Mornings are rough, especially if you're not the type of person who jumps out of bed ready to take on the world. If you're not a morning person and you have to get up anyway, here's a guide to making the most of those hours and getting a start on the day.
If you told me five years ago that I'd get up at 6:30am every morning to start working at 7am, I would have laughed at you. Every morning when I wake up, my mind turns at least once to how soon I can go back to sleep. I'm still no morning person, and the goal of this guide isn't to turn you into one (we have a different guide for that, if that's what you want.) We're also not totally buying into the you have to get up before 8am to be successful hype either — you can be successful at the times of day that work for you. What we can do is make those mornings less painful and more productive.
First, Take Care Of Yourself
The first step to better mornings is to make sure you take care of yourself. Obviously a good cup of coffee or tea is a great start to the morning, but there's more to the picture:
- Get enough sleep in the first place. Look, half of the reason mornings suck is because we'd rather keep sleeping. If you get enough sleep from the outset, waking up won't be any more fun, but getting up will be easier and you won't feel the immediate need to just shut your eyes and roll back over. If you need help sleeping better, getting more consistent sleep, or feel like you can't wiggle any more sleeping time into your schedule, check out our guide to making the most of the sleep you get.
- Take notes about the mornings where you feel good. You know those mornings where you wake up and you're just good to go? They may not come often, but everyone has them from time to time. Maybe it's the weather, or what you ate for dinner the night before, or how long you slept. Whatever it is, write down the factors which led to you feeling so good that morning so you can try and duplicate them. With luck, you may be able to build a routine that will help you in the future (more on that later).
- Get some exercise. A regular workout routine has tons of benefits, including more overall energy. I find that when I do work out regularly, I'm less lethargic during the week, and getting up in the morning isn't so bad. If I skip my workouts, I quickly descend into "when can I get a nap?" and "I really should go to bed early tonight" thinking. A quick five minute stretch or set of push-ups when you wake up can help energise you even on the worst mornings. I like to do some leg and abdominal stretches before I even get out of bed, and then roll onto the floor next to the bed for some push ups. Is it lazy? Heck yeah. Does it work to make the bed less attractive once I'm up and out of it? Definitely.
- Eat right. Make sure you eat properly. Whether you have breakfast is up to you. There's a lot of conflicting information about whether breakfast is essential fuel for a productive day or just food your body will spend energy digesting that it could spend working or thinking. Whatever you choose to do, don't go too long without eating. A healthy overall diet will make mornings easier (and it will keep you from eating too late, which comes with its own set of problems) and give you something to look forward to when you wake. I'm convinced part of the reason I'm so into coffee and coffee culture is because it's a fun pastime to start my day with, and the caffeine doesn't hurt either.
Remember, take care of your health and sanity first. If you don't, and you just skip to using apps or other productivity tricks, you'll undermine everything you're working towards by treating yourself like crap. Remember, you only have (and you'll only ever get) one you.
Build Morning Rituals To Look Forward To
One way to make mornings easier is to give yourself something to look forward to when you get up. The key to building lasting, positive habits is to reward yourself when you make a commitment and the stick to it. We've talked about the importance of personal "rituals" to building better habits, but they can also get your mornings off to a good and productive start. For some people, brewing a perfect pot of tea and watching the world light up with the sunrise is enough for them. Part of the reason I love coffee so much is because because the process of brewing a nice cup of coffee is meditative for me; it's a ritual I can indulge in first thing each day. Grinding the beans, weighing, timing the extraction: they're all fun and relaxing, and the reward I get when I'm finished helps me get out of bed in the morning.
Still, the real reason most of us get up is because we have to. Work demands it, our families need us, or the dog needs to go out. If you can, work that reason into your ritual. Work is work, but if the dog needs to go out, play with the dog in the morning and make it something you'll look forward to. If your kids need you to make their lunches, take joy in the lunch-making, or spice it up like this Dad, who drew lunch bag art on his kids' lunches every day for years. Give yourself a happy reason to wake and you'll be less inclined to roll over and sleep. You may never love mornings, but at least you'll have a smile-worthy reason to get up.
Massage Your Schedule To Fit In "Me Time"
Getting up earlier is a popular solution to morning woes, and if you can pull it off, it can give you more time to start your day on your own terms. One of the reasons I love the early shift is because it's quiet, dark, and there are no distractions. If that works for you, by all means do it. However, it's hard to tell someone for whom waking is already tough to just "wake up earlier, when you're even more miserable, and start your day an hour earlier when you know you could be sleeping that whole time." After all, we've already debunked the whole "early riser = more productive" myth; everyone is different.
If you know full well there's no chance you'll trade an hour or half-hour of sleep for an early start, try to find parts of your morning routine that you could optimise to give yourself a little more breathing room. Even 30 seconds of downtime before getting out of your car and heading in to work, for example, is enough for a few deep breaths and a chance to de-stress before starting the day. It's also just enough time to squeeze in a few stretches. If you can find a few minutes, make your morning shower a little more luxurious and relaxing. Enjoy a cup of coffee before you get down to business at work, take the scenic route on your commute instead of the fast one, or spend more time with your loved ones in the morning. If you can find a couple of minutes to treat yourself, you'll have something to look forward to when you wake, and you'll make getting up and ready easier to deal with.
Use Technology To Make Mornings Easier
Your computer and your smartphone can actually help make getting up easier and (dare I say it,) more fun. Here's how:
Let your phone wake you up. Waking up to the light of your phone or tablet may be harsh, but if you wake before dawn, work the night shift, or sleep next to someone who doesn't have to be up yet, it might be just the ticket. Remember though: avoiding your phone or tablet's screen before bed will help you sleep better.
When it's time to wake up though, turn on your screen. You don't have to check your email first thing if you don't want to — consider setting a timer for five minutes (or however long you want to relax before getting out of bed) and reading an ebook, reading your favourite news feeds, playing a game, or catching up with what happened overnight on Twitter or Facebook. Then get up and open the curtains or turn on a proper light once your eyes have adjusted.
- Use music to get you up, out of bed, and motivated. Sometimes all you need is a little push to get up and moving in the morning, and if music can motivate us to exercise, it can start your day too. We've talked about using timed playlists for your morning routine before. Start your day with a song you like as your alarm, then fire up a playlist to kick off your day. Ideally, you'll a playlist just as long as your morning routine, so you'll know when it's coming to an end, or that when you hear a specific song, you'll know you should get your coat or head out the door. Plus, if you choose the right tunes, the playlist can put you in a good mood to start your day.
- Connect with friends first thing. There's power in personal connections, and when you make real ones, they can give you a boost that lasts all day. Consider using a few minutes in the morning to reach out to a friend. Do it in a passive way that doesn't demand immediate attention — a Facebook message, an email, or maybe a tweet. A while ago, when I was going through some tough times, a few friends of mine who woke up roughly around the same time every morning would make a point to start a thread on one of our favourite networks and we'd all wish each other well for the day. It was a nice way to wake up, and definitely took the edge off of everything else.
- Get a head start on work. Your mileage may vary on this one, but I've found that it's helped me in the past to glance at my work inbox before I walk into the office. That way you're never surprised by a first-thing-AM meeting scheduled before you arrived, or by a co-worker who stops you before you sit down to ask if you've seen the super-important email they sent overnight. Just make sure you don't actually start working before you need to. The goal is to be informed or set your priorities for the day. Depending on your job (and how much you like it), a head start on the day's events can prove useful intelligence or just unnecessary stress.
Your electronics can be your best friend in the morning, or they can be your worst enemy. If you prefer peace and quiet, and checking your work email will make you start working, don't do it. The value you'd get from an early warning is diminished by the stress it would cause. Spend that time listening to podcasts, spending time with friends or loved ones, or just reading your favourite productivity blog instead.
Choose Your Morning Work Carefully
When you do get down to business and start working, choose your work wisely. There's a lot to be said for front-loading your day with the hardest or most unpleasant tasks, or "eating a live frog first thing in the morning" so the worst is immediately beind you, as our own Gina Trapani has said. Still, waking up every morning knowing you have a frog to eat doesn't really make you want to jump out of bed and start the day, does it? However, if you tackle the easy stuff first and leave the hard stuff for later, you run the risk of being distracted by your colleagues and everyday life when it's time to do the difficult things.
Here's what you should do. First, if you need that early boost to get you through the day, tackle the hard stuff first. Then, look at your best working hours. If you have to or choose to work late when no one else is around, or you know your most productive hours are later on, save the hard stuff for when you'll be most productive. Don't shoehorn the difficult work into a time it doesn't fit because someone else told you to.
Even if you do tackle the hard things first, you may want to ease your way into it with something lighter, like cleaning out your inbox or replying to email (set a timer so you're not just procrastinating!) Then, take a deep breath, and go to work on the tough stuff. You'll have a big win before noon, and you can reward yourself for a job well done. Once you get into the habit, you'll wake up thinking about how relaxing the afternoon will be once you get something off your plate, not how much it'll suck to go in and have to do whatever the day's big task is. If that method really works for you, consider giving yourself a little tough love. Give yourself a schedule demanding enough that you have something big you need to tackle every day. It'll definitely make sure you're up and working, and it'll guarantee that your mornings are productive.
All of these methods will help you cope better with having to get up and be more productive once you're awake. None of them are designed to turn you into a morning person who'll suddenly love getting up every morning and the crack of dawn. You may come to love it, but personally, after years of hearing that I'd "just get used to it" or "learn to love it," I still just want to roll over and go back to sleep almost every time my alarm goes off.
That doesn't mean I haven't learned to enjoy the morning for the other things it brings me: Time with my loved ones, peace and quiet, and all of the productivity that comes with tackling my toughest tasks first when there's no one around to distract me. If you can hone in on those benefits too, your mornings won't be so bad either.