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When Hope Connell came to us with the idea to implement a new morning routine based on Laura Vanderkam's e-book What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, we were all for it- after all, we love tinkering with our schedules (and even debating about them).
What is your experiment and why?
A strategic morning routine might seem like a no-brainer to some people, but I have always been a person that sleeps until the last possible second. I’m neither an early bird nor a night owl. I love sleep, and I have always found it challenging to get up early “just because.”
Despite my inclination to hit the snooze button, I typically got up early with my husband on the mornings when he had to be out the door by seven, partially because it was hard to sleep though his preparation, but also because I knew I would be handling the morning routine of our toddlers singlehandedly. I wanted to get a couple basic things done before I was pulled into the demands of diaper changes and Cheerio refills.
These mornings gave me two realizations:
- I felt calmer on the mornings when I didn’t hit the ground running from the moment I woke up.
- I did not feel any less rested, even though I was getting less sleep.
I was considering the implications of these observations when I stumbled upon Vanderkam’s book, and I knew it was time for me to start setting my alarm clock.
Without sounding too much like middle school science class, tell us about your methodology.
The book recommends the following steps:
1) Track your time.
Confession: I did not do this. However, I did implement a strict bedtime of 10:00 pm, setting an evening alarm clock to alert me when I had 20 minutes before lights out.
2) Picture the perfect morning.
The book advises focusing on items that are “important but not urgent,” things that wouldn’t otherwise get done unless I make a special effort to schedule them in. I had several brainstorming sessions, which all resulted in long lists of possible ideas and no clear way to narrow the list down. Part of the issue was there were several items that I wanted to do, but that I didn’t necessarily need or want to do every single morning.
I eventually developed a variation on the Pomodoro method. I have three areas of focus with little breaks for quick chores in between. The areas of focus were mind, body, and business. Each day I would fill this time with something that strengthened me in those areas:
- 6:00am Alarm goes off. Turn bedroom light on, hit snooze for 5 minutes.
- Mind: 30 minutes of reading (when I’m lucky, my husband brings me coffee in bed while I read)
- Break: 5 minutes to make bed and start load of laundry
- Body: 10-minute workout video or doing a gentle stretching routine while I watch The Daily Show
- Break: 5 minutes to get dressed for the day
- Business: 30 minutes of watching video tutorials to develop my coding skills (or business training/inspiration videos) or writing
3) Think through logistics.
To being with, I started incrementally setting my alarm clock earlier until I was getting up at 6:00 am (this did not work, so I finally ended up just going “cold turkey” with the new wakeup time). I also made sure my current book and the kitchen timer were on my nightstand, so I was ready to start my 30 minutes of reading as soon as I woke up. I settled on a workout video to try, and I talked my plans over with my husband to see if any of it was going to disturb or annoy him first thing in the morning.
4) Build the habit.
I was genuinely surprised at how easy it was for me to commit to the new routine. I have skipped the routine a couple of times, but they were after long nights with a teething baby. On those mornings I figured we could all use the extra sleep, so I turned my alarm off.
5) Tune up as necessary.
One thing I’ve learned is that I need to settle on the specifics of my morning routine the night before. Which book am I going to read? Which workout video am I going to do? Was I going to write (and what writing project would I work on) or watch videos (and which ones)? Having these decisions made ahead of time helped me make smoother transitions between activities, which saved time and mental energy.
How did you feel when you adopted the practice?
Overall, I have felt great with this new routine! Some mornings it’s hard to pull myself out of bed, but I know that if I just get past that initial resistance, I will wake up and feel good and get some important stuff done. The book said this would happen, but I was surprised when I started to genuinely look forward to those quiet morning hours when I could work on long-neglected activities.
It’s hard to measure any quantifiable increase in productivity. Since the book suggests incorporating things that would not get done otherwise, my day after the morning routine looks almost identical to what it was before. The items I added to my morning routine are also not particularly productivity-centered, but I have seen progress in those areas, and my overall level of stress has gone down.
Reading: I’m not reading more books per month, but I’m reading them a little at a time rather than binge-reading right before the books are due at the library.
Workout video: Right now I’m using a video specifically focused on ab strength and health following pregnancy, and I have definitely seen an improvement (though it’s hard to measure).
Team Treehouse videos: This is one of those things I always mean to do but can never find time for. It doesn’t make me more productive, but it makes me a better web developer.
Writing: This is where I’ve seen the biggest improvement. Working on writing a little at a time helps me space out the work I need to do, and I don’t end up with a stressful few days before the deadline. In fact, since I started this morning routine, I have turned in two articles early because they simply got done sooner than I thought they would.
What was the toughest/best part of the experiment? Do you think you’ll stick with it?
The toughest part about maintaining my routine is the unpredictability of my children and their sleeping schedules. My morning routine goes flawlessly when they sleep until 7:30. But if my kids are up at 6:30 and my husband has to leave at 7, it’s really hard to get everything in around changing diapers and fixing breakfast.
On days like this, it’s hard not to push my morning routine onto my to-do list for the day. This is unhelpful, because I already have a full day (hence the need to find extra time in the morning to get these things done). When this happens, the routine that is supposed to make my life less stressful makes my day more stressful. I’m still working on letting those activities go until the next morning.
The best part for me has a lot less to do with productivity and more to do with guilt, believe it or not. I have always loved sleeping in but always felt guilty for doing it. It seemed like sleeping in isn’t the mature, grown-up thing to do. Similarly, I’ve been meaning to start workout videos for a long time, but I was always finding excuses not to do it, and that made me feel guilty. When I’m up against a writing deadline, I often feel guilty for not planning ahead and pacing myself better.
Now that I’m getting up early and crossing these things off my list every morning, all of that guilt is relieved. I’m not a person usually motivated by guilt, but in these areas, I was often feeling frustrated with myself for not getting things together. Now that I have a process in place, these guilt-inducing issues just take care of themselves.
I will absolutely keep my morning routine. I think it will be especially helpful as my kids get older and start sleeping later and more consistently. I feel just as rested, my mornings are calmer, and I am able to tackle important tasks consistently.
Questions for Hope? Ask them in the comments!
Latest posts by Hope Connell (see all)
- One Woman Experiments: What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast - February 27, 2014