Grab any magazine, read lifestyle sections of newspapers, go through productivity blogs or read productivity books. Everyone tells you the importance of morning routines, a regular sequence of actions you do every morning to build up to peak performance. Without the rhythm of a morning routine, you may mindlessly fumble through the day.
Most morning routines (including my previous one), fall under two categories: getting physical so that your body grows energetic (jogging, workout, yoga) and getting mindful so that your mind can focus better (meditation, journaling, worship).
However, Benjamin Hardy and Bedros Keuilian hit the nail on the head by suggesting that the first thing you should do every morning is an activity which takes you a step closer to your life’s most important goals. This activity most likely changes every week or month and is the #1 activity for that period of time.
Why do your #1 activity the first thing in the morning
There is only one chunk of time in the day that you can unconditionally call your own. Early in the morning. If you are a particularly early riser (before 6am), then an hour after waking up is probably your most uninterrupted block of time. Your spouse and children are probably still asleep. Clients aren’t going to call or ping you. Your phone isn’t going to buzz with dumb notifications. It’s probably so quiet that switching the TV or the radio on feels sore to the ears. Imagine how much you can achieve if you can use that block of time for your most important goal right now.
Writing a book? Use your first waking hour to write 4-5 pages. Building software? Use that hour to plan your application’s architecture or write 500 lines of code. Making a movie? Use that first hour to take videos in the early morning light or to edit your videos.
If you follow such a routine, you will have achieved more than the average Joe does every day. There is also something amazingly gratifying about ticking off your most important activity as early in the day as possible.
But what about other morning activities?
By this, we mean activities such as meditation, exercise, journaling, making breakfast and coffee. Activities that build up the rhythm of your morning. Relax. We are not eliminating those activities. We definitely suggest that you to defer those until after your #1 priority of the day. A major chunk of your first waking hour MUST be spent doing what will put you one step ahead in your most important goal for the day / season.
In the next paragraph, we will give you 5 tips on how to make your #1 priority the true #1.
Programming your morning around your #1 priority
1. Restrict any non-#1 activity to less than 10 minutes: Okay, we get it. You really cannot kick-start your brain without meditation. For people favouring an early breakfast, we understand that you need to get some food into your body before you feel fuelled to start your work. You need to brush your teeth and maybe take a bath to wake up fully. And of course, you need to clean your bowels!
We suggest that you cut those activities short to within 15 minutes of waking up. A 5-minute meditation instead of one lasting 21 minutes will suffice. A 5-minute shower can help you wake up and feel clean. A breakfast such as boiled eggs and toast can be made in less than 10 minutes. Stretches can be done instead of a full workout. You can perform more elaborate activities AFTER your #1 activity.
2. Prepare today evening for tomorrow morning: If you really need to eat a heavy breakfast before setting to work, you should prepare everything the evening before. In the morning routine post, I need to correct myself. Your day’s plan for tomorrow needs to be made today evening, along with determining what your #1 activity shall be. Planning your day early in the morning takes away valuable minutes, possibly up to half an hour, from your #1 priority. You should wake up in the morning knowing exactly what your #1 activity is and get to it within 15 minutes of waking up.
3. Your #1 activity deserves 1 to 3 hours: I suggest spending 3 productive hours in the morning on your #1 activity. My preference is to break the 3 hours into 3 hour-long sessions with 5-minute breaks in between. However, you can also do six Pomodoro sessions with 5-minute breaks in between. One of those 5-minute breaks can be to watch the sun rise. It refreshes you no matter how stressful your work is.
You can also spend 15 minutes on planning your activity, such as reading up some facts from the Internet (no Facebook peeking allowed) or drawing a mind map or writing an outline for an article or chapter that you want to write or for the software that you want to build. After 15 minutes, you should get right down to the real task, such as writing or coding.
I have noticed that only 1 hour on my #1 priority is too short to deliver my best work. A 3-hour chunk works better. I explain the power of 15 minutes of preparation and 3 hours of focused work in a different post. Your goals may not need 3 hours of work at all. Experiment with what works for you.
4. Start your morning as early as possible: Since you are dedicating your first hour / first three hours to your #1 priority, you need to leave enough morning hours for other activities that are important to you as morning routine.
Let’s say you want to work out every morning. If you were to wake up at 5:30, followed by 10 minutes of non-#1 activities, 15 minutes of preparation for your #1 activity and 3 hours of focused attention on your #1 activity with short 5 minute breaks every half an hour, you will still be done by 9:00 am. That is still a good time to meditate, work out and eat a full breakfast.
However, waking up at 7:00 am will set off your other routines to 10:30 am. For me, this is too late for breakfast. Also, in tropical Indian summers, this is an avoidable time for a workout. Winding up your previous day early and waking up refreshed as early as possible is going to be productive for you in the long run.
5. Guard your routine possessively: The time allotted for your #1 priority in the morning will constantly come under attack. Your spouse may want you to walk your dog at 7 am. A friend may be in town and call you to catch up over tea at 8:30. Your grandmother may say that 6:45 am falls under Rahukaal, Ketukaal or one of the numerous names given to God-knows-what inauspicious hours in the day.
You need to stand firm and politely decline intrusions. After all, it is the time that you have promised for yourself to take a massive step towards your life’s goals. No one has a right to annex it. Your dog can wait for the walk or your spouse can walk it himself/herself. Or you can hire someone for it. You can give your friend a time in the evening to catch up. If his/her evening is not free, that’s too bad. You have the right to decide your free time just like he/she can decide his/hers. Nothing is an ‘inauspicious’ hour when you proceed purposefully towards your goal.
What you do during the first hour after you wake up will decide what you gain from your life. Morning routine proponents will come up with fancy things to do to get you revved up every morning (including my own post, oops). Those activities are great and will improve the richness of your morning, compared to mindless activities such as watching TV or drinking cola. But do yourself a favour. Schedule the most important activity as the first thing to do every morning. Leave everything else for later. You will thank yourself.