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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 July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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