There are lots of articles telling you why you might want to consider having a good morning routine. They usually include words like ‘success’ or ‘leader’ and they can feel like they’ve been churned out by a content marketing machine, leaving a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.
I won’t include any of those words in this post.
Indeed, I won’t write much on the benefits of a good morning routine either. Instead I’ll point you to Leo Babuta’s perspective on why a strong morning routine is A Good thing and let you make your own mind up.
Aside: Leo’s thoughts have helped guide me in some areas relating to productivity and if you’re in the market to get more stuff done generally then I’d highly recommend his Zen To Done take on GTD that you can also buy as a book. It’s the only book I have in all formats: hard copy, Kindle and audio book.
I list below my average morning. This has evolved over 18 months and is now pretty set in stone. The only changes being if I have a particularly early start for work or if I am suddenly motivated to write a blog post or do something else productive that eats into my time slots.
My week plan
I’ve written before on timeboxing for your week and I can’t recommend it enough; it’s the one thing I absolutely never skimp on. I block time in my calendar the following week on a Friday afternoon based on the things that I already know must be done and then anything else gets slotted in around this. Mornings are for the most productive or ‘deep’ work, afternoons for when I’ve less energy.
I even planned my post-holiday week before I left last week, this allows me to get to the office tomorrow with an idea of the things I have to do; if needs be I can run on autopilot, which is no bad thing after a week away!
A good night’s sleep
I try to be in bed for 9pm. In reality this is 9:30pm lights-out, after some stretching and maybe a quick read. A hard limit is 10pm. If I’m still faffing around post 9:30 I know the next day won’t be as productive.
The only screen I allow in my bedroom is a Kindle and I only read fiction. Anything that makes me think is banned; I’m winding down.
5:00am – 5:30am.
The time depends on what I need to do, usually defined by exercise. I’m currently training for my first marathon and the regime has been pretty intense. So if I want to get an hour’s run in then I’m up at 5. Mondays are always 5:30am because, well, Mondays right?
I start every morning with a green tea and I can’t really drink anything else now; definitely nothing with milk in it. Tim Ferris in his trademark style has researched tea and goes into this in detail on his podcast. Far too complicated for me, I have zeroed in on a brand I like that is inexpensive and can be got over the counter at Holland & Barrett, I always have a few boxes in the cupboard.
Tea in hand I’ll sit at my computer by 5:15 to 5:30 and I now have 30 mins or so for journalling.
I say journalling but I don’t actually write much. I have set OneNote template that I’ll copy in to a new page with today’s date as the title. This page sits within a OneNote section that I create each month which is where I’ll keep everything organised that month and then move to an archive section at the end of the month. The month section includes a few goals, any project notes and other things I keep handy for reminders – I may elaborate on my OneNote workflows in a later post.
Each day is grouped by week with a week summary page where I’ll have some notes that I prepared during my week plan. This normally includes some narrative on the important tasks for the week and reminders for smaller tasks that need doing as I still don’t have a decent GTD app as I’m on Windows. This might be a good subject for another blog post, it might be quite ranty though!
The set template is just a list of headings:
What must I absolutely get done today? I’ll check my diary and my week notes and see what ‘deep’ work I have to do. Given how my weeks usually pan out this will contain a maximum of two tasks each taking an hour or two.
What have I been putting off? I log things that I don’t want to do here: an uncomfortable call or conversation. It’s a bit of a kick up the arse really. If I write it down then it can look quite pathetic to keep moving these from day-to-day. Because of this they’ll usually be cleared in a day or two.
Filler tasks that I can do when I have a few minutes but I do really need to get done that day. If it’s a long list – more than 3 items – I’ll adjust my diary so I have a small tasks slot.
Things I did not on the list
I log here during the day. Terse bullet points. It can sometimes get quite long. The idea is that I use this section during a week review and see patterns. If I’m always doing a thing it should probably be given time when I timebox. As a direct result of this I now have a 30 min slot a day for calls and another slot for email triage.
Thoughts during the day
Again, terse bullet points. Things that come to mind. Blog posts to read, people I might want to speak to. I capture here quickly during the day so they are not forgotten, then move on.
The week’s habits
2-3 things that I’m working on to make permanent. This was really helpful last year when I had a large backlog but recently it’s normally my perennial ‘Drink more water’ and reminders to do stretching. Once my marathon is out of the way I’ll focus in more on this again.
I am grateful for
Mindfulness part 1 and keeping things positive every day. I write a few quick notes every day on things that I am thankful for. This can be everything from good health to having a good night’s sleep and feeling refreshed. I normally spend 5 mins on this after a few minutes thinking.
What would make today great?
Mindfulness part 2. Terse bullet points normally providing context to my MITs. For example “Nailing that proposal” or “A positive outcome from that potentially awkward conversation”
Every day I’ll type out, longhand, no copy/paste, an affirmation 20 times. The subject doesn’t change much week to week and is usually aspirational. I got the idea from Tim Ferris’ interview with Scott Adams. Sounds a bit weird, I know, but it’s my journal.
Three amazing things that happened today
Mindfulness part 3. More positivity. I fill this in at the end of the day, during my daily review (which only takes 10 minutes in total).
It can be something pretty major to something really prosaic, such as “Pleased with how I handled X” or “Managed to get loads done today even though really tired”
How could I have made today better?
Mindfulness part 4. Room for improvement.
I’ll try to keep these gentle and positive but seeing things written down that didn’t go so well are also very useful. For example “Grouchy with the kids over breakfast” or “Didn’t drink enough water”.
6:00am (ish) – 7:00am
I exercise every day during the week. Before I went all-in on running and started training for a marathon this was a 3o minute cycle ride or 30 mins doing some basic callisthenics.
Now I’m a lot fitter and I’ve a pretty major training goal of being able run 26 miles at the end of the month I am a lot more focussed. I’ll do at least two 10K runs a week before breakfast or do some strength work using my suspension trainer – note: they can be really expensive, I just use this cheap Argos one – and a couple of kettle bells; I’m not big on equipment here, preferring instead to use my bodyweight.
Breakfast and cat herding
7:00am – 8:30am
Strict 7am start.I sometimes used to let exercise go past 7am and things got a bit fraught.
Here I do all the usual stuff. Shower, change and then make breakfast. Usually eggs with courgette and bacon or a massive big salad. Sometimes I also have to make my lunch if I couldn’t be bothered to make it the night before (never a good idea!). With 18 months of practice I’ve got breakfast/lunch nailed now. I never snack at work and am never hungry, even with all the training I’ve been doing.
Then it’s making sure the teenagers are out of the door and dropping my youngest daughter off at school.
My commute is about 30 mins and I’m at my desk usually for 9:30am.
Things I don’t do
This is work related so I should be able to do this during the day. If email or other tasks start slipping into my personal time then something is not working. I know from experience that regularly working more than 8 hours during the day leads to burnout and that’s not good for anyone.
This might be controversial but if I’m going to read anything work or career related then I have to do it during the day (or the weekend)
I have no plan or routine for the weekend, that’s personal or family time and I feel no need for a set regime. Weekends are much more organic.
Write anything negative
If I start to write something negative I try to flip it to a positive, for example “Wasted an hour ploughing through my inbox” becomes “Managed to get to inbox zero and it only took an hour”. More of that hippy positive thinking at play!
Things I should be doing
Intellectually I know I should be doing this and keep meaning to work it into my routine, but it’s not happening. It’s already a pretty packed schedule and sitting quiet for 10 mins is really hard. My mind instantly wanders to the day ahead. More work needed here.
Word count: 1800.
Time taken: about 3 hours with a break to cook dinner. I got a bit carried away and nearly started writing about week planning and also my thoughts on generally productivity. I’ve been meaning to write a post like this for a year or more so it was good to get it finally written down.
This post is one of 30 I wrote daily during April 2016 as part of the 30 Day Writing Challenge.