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8 Ways to Improve Your Morning Routine

8 Ways to Improve Your Morning Routine
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You’ll wake up for about 25,000 mornings in your adult life, give or take a few.

According to a report from the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in the United States is 79 years old, and most people in wealthy nations hover around the 80–year mark. Women in Japan have the highest, with an average life expectancy of 86 years.

If we use these average life expectancy numbers and assume that your adult life starts at 18 years of age, then you’ve got about 68 years as an adult. (86 – 18 = 68) Perhaps a little less on average; a little more if you’re lucky.

(68 years as an adult) x (365 days each year) = 24,820 days.

25,000 mornings.

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That’s what you get in your adult life: you’ll open your eyes 25,000 times, face the day, and decide what to do next. I don’t know about you, but I’ve let a lot of those mornings slip by. Once I realized this, I started thinking about how I could develop a better morning routine. I still have a lot to learn, but here are some strategies that you can use to get the most out of your 25,000 mornings.

8 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Morning

Here are the strategies that I’ve found to be most effective for getting the most out of my morning.

1. Manage your energy, not your time.

If you take a moment to think about it, you’ll probably realize that you are better at doing certain tasks at certain times. For example, my creative energy is highest in the morning, so that’s when I do my writing each day.

By comparison, I block out my afternoons for interviews, phone calls, and emails. I don’t need my creative energy to be high for those tasks, so that’s the best time for me to get them done, and I tend to have my best workouts in the late afternoon or early evening, so that’s when I head to the gym.

What type of energy do you have in the morning? What task is that energy best suited for?

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2. Prepare the night before.

I don’t do this nearly as often as I should, but if you only do one thing each day then spend a few minutes each night organizing your to–do list for tomorrow. When I do it right, I’ll outline the article I’m going to write the next day and develop a short list of the most important items for me to accomplish. It takes 10 minutes that night and saves 3 hours the next day.

3. Don’t open email until noon.

Sounds simple, yet nobody does it. It took me a while to get over the urge to open my inbox, but eventually I realized that everything can wait a few hours. Nobody is going to email you about a true emergency (a death in the family, etc.), so leave your email alone for the first few hours of each day. Use the morning to do what’s important rather than responding to what is “urgent.”

4. Turn your phone off and leave it in another room.

Or on your colleagues desk. Or at the very least, put it somewhere that is out of sight. This eliminates the urge to check text messages, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. This simple strategy eliminates the likelihood of slipping into half–work where you waste time dividing your attention among meaningless tasks.

5. Work in a cool place.

Have you ever noticed how you feel groggy and sluggish in a hot room? Turning the temperature down or moving to a cooler place is an easy way to focus your mind and body.

6. Sit up or stand up.

Your mind needs oxygen to work properly, and your lungs need to be able to expand and contract to fill your body with oxygen. That sounds simple enough, but here’s the problem: most people sit hunched over while staring at a screen and typing.

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When you sit hunched over, your chest is in a collapsed position and your diaphragm presses against the bottom of your lungs, which hinders your ability to breathe easily and deeply. Sit up straight or stand up and you’ll find that you can breathe easier and more fully. As a result, your brain will get more oxygen and you’ll be able to concentrate better.

(Small tip: When sitting, I usually place a pillow in the small of my back. This prevents my lower back from rounding, which keeps me more upright.)

7. Eat as a reward for working hard.

I practice intermittent fasting, which means that I eat my first meal around noon each day. I’ve been doing this for almost two years. There are plenty of health benefits.

But health is just one piece of the puzzle—I also fast because it allows me to get more out of my day. Take a moment to think about how much time people spend each day thinking, planning, and consuming food. By adopting intermittent fasting, I don’t waste an hour each morning figuring out what to eat for breakfast, cooking it, and cleaning up. Instead, I use my morning to work on things that are important to me. Then, I eat good food and big meals as a reward for working hard.

8. Develop a “pre–game routine” to start your day.

My morning routine starts by pouring a cold glass of water, while some people kick off their day with ten minutes of meditation. Similarly, you should have a sequence that starts your morning ritual. This tiny routine signals to your brain that it’s time to get into work mode or exercise mode or whatever mode you need to be in to accomplish your task. Additionally, a pre–game routine helps you overcome a lack of motivation and get things done even when you don’t feel like it.

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25,000 Mornings: The Power of a Morning Routine

Just as it’s rare for anyone to experience overnight success, it’s also rare for our lives to crumble to pieces in an instant. Most unproductive or unhealthy behaviors are the result of slow, gradual choices that add up to bad habits; a wasted morning here, an unproductive morning there. The good news is that exceptional results are also the result of consistent daily choices. Nowhere is this more true than with your morning routine: the way you start your day is often the way that you finish it.

Take, for example, Jack LaLanne. He woke up each day at 4 am and spent the first 90 minutes lifting weights. Then, he went for a swim or a run for the next 30 minutes. For more than 60 years, he spent each morning doing this routine. In addition to being one of the most influential people in fitness in the last 100 years, LaLanne also lived to the ripe old age of 96.

This is no coincidence. What you do each morning is an indicator of how you approach your entire day. It’s the choices that we repeatedly make that determine the life we live, the health we enjoy, and the work we create.

You’ve got 25,000 mornings. What will you do with each one?

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James Clear

James Clear is the author of Atomic Habits. He shares self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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