Early Mornings Are Your Secret Weapon

Five Steps to a Productive Morning

There are two parts of the day that are opposites. The early morning and the late evening. They bring out different facets of our character, and if the person we are in the morning could confront the person we are in the evening, an interesting discussion would occur!

I’ve written about the conflict between these two people before.

But the morning person has a superpower – (s)he’s not easily distracted. If you can organize yourself, get up very early and get yourself to work before the rest of the world rises, you’re tapping into a superpower.

But how do you adjust a lifestyle to take advantage of this period of super-productive time when everything about your habits and your routines makes it so very difficult?

First, Control Your Evenings

The secret to early mornings is evenings. What you give to the morning person, you inevitably take away from the evening person, and vice versa.

If you’re going to be up at 5am or 5:30am, you can’t be going to bed at midnight after a six-pack of beer or two-thirds of a bottle of wine.

If you want to be a early morning person, it can’t be one morning. Your body adjusts to the routine that you impose on it. You develop habits that support the behaviors you adopt. If you’re going to take advantage of your early mornings, it can’t be just once, from time to time or when absolutely necessary. That will make the mornings painful. Every. Single. Time.

So create an evening routine that respects your objectives for the morning and stick to it.

I don’t want to be prescriptive because it’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, what works for me may not work for you, but there are a few ground rules:

  • You still need 7 to 8 hours sleep. Work out your bedtime accordingly.
  • You need to go to bed relaxed and prepared to sleep, so try to avoid stimulating or exciting activities in the 45 minutes before bed
  • Take some time to plan the morning ahead (more on this in the next section)
  • Take a bath, or a shower, get into your sleepwear and do something relaxing that doesn’t involve a screen. The blue light from a screen and most of the content you could be using the screen for are counterproductive when it comes to preparing for a restful night
  • The phone stays outside the room, or if absolutely necessary, in a closet
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable. You spend a large portion of your life there, you should invest accordingly

Plan The Morning Before It Happens

It’s very difficult to plan and execute at the same time. When we try, we typically do both poorly.

For example, I set up time planning what posts I want to write and how they fit together. I write that plan down on a page and makes sure I know what articles need to be written, and by when.

At a separate time, I’ll assign myself an article to write. I’ll pick one off the list, research it, write it, edit it, probably rewrite it a few times. I won’t consider other articles, linkages between articles or the overall design of the website while I’m doing this. It’s important to focus on the task at hand. If something bothers me I’ll make a note of it for later and carry on with the article until I can schedule and publish it.

It’s the same with early mornings. You can either spend them planning your day or you can spend them executing tasks, but it’s difficult to do both. Ideally, you should plan what you’re going to do the night before. That plan should be written and then placed somewhere that’s “in your way” in the morning.

When you wake up, don’t think, don’t re-plan your morning, just grab the list and start working down the items one-by-one. This should include obvious things like grooming and breakfast so that you set time aside for them, but also activities that add value to you emotionally, spiritually, physically or professionally.

If you wake up and think, “Ok, I’m up. Now what?” You’ve already failed.

Execute. Execute. Execute.

So you’re up, you have your plan, you washed the sleep out of your eyes and the coffee’s just about to hit your system, what now? How do you take advantage of your early mornings?

There’s a number of areas you can invest this precious time into, and here are a few that I spend time on.

Exercise

Clearly a top priority for many of us, I have a HIIT session booked 3 mornings per week. I try to plan the session as early as possible so I get back home before there’s any chance of my kids waking up.

If I do some sport I also put in some stretching because I’m a desk warrior and I bear the internal scars of bad posture and lack of movement.

Meditation and Reflection

I find this difficult in the early mornings, but every so often I’ll wake up and be in the mood. It’s one of the rare times I’ll adjust my morning plan to create space for something. It’s worth accommodating this sort of activity if you can do it effectively because it’s benefits are massive.

I don’t have a process. I stare into space and let my emotions and thoughts find a place where they can meet.

Planning the Day Ahead

If you’re a busy person in the sense that there are a lot of separate items on your calendar, it’s worth spending some time organizing your day. I have a journal-based approach to this that I’ll go into another time, but if I can I like to plan the day down to the half-hour. When I can muster the discipline to follow through on the plan, it results in some incredibly productive days.

Writing

Although I will occasionally write a blog post or article in the early morning, I find my mind is better set up for journalling or correspondence. The calm makes it easier to be introspective, and by the end of the day, so much has happened that everything just an angry buzz in the back of my head.

For correspondence, I’m pretty old fashioned for geek. I’ve nice pens and beautiful paper and I write letters to family in far flung places. I don’t do it nearly often enough given the pleasure it brings some of them.

Cooking

I take a packed lunch to work most days, but I try to eat well. At the time of writing I’m on a very restrictive diet, so there’s a lot of work on the cooking front. I’ll also prepare breakfast for the family, which is something I enjoy doing.

Finances

I try not to think about money before the working day starts. It’s in the same category as emails and meetings and doesn’t belong in the privileged moments we create for ourselves. Nevertheless, if there is a pressing need to examine some aspect of my bills, finances or invoicing, I’ll look at it then and get it out of the way so it doesn’t pollute the rest of my day.

Once You Start, Don’t Stop

As I mentioned above, early mornings are not about creating a temporary bubble of efficiency in your life. If you decided to do it for just a week so you can make a YouTube video about the exercise, then you’re doing it wrong.

It’s like a good diet. It’s a lifestyle change.

By all means dip your toe in the water and give early mornings a try for a week, but don’t tell yourself you’ll stop. Instead, tell yourself that you’ll reassess when the week is up and you’ll decide on an additional week if the productivity gains are there.

Like most things, it only really hits its stride once it becomes a habit.

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