It was Benjamin Franklin who had said “Early to bed, early to rise makes a [man] healthy, wealthy and wise”. Tim Cook is up at 4:30 AM, sending emails and heading to the gym. Barack Obama makes it a point to squeeze in a workout at 6:45 AM. Margaret Thatcher would be up at 5 AM to listen to the BBC. Frank Lloyd Wright would start work at 4 AM, because he said that was when his best ideas came to him. The Dalai Lama rises at 3 AM and is in prayer and meditation soon after. Steve Jobs would look in the mirror every morning and ask himself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” Gandhi would start his day at 4 AM with community prayers and writing. Howard Schultz takes his three dogs for a walk at 4:30 AM. Richard Branson, Jack Welch, Jeff Immelt, Oprah Winfrey, A.G. Lafley, Indra Nooyi – the list goes on. Our Chairman, too, is an early riser and at work before most of us.
There really is something about the fascinating potential of mornings.
Waking up early, buying yourself those extra couple of hours to be more productive, seems to be the not-so-secret mantra of so many different successful people that you can hardly ignore it.
So, my message this week focuses on how to create the best morning routine for yourself – why it is important to carve out this time and make this a habit.
There isn’t any one way to start your morning. We all do it differently. Some earlier than others. Some not too early. It could be with the newspaper or a run or checking email or getting your children ready for school. Is there a right way to do it? Probably not. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution on offer. However, there are a couple of common aspects that run through them all.
For starters, you can’t enjoy a morning routine or really make it work, if you’re constantly rushing through it. You will only end up tired and frustrated and that is a terrible way to start your day. So, for a proper morning routine, you need to make sure that you wake up early enough. This doesn’t mean that you cut down on sleep, though. It just means that you end up going to bed earlier. This has a larger impact than you probably realise. To make this work, you also need to be more disciplined, plan better and make choices about your lifestyle – all of which hold you in very good stead in many ways. You end up feeling more in control, getting more done and just being happier and more at ease overall.
For those of you who believe you are night birds – and given how lifestyles are changing, with us becoming more global and deeper connected than even before, this is only increasing – give this a thought. As human beings, we are hard-wired to wake up when it is light and get sleepy when it is dark. It is the way our bodies naturally respond. But for those of us who reverse our ‘internal clocks’ in a sense and build up more energy towards the end of the day – things are tougher. You see, whether you realise it or not, your body ends up being in contradiction to the natural cycle and so, one system is telling it to stay awake, while the other is asking for more rest. And as Maria Konikova mentions in her article No, Mornings Don’t Make You Moral in The New Yorker, some 40 per cent of people actually fall in this bracket.
This is most certainly not the first time that you would have deliberated over this. By now, you would have probably also either pegged yourself as a ‘morning person’ or not. So, if you have already written yourself off, after failed attempts with multiple alarm clocks and the best of intentions to try waking up that hour earlier, I’m going to ask you, in the spirit of #monday8am, to give your morning routine another shot.
Here are some suggestions on how you can go about becoming a morning person:
1. Figure out why you’re waking up late
Before you go any further, introspect a bit. Why does your current routine not work? What is it that causes you to wake up late? And why do you need to change it? It is much easier to create a plan when you know exactly what to target. For example, if it is that your nights end up running late and so, despite your best intentions, your morning routine takes a hit, then you need to start by better managing your time the night before.
2. Have a good reason for making this change
No change is easy. You have either been down this path and succeeded, or you haven’t. Either way, you know there comes that point when you will ask yourself – but why? And you need to have a good answer, to keep going.
3. Create a routine
It is much easier when you have a routine to wake up to and follow through on. It pushes you in some ways to keep going. So, take a look at how much time you have and plan accordingly. Don’t take on too much, because the more daunting you make it, the less likely you are to push yourself to wake up and follow through.
You will have to make some choices here – you can’t be reading, exercising, writing, cooking and spending time with your children if all you have is an hour. Be realistic. Choose things that you will enjoy; things that will have the most impact on you and your day. Make this something to look forward to; a ritual of sorts.
Find a way to extend this to weekends and while you travel, so that you don’t break the pace. The great thing about being able to follow your routine, is that you end up feeling more in control of your day.
4. Turn your routine into a habit
The novelty of a changed routine will wear off after a while. So, if you want to stick to it, make it a habit. This takes practice. Chances are that you will need to start waking up earlier, rearranging your evenings or planning work differently. All these changes will require you to move around your current plans and habits, many of which have probably be formed over years. Give yourself time to do this and stick it out when it seems tough.
Like with anything else, set yourself goals and track progress. Time yourself to better understand how and where you are spending your time. What it is that you’re not being able to stick to? Do you need to tweak your routine? Or just get tougher with yourself. If there is something that you particularly enjoy, then you could look for ways to open up more time to do more of it.
5. Do something that wakes you up
You know that time in between getting out of bed and then really feeling awake? When you’re sleepy and fumbling a bit, trying to start your day? That’s the time that you need to pull yourself through. So that you don’t do what is easiest and crawl back under the covers. This is when, having something that doesn’t require too much thought helps. Keep this part simple. It could mean brushing your teeth and walking to the door to fetch the newspaper. Or you could get creative and take a cue from Beethoven, who, as the story goes, started every day by counting out exactly 60 beans of coffee for his cup of coffee!
6. Change how you are spending time at night
For many of us, the challenge starts the night before. If you don’t have a routine for the night in place – you’re not able to go to sleep on time, you’re eating all wrong and you’re just too exhausted, you won’t be able to be at your best in the morning. If you need to eat a little earlier, turn in for bed and skip that late night movie, make the changes. For instance, I have stopped checking email at least 30 minutes before I go to bed. I was finding that I was taking longer to fall off to sleep if I was on email right before bedtime.
7. Find the time to exercise
There really is no better way to get the day started. Carve out a half hour at the gym, go for a brisk walk, try swimming during the summer, give yoga a shot – choose what works best for you and stick to it. I usually try to squeeze in a quick workout first thing in the morning – usually on an elliptical machine. On the road, if I don’t get time to go to the gym, I usually spend a few minutes exercising in the hotel room itself.
8. Do something that give you an edge
Use this time to jumpstart the rest of your day. Quiet mornings are the best time to think through things. This clarity and structure allows you to plan better and get the most out of your day. Try setting aside 10 minutes early on, while you’re still fresh, to create a to-do list. It can go a long way in helping make your day more productive.
This needn’t be just about work either. You can use this time to keep a journal of sorts (of course, lots of apps now offer the same feature, so you could do this on your drive to work too). Write down ideas, plans; things that are important to you. The reason why I chose to call this #monday8am, is because Monday is the start of the working week and 8 AM, so that we can think about these things before the day catches up with us.
9. Phase in the changes
You won’t be able to make this change overnight. Instead of trying that – and probably scaring yourself off in the bargain – go slow. If you want to start waking up at 6 AM and you currently wake up at 7 AM, make the change in 15 minute increments. Start with 6:45 AM. Do it for a few days. Train yourself. Once that settles it, make it 6:30 AM and so on. By doing so, you will allow yourself the time to gradually adapt. The small wins will also help you build up confidence and push yourself to try harder.
10. Make it special
There is lot that you can do with your time in the morning. Look for ways to make it special. It could be ‘me’ time for quiet reflection and gratitude. It could be quality time with your partner or your parents or your children – you could make breakfast together, go for a walk or even just talk about your day ahead. I make it a point to wake up my kids every morning, even if I am out of town. Chatting with them as soon as they wake up on what things they need to do in the day really helps us get more connected.
You won’t need to look too far for other examples. I am sure that there are many among us who have some great suggestions on how to ensure a great start to the day. We would love to hear from you.