Do you want to be more productive and focused on what matters most?
If so, one of the best practices you can set up for yourself to do this is to create a morning routine, or morning ritual, that sets your whole day up for success. Everyone’s morning success ritual will be a little different, and part of the benefit of such a ritual comes from discovering your unique algorithm. But if you’re like me, it helps to hear what others do, to get ideas that you can use.
The purpose of this post is to provide a place for people to share their morning productivity rituals, and to get ideas from what others do. So you can skip now to the comments to share yours or get ideas, or you can read on for a quick primer about what a morning ritual is and why it can be helpful for you.
The Morning Ritual—A Durable Concept
You can proactively create habits in the morning that lead to greater focus on what matters most, and greater productivity on your most important contribution.
I see this concept all over the place these days in the personal productivity literature, such as in Chip and Dan Heath’s Switch and Greg McKeown’s Essentialism. Some big names in the online entrepreneurship community are also talking about it, like Jeff Walker and Eben Pagan. Eben Pagan likes to say that we only have so much willpower in a day, and that by setting up a routine to be habitual over time, we can relieve some of the cognitive heavy lifting by making productivity habitual. This is backed up by recent scientific discussions of habit, such as in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit.
But the morning ritual is not a new concept, of course. Stephen Covey, of 7 Habits fame talks about it in the seventh habit, Sharpening the Saw. Then there’s the famous story of the 19th-century novelist Anthony Trollope claiming that he never would have written his novels if not for his porter bringing him coffee every morning. We are fascinated by the rituals of creative people, so much so that we have extended blog posts and even entire books based on sharing them. Then there is Erik Satie, the early 20th-century modernist composer, who brilliantly lampoons the idea of the artist's routine, reminding us not to take the routine too seriously.
Morning Ritual—Principles for Success
Here’s the idea again in short: If you build a morning routine that leads strategically up to your main work—writing, research, creating—it will become easer and natural, even habitual, to do that work more consistently.
Here are some principles for crafting your morning ritual:
1. Work from the inside out, not the outside in.
Don’t let the world in until you choose to do so. That means checking your email should not be the first task in your routine. Take care of yourself first, grow yourself, then radiate your strength outward. Furthermore, don’t jump from yourself straight to the “world out there” (social media, work emails, etc.). Tend to your close relationships (family, close friends) before you open yourself to the working world.
2. Care for your whole self: your body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Include exercise, reading inspiring books, prayer/meditation, visualization, journaling, and other uplifting activities in your morning routine.
3. Build in a system to capture flashes of brilliance while also not derailing the routine.
This one is important. Here’s the deal: when you start doing this, you are going to experience onrushes of ideas, tasks, projects, things to write, things to create. It is crucial that you have a way to capture these ideas in a consistent way, so that you know you won’t lose that thought forever, but you don’t derail the system. The note-cards system that has been used for years, and has recently been described in Daniel J. Levitin’s recent book The Organized Mind, is what I use. This topic could get a post all its own, but these are the basics. Get a stack of 3x5 notecards and keep them with you at all times. When you think of a task or an idea, offload it from your brain to the card—but only put one task or idea per card. Collect these ideas and tasks for later review. When you review them, the notecards can easily be rearranged and sorted, which is perhaps the most powerful part of this system.
4. It’s not a ritual if it changes every day.
Be the bouncer of your own morning. Imagine a bouncer guarding the door to the VIP room of an exclusive night club. Burly, scowling, scary. You can bet that everyone who is let in will be scrutinized. Do the same thing with your morning routine. It’s not a ritual if it changes every day. Set your ritual and stick to it. Do a quarterly review of your morning ritual to approve changes and discontinue tasks that have lost their value.
5. Begin your morning ritual the night before.
I also have a nighttime routine that is designed to remove barriers for the morning. Before I go to bed, I do the following:
- tidy up my workspace
- open the file of the project that I will be working on the next morning
- program the coffee maker
- set out clothes for the next day at the foot of the bed
- set my alarm manually (I don’t have it on repeat)
I truly believe that this nighttime ritual has been crucial to the sustained success of my morning ritual. When I wake up, everything has been prepared, and this makes it almost effortless to fall back into my healthy and productive routine the next morning.
Alright, Already, Let’s Get the Details!
I find that when people teach the concept of the morning ritual, they usually talk in the abstract. The details—such as a suggested sequence of activities—are either not a part of the content, or they are behind a paywall. Don’t you wish you had a group of like-minded people to trade ideas with, share what works for you, and get ideas of what works from them? If you already have that, then you’re lucky. But if you don’t, please use the comments section of this post to share what you do, or to get ideas from others.
- This post is meant as a resource, but it will only work if you give as well as take. Be brave and share your process, even if it is not perfect.
- Though you might want to ask follow-up questions of commenters, please keep comments positive and free of judgment.