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3 Simple Keys to Your New and Improved Morning Routine

3 Simple Keys to Your New and Improved Morning Routine

Let’s face it, whether you like it or not, how you start your day can have a huge impact on how the rest of your day unfolds.

Say your day starts off like this: you wake up late; there’s no hot water, so you have to take a cold shower; the shirt you wanted to wear is dirty; you pour sour milk over your cereal; and to top it all off, your car breaks down on the way to work. UGH. Now, do you think you’re cut out to be the best team player at work today? Probably not!

On the other hand, let’s say your day starts off like this: you wake up naturally to a bright, sunny morning, five minutes before your alarm; you already have the perfect outfit laid out; you make yourself bacon and eggs, and eat them while reading the newspaper; it’s so beautiful out that you’re able to bike to work. MUCH better, if you ask me!

And while some things are out of your hands, there are plenty of things in your morning routine that you have complete control over.

These are a few killer ways to jump start your morning and boost your overall productivity for the entire day.

Add something positive

It’s so easy to fall into the following morning pattern: wake up to an alarm clock (after not having gotten enough sleep); curse at, and turn off, the alarm clock and get out of bed; make coffee (if you woke up in time); shower; get dressed and leave for work.

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But there are many things you can alter in terms of your morning ritual to make it more positive and beneficial. One of the best is to add something positive, and as new research from the University of Warwick recently confirmed, happiness makes people about 12 percent more productive.

Think of something that: 1) you enjoy doing in the morning; and 2) doesn’t require a large effort. Some great examples would be to:

– meditate
– make yourself breakfast (maybe eggs and toast)
– read the newspaper or a few pages of a novel

All of the above: 1) require very little effort; 2) have a positive impact on your general state of mind and well-being. You might have to wake up 20 minutes earlier, but it will be well worth it.

One thing to note: don’t multitask it. Don’t say “I’ll read the newspaper while I’m brushing my teeth.” That will only lead to frustration and you certainly will not get the full, intended enjoyment out of your new, (supposed to be) pleasurable activity. Give the new item its own time within your schedule so you can fully enjoy it without feeling the need to rush through it and just “get it done”.

Imagine if you were to add one of those simple items to your daily morning routine how much happier you may be when you walk out the door each morning?

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Put in just 10 minutes on an important task

The beginning of the day is a very special time. You’ve just woken up (hopefully refreshed after a good night’s sleep), and you have a chance to start with a clean slate, free of distractions.

You have your full mental real estate to work with—you haven’t already had to use a bunch of brainpower to attack new tasks, deal with crises, and just live your life. And because of that, you’re very frequently at your most productive first thing in the morning.

The following is one of the best productivity tips I’ve ever employed, and you can put it into action whether you have a full-time job to run off to, or if you’re a freelancer or consultant that works from home. It’s simple: take a small, set amount of time, right away in the morning—say 10-20 minutes—to work on one of, if not the, most important thing you plan to do that day. That’s it.

David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers, uses what he calls the 10-minute hack every single morning, where, first thing, he takes just 10 minutes and starts working on an important task he was planning to tackle for the day. No contemplation. Just sit down and go.

And here’s the trick. The reason this works so well is that the hardest part can be just getting started.

But by setting the bar low—committing only 10-20 minutes—and just going, you allow your brain to fully engage almost immediately. And at that point, you’ve already broken down the biggest barrier. As Kadavy mentions—and as I’ve experienced time and time again—that 10 minutes frequently turns into 20, which turns into an hour, which turns into two hours, and you’ll have just accomplished more in those first two hours than you may have originally in the the full work day.

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Do not start your day by checking your email

Avoiding context-switching—particularly to start off your day—is crucial. If you start the day by checking your email, you’re bound to be unproductive.

Think about it… You look through your inbox and see requests from 5 different people for 5 completely different things. …And there goes your focus!

Whether you like it or not, your brain will be at least partially consumed with those potential requests, and it will start using precious resources to begin planning for them. You’ll inevitably begin stressing about all of the things you need to get done before actually getting anything done. And every time you check your email, you’re removing your focus from the previous task you were working on.

In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association on the mental tax of multitasking and context-switching, they found that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

In today’s day and age it’s very easy to feel obligated start your day by checking your email. For better or worse, it’s how things get done. It’s how requests are made and filled, and how progress is tracked. It’s how the majority of business-related communication occurs.

But with that said, you still have control over how you manage your own email access. And not checking your email to start off your day can be a great place to begin.

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Instead, set a few specific times a day to check it—say 11 am and 4 pm. By checking it at those two times—right before midday and before the day’s end—you should catch, and be able to respond to, any necessary requests.

And don’t forget to communicate your newly-adopted changes to others you work with. Let your clients/coworkers know that, in an effort to improve your own productivity (who can argue with that?), you’ll be checking your email less frequently. If they have more urgent matters, they can always call you or approach you in person.

Limiting your email access may be the most impactful, productivity-related improvement you make all year. It will help keep you sane and more focused on the most important tasks at hand.

These three simple changes will help you start your morning off on the right foot and roll right into the most productive days you’ve ever had.

Featured photo credit: Girl stretching in bed via istockphoto.com

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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

3. Move Your Body

A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

4. Connect With Another Person

Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

5. Use Your Imagination

When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

Final Thoughts

Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

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Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

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