What you do in the morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. Naturally, if you want a productive day, then start your day with the right morning habits. If you need help in getting your day off to a great start, here are some of the best morning habits you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you be more productive and achieve your goals for the day.
1. Prepare the night before
Mornings can be very chaotic. From choosing what to eat for breakfast, picking out the clothes to wear to work or school, to deciding on the tasks that you have to prioritize, you might get lost in the myriad of decisions that you have to make at such an early hour, all while functioning on a still drowsy brain that would only reluctantly cooperate. If you have no well-planned routine and effective morning habits, you might succumb to the chaos of the early hours, and risk ruining your entire day and ending it on an unproductive note.
But doing a bit of work the night before helps you start the day right. Indeed, the struggle for a productive day begins the night before, making the first and one of the most important morning habits really an evening habit.
Taking the time and effort to prepare for your day the night before yields numerous benefits. For one, doing so makes it more likely for you to accomplish your goals for the day. Without prior planning, you might be tempted to spend your day working on the easier but less meaningful activities at the expense of the difficult but important tasks.
However, by making evening preparations part of your daily morning habits, you can effectively organize your day, manage your workload, and identify your priorities and work on them accordingly. Instead of being reactive and taking on whatever comes to you, you are being proactive since you understand what needs doing and take action to get it done. As Jim Rohn said:
“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”Jim Rohn
In addition, planning your day the evening before reduces the decisions you have to do in the morning, thus lessening the likelihood of decision fatigue. You suffer from decision fatigue when your mind becomes exhausted after being forced to make too many decisions over a sustained period, leading to a deteriorating ability to make quality decisions.
The many decisions you have to make once you wake up – what to eat, wear, do, or go – slowly drain your brain and sap your willpower. If you suffer decision fatigue early on, you are already set up for failure and unproductivity throughout the day. But by making some or most of the decisions you normally do in the morning the night before, you stave off decision fatigue, ensuring you have sufficient reserves of mental energy and willpower for your most meaningful tasks.
Preparing for your day the night before also saves you valuable time. Not only would you find your work in the morning significantly reduced and so avoid the typical early morning rush, you also have more time on your hands, which you can productively expend on important tasks, or on those activities you have been wanting to accomplish for so long but cannot find the time to do so.
Besides, a well-organized morning owing to evening preparations helps ease stress and improves your emotional state, setting you up for a pleasant mood throughout the day. Not only are you in control of your day, you feel good about being in control, too.
So before you turn in for the night, take time to prepare for the following day. Write a simple to-do list of the most important tasks you need to work on the next day. Pick your clothes for tomorrow and lay them out. Organize your work equipment or school items and ensure you have everything you need for the next day. Prepare – or at least plan – your breakfast, and if possible, your lunch, too. If you need your morning caffeine hit, set up your coffee maker for your morning brew (or if you are not too particular with the taste and freshness, you can also brew your coffee the night before).
And most important of all, get enough sleep. Nothing can ruin your day and thwart productivity more than insufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation drastically impairs decision-making, concentration, memory, and other cognitive functions, and causes fatigue and an irritable mood. So after you have prepared for the following day, eliminate needless screen time and other pointless activities, and get straight to bed.
2. Don’t hit the snooze button
Evening preparations aside, the war for a productive day starts by winning the battle against the snooze button. If you don’t get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off, you risk letting your morning – and your day – off to a bad start, giving a whole new meaning to the idiom “you snooze, you lose”.
To be fair, however, fighting the urge to hit the snooze button is no doubt one of the most difficult challenges in the morning. Those extra five, ten, or so minutes of sleep, safely nestled in the warmth and comfort of your bed, are simply too irresistible. But no matter how tempting, the extra sleep snoozing affords you is not worth it, and can actually do you more harm than good.
To recognize why snoozing is one of the worst morning habits possible, you need to understand the fundamentals of sleep. When you rest, you cycle between five different stages of sleep. The first four stages are categorized as non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, while the last is REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
The first and second stages are known as light sleep, during which you transition from wakefulness to sleep. Your heartbeat, breathing, eye movements, and brain waves slow down, your muscles relax, and your temperature drops in preparation for the subsequent stages.
The third and fourth stages are commonly referred to as deep sleep, through which your body engages in rebuilding and repairing – healing and growing tissues and bones, secreting important hormones, and restoring cellular energy, among others. Deep sleep is especially important for brain health and function.
The sleep cycle culminates in the fifth and final stage, REM sleep, during which dreams frequently occur, hence why this stage is also known as dream sleep. During this stage, your brain is almost as active as when you are awake – processing emotions, consolidating memories, and stimulating and exercising important neural connections which are key to mental health and overall well-being.
A typical sleep cycle lasts for at least 90 minutes, with a 7 to 8 hour sleep normally consisting of five sleep cycles. When your alarm goes off in the morning, you are usually nearing the end of REM sleep of your final sleep cycle. However, when you hit the snooze button instead of getting up and out of the bed, you are throwing your brain into confusion. It interprets this as a signal that you are about to undergo another sleep cycle, and thus sends you back where you left off – REM sleep – when in reality, you are only trying to snatch a few more minutes of sleep.
So when you are jolted awake by your alarm a few minutes later, you wake up in the middle of REM sleep. And waking up during that stage makes sleep inertia more likely and more severe. Sleep inertia is the dull, drowsy, and disoriented feeling you get immediately after waking up which can persist hours into your day. Sleep inertia blunts your memory, concentration, judgement, and reaction time, among other cognitive functions, and impairs your motor skills, making it difficult to perform even basic tasks, and thus drastically diminishing your productivity.
Besides, the fragmented sleep you gain from snoozing is not quality sleep – hence, why you typically wake up even more exhausted than when your alarm first sounded.
Apart from waking up with sleep inertia, snoozing your alarm also upsets your mood. You wake up not only feeling listless, but also in an irritable mood, which sets the tone for the rest of your day. You might also incur other negative emotions, such as feelings of guilt and shame, leading you to chastise yourself for lacking self-discipline and respect.
In addition, because you wake up delayed, you have to rush through your morning to make up for time lost. You feel more stressed and agitated, and are likely unable to concentrate on any given task, further undermining your productivity.
But the worst part of hitting the snooze button is that when you fail to correct it early on, and it becomes part of your morning habits, you are unintentionally compromising your biological clock. By delaying your waking times, you are disrupting your normal sleep pattern. Eventually, your body becomes uncertain when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Thus, you might find yourself struggling to sleep when you need to, or feeling sleepy when you don’t intend to. And when this drags on, you become increasingly vulnerable to a whole host of serious health problems.
Remember, if snoozing is entrenched among your morning habits, then it is likely a sign that you are consistently getting inadequate sleep, or that you might be suffering from an underlying sleep problem.
To avoid snoozing, head to bed earlier so you can complete full sleep cycles and get much-needed deep sleep and REM sleep. Although all sleep stages are important, getting enough of deep sleep and REM sleep is key to feeling refreshed and reenergized in the morning.
Once you build in not hitting the snooze button into your morning habits, you make it easier for your body to anticipate your sleeping and waking times. You are in essence syncing up your body clock! Eventually, you will be able to wake up without the need for an alarm, which undoubtedly is the better and healthier way to wake up.
And because resisting the urge to snooze takes a lot of effort and willpower, by developing it as one of your morning habits, you are also building self-control and discipline. In turn, you are making it easier to start and sustain other good morning habits geared towards productivity.
But if all of the above benefits of avoiding the snooze button are not enough, remember, when you fight the temptation to snooze, and get up instead, you have won your first battle of the day. This early victory should give you motivation to take on task after task.
3. Make your bed
It might seem a trivial and inconsequential act, but taking the time and effort to make your bed as soon as you get up should actually be part of your daily morning habits. You might argue that it is completely unnecessary, since your bed gets undone every night anyway. But this small and seemingly insignificant task in fact helps ensure that your morning is off to a great and productive start. Here are several reasons why.
First, making your bed gestures that you are ready and willing to take on the day. It signals that you are not about to fall right back between the sheets until you return that night. And if you are still feeling drowsy, then making your bed helps condition your mind to think of the upcoming day and the tasks that lie ahead, instead of thinking about falling back to sleep.
Second, a neat and tidy bed helps relieve stress, tension, and anxiety, and ushers in a pleasant mood to start your morning. Not only are you more motivated to work, you actually derive enjoyment from it, which can significantly enhance the quality of your work and amplify your overall productivity. Besides, the sight of a made bed might inspire you to tidy up the rest of your room and beyond, which is certainly a productive use of your time.
Third, performing this small and simple deed will bestow on you a sense of pride and accomplishment. Though making your bed takes no more than a minute or two, the good feeling it inspires within you can last throughout the day, motivating you to take on one task after another with enthusiasm and enjoyment.
Finally, in much the same way that an avalanche begins with a small pebble, when you incorporate making your bed into your daily morning habits, you are developing self-control and discipline. In turn, this allows you to formulate and maintain other productive morning habits faster, more consistently, and with far less difficulty.
In fact, the virtues of this smallest and simplest of morning habits have been hailed by US Naval Admiral William H. McRaven – who himself learned the value of making his bed every morning during the 36 years he spent in service as a US Navy SEAL – in a commencement speech he delivered among the graduates of the University of Texas at Austin. He spoke as thus:
“If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.
And, if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made — that you made — and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”William H. McRaven
4. Take time to reflect
Living is a stressful business. In the multitude of pains and problems that life relentlessly throws at you, it’s easy to get caught up and become overwhelmed. You might be caring so much about what’s going on with the world outside, that you forget to care about what is actually going on within you. If you feel worn out and overburdened, then it’s time to stop, step back, and reflect.
Self-reflection is engaging in serious thought or contemplation about your character, actions, and motives. It raison d’être is personal growth. When you reflect, you explore, evaluate, and examine past experiences, and from these glean valuable insights and learnings in order to improve your present and your future.
This introspective practice helps you understand yourself better. You are essentially viewing yourself from a different – and detached – perspective, allowing you to gain understanding that you previously thought impossible.
Self-reflection is an excellent method to help manage stress and master your emotions. It helps reduce tension and anxiety, and eases pent up frustrations. It improves your focus and self-awareness, increases your desire for self-improvement, and enhances your overall sense of wellbeing.
Self-reflection also stimulates creativity. The clear and calm state of mind that meditation yields is ideal for creative ideas. By giving your mind a veritable mental break, you are enhancing its ability to think outside the box – to look at the things you are usually immersed in in a different and detached perspective. This allows you to approach the usual problems in ways you have not tried before, which often leads to creative breakthroughs to obstacles you have been struggling to overcome.
So take time to reflect. Make it a part of your daily morning habits. Mornings are especially opportune moments for a bit of introspection. Your mind still fresh and free from the many distractions that occupy it later in the day. By practicing self-reflection early in your day, you clear your thoughts, calm your emotions, improve your mood, and foster creativity and productivity. So whether you dedicate a few minutes to reflect while sipping your morning brew, taking a short walk in the park, or meditating in a quiet room, a bit of self-reflection can set the tone for the rest of your day and help ensure you are productive throughout.
5. Eat a healthy breakfast
As has been said countless times, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you are among those who exclude eating the first meal of the day among your daily morning habits, then here are the benefits of breakfast to make you reconsider.
Breakfast is literally ‘breaking the fast’. When you sleep through the night, you are essentially fasting. Your body’s store of glucose – the body’s main source of energy, otherwise known as blood sugar – is being depleted. When you wake up, your glucose levels need replenishing. Breakfast, as the very first meal of the day, is largely responsible for replenishing your depleted store of glucose. Getting sufficient amounts of glucose ensures that your mind and body have the energy to function properly and productively throughout the day.
Glucose is mainly derived from carbohydrates, although it can also come from protein and fats. Carbohydrates give your mind and body immediate energy for the tasks of the upcoming day. Protein gives you staying power and helps you feel full until your next meal.
Apart from resupplying your body with glucose, breakfast is your first opportunity to take in important micronutrients, such as calcium, iron, and other essential minerals, as well as B vitamins and other essential vitamins, to keep your mind and body well and functioning productively.
Breakfast is especially crucial for your cognitive functions. Skipping breakfast impairs the brain’s ability to function properly, as it suffers from insufficient levels of energy, thus why you find it hard to concentrate on an empty stomach. Eating breakfast helps ensure your brain has enough energy to function properly. It helps enhance memory and focus, and it also improves your mood and eases stress. After all, a lively mind and a perky mood are ideal for productivity.
Eating breakfast also helps stimulate your metabolism. It enhances your body’s ability to burn calories throughout the day. When you skip breakfast, your body takes this as a sign that there will be few calories to be had for the day, and that it must conserve rather than burn any incoming calories. With fewer calories burnt, your mind and body perform less effectively.
In contrast, eating breakfast ensures your body that there will be more calories incoming, thus burning more calories throughout the day to make you function better. In effect, because it enhances your metabolism, eating breakfast does help you lose or maintain weight.
So if you don’t already, make sure eating breakfast is a staple among your daily morning habits. But don’t just eat any breakfast. Eat a healthy mix of foods that have the right amounts of carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. Not only does eating a nutritious breakfast help you think and perform better on the job, it also benefits your physical and mental well-being both in the short term and the long term.
6. Drink enough water
Apart from eating breakfast, getting sufficiently hydrated is also another of the best morning habits possible. If you are among those who doubt the benefits of getting properly hydrated, then here are several reasons why drinking enough water merits a niche among your morning habits.
For a start, up to 60% of the body is water. Water is essential to living, and getting enough of it day by day ensures that your body continuously functions properly and productively. When you lose too much water, you become dehydrated. You suffer from fatigue, lethargy, and dullness. If left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to numerous health problems and eventually to death.
Hydration is especially crucial for the brain, since 73% of it is water. Being dehydrated impairs your mental productivity by blunting alertness, concentration, and memory, and increases your susceptibility to errors, mistakes, and poor judgment. It can also lead to extreme mood fluctuations.
Drinking water early in the morning is necessary after undergoing 7 to 8 hours without water. Doing so immediately ensures that you are properly hydrated and so do not feel slow and sluggish. It also ensures that your brain is duly fueled for optimum performance.
Drinking water when you wake up also aids digestion and promotes a clean and healthy body overall. When you sleep, your body repairs itself and casts out toxins from the body. Drinking water early in the morning, especially on an empty stomach, helps clear your digestive track and flush out these toxins by easing urination and bowel movement. It also boosts your metabolism by cleaning your colon, thereby increasing the efficiency of your large intestine to absorb nutrients.
In the long run, drinking water benefits your skin by staving off wrinkles, unsightly patches, and deep pores, and promotes fresh and clear complexion. It also helps you have stronger, fuller, and healthier hair.
Moreover, ample hydration help arrest the formation of kidney stones, as well as the occurrence of colon and bladder infections. It also crucial in preventing numerous other diseases by strengthening the immune system.
So make sure you drink plenty of water at the start of the day. Make it one of your daily morning habits. And make sure you are properly hydrated throughout the entire day. Remember, keeping yourself sufficiently hydrated not only helps you be more productive, it also ushers in a ton of healthy benefits both in the short run and in the long run.
Effective morning habits for a productive day very rarely exclude any form of physical exertion. Search through the web and you will find that articles written on productive morning habits always mention exercise. And rightly so, too, since exercise significantly contributes to enhanced productivity.
For one, exercise is credited for improving mood, inducing happiness, and increasing confidence by promoting the secretion of ‘feel-good’ brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, namely endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.
Endorphins, which are released in response to pain, help relieve stress and pain and alleviate anxiety and depression. Dopamine motivates you to strive for a goal, desire, or need, and creates rewarding feelings of pleasure and satisfaction when you do achieve what you aim for. Serotonin improves your mood, curbs feelings of loneliness and depression, and contributes to well-being and happiness. Norepinephrine helps moderate your mood by controlling stress and anxiety.
Exercise also greatly improves your alertness, focus, and other cognitive abilities by banishing the last traces of grogginess and ensuring you are mentally energized for the tasks ahead.
In addition, exercise helps sculpt a better and stronger physique and enhances metabolism. It also promotes increased immunity and longevity.
Apart from its obvious health benefits, exercise, particularly in the morning, helps build self-control. After all, it takes a significant amount of effort and willpower to engage in physical exertions, especially during the first hours of the day. So by incorporating it into your daily morning habits, you build self-discipline. This in turn makes it easier for you to stick to other morning habits geared towards success and productivity.
If you want to include exercise among your morning habits, make sure you begin with the basics. A short and simple routine, such as a brief walk or a jog and some basic stretches, should get you started. From there, you can progress to more advanced workouts such as yoga, Pilates, calisthenics, and weightlifting. If you already have a dedicated exercise routine but it is not scheduled in the morning, then a bit of stretching in the early hours should help condition your mind and body for the tasks ahead, as well as prepare you for your serious exercise routine later in the day.
8. Do your most important tasks first
Celebrated humorist Mark Twain is known for his remarkable wit and memorable words. He was not one to state things in a bland and simple way, no. Rather, it was his style to proffer advice in a clever, amusing, and sometimes perplexing manner.
Throughout his life, he has uttered words of wisdom to inspire a better way of living, from guidance on how to gain broader perspectives to advice on effective morning habits for productivity. Concerning the latter, one popular quote of his goes as such:
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”Mark Twain
It’s safe to say that when he uttered that quote, he wasn’t actually referring to consuming real, live frogs. He was alluding to tasks you find difficult and unappealing, and yet are the most important. Thus, according to Mr. Twain, to ensure productivity, one of the best morning habits to start your day with is to tackle your greatest, most challenging, and most important tasks.
There are several logical reasons why doing so helps guarantee a productive day. First, by doing the most important tasks before anything else, you ensure efficient use of your time. After all, you are more likely to procrastinate on the difficult and daunting task in favor of the smaller, less difficult, and more appealing tasks that yield little value or meaning. But by ‘eating the frog’ early on, you get straight on the tasks that really count, those that deliver the most impact, instead of wasting your time on the easier but less meaningful work.
Second, there are usually fewer distractions to compete for your time and attention in the morning. By making it one of your morning habits to schedule your most important tasks at the start of the day or in the first available timeslot, you reduce the likelihood that you will be beset by distractions. This allows you to work without interruptions and concentrate on any given task, thereby ensuring high productivity.
Third, it is in the morning that you have the greatest reserve of energy. Since it is only logical that the most important tasks demand the greatest amount of your effort, scheduling them in the morning means you can deliver the requisite amount of energy to complete them.
On the other hand, when you put off working on such tasks until late in the day, you may likely find yourself too exhausted and so struggle to muster the level of energy required to finish the tasks at hand. So, by devoting the bulk of your energy to the most important tasks, you guarantee your best performance and deliver high-quality results.
Finally, the psychological implications of ‘eating the frog’ before anything else cannot be discounted. It feels easier and more convenient to put off working on your difficult and intimidating but very important tasks, and instead be tempted to work on the smaller and less daunting ones that are actually petty in nature. But no matter how many of the trivial tasks you finish, you will always be left feeling unsatisfied and unaccomplished. The thought that you have not yet ‘eaten your frog’ will weigh on your mind and nag your conscience.
However, by tackling the tasks you find most difficult and least appealing early on, you ensure that the rest of your tasks will seem easier and more pleasant to work on. The fact that you have managed to conquer your most dreaded tasks can give you the motivation to breeze through the rest of your workload and end the day on a positive and productive note.