Ask LH: How Can I Make My Mornings Less Chaotic And More Productive?

Dear Lifehacker, My morning routine currently consists of hitting snooze a bunch of times, throwing on some clothes and barely making it out the door on time. I’d love to upgrade my mornings so I feel less frazzled and actually start the day on the right foot. Any suggestions? Signed, Miserable in the Morning

Photo by @erics (Shutterstock).

Dear Miserable,

Many of us who aren’t naturally early birds or who just have a lot going on in the mornings know how you feel. It’s hard to take advantage of all that magical morning productivity time when you can barely drag yourself out of bed or you’ve got a chaotic household to take care of. Taking a look at our habits and priorities, though, perhaps we can find ways to finally start owning our mornings instead of being slaves to the clock. Here are some tips to make mornings a bit less stressful and hectic:

Get Enough Sleep and Wake Up at the Right Time

Perhaps the biggest boost for both your morning and entire day is to tweak your sleep. Sleep science tells us that if we wake between sleep cycles instead of in the middle of one, we’ll feel much better. Previously mentioned Sleeptiming and web apps calculate the best time to set your alarm so you wake up refreshed rather than cranky — and perhaps you won’t need that snooze button anymore.

Getting enough sleep is also critical. How much sleep you really need may vary by person, but essentially you should be going to sleep early enough that when you wake the next day you feel rested; when in doubt, go with the eight-hour rule of thumb or do this experiment to find your perfect bedtime.

When you wake up at the right time and start your days alert instead of snoozy, that alone might make your mornings feel less chaotic — as if you’ve got twice the amount of time (or at least energy) to do things. You can even hack your mornings to make waking up more pleasant, such as setting a better music alarm, for an extra boost out of bed.

Wake Up Earlier

As a night owl myself, I don’t like to think about it either, but it has to be said: The secret sauce for the most highly productive people is waking up earlier. You can train yourself to become a morning person if you want to make more of those precious early hours when there are fewer distractions. The training involves moving your wake up time by 20 minutes a day to reset your inner clock. Photo remixed from an original by Zhao!

Imagine what can you do with all that extra time, even if it’s just 30 minutes for feeding your mind and setting the tone for the day. Laura Vanderkam, author of What Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast writes that you should track how you’re using your mornings for a week, then picture your perfect morning in terms of both personal growth (training for something) and professional growth (taking online classes). If you can carve extra time out in your mornings, you can find time for the things you really want to do but just never seem to get around to doing.

Automate Your Mornings

Here’s something all of us can do: start the morning the night or even days before. By shifting all the mindless but essential tasks like picking out clothes and making breakfast to other times, we can preserve the more precious morning time.

The night before, set up your automatic coffeemaker, pack your bag and get the table ready for breakfast, following the 10 O’Clock Rule (mentioned previously in our top 10 ways to upgrade your morning routine).

You can make a lot of breakfasts and lunches ahead of time. For example: breakfast in a jar (enough for a whole week in five minutes) or frozen scones you can pop in the microwave. Make salad in a jar and snack packs days ahead of time.

It’s the little shortcuts that make a difference, as this Japanese TV show demonstrates:

Create a Routine

Build up those habits into an overall morning — and night — routine that will ensure you get everything you want done in the day. Add your goal to your (short and realistic) morning ritual list and make the adjustments or tricks needed to build the habits as needed. If one of your goals is to exercise more often, put your running shoes by the door, for example. Habits are all about small wins.

If you have a significant other and/or kids who make having a sane morning an incredible feat, that’s OK too. Your household doesn’t have to be run like a military ship to be less chaotic. Perhaps it just needs a little routine for everyone — from the morning prep the night before to the steps to get out the door in the morning (bribery with a points system or racing games works with kids, I hear).

Having a set area for all the things you need the next day also helps. You’ll always know where your keys, go bag, and everything else you need are.

With a few tweaks, you can replace the routine of hitting the snooze button and feeling harried all morning to, perhaps, a smoother morning routine that helps you accomplish more.


PS How do you save time (and your sanity) in the morning?

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