Over the past few months, I have played around with my morning routine more than ever. Spending so much time at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic means I am constantly trying to find ways to maximise every minute of my day.
Getting your morning wrong can often mean getting your day wrong. That was definitely the case for me for the bulk of lockdown.
I’m now managing the final year of my university degree while trying to get my writing career off the ground. Freelancing, designing websites and trying to learn solid organic chemistry on a daily basis requires willpower, productive habits and a good start to the day.
Below is the morning routine I have been using for the past few weeks, and it is the one that has worked best out of those I have tried since the start of the year. Most of the practices won’t come as much of a surprise, but I think once you link them all together you will be able to experience similarly powerful results.
1. Wake up to light rather than sound
This is one of those tricks I have wanted to try for years, but never got around to it. You can buy Wi-Fi bulbs for anywhere between £/$10–30, and they are worth their weight in gold. Basically, you put the bulb into a lamp, or indeed your main room light, and link it to an app on your phone.
You then set it to come on at a specific time each morning. I like to wake up around 7:30am, so I set it to come on at a very low brightness at 7:15. Then at 7:30 it gets a little brighter, and it stays on until 8am, by which point I am (usually) up. I was baffled at the ability of this light to wake me up every morning without fail, and without an external alarm.
I won’t bore you with the physiological details, but it should be pretty obvious that it mimics the natural way we used to wake up before electricity did it for us. Natural often means good, and it’s much more pleasant than a beeping sound in your ear.
Don’t throw the alarm out the window just yet though, as it comes in at step 2. As for the bulbs, just shop around and find one that can be set to come on at specific times and at specific brightness levels and you’re good to go.
2. Set an alarm at the other side of the room
I know I said that waking up to light is better than any alarm, but this step serves a practical purpose in that it forces you out of bed to turn it off. It also serves as a good backup in case you want that extra level of security, so you don’t sleep in and miss anything important.
I often struggle to get out of bed even when I am wide awake, as my bed is simply too cosy at that time. Thus, an extra helping hand in the form of an alarm at the other side of the room combats this urge to laze indefinitely.
I use my phone, but of course any alarm will do. The key is to set it for a time around 15 minutes or so after your light comes on. Then, you place it across the other side of the room.
The alarm is not supposed to wake you up, but instead guide you out of bed. Placing it at the other side of the room means you will not be able to lie for much longer than 30 seconds without needing to get up and turn it off.
As you have been awake for a while already — thanks to the light — and up on your feet — thanks to the alarm — you will probably be able to resist the urge to get back into bed. Even if you do go back, you will probably be too awake to sleep on.
Now you are wide awake and out of bed, exactly what you wanted! But the next steps are vital if you want to really maximise your morning. The next two steps don’t have a specific order so to speak, but let’s start with the one I think is most important.
3. Don’t go on your phone
Most people go on their phone as soon as they get up, and I am definitely guilty of this. I use my phone as my alarm, but I make a point of simply putting it back down once I turn off the alarm, and it stays there until after breakfast.
Waking up to notifications of extreme importance sometimes does require rapid action, but most of the time we can go half an hour before we respond to a tweet or send an email.
Avoiding opening your phone past the point of turning off the alarm is vital if you want to make your mornings more productive. Don’t worry, you will be reunited with your favourite piece of technology soon enough.
But it becomes far too easy to waste vital moments first thing in the morning when you spend time surfing through social media. Instead, focus on the next few steps before you check your likes and respond to any emails.
4. Drink some water
This is a good habit to form on its own, but drinking a big glass of water first thing in the morning is a super healthy way to start your day. You’ve just gone (hopefully) many hours without a drink while you were sleeping, and you know that your body needs water to survive. So why starve it any longer?
You become dehydrated overnight, and so the best thing you can do for your insides when you wake up is to rejuvenate them with some good old H2O.
A good hack for this is to keep a flask-style bottle beside your bed and fill it up each night. This way you have some nice cold water waiting for you when you first get up!
5. Meditative workout
Don’t be intimidated, as I’m not asking you to find your soul at 7am. Nor am I asking you to beat your deadlifting PB before breakfast. Instead, this step is the way to really wake up your body and your mind simultaneously, before you take on the rest of your day.
What I like to do is combine some simple body exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and stretches, with some basic breathing techniques. You can do pretty much anything you want; the goal is simply to bring some life into your muscles and get your mind prepped for the day.
Play around with it. You’re not trying to build muscle or find inner peace (bonus points if you do). And you can do it for as long as you want. I find that a short, 10-minute session is all I need to feel that little bit more energised, and that little bit more relaxed before I go downstairs.
If you would rather do half an hour, or can only manage 5 minutes before you need some calories, that is perfectly fine. Take a dynamic approach to every part of your morning routine, and it will be much easier to find out what works for you.
6. Have a high-fat breakfast
Technically speaking, all of these steps are optional. But this is one that I understand a lot of people may struggle with. Many struggle to eat anything before 10am, while others need something to eat the moment they wake up.
I have eaten almost exactly the same breakfast every day since I was in primary school. I would have some sort of cereal, a bit of fruit, a yogurt and a glass of juice. In high school the juice became water, and then I discovered the magic of coffee. But essentially, the structure remained the same.
I recently learned about the value of having a high-fat breakfast instead of a relatively high-sugar one. Basically, your body is able to break down the fat much slower than sugary foods and can thus use the energy over a longer period of time.
(This is a really basic explanation, and I’m definitely not qualified to tell anyone what they should be eating for breakfast. But speaking from my experience, whether or not it’s down to a placebo effect I don’t know or care, I have found high-fat breakfasts to give me a better start to the day.)
Simply put, this means you can have your breakfast supply you with a steady stream of energy over the course of the morning, giving you the power to attack all of your morning tasks.
The source of the energy is not too important, things like eggs and avocados are my favourites, but it really does work wonders for my morning energy levels.
I still like to snack before lunch, and I still enjoy a cup or two of coffee. However, I find that I don’t slump before midday, which is a common symptom of more sugar-based breakfasts, and thus I don’t feel the need to nap either. This gives me more time to get things done.
If you haven’t tried this before, I strongly recommend it. Don’t be put off by the phrase ‘high-fat’. Balanced meals with a bit of fat don’t need to be detrimental, and again just play around with the meals until you find things that you like that also power you up in the morning.
All of these steps have helped save my mornings and enhance my productivity. There were months that I was napping almost every day, and I blamed this on a lack of quality sleep.
But even when I get a relatively poor sleep I can still get through the day with higher levels of energy, thanks to this routine.
Take it one step at a time. Try to avoid your phone until you’ve had breakfast and see if you feel better for it. Invest in a Wi-Fi bulb and see if you prefer waking up to light rather than sound.
Play around with high-fat breakfast ideas and see how tasty and beneficial it can be for your productivity. Most importantly, take control of your mornings, and reap the benefits all day long.