Ever felt like your whole morning slipped by before you got any real work done? Have you woken up grouchy, then felt grumpy all day? Unproductive days often have a sneaky culprit: a bad morning routine. Good morning routines improve your focus, put you in a positive mindset, and set you up for a day of success. Bad morning routines do just the opposite, draining your creative energy and decreasing your concentration.
With this in mind, we set out to find a few simple morning habits with proven track records—routines backed by studies, endorsed by experts, or practiced by successful entrepreneurs. Here are six ways you can start your morning to make for a more productive day.
1. Set your goals the night before
You’ve probably woken up to a handful of email requests, a list of questions from colleagues, or a series of invites to impromptu meetings. If you haven’t already defined your goals, you’ll be busy responding to these messages all day.
One solution is to set high-level goals each night before going to bed. With your priorities set, you’ll be able to see which requests are important, and which ones can wait. The next morning, it’ll also help your brain filter emails and invites more naturally.
2. Begin your morning with positivity and gratitude
Many successful people are skeptics. By default, they anticipate how things can go wrong, and do their best to avoid likely problems. But being a skeptic doesn’t mean you have to be a pessimist. Science suggests that optimists tend to be more successful than pessimists in the long run—they’re more likely to believe they can push through problems and accomplish their goals.
As such, it pays to think positive thoughts in the morning. Even if you’re a pessimist by nature, try training your brain to think positively for at least the first few minutes each day. For some people, this means practicing gratitude. When your alarm goes off, think about all the things you’re thankful for, whether or not they’re related to work. Over time, you’ll likely find your at-work attitude improving too.
3. Less caffeine and sugar, more water and protein
Caffeine and sugar are among the world’s most popular morning stimulants, but their effects are artificial, and the high doesn’t last long. Try cutting down a bit on coffee and sugary breakfasts, and replace what you can with water and protein, each of which will give you more lasting energy…without the afternoon crash. If you still need your sweet fix, consider trading out the maple syrup for apples, bananas, and other natural fruit.
For coffee addicts, it’s probably not feasible to go cold turkey, but substituting even one cup for a glass of water can be the right baby step toward a doctor-approved morning diet.
4. Exercise before work, even for just five minutes
Exercise increases focus and releases endorphins, and science says it helps employees improve their performance. Unfortunately, few people have the discipline for a 5:00 am swim or bike ride. And even if you do make time to work out, it’s often after work, when your creative energy is already mostly depleted.
So if you’re not likely to hit the treadmill before breakfast, consider adding a five- to 10-minute workout into your morning routine. Anything works, from sit-ups to lunges, yoga to a brisk walk. The burst of activity will help sharpen your concentration for the next hour or two, and you can repeat as necessary with small breaks throughout the day.
5. Find your tailor-made creative outlet
Some people swear by meditation. Others like chatting with family members. Still others like to journal or listen to music. While these are very different activities, what matters is finding a morning ritual that jumpstarts your creative thinking. It’s a common thread among routines practiced by successful entrepreneurs.
Try picking an activity that will help break you out of your morning auto-pilot…in a style that works for your personality.
- Meditative: enjoy five minutes of silence or intentional thinking
- Social: call a friend, chat with a family member, or check in with a colleague during your morning commute
- Expressive: listen to music, write in a journal, or create your own artwork
Each activity will train your brain to be flexible, experiment, and find new solutions to existing problems.
6. Become (more of) a morning person
Psychological research suggests that morning people are consistently more proactive than night owls. In most workplaces, being proactive leads to higher performance and ultimately, more success. But maybe you still love your evenings, and you couldn’t imagine coding before noon or writing a marketing plan before two cups of coffee.
So even if you’re not cut out to wake up every morning at 4:00 am, you might try waking up just a bit earlier than you do now. Maybe that means setting your alarm 30 minutes earlier, or changing your workout from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am.
It also might mean moving your most important work to earlier in the day. Science author and journalist Jennifer Ackerman found that people tend to think the most clearly between 2.5 and 4 hours after waking up. If possible, consider moving your most important projects to your morning hours, when your concentration is at its peak.
Sometimes all it takes to change your whole day is a few simple adjustments to how you spend your mornings. If you can start your day with a good routine, you might find your daily habits naturally improve as well.