The idea of waking up early, sitting down to breakfast, and writing a few pages in a journal sounds great. But in practice, it rarely works out so cleanly. After a while, you start sleeping in a little more. Then you skip writing, because you’re in a rush to beat traffic. And who has time for breakfast, anyway?
Image by Tarchyshnik Andrei.
Before you know it, you’re back to your old ways. If you want to make your morning routine stick, focus on making it a habit.
For years, I had a habit of waking up at the last minute: half an hour before I had to leave for work, or right before I needed to hop on my laptop and start typing. It was a stressful way to start the day, and for that reason, I’ve always loved the idea of having a solid morning routine to ease me into a clear-minded, energetic, and productive day. (Plus, rituals are great for your overall health.) Over time, I’ve been able to develop a pretty solid routine, but in the process of trying to build one, I’ve found there are a few problems that can throw you off course.
You Can’t Get Up Early
It’s hard enough to leave the comfort of bed every morning, but it’s nearly impossible if you don’t get enough sleep. Morning routines are built on having time to dedicate to yourself after you wake up. Chances are, that means you need to get up earlier. Whether it’s journaling or just reading the paper with a cup of coffee, your morning rituals won’t have the same effect if you’re rushing through them because you got up late.
This became a problem for me. I vowed to get up early, make coffee, and then read and write every morning before work. For the first few weeks, this worked out great. Then I started getting up a little later every day, and my whole routine became counterproductive because I was stressing out trying to get through it.
For me, it helped to start from the bottom, with my evening routine. I focused on what I could do before going to bed to make sure I could hit the sack early and fall asleep quickly.
We’ve told you how to cultivate the perfect evening routine before, and it’s not just about the things you do an hour before bed. What you do throughout the day can have a big impact on your sleep schedule, too. Here are few tips that I included in my evening routine to help me feel more like going to bed earlier:
- Leave work at work: Don’t focus on work after hours. To do this, it helps to plan your first task for the morning. The more prepared you are for the next day, the less likely you are to think about work after work.
- Get outside during the day: Studies show that daytime light exposure leads to better sleep at night. Try to take outdoor breaks during the day.
- Eat meals earlier rather than later: Consider having dinner earlier in the evening, so your sleepytime isn’t spent digesting food. It also helps to avoid alcohol, which can mess with your sleep quality during the night.
- Find a relaxing activity before bed: Some people read. I used to do word search puzzles. Whatever the activity, try to avoid a TV or phone screen too close to bedtime. They emit a blue light, which suppresses melatonin.
Once you get your evening routine down and get used to going to bed at a certain time, you should be able to get up earlier as a result.
If it’s still not working and you still find yourself pressing snooze in the morning, try training yourself gradually. Start moving your wakeup time in just 20 minute increments. For example, if you usually get up at 7 AM and you want to wake up at 6 AM, start by trying 6:40. Once you get that down, then try 6:20, and so on.
Your Workday Starts Too Early
So you’ve trained yourself to get up at 6 AM, maybe even earlier, and you still don’t have enough time. It might be that you’re just not being realistic about your schedule.
I like to think that I have all the time in the world in the morning and can gradually ease into my day. But that’s not how it works in practice. Usually, there’s a pressing email that I need to read, or comments I need to reply to, or some other work-related task that can’t wait. Especially if you’re working with people in different time zones, you might need to be in front of your computer at a certain time.
As a result, I had an unrealistic idea of how much I could accomplish in my routine: Exercise. Journaling. Reading a book. Trying to cram all that stuff in an hour in the morning and then get to my email and work was really stressful. So I’d forget the routine altogether and just dive right into work.
Instead of giving up, it helps to pick a couple of rituals that make the most impact and then focus on those. I chose enjoying my coffee and journaling, for example. It’s not much, but I’m focused when I’m experiencing those two rituals, and they do the job: they mentally prepare me to take on the day.
It also helps to speed up other areas of your morning routine: showering and grooming, for example. I enjoy the whole ritual of making and having coffee in the morning, but if you don’t, you could also use a timer to have your coffee ready when you wake up. A few other quick tips for speeding things up:
- Opt for easy-to-manage hairstyles
- Streamline your makeup routine
- Shower at night
It may also help to track your morning routine for a week or so. Find the areas in which you’re spending the most time and then cut back on the areas you don’t care about so you can focus on the rituals that matter more to you. The bottom line: you want to be realistic about how much you can fit into your morning and then come up with a few impactful activities.
You Get Bored
After a few weeks of adopting your new routine, it might get old. Like a diet, you might be totally gung ho about it when you first start, but then you give up when the novelty wears off.
It helps to think of your routine in these terms: not as a new, exciting thing, but rather, a gradual lifestyle change. With that in mind, don’t try to take on every morning activity you come across. Focus on one at a time and see how it goes. Try jogging for a week, for example, and once you get comfortable with that habit, then consider adding a new one in. This way, you don’t go from zero to 60 with your mornings; you’re slowly changing your habits over time. When the novelty wears off, those habits have already stuck.
One reason I got bored with my morning routine is that I kept picking activities that didn’t speak to me. I’d read an article like, “Here’s What Rich People Do Every Morning,” and I’d get excited and want to have a big hearty breakfast, too. I tried that for a while, and it felt like a chore. Breakfast is important, and I eat it, but I’m just not a big “sit-down at the breakfast table” person. It sounded nice, but it’s not something I care about, so it ended up feeling like work to spend time cooking and eating and cleaning up.
There are some generic early morning habits that are healthy and useful for everyone, but the specifics are up to you. Pick the rituals that are actually important to you and make a difference to your day-to-day. This way, it’s not about whether they’re exciting or not, it’s about how they help you start your day. Here are a few you might choose from:
- Writing in a journal
- Meditating for a few minutes
- Morning yoga
- Making your bed
- Making a list of things to focus on (and ignore) that day
Gradually fold in your new rituals, see which ones stick, and change your routine over time.
Morning routines are great. No one likes being thrust into the day in a stressed, frazzled state of mind. You want a calm, deliberate morning that mentally prepares you for everything you have to do that day. If your morning routine just isn’t working, these tips should help you figure out why and how you can tweak your routine to make it stick.