How to Make Your Morning More Productive
Whether you’re in school, working, or perhaps a little bit of both, the way you start your day can be crucial to how the rest of it turns out. Do you hit the snooze button countless times before finally dragging yourself out of bed, or grab your phone from your nightstand and immediately scroll through every social media app for half an hour? Do you sleep in as late as you can and then rush to get ready, or wake up early to eat breakfast and zone out? And which of those things are good, bad, or in between as far as setting yourself up for success? Everyone has her own, unique morning routine — but if you look at the mornings of some of the most successful people in any industry, there are definitely some common threads. Here, I talked to some people who are pros at mastering the early hours for seven of the best strategies for maximizing your mornings.
1. Wake up early. It can be very tempting to wake up at the last possible minute before you absolutely must start getting ready, but you’ll get more out of your morning if you wake up early — even if it’s super hard to take that first step out of bed. “Even self-proclaimed night owls can benefit from getting an early start to the day,” Diane Domeyer, executive director of The Creative Group. In fact, 63% of executives surveyed by The Creative Group said they feel most productive in the morning.
Build in some extra time every day to do something for yourself, and it could make a real difference in your day. “I always block off a full two hours for my own personal time every morning before work,” says Joy Chen, CEO of H2O+ Beauty. “I use that time to read, work out, drink my coffee…overall, taking plenty of time to get my brain and body energized is the foundation for a productive, positive day.”
2. Show gratitude. Rather than wake up and immediately start thinking about everything you have to do, or yesterday’s stresses, think about what you have to be grateful for — even if it’s as small as being grateful that your favorite cereal is stocked in your kitchen. Nicole Wool, CEO of Jones Social PR, swears by this routine. “The first thing I...do every morning is pause and think of at least five things for which I’m grateful,” she tells us. “I will not get out of bed until I do so. [...] It helps remind me that I have so many amazing people and things in my life. Starting each day off coming from a place of gratitude has been a mental and emotional game changer.”
3. Pump yourself up and prepare for the day. On the same token, it’s important to start your day with positivity. It may seem cheesy, but reminding yourself that you’re a badass, envisioning yourself acing a test, or making a plan to let the little things go, can have a real effect on your day. “If I have a meeting...I write affirmations about how I want the meeting to go,” Shonda Scott, CEO of 360 Total Concept and former member of President Barack Obama’s Platform Committee and The White House Council for Women and Girls inaugural committee. “[I write things like,] ‘Today's meeting will be productive, filled with positive connections, and extraordinary outcomes.’” Model Melinda Parrish writes at least one entry in a running note on her phone every morning. “I [write] about how I want my day (and my life) to look,” she says. “I might write to a specific situation I’m facing, and describe what I want the outcome to be. I'll write about my finances, or my career, or my marriage, places I want to go, and things I want to do. This scripting helps keep me focused on big picture stuff, and keeps my focus on what I'm trying to create for myself. Otherwise, the little road bumps along the way can take up way too much of my mental energy.”
4. Create a routine, and keep it simple. If your morning routine is basically the same every day, you’ll go through it quickly and efficiently, and free up your mind for other things. “I put my morning routine on autopilot so I can focus on the upcoming demands on my time and energy for the day,” Emily Richett, owner of Richett Media, tells us. “I considered every single thing that needs to get done in the morning and I created a system for it. [For example], I have early morning emails that need to go out, so I draft them the night before and set them to auto-send using the free Boomerang app.”
Simplicity is also your friend, and part of that is doing as much as you can the night before; something Bonnie Crater, CEO and president of Full Circle Insights and former Salesforce VP, swears by. Before she goes to sleep, she checks her calendar for the next day to see what she needs to be prepared for (and consults her family’s schedules as well), picks out her clothes, and gets breakfast ready. “By doing so, these aren’t distractions in the morning and I can focus my energy and time on the day ahead,” she says.
But if you do choose to wait until the morning for things like choosing your look for the day, Richett has found that sticking to a streamlined, capsule wardrobe and clutter-free hair and makeup set-up helps eliminate time spent weighing options. “Simple and done is better than fancy and unfinished,” she says.
For Katia Beauchamp, CEO and co-founder of Birchbox, a consistent and fuss-free skincare routine is key. “Typically I go for a fresh-faced, no-makeup look, and my routine takes less than five minutes and requires no tools,” she tells us. “I keep it simple and stick to eyebrows, some mascara, and undereye concealer. Then I freshen up my hair with some dry shampoo, which helps me get out the door quickly.”
5. Meditate. With all of the distractions and technology begging for your attention from the second you wake up, taking even just five minutes to isolate and meditate can make all the difference in the world. “I make it a priority to take time every morning to meditate and set an intention for my day,” Parrish says. “I put on a meditation playlist and set a timer for 10 minutes, sitting in silence with my eyes closed. Sometimes I use simple mantras, like ‘I love my body.’ Other times I just try to clear my mind.”
Tricia Clarke-Stone, CEO and co-founder of Narrative_ has been meditating for 15 minutes every morning for more than five years, and has felt the benefits first-hand. “As a CEO, my role is to figure out how to evolve my company, but we’re small and I’m hands on, so I often get stuck in the weeds,” she tells us. “Meditation is my way to clear the mind and make space for things that aren’t right in front of me. These are my moments for self-reflection and higher-level thinking. I don’t have any attachments to the outcome — sometimes bigger insights will bubble up, and I’ll take note, but sometimes, it’s just my time to disconnect and be in a quiet space, so I can start the day with a sense of ease.”
6. Exercise and eat a good breakfast. Exercise is great any time of day, but if you work out in the morning, you won’t have to worry about missing it later on when your schedule gets too busy — and you’ll likely feel more refreshed and ready for the day. “I find that I find that working out in the mornings not only gets the blood flowing, but I [also] get a lot of great ideas during my workouts too,” Denise Lee, CEO and founder of Alala, says. “I’m sure it’s because my mind is totally fresh and I'm not bogged down by the day's events. I also love that I get to check something off my list before I even get to work.”
Pum Lefebure, chief creative officer and co-founder of Design Army, certainly noticed the difference when she started incorporating exercise into her morning routine. “When I was just starting out in my career — and for many years after — I didn’t make my health a priority. I was so focused on success, I was not eating well, not exercising, working crazy long hours.[...] But then it catches up to you, the body starts telling you that you have to get [yourself] together. And you realize that none of the success matters if you don’t have your health...Now every morning, I get up early to exercise and eat a smart breakfast. I don’t have time to drive to the gym so I just pop in a fun fitness DVD and get moving.”
7. Avoid your phone. Resist the temptation to reach for your phone the minute your alarm goes off, whether to check emails, social media, or your favorite apps. Instead, get started with your meditation, or exercise, or whatever other offline activity you kick off your morning routine with. “When I was younger, I would waste so much time browsing Facebook before getting out of bed,” says hairstylist Jenna Mast. “Now, I get way more done in the morning and don't waste as much time browsing social media because it's no longer a part of me procrastinating getting out of bed.”
Avoiding the screen isn’t just about getting more done, though. Going straight to your phone can trigger all sorts of anxiety that often comes with your emails, social feeds, and the like; and keep you from prioritizing what’s really important. “One thing that I've learned is that an email inbox can sometimes foolishly take the place of priorities, which means you're allowing other people to dictate your productivity based on their needs, not yours,” Marissa Aydlett, VP of marketing at Appboy says. “I try to isolate my morning to a cup of coffee and achieving one thing that I need to complete before I open my email. That way, I feel more accomplished as I start my day rather than always feeling behind and not getting to that task or project until I've made my way through the day.”
See how long you’re able to put off looking at your phone in the morning; and, if you really need to check some urgent things, allow yourself a predetermined amount of time to do so, and then get back to the rest of your routine. Just remember: Seeing how many likes your latest Instagram has racked up probably doesn't qualify as urgent.