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August 18, 2023

7 morning routine ideas to boost your mood and productivity

Agnieszka Sienkiewicz

We’re not all morning people. But every day brings another chance to rise and shine — or at least prime yourself for an awesome (and productive) day.

Maybe you prefer to start your morning with powerful, intentional activities, or maybe you like to ease into your day. Whichever you prefer, the goal is to set yourself up to effectively complete all your daily tasks. To help you, we’ve compiled a list of ideas that deserve a place in your morning routine.

Productive activities to make the most of your mornings

Carefully structuring your perfect morning routine helps you start your day on the right foot and helps you to set up a realistic and predictable daily schedule. When you follow the same steps every morning, you program your brain into a work-ready mindset.

But there’s no one perfect morning routine. You might need to try a few different things before you figure out the routine that works for you. Here are some time-tested ideas to get you started.

#1. Set up your sleep schedule.

You don’t need to join the “5:00 a.m. Club” to be productive. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, the key is to get up and go to bed at the same hours each day. This rule applies to days off, too. You should sleep and wake at the same time all week long (weekends and holidays included).

Why is that important? Humans are creatures of habit. The sleep routine conditions and strengthens our inclination to display certain behavior. In this particular case, the desirable behavior is feeling well-rested.

But what if you can’t maintain a consistent sleep schedule due to night shifts, family obligations, or something else? Then at least try to go to bed at a consistent time. (Setting the right bedtime is as important as getting up on time.) This will help to prevent “brain fog,” so you can stay focused and perform better.

Calculate your sleep cycle 

There’s no ideal time for going to bed and waking up that works for everyone. To find out when you should go to sleep so you can wake up at a specific time, follow an easy formula based on the following facts:

  1. The average sleep cycle is 90 minutes. During those 90 mins, your brain goes through the three NREM stages (N1, N2, and N3). After 90 mins, it reaches the REM stage (Rapid Eye Movement).
    An image showing the stages of the sleep cycle: light sleep, deep sleep, and vivid dreaming.

    1. Typically, one night of sleep consists of 5 sleep cycles, giving: 5 x 90 mins = 450 mins = 7.5 hrs.
    2. Subtract 7.5 hrs from the time you want to wake up the next day.

    Let’s say you want to wake up at 7 a.m. So you count back 7.5 hours which results in bedtime at 11:30 p.m. Of course, this calculation is just a starting point that you may need to adjust as your individual sleep cycle might be slightly longer or shorter.

    Find your ideal bedtime

    How do you know when you’ve found the optimal sleep schedule for you? When you naturally wake up about 5-10 minutes before the alarm clock. So set up an initial bedtime and stick to it for a week. If you sleep through your alarm, move your bedtime earlier. Try for another week and keep adjusting until you wake up naturally just before your alarm goes off.

    #2. Wake up early and make time for you.

    Waking up a few minutes before your alarm goes off helps you to wake up slowly and give your brain time to gently shift from one state to another. But if you can, consider setting your alarm 15 to 30 minutes earlier. Open up some time just for you!

    You could devote that extra time to meditating, yoga, jogging, taking a cold shower, cooking a hot breakfast… Whatever starts the day off your way! (Pro tip: Breakfast prep is especially helpful if you’re fasting for part of the day, or just find it difficult to find time to eat between meetings.

    In the long run, taking a few minutes for yourself every morning will bring you closer to your long-term goals.

    #3. Don’t check your phone.

    Checking your phone within one hour after waking forces your brain into work mode before it’s ready, which can affect your entire day. And yet, 4 out of 5 smartphone users do it anyway. Some check just 15 minutes after they wake up! Why is this a bad habit?

    First, you just woke up, so your brain is especially susceptible to external input. If you’re a manager, chances are that as soon as you grab your phone, you’ll be bombarded with emails, Slacks, and other urgent messages that stress you out. You’re barely awake and already feeling overwhelmed! And if you also check non-work content — like social media — you risk having your attention hijacked. The bottom line: don’t focus on anything but yourself and each brand new day.

    Second, when you check your phone first thing in the morning, you rush your brain’s transition from sleep to wakefulness. You immediately slam your brain into the beta state (wide awake and alert) and your body starts to produce high levels of dopamine. The dopamine, in turn, distracts you for the rest of the day. Or worse — makes you less inclined to even start thinking about work.

    So if you want to stay focused and calm, don’t reach for your phone the second you wake up.

    #4. Let there be light!

    We evolved to wake up in response to sunlight. And even though we no longer need to rely on natural light as much as we once did, our bodies still depend on it. Both light and darkness play a key role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Because this is the case, you can use morning light to help you wake up. (If you have blackout curtains, leave them open to let the morning sun into your bedroom.)

    In addition to helping you get out of bed in the morning, direct sunlight also enhances your cognitive abilities and mental health, which are critical for work. By limiting your exposure to light, you disrupt your natural circadian rhythm, which is bad for your body and your mind. 

    #5. Go outside

    What if you wake up before the sun and, despite leaving the curtains open, your bedroom is still black? If you have time, take a short walk. (Maybe the sun will rise by the time you’re dressed and ready). The recommendation is that you expose yourself to natural light for at least 15 minutes. And don’t get discouraged if it’s cloudy — your brain will appreciate the walk anyway!

    If you can’t afford to wait for the sun to make an appearance, you might still be able to catch some rays on the way to work.

    If you love waking up to natural sunlight, try swapping your noisy alarm clock for one with a sunrise alarm that mimics natural light.

#6. Bring your heart rate up!

Walking’s great, but you can also go for a quick run (or a brisk power walk). Or step out onto your backyard or balcony for a quick workout. If you really want to get your heart pumping, try HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Workouts can be as short as 20 minutes, but should be intense enough to significantly increase your heart rate.

Even a short workout will increase your levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin hormones. They’ll not only improve your mood, they’ll sharpen your focus. And this boost can last a couple of hours post-workout. While your brain is naturally boosted, sit down to tasks that require attention to detail and creativity.

For example, work on your daily to-do list, which you can prioritize according to the Covey matrix. (“Eat the frog” first!) You can tackle tasks that put your brain into a more passive mode — like reading emails — later.

#7. Collect your thoughts.

Your thoughts can become intentions, and intentions become your actions.

Use your mornings to mindmap your daily intentions. The best part? You don’t need to set aside any extra time for this. Just mentally go through your day when you take a walk or shower, or when you get dressed. Think about your agenda for the day and the goals you want to achieve. Make it a habit to habit prep for each day, focusing on what matters, and moving yourself into work mode.

Morning routine ideas: wrap up

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.” — Lemony Snicket

Mornings are powerful. Your morning routine dictates how you’ll feel throughout the day and how much you’ll get done. The right routine will help you make the most of your day, instead of making mornings the most dreaded part of your daily life.

If you’re still figuring out the perfect routine, or looking for a way to improve the one you have, try the ideas in this article. (They’re backed by science!) But don’t overhaul your morning routine all at once. Start gently to give yourself the best chance of success. Introduce one new practice a week, then track how it goes.

Make small, gradual changes and, before long, morning might be your favorite part of every day!