikamacmillan
“If you win the morning, you win the day.” – Tim Ferriss
While not all morning routines are created equal, establishing a non-negotiable morning routine infused with intentional habits prepares the most successful individuals with a well-being mindset that sets the stage for the rest of the day. It is this foundation that supports an increased capacity for calm problem-solving, effective decision making, and improved productivity.
Consider these two possible scenarios for what happens after you first open your eyes for the day ahead:
Scenario A: The alarm is going off at a time you selected the night before, and you hit snooze. Then you repeat this three times. You roll over and pick up your phone. Social media, emails, or the news catch your attention while you slowly wake up. You’ve lost track of time, hop out of bed, jump in the shower, and rush out the door with just enough time to grab a bagel or coffee on the run before making it to your first meeting right on time.
Scenario B: The alarm is going off at the same time it does every day, but your internal alarm clock woke you up already. You get up, make your bed, and put on clothes that are laid out at the end of your bed. After a workout and shower, you eat a balanced breakfast while enjoying a cup of coffee and listening to a podcast, audiobook, or calming music. The night before you had identified your top priority for the day and estimated it will take 30 minutes to complete. You finish this first and then arrive to that same meeting 15 minutes early.
In both scenarios, you are next presented with a challenge – a pop-quiz, an unhappy client, or a work project that you are being asked to prioritize. In which scenario are you more prepared to handle the unexpected?
Morning Routine Practices
Prime your mind.
Mediation: In recent years, meditation has become more popular as published research points to the overall health benefits. From reducing stress and anxiety, to improving focus and productivity, and increasing emotional intelligence, meditation is a highly effective tool to leverage (Mineo, 2018 & EOC Institute, 2021).
Positive Self-Talk: We are the stories that we tell ourselves. Repeating mantras or affirmations consistently help not only to build self-confidence, but also to rewire your subconscious mind to trust, accept, and most importantly, act on those stories (Elrod, 2018).
Move your body.
Exercise: “Some benefits of physical activity on brain health happen right after a session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Benefits include…reduced short-term feelings of anxiety for adults. Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age. It can also reduce your risk of depression and anxiety and help you to sleep better” (Center for Disease Control, 2021). Move your body in the morning to start each day in an optimal state.
Take on your most difficult or important task first (Spall, 2018).
Time Blocking: Plan out your day with dedicated uninterrupted blocks. Set time aside for meaningful and administrative tasks: What time of day are you able to focus most intently? Try blocking out those times for the activities most meaningful to moving your goals forward.
Priority List: (Note: I did not say a to-do list.) To-do lists can get busy and distract away from the key priorities that support achieving your goals or assigned projects. Identify your most critical and/or difficult tasks and commit to completing them first. Be sure to include all personal and professional obligations so that your planned day represents a well-rounded focus on all your goals and needs.
Make your mornings count even more by starting the night before.
Plan Ahead: An effective way to be more efficient in your day is to plan the night, or even the Sunday, before. Take out your clothes for the next day. Write out a priority list. Review your schedule and add appropriate time blocks into your calendar to ensure your priority list items are accounted for.
Sleep: “Sleep is the most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health every day” (Walker, 2018). Dr. Matthew Walker offers compelling evidence for every person to examine his or her sleep habits in his book Why We Sleep. He references 12 tips for getting a good night sleep:
- Stick to a sleep schedule
- Avoid exercise late in the day
- Avoid caffeine, avoid alcohol before bed
- Avoid large meals and beverages late at night
- Avoid medicines that disrupt sleep (if possible)
- Don’t take naps after 3 p.m.
- Relax before bed
- Take a hot bath before bed
- Establish a good sleeping environment
- Get exposed to the right sunlight
- Don’t lie in bed awake
- See a health professional if you continue to have trouble sleeping
Habit stacking builds momentum.
So, where to start? As a part of evening planning, write down exactly what you will do in your morning routine. Be specific (see example below). Start simply. Evaluate what is working and what isn’t. Make adjustments until you show up as your best self each day.
Example (Cetnar, 2021):
6:30 a.m. -6:45 a.m.
- Get out of bed immediately. “5,4,3,2,1 – Go”
- No screen time
- Make Bed
- Change into workout clothes
- Brush teeth
- Fill up water bottle
6:45 a.m.- 7:15 a.m.
- Meditation (Simple Habit app) – 7 minutes
- Peloton – 20 minutes: Cody Rigsby 2000s Ride
7:15 a.m. – 7:35 a.m.
- Get Dressed
7:35 a.m. – 8 a.m.
- Make Coffee
- Breakfast: peanut butter wheat toast, blueberries, cottage cheese
- Listen to Podcast (Spotify) – 17 minutes: Workwell
8 a.m. – 9 a.m.
- Time Block for #1 priority and/or most difficult task
- Cell phone on “Do Not Disturb”
Small habits will accrue into a foundation that will not only change the way you start your day, but the way you live your life. “It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently” (Guise, 2013). No two routines will work for everyone. Create a morning routine that works for you and make it non-negotiable.
Mineo, L. (2019, November 1). With mindfulness, life’s in moment. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/less-stress-clearer-thoughts-with-mindfullness-meditation/
EOC Institute: Emotional Intelligence. 2021. Retrieved from: https://eocinstitute.org/meditation/emotional-intelligence-eq/
Elrod, H. (2018). The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform your Life before 8 a.m. Hal Elrod International, Inc.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021, April 5). Benefits of Physical Activity. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
Spall, B. & Xander, M. (2018). My Morning Routine. Penguin Publishing Group.
Walker, M. (2018). Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams. Penguin Books.
Guise, S. (2013). Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. Amazon.
Cetnar, T. “The 3 Pillars of Elite Results: 168 Sheet.” Feb. 2021.
Podcast & App
Optimize with Brian Johnson: Get More Wisdom in Less Time: https://www.optimize.me/
Meditation Apps: https://www.businessinsider.com/best-meditation-apps
Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!