We’re all familiar with the idea of starting the day off on the right foot—but what does that really mean? To some, beginning the day in the so-called “right” way means waking up with a positive attitude. To others, it’s being productive from the moment they turn back the covers. Still others might think that starting their mornings with some self-care is the way to go.
Whatever you actually do in the morning every day, there’s evidence that having a set routine can really impact your day—and your life—for the better. (Many successful people actually swear by their morning routines and credit them as part of why they’ve made it as far as they have.)
Creating a daily ritual for yourself when you wake up and start your day can have a number of mental health benefits. If you’ve ever struggled with creating a morning routine, you’re not alone. It can take some time to form a habit and create a set schedule that will set you up for success in the rest of your day. (If you’re not a morning person, this can be a real challenge).
But the perfect morning routine for you exists as long as you’re willing to try. Here’s how you can have a good morning, every morning, by fine-tuning the ideal morning routine for you.
Benefits of having a morning routine
There are a number of positives when it comes to having a morning routine. When you start your day every morning with a schedule, you take the guesswork out of your AM tasks and allow yourself to glide through the first part of your day.
Creating healthy habits sets you up for a successful and productive day ahead.
Here are some of the biggest benefits for having a morning routine:
Morning routines allow you take control over your day
It’s always a good idea to start your day in an active mode, rather than a reactive mode. Your morning routine puts you and your priorities in the driver’s seat.
You’re not responding to your life when you create healthy AM habits, you’re taking an active role in creating the life you want. Having a solid morning routine for the activities and tasks that are important to you gives you agency over your time.
Morning routines can be good for your mental health
Keeping the first part of your day focused on what’s important to you—and keeping it low-stress—sets you up for a great day ahead. When you start the day rushing, frantic and overloaded mentally, the rest of your day will likely follow suit.
Having a routine ensures that you have time for everything you need to accomplish in the morning to get your day going in the right direction.
Morning routines can alleviate stress and anxiety
For people who deal with stress and anxiety—okay, basically everyone— having a healthy morning routine can ensure that everything you need to take care of gets done (so you don’t spend the day worrying about what you might have forgotten or may not have time for) and can give you some structure for fitting in self-care.
When you build in time for exercise, meditation or journaling into your morning, you can start the day centered and focused.
Morning routines can increase your productivity
Many successful people, from founding father Benjamin Franklin to best selling author Elizabeth Gilbert, have solid morning routines that help them focus on what’s important to them. When you block time for your own priorities, you can enjoy more productivity and be more attentive in all areas of your life.
Morning routines can help save up your willpower
Throughout the day, our ability to say no to temptation and stay focused on tough tasks wanes. We have the most willpower in the morning and it gradually plummets by the hour. (This is likely why it’s easy to skip your workout after a long day of work and why sweet and salty snacks always seem like a good idea while you’re binge watching your favorite show before bed.)
Having a morning routine ensures that your willpower reserves don’t get depleted too early in the day and makes it easier to resist instant gratification as the day progresses.
The false promise of morning routines
Before diving into creating the ideal morning routine for you, it’s important to be clear about one thing: A great morning routine won’t solve all of your problems. In fact, not everyone will benefit from having a checklist to complete first thing when they wake up.
A good morning starts the night before
First of all, you don’t want your morning routine to come at the cost of not getting enough sleep. If you need to wake up so early in order to have your routine that you sacrifice adequate sleep then you’re making a trade off that will ultimately be a detriment to your mental health and overall well being. Early mornings are not as important as sleep.
Sleep is as essential as eating or breathing but many of us think of it as a somewhat optional piece of our overall wellness. A good night’s sleep has the same benefits as having a morning routine—you’re less stressed and anxious and more productive when your body (and mind) has had enough rest. You need to get the recommended eight hours of sleep first in order for a morning routine to be worth it.
Not everyone’s built for mornings
Also, morning routines aren’t for everyone. Trying to hack or over-optimize your life can be a slippery slope where you are doing things because you think you should, not because they actually work for you. Some people are more productive and happy waking up at noon and going to bed after midnight.
Some people don’t have the luxury to make time for a morning routine complete with exercise, meditation and a homemade smoothie because they have kids, lack financial stability, need to make long commutes to the office or work multiple jobs.
Remember: Not all successful people have these great morning routines. And not having a morning schedule doesn’t mean that you can’t be successful. You may even benefit more from a nighttime routine if you don’t have time, or the mental capacity, to do all of the things in the morning. For some, optimal productivity comes in the nighttime hours. Not everyone is at their best in the early morning.
So while morning routines can be really helpful for many people, understand that any wellness or self care suggestion is merely that, a suggestion. In the end, you need to do what works for you and your unique life.
How to build a great morning routine
A great morning routine is the one that works for you. Not everyone will be able to have a lengthy routine due to time constraints or family obligations and that’s okay.
Your morning routine should be personalized to what you’re actually able to accomplish first thing, not based on what other people do or what you’d like to be able to do in an ideal world. You can always tweak your routine as your life circumstances change if needed. For now, just meet yourself where you’re at.
To see how much time you really have in the morning, first try to make sure that your wake time still allows you to get at least seven hours of sleep each night. (Shooting for eight is ideal.) Try to wake up at the same time each day without hitting the snooze button so you can get up and get going first thing. If you’re used to snoozing, this will definitely take some practice.
Then, determine the amount of time you have for your routine based on what time you need to be at work, school drop-off or whatever it is you do each day, on time. This window is where you will build your morning tasks and determine what’s best for your overall productivity and wellbeing.
Morning routine checklist for successful people
To get you started, here are some ideas for you to start customizing your ideal morning routine. If you need to, you can maximize your time by combining some of the habits you want to include in your life. For example, you can start with something physical and go for a run. Alternatively, you could cook yourself breakfast while listening to music that puts you in a good mood. You can journal on the bus ride to work – whatever works for you!
The following are just some of the components you can use to build the right routine for you. Read them over and use them as inspiration to figure out what would work for you in the AM.
Don’t check your phone right away
Scrolling Instagram and reading emails can wait. When you reach for your phone right after you wake up, you put yourself directly into reactive mode. This can cause you to lose focus and get stressed before you’ve even made it out of bed.
Make your bed
Making your bed takes about two minutes and it gives you a quick, easy sense of accomplishment right off the bat. Plus, it makes your room look neat and tidy even if the rest of your space is messy.
Many people can feel dehydrated after not drinking for the eight hours or so they were asleep. Drinking water can perk you up mentally and physically, setting you up for feeling healthier overall. Add a twist of lemon for some extra pep in your proverbial step.
Even if you’re not a big breakfast person, getting some nutrients in your body can really turn on your brain. You don’t need to have a four-course meal but eating something healthy can go a long way toward improving your mood and energy levels right off the bat. Whatever constitutes breakfast for you, just get some food into your body.
Incorporate some self care
Do something for yourself each morning. Even if you just have five minutes, you can stretch, do a quick meditation, journal or work on a crossword puzzle while you drink your morning coffee. (Catching up on social media can also count as self care if this activity truly brings you joy. )
If you just have absolutely no time before you need to be at work, extend your morning routine to your commute. You can listen to a podcast or call a friend while you sit in traffic or read while you sit on public transit.
Write—or review—your daily to-do list and calendar
Check over what’s on deck for the day so you don’t run into any surprises. You might even block off ten minutes or so to look over emails and address any messages that need to be taken care of right away.
Complete the task that you’re dreading
Mark Twain famously gave the following advice, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Clearly, you won’t be eating any frogs as part of your morning routine. The message is simply a great metaphor for taking care of anything you really don’t want to do early.
There’s actually a popular time-management book called Eat That Frog centered around this idea. It all goes back to the willpower component of what makes a morning routine so beneficial.
By getting your least favorite task done first, you’re sure to actually complete it—by the end of the day your willpower may have already fizzled and you may not end up accomplishing it. Which can lead to you feeling stressed and even procrastinating on the task even further.
Sticking with your morning routine
So how long does it take to form a habit of actually doing your morning routine? It depends. Research shows that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for someone to form a new habit.
For a given behavior to become automatic or second nature, it takes an average of 66 days. So once you come up with a perfect morning routine for you, it may take a little while for it to feel like part of your normal life.
Check it off
One strategy for sticking with your new morning routine is to practice what’s known as breaking the chain—or not breaking the chain, in this case. For each day that you complete your routine, put an “X” or a sticker on that date on your calendar.
As you accumulate symbols showing your progress, you’ll be inspired not to break the chain. The more days you get in a row, the more motivated you’ll be to keep going.
Lay out your outfit
Another way to ensure that you keep up your morning routine is to get ready for it the night before. Choose your clothes for the next day to eliminate the guesswork of what you’ll wear and the time it often takes to select an outfit in the AM.
If you work out in the morning, choose your exercise clothes the night before, too, and lay them out where you can see them right when you wake up for extra motivation. (Or make sure they’re packed and ready in your gym bag with the rest of your essentials so you can just grab it and go.) Prepping your breakfast and packing your lunch the night before (as well as those for your kids, if applicable) can help your morning run smoother, too.
Create a to-do list
Some people like to make a to-do list or review their calendar before they go to bed to prepare for the morning. If you have an annoying or dreaded task to complete the next day—remember the frog?—circle that task in thick marker so you can tackle it first thing and feel the gratification that comes from crossing it off the list early in the day.
Don’t expect perfection
Finally, give yourself the freedom (and the grace) of not getting your morning routine perfect the first day (or week, or month) you decide to enact it. Remember, forming a habit takes time. If you fall out of your routine, that’s okay. Get back onto it the next day and don’t beat yourself up over skipping a day (or five). What’s important is that you can finetune your ideal morning routine so that it becomes something you look forward to, not something you feel annoyed by or even dread. That would, obviously, defeat the whole purpose.
Relish your morning routine
By really taking care of yourself first thing in the morning, you set yourself for a great rest of the day. While it may take a little time to feel settled into your morning routine, you may even come to crave the stability and consistency that comes from knowing how each day will start.
Doing the same thing every morning may seem too predictable or even boring. But starting the day with a clear plan can be liberating even amid all the structure. As you get used to your new normal you may find that you start your mornings calmer, clearer and ready to tackle whatever the day brings.