How Your Morning Routine Might Be Hurting Your Productivity
I only have to swipe a few times through social media each day before I find someone talking about their sacred morning routine like it’s the magic elixir to the perfectly productive life.
The idea of a morning routine has been around forever, but in recent years, the obsession with it in the entrepreneur world especially has resulted in a flood of podcast episodes, planners, and Instagram stories.
Everyone wants to have the best morning routine ever.
- Celery Juice
Some even tout that the perfectly scheduled morning routine has radically transformed all of life.
I have to be honest. Some of these morning routines look like they require a 4am wakeup call or the bulk of the morning just to get it done! If you are trying to meditate, workout, journal, make a smoothie, shower, get ready, etc. all before 7am, well – have at it.
But I want to make a bold and radically controversial statement…
Most Morning Routines Are The Opposite Of Productive
Lots of people have asked me about my morning routine, and what it looks like. And I love to say, “I don’t have one,” and watch people stare at me with a combination of confusion and curiosity.
I don’t have a morning routine for a few reasons, that, if you’ll stick with me, might start to make sense. But first…
What is a routine?
A routine is simply a fixed set of steps or actions that are followed repeatedly and in sequential order. There are really two parts to a routine – the steps themselves, and the order they go in. This is an important distinction. Steps AND order.
When I say I don’t have a morning routine, I’m not saying that I don’t do similar actions each day. Because let’s face it – I do. I wake up. I go to the bathroom. I check my phone. I get dressed. That happens every day. But the ORDER of it changes depending on my mood, external factors, schedule, my sleep needs, etc. And most people who are boasting about a morning routine, aren’t talking about these steps anyway. They are talking about things like meditation, yoga, working out, smoothies, etc.
Before I launch into why I think the morning routine in its current form is a terrible idea, I need to give a big disclaimer. If you like your morning routine, skip the rest of this post. Just go with your awesome morning self and move on.
But if you’re struggling to be productive and you feel like there are never enough hours in the day, the problem might be hiding in your morning routine.
Why I Say No To A Morning Routine
First off, a morning routine often includes activities that I would not consider 100% brain activities (no idea what I’m talking about? Read my 100/50/10 system). Things like showering, getting dressed, working out, making smoothies, etc. None of them qualify as the sacred time activities I talked about in my earlier post. And yet, most morning routines are at a time of the day when:
- Your brain is in PEAK state
- You DO have control over the time since other family members are asleep
So many mom and dad entrepreneurs pull themselves out of bed at 5am and proceed to waste TWO hours of precious sacred time doing things they could easily do at another time of the day.
Secondly, a morning routine assumes that we humans are consistent. And it’s not just morning routines that assume this, most productivity products on the market forget the small fact that we are not robots, but humans with hormones and moods and kids that love to break ANY semblance of a routine they can. Because of this, when a routine can’t be followed, you’ll hear people say things like, “My day just got so messed up because I couldn’t get through my routine.”
The routine turns into a thermometer that sets up the person to either feel awesome or horrible depending on how many steps were accomplished. Funnily enough, if the routine hadn’t been there in the first place, the person wouldn’t have to battle feelings of failure in the first place.
I can hear you saying, “But what about my daily meditation! It’s so important to me!” or “I need to workout each day or I get nuts”. The good news is that you can KILL off the typical morning routine and still do all the things you need to do each day. And I’m going to show you how!
The Daily Evaluation
Okay so here’s the crucial first step. Identify your sacred time slots in your day. If the wee morning hours are part of your sacred time, take out everything you normally do during that time that doesn’t constitute a 100 task.
These are things like showering, making breakfast, and working out. All of these things can be done when kids are around OR…at a time during the day when you don’t need your PEAK brain power.
Some stuff might need a sacred time slot. Journaling and meditation for example. But…does it need a peak brain time slot or no? Let’s just say for a moment – what might your day look like if you meditated in the afternoon, or in the evening?
Next, look at the stuff that never seems to get done. Writing your book, finishing that project, starting that podcast you wanted to. Things that you schedule into the busy workday but always get CROWDED out by other interruptions.
You’re going to swap IN the important work that you’re putting off, and swap OUT the stuff like taking a shower or getting in your celery juice for the day.
Schedule Setting The Night Before
My solution to my human-ness is to simply set my schedule for the next day…the night before.
Rather than create a routine I can never stick to, I look at the current state of affairs in my house, my business, and my life, and take five minutes to plan what my next day looks like.
- Sometimes that means I’m going to sleep in til 7 and use two hours of sacred time to get more shut eye.
- Sometimes that means I’m going to put my laptop by my bed and wake up at 5am and write for 60 minutes before I even get up to get dressed or make tea.
- Sometimes that means I’m going to wake up at 6am and record a podcast or two and take my daily walk later in the morning during a call I have with a client.
I will tell you that everyone who has ever stopped to think outside the box of what you could be doing in those typical morning routine hours of 5-7am, has felt a RADICAL difference in momentum.
When you release yourself from having to do the same thing in the same order each day, you eliminate the feeling of failure when it doesn’t work out the way you planned. Less mindset baggage equals more productivity because you have brain power to use on other things.
Here are some ideas for how I work in the typical “morning routine” stuff throughout the day.
- Unless I have a meeting first thing, I take a shower mid-day, not in the morning. I wait until I have a lull in my schedule, or I need to take a break and regroup, and use the shower as my “break”. If you work from home, this is such a good move – I love doing this!
- When I want to exercise, I wait til that slumpy afternoon time. My productivity and creative brain is dead, but I’m perfectly able to go outside and play a game of tag or soccer with William for 20 minutes.
- If I want to eat a breakfast that takes time to prepare, I do it around 8am, when everyone is up and running around. I cook breakfast and chat about the day with Alex, and I feel so relaxed because I’ve done some work already and feel like I’m ahead for the day.
- Meditation for me is something I want to call on when I’m stressed, not when I’m first awake and fresh. I don’t need it as bad as I need it after an email from an angry client or a call from my kid’s school. If the weather is nice, I usually take my lunch outside by this beautiful tree. I eat, and I lean back on the tree, close my eyes, and breathe.
Test The ‘Crush Your Morning Routine’ And Let Me Know!
Okay so in summary, here are the key points to remember.
You are not a robot.
Set your plan for the morning the night before. Flexibility actually helps you be MORE productive, not less.
Use the early morning hours of sacred time for things that require 100% of your brain.
Try the laptop near your bed idea I’ve used. Don’t do anything else but pick up your laptop the minute you wake up. Just set a timer for 60 minutes and see what you get done in that time. Go through the stuff that never gets done, and imagine what would happen if you tried to tackle it first thing.
Think outside the box.
The stuff that’s normally considered “morning-ish” actually works great at other times of day like a mid-morning break, lunchtime, the slumpy afternoon, or in the evening.
Release the baggage of success/failure of your morning routine.
It’s not helpful to have a long morning routine, that if not followed, makes you feel like the whole day is a wash. It’s such crap.
After you’ve tried it, let me know in the comments below what shifted for you!
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you are speaking my language.. totally.. thanks… heard you at FHL2019 and am in 2CCX now still figuring out my “why” in detail.. (and the rest).. and my “perfect day” exercise is complete (now).
100% brain in the first few hours for sure.. heavy lifting and physical activity after that.. morning is for introspection and reflection and curiosity… and MY productivity.. so the rest of the day can unfold as it may.. always leaving space for serendipity too 🙂
This resonates so much with me! I’ve read dozens of articles outlining the most productive morning routines or the best way to set yourself up for a successful day, and so many of them fail to adapt for things like fatigue, distraction, varying work schedules, need I go on?
You hit the nail on the head—having a PLAN is so much more important than having a ROUTINE. Making a framework for the following day is the exact approach I take to ensure that high priority items will be accomplished, while cutting myself some slack if the clock doesn’t align with what my brain and body are capable of in a given time frame.
It sounds stressful to think that brushing your teeth before taking a shower has the power to disrupt your entire day if you usually do them in the reverse order, and who knows, maybe mixing up the order can provide a little bit of invigorating variety in an otherwise rote exercise of necessity.
Thanks for sharing this!
Sooo this was right on time! One of the major things i was going to do today was write out my ideal schedule.
When i tried parts of it the other day my whole morning was shot. Including praying reading the bible, showering, getting dressed, hair, makeup, etc. (Because i told myself i was going to start getting dressed to work from home… it took about 3 hours!!! I was omg! NO!!! THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE!
my mood changed after that lol because i felt like i wasted so much time and accomplished NOTHINGGGG. and i kept forgetting things and had to keep driving back to my house before i actually got to where i was going for my errands!!
I always tell people I’m the most productive when i first wake up no matter the time, lets say from 8 to 1 because I get hungry lol. Then between 1 and 6pm my brain creativity and thinking power are gone but i can do physical stuff like clean or workout or have less critical meetings. Then from 7 to 4am my brain works again lol
Thanks for giving us permission to not be the super human entrepreneur drone lol.
Hey, Julie! Someone has FINALLY said it! I don’t have a morning routine per se, as most people think of. This always made me feel guilty. But I also know that life must be fluid. Sure, I get all my “stuff” done for the day—but some days the order is different or done at a different time. Thank you for allowing me to lift the guilt!
Thank you Julie. I love your suggestions!!! I have heard the whole morning routine stuff and struggle with it.
I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before but reading your article reminded me about what I often teach my clients when we talk about ayurvedic lifestyle.
Ayurdevda explores the human Constitution through 3 different constitutional types.
Some ppl desperately need routines. It keeps them grounded and sane. It prevents anxiety, fearfulness and worry. For them, routines in general are life savers and support creativity.
Routine is heavy, burdensome and creates a feeling of being stuck in a rut. It is the opposite of creativity and can actually contribute to lethargy and depression. The benefit from breaking out of daily routines regularly.
My point is that somehow I knew about my own resistance to this whole morning routine idea but kept trying to make it work because the “ultra successful” recommend it.
Thanks for ” giving me permission” to be creative with my schedule.
So you don’t have a routine but how successful are you? Are you fit and ripped? Are you someone to be modelled? Just
I Low this! I essentially have a one step morning routine and that’s my coffee. Anything else’s bonus and usually having a work task crossed off while I’m fresh!
having a boring routine no way. Of course the cat needs attention, vitamins out and then off to my computer at 4AM. I get done things for my new project, write up sheets of information for my astrology readings, take care of annoying left over jobs..and by 9 I have put in productive day. I agree morning routines should be spread through the day.
Afternoon slump is good for starting dinner, having a cup of coffee, cleaning house. or working out..It gets you out of the slump.
I agree why waste those precious hours when later is better.
Makes so much sense to me. I am sometimes good first thing and other days it is more like mid morning. So, I agree with you that your morning routine needs to me your needs, your body/sleep needs and to use time to do 100 brain power when you are groggy, foggy or distracted isn’t productive. Thank you for this post.
This was the perfect post to read today! Are you spying on me because you know what I do in the morning?! 😉
Seriously… I always felt guilty when I didn’t meditate when I’d wake up — but, I thought “I just woke up! I don’t *want* to meditate now!!” Then, I just kick myself for not.
I would exercise in the morning, too, and it was something to “get through”.
By the time I would NEED to write… I was too pooped. Or I needed a “break”. Or I would do my laundry (I work home).
And, then it would be 7:00pm and nothing got done. *sigh*
Then, I’d repeat it again. So…
I liked your idea. Wake up, brush teeth, eat… then walk upstairs and start writing.
No email (that’s a tough one!). Facebook — later.
Okay, thank you. This was a great post. Thank you. Thank you. — Bryan
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Julie. After many years in the corporate world, you have digested many readings and seminars into this article. Great job.
Love it Julie
This is me too xx
Great post! While I love a morning stretch and meditation, I agree that remaining flexible based on my actual needs (in-the-moment) makes me far more productive.
Can’t believe my mornings look so much like yours! I would like a more consistent sleep schedule but with 3 under 6, you know that can be tough sometimes!
I really thought I was an anomaly working the second I got out of bed. The only thing I do before that is 24oz of water and some coffee usually.
Thank Heavens for the return of sanity. I am so tired of men with no children, under 40, making a bizzillion $$$$ a year tell me how to run my over 60 , bootstrapping it together on a tight budget, single, business building life. According to many of them, I am a failure by 7:00 A.M. every morning.
Thank you for writing this. I have been beating myself up for not having a routine or any real habits. While I have things I do everyday their is no order or rhyme or reason to them. Maybe that’s ok? Maybe instead I need to just started adding things to my day and getting rid of things that don’t matter instead. Great read, and I will be saving this to read again later.
Good Ideas! I love the way you are thinking – do the important stuff when you are fresh!
I noticed the same things as you.
I had a morning routine for awhile, like 6 months, and I enjoyed it, but just like you said — I was using my peak mom alone time to do stuff I didn’t really need to do. Then feeling frustrated with my kids the rest of the day because I didn’t get to the important things.
I also felt more tired in the morning after reading, journaling, praying, meditating and saying affirmations. I was a slouch on the couch!
Now, I do my most important things first – reaching out to clients, writing, getting into action. It makes me so much more productive. I do those other things when I need a break from actual work. Lol
I’ve been doing a similar routine like yours for years now, but you have made me feel better about it. Thanks! My peak brain time isn’t that 5-7am time , but 9am-12pm. A lot of these so called morning routines seem to think the earlier you get up the more productive you’ll be. Also sacred Time doesn’t have to be peak brain time.
I also write down what I want to accomplish for the week, but don’t always scheduled it for a certain day unless it’s like a Dr visit , school stuff, kids activities,etc.
I agree that most morning routine are not very productive and when one can’t get it done makes you feel like you’ve already failed for the day, so why have one that only sets you up …
Interesting, and a great way to be intentional about your day. The one area I would disagree on (especially as I have explored and experienced much change around meditation) is there are peak windows for meditation. Those peaks from a brain wave perspective are first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
For various reasons, I discourage use of any electronics immediately upon waking. That is not to discourage what works for you- only to point out that there is much still unknown about the effect of EMFs.
Way to rock your day the Julie way!
This is so great! I think when I was reading and searching about morning routines, most of the articles/books were written by men. Well if all you have to do is get in the shower, lather up, rinse, get out and get dressed then heck yes you can have a morning routine. But when you are a single mom, or your spouse or significant other doesn’t help then morning may not be the best time to have a routine. I have a “ritual” that I don’t move away from or that will put a bend in my morning. I love this and my voxer groups of women have talked about this A LOT. Male school principals that have stay at home wives sure get a lot more done that those of us that are female that’s for sure.:)
Thank you for finally saying it! I have never been successful with a “morning routine.” With three kiddos and an ever-changing schedule, I can never stick to it! I do similar to what you described, and it works so much better.
Thanks for the new view on morning routine – I’ll give change a chance and see what transpires . A conscious life takes conscious effort, which in my mind means being open to new concepts and ideas – keep you posted !
YES YES YES!!! When you are a mom and entrepreneur, all those morning miracle tips are like: Okay, do you live on planet earth,