If you don’t have one already, establish a rock-solid morning routine that gets you started on the right foot. Each person has their own unique biorhythms, but most of us benefit from having regular sleep and wake times and healthy sleep habits.
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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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You’re probably beginning to notice a theme here! Self-discipline, motivation, organization, and commitment to achieving your goals sound like vague, abstract things “out there” in the world, but the truth is, successful living starts in here, with your body and with your everyday routines. In other words, no goal is so ethereal and lofty that it can override a lack of sleep, a diet of junk food or a bad drinking habit. Willpower is not going to get you very far if you are not giving yourself a solid physiological foundation on which to build.
With that in mind, let’s turn now to arguably one of the best routines to nail down in your mission to become the most productive, most self-disciplined version of yourself: your wake-up time. Consider it an extension of the idea that how you do anything is how you do everything. It’s not rocket science—how you start the day is usually an indication of how the rest of your day is going to pan out. It works both ways: a person who is disciplined and motivated will have no trouble getting up and on with the day ahead, and a person who can manage to wake up consistently at the right time will find that they naturally feel more motivated and disciplined with everything that follows.
The key, surprise surprise, is consistency and commitment. As your first act of the day, prove to yourself that you have the self-control, agency and sense of purpose to get up and get moving. Rather than letting your day start without you or falling into your routine almost by accident, seize it consciously and deliberately, putting your own intention into the way that events unfold from the second you open your eyes.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
Let’s look at the facts first—human beings naturally move through a twenty-four-hour wake/sleep cycle, with rising and falling energy and concentration levels. While each of us has a different “chronotype” i.e., personal biological rhythm, the truth is that everyone needs at least seven hours of sleep (eight is better) and everyone is happier and healthier when they wake up and go to sleep at a consistent time every day—including on the weekends!
If you’re like most people, you’re in the bad habit of staying up too late at night and then struggling to get up early enough in the morning. If so, your aim is two-fold—gradually inch your bedtime and your wake time earlier, and once they’re where you want them, maintain them using positive reinforcement. Making big changes to your current schedule won’t last; instead, shift your routine by fifteen minutes at a time, for as few days at a time, before shifting it again.
An early bedtime goes hand in hand with an early morning. So, while you’re training yourself to wake up on time, spend equal amounts of energy on tidying up your night-time routine:
Have a “wind down” routine where you take a hot bath, do yoga, journaling, reading, meditating, or listening to relaxing music for the hour before you sleep. Consciously release the stress and thoughts of the day and get ready to sleep, ensuring that your room is as dark, quiet, and comfortable as possible. Even if you don’t fall asleep, that’s fine. Just rest. Whatever you do, don’t stare at pixelated, glowing screens in the hour before bed.
In the morning, put your alarm clock somewhere where you’ll need to get up to turn it off. The moment your alarm goes off, communicate to your body that it’s time for wakefulness:
• Open the window to let in natural light and fresh air
• Make your bed so you’re not tempted to get back into it
• Enjoy some movement—a nice walk outside, stretching, or anything you like to wake your body up
Stick to a Schedule
Here’s something to get your head around: setting up a fixed daily routine and following a schedule is not hard work. It’s actually the easy way. When you stick to tried-and-true routines and get into the habit of following an organized schedule, there’s simply less to think about, and you require less willpower, not more. Habit and automation are the secret superpower of all successful people. Routines make the best use of our time, cut down on indecision and overwhelm, boost our confidence and feeling of achievement, get a good momentum going, and free up our minds to do more creative, novel work.
Motivation and inspiration are great, but it’s consistency and discipline that will keep you on the path even when motivation is flagging. What’s the best schedule? One that is written down. The act of writing out and contemplating your routine solidifies it and makes it more likely that you’ll follow through.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
Sit down with a pen and paper. Outline the seven days of the week. First add in your wake and sleep times and block out enough time for sleep. Then, schedule in your morning and evening routine—say roughly and hour for each. You can include things like stretching, having a good breakfast, reading, visualization, walking, tidying your home, grooming, and so on.
Go back to the goals you have identified for yourself, break them down into smaller chunks, and schedule them in. Remember to give yourself ample time for breaks, time to digest and consolidate, time to reflect on what you’ve done, and time to plan ahead. Don’t leave this up to chance—schedule it in and protect that time!
Give yourself time for meals and exercise and play around with your allotted time so that you are giving every area of your life the attention it deserves. You might like to have a general schedule, but fine tune it every Sunday evening where you plan in more detail according to what’s going on in your life. But in this case, your morning and evening routines should still stay as consistent as humanly possible.
Sounds good right? Let’s actually make it happen, though:
• Make sure that everything is written down and visible to you every day.
• Build your schedule around your priorities and non-negotiables. Only you can identify these for yourself.
• When you have many smaller tasks like chores and admin, cluster them together.
• Pay attention to your own peak energy and concentration times and schedule the most difficult or demanding task for then.
• Keep in mind all the things you won’t do, and don’t allow yourself to get distracted or sidetracked. Don’t multitask.
• Your routine is not set in stone—stay flexible so that when you review (which you should be doing at least weekly), you can make intelligent adjustments that reflect real life and have the best chance of actually working for you. The “perfect” schedule is worthless if it’s not realistically doable.
I want to mention two important things here that you might not pay much attention to when you’re drawing up your schedule. The first is patience, and the second is forgiveness. The fact is, while a routine makes life easier once it’s established, habits take time to embed themselves in your life, and you will need patience until then. Secondly, you will mess up. Be realistic. Life is messy and seldom plays out in discrete, predictable chunks. If you can’t follow your schedule now and then, don’t beat yourself up. Mitigate the unexpected, flow around the interruption, and keep going. If you’re routinely finding that your schedule just doesn’t work, that’s not a sign to give up, but a sign that you need to make some careful adjustments.