Arguably, mornings are the most important part of the day. They can springboard us into a day filled with productivity and inspiration or trigger our worst instincts and preview a day filled with chaos and angst. As a result, establishing healthy morning habits can be an integral part of our individual formula for success. Admittedly, everyone’s situation is different and each day in fact is unique so the goal isn’t to develop a script that’s confining or overly prescriptive. Instead, step back and ask yourself if your mornings are working for you and if not, consider adopting some of these healthy morning habits.
Habit #1 – Wake Up 15 Minutes Earlier
When we don’t allow enough time in the morning, we’re constantly rushing and that anxiety follows us throughout the day creating a drain on our mental game and overall productivity. Part of the morning balancing act is not just managing ourselves but also our kids, pets or anyone else in the household who may be getting ready for the day as well so an additional 15 minutes of “me time” or prep time can truly make a huge difference. Fifteen minutes may not sound like much, but morning minutes seem to be twice as meaningful somehow. Some may use it to do some strength training before hopping in the shower while others may prefer to take a luxurious shower while thinking through an upcoming presentation. Some may benefit from using the time to meditate or pray while others may prefer to take the time to pack a great healthy lunch for the kids while listening to an inspirational podcast. The key is avoiding the temptation to wake up with no time to spare in the mornings and instead give yourself that extra 15 minutes – you’ll be glad you did.
Habit #2 – Exercise
As you might suspect, many high performers start their days with some form of exercise. The Harvard Business Review article “Regular Exercise is Part of Your Job” cites a laundry list of the benefits of exercise including improved concentration, sharper memory, prolonged mental stamina, enhanced creativity, faster learning and lowered stress. Chief Marketing Officer at 4K video conference company Lifesize, Josh Kivenko insists, “By far, my #1 productivity habit is going for an early run – when I actually do it.” Similarly, SolarWinds Head Geek Liz Beavers extols the benefits of getting up early for a quick garage workout or jog around the neighborhood. “Despite seeing a growing number of people adding standing desks to their home offices, I think moving your body early to release endorphins is a great way to get your head cleared for the day.” Whether your lifestyle supports a full morning workout or a quick 20 minute walk, research suggests that even moderate activity consistently executed yields measurable productivity benefits. “You don’t have to engage in intense CrossFit classes to gain the benefits of exercise,” insists Working Simply, Inc. Managing Partner, Carson Tate. “Low-intensity exercise like walking and strength training work just as well. Your energy level is the foundation that determines how much you can get done in the day, so get moving if you want to complete your next project quickly.”
Habit #3 – Jot Down 2-3 Daily Priorities
Another benefit of infusing some sort of exercise into our daily routine is that it often spurs creative thought. My morning jogs often create space for my brain to remind me about something I forgot, shift my thinking about a conflict situation or spur creative ideas about how to address a problem. It’s important to immediate leverage those mental epiphanies by documenting them so they can inform our plan for the day. While most of us have some sort of detailed schedule or to do list, it’s really important to develop a habit of identifying just a few (ideally 2-3) key goals for the day. They might include sending an email to kickstart a task or project (to avoid time pressures later), carving out critical “think time” to focus on an important issue that’s gone neglected for too long or even making time to connect with someone you’ve been meaning to call for months. Avoid writing an overly ambitious laundry list of random tasks which might just leave you feeling unsuccessful and depleted at the end of the day. Instead, jotting down just a few key priorities reinforces a sense of focus for the day. Kivenko starts his day by reviewing his list of action items and defining what success looks like for that day. Director of People Science at 15Five, Courtney Bigony suggests that focusing on fewer activities can actually enhance productivity. “According to research, employees who prioritize and select activities to focus on and dedicate all their effort toward these, score an average 25% higher in their performance than those who pursued many things,” insists Bigony. Indeed, defining our 2-3 daily goals early in the morning encourages us to plan our days proactively (instead of reflexively responding to the first email we see) and also encourages a sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when we actually achieve them. Recommended For You
Habit #4 – Practice Gratitude
There are many ways to practice gratitude – praying, repeating an inspirational message or sending a thank you email. However you choose to do it, incorporating gratitude into your morning routine can boost your mood for the entire day. “Science has shown that practicing gratitude promotes positive emotions, well-being and health, and it works to counter negativity bias,” explains Bigony. “Gratitude can be practiced alone (e.g. counting three good things each day) or in interaction with others (sending a note of appreciation).” Indeed, this habit can be a great one to extend to those closest to you. For example, consider asking the entire family to share something they’re grateful for during breakfast. Executive coach and author of The Dignity Mindset, Susan Hodgkinson shares, “On Monday mornings, I send at least one thank you email to a client, mentor, family member or colleague which I find gets me in a great mood and a gratitude mindset for the rest of the week.”
With unprecedented levels of unemployment and general stressors and anxiety around the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing racial tensions, most of us can’t afford to wander aimlessly through our days. There’s this looming sense that every day counts – indeed every minute counts, and one of the best ways to make each day productive is developing healthy morning habits that set us up for success. If you’ve been racing through your mornings with the sense that you’re already behind before you open your first email or say your first “good morning”, step back and choose to rethink what mornings should look like.