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3 Essential Steps for an Intentional and Productive Morning Routine

Updated: Jul 22, 2019

I love mornings so much that I have an entire blog category and Pinterest board dedicated to them, but I haven’t always felt this way. I used to be as nocturnal as they come. There were summers in high school where I slept from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.

Eventually, I realized the value of mornings. Your morning sets the tone for your entire day. A productive, but relaxed and intentional morning eases you into a productive and intentional day. Flying out of bed in a panic, or lying in bed until noon doing nothing also set the tone for the rest of your day. Then your days add up to create your weeks, months, and years.

What I’m getting at here is that your morning shapes your life in a big way. As Amy Landino always says, “Good morning, good life!”

To make the most of your mornings, you need a routine. Without a routine, it’s a little too easy to just crawl right back in bed or end up on the couch mindlessly watching Netflix until it’s time to go to work. Your morning-brain isn’t super reliable. Deciding on a routine beforehand means that you have a plan and are prepared to use your time wisely.

My morning routine is one of my favorite parts of the day. It’s an ever-evolving series of steps that sets me up to get things done and maintain a good mood throughout the rest of my day, and I look forward to it every day. After years of testing out different routines and figuring out what’s great and what’s a waste of time, I’ve found three things that are essential to any morning routine.

These three things could be your entire routine, or they could just be the first three steps. If you’ve never had a morning routine before, they offer a great starting place and can quickly be done in ten or fifteen minutes if you’re still hesitant to wake up early. And believe me, they are well worth skipping the snooze button for.

1. Hydration

When you first wake up, it’s likely been seven or eight hours minimum since the last time you drank anything. You’re dehydrated. Drinking water when you first get out of bed is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Sure, you can have coffee as well, but don’t skip that water.

Water, especially cold water, helps to wake you up. It’s difficult for your body to function when it’s low on water, and so hydrating first thing in the morning wakes up your brain and leaves you feeling much more alert than you would have been otherwise.

I probably don’t have to tell you how important water is. It’s good for your skin, digestion, joints, and pretty much every other part of your body. And chances are, you aren’t drinking enough. Getting a glass or two in in the morning not only wakes you up but also gets a decent chunk of your recommended water intake out of the way.

When you start your day with water, you also set that tone for the rest of your day. You’ve put your health as your number one priority. You’re saying through your actions that your health is so important to you that it’s the very first thing that you take care of each day.

Starting your day with water reminds you that caring for yourself is something you take seriously and that you are going to do it. This makes it easier to continue making those choices throughout the rest of the day.

If you’re not someone who loves water, put some lemon in it. I also find that a straw makes drinking a lot of water much easier. If you want to get really serious about it, fill up a big water bottle at the beginning of each day, write the hours of the day down the side of it, and aim to keep the water level below the current time.

Whether it’s hot, cold, warm, or frozen, with lemon, lime, mint, strawberries, cucumbers, or nothing at all, in a mug, cup, or bottle, start your day with water. You know how important it is.

2. Something that you look forward to

Think of a time that you had no trouble getting out of bed.

No, really. I'll wait.

I bet you thought of a time where you were about to do something that you were excited about. Maybe it was Christmas morning, the day you left for a big vacation, or even just Saturday morning cartoons—whatever it was, it got you out of bed.

That’s the secret. That, right there, is how you become a morning person. That’s how you come to like mornings. Start your day with something that matters to you.

At some point, we start waking up only to do things that other people are making us do—school, work, appointments, chores, whatever. We stop seeing mornings as time for ourselves and instead they’re taken away by other people. Reclaim your mornings.

Find something that you’re excited to do. If you can’t think of anything that you’re passionate about, start by exploring some new things. When was the last time you left your comfort zone? When was the last time you did something for the first time? That’s where all the exciting things are. Get out of your bubble.

The thing that you’re excited about doesn’t have to be anything significant. Your favorite type of coffee could be all it takes. Find something that you like enough to go to bed thinking, “man, I can’t wait to do X in the morning.”

That thing that gets you out of bed doesn’t necessarily have to be productive. It can be as simple as watching a YouTube video by your favorite creator or making a yummy breakfast. You could go the self care route and meditate, journal, stretch, read, or take a long, luxurious shower.

If you’re a little more hardcore, morning workouts are a phenomenal way to start the day—yes, there are people out there who like to work out.

I know that many people want to wake up early to be productive. I do agree that mornings are the perfect time to get your own work done and out of the way before the world starts demanding your attention. If you’re a seasoned early riser, go ahead and put some productive stuff in your routine.

If you aren’t yet able to consistently wake up early, maybe hold off on the productivity unless you’re doing something that you genuinely enjoy. Focus on solidifying the habit of getting out of bed early first.

Once you’re comfortable consistently waking up early, then add the productive things to your routine. The transition to waking up early will be much easier if mornings are fun and enjoyable.

Trying to wake up early and get work done when you currently aren’t doing either means you’re making two substantial changes at once. It’s harder to get out of bed if you know that you’re facing work right away. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Take it one step at a time, and get consistent with getting up early before you start trying to do work first thing in the morning.

3. A moment of self-reflection

Intentional self-reflection is something that most of us don’t do regularly. We just keep drifting through life and never take the time to explore our thoughts and actions and where they come from. This is unfortunate because self-reflection is a wonderful source of valuable insight and solutions. Often the answers are right in front of your nose if you take the time to look for them.

Mornings are the best time to focus on yourself because this is the time when your thoughts are least influenced by other people. If the thing you chose that you look forward to involves content made by other people, that’s fine, just fit your self-reflection in first. It can be hard to find time and still our minds after we’ve exposed ourselves to the chaos that is the internet.

If you were nodding vigorously throughout my first two suggestions but now find yourself a little skeptical about making time for self-reflection, stick with me for a sec. I wasn’t sold at first either, and part of why I’ve been talking about this so much recently is because I’m shocked at how helpful it’s been.

Almost every single time I’ve taken even a few minutes to really just sit with my thoughts and assess my actions, I’ve come out of it with an idea or solution that goes on to have a substantial positive impact on my life. Whether it’s a way to make my chores easier, a strategy for staying more focused, or a sudden realization about why I procrastinate and how to deal with it, most of my best ideas come from taking time to be still and carefully process my thoughts.

The internet can offer you plenty of solutions, but the best strategies are often going to be the ideas that you come up with when you sit with what you’ve learned and figure out how it could best be applied to you, rather than trying to copy advice literally. Thoughtfully consider how you can apply what you’ve learned to your life and your unique situation. Sometimes those little tweaks we add are the difference between something being a massive success or falling apart before it even gets off the ground.

There are lots of ways you can fit self-reflection into your morning. Journaling is my current favorite, but meditation and practicing gratitude also help. Whether you actually believe in them or not, your horoscope can offer you something to consider each day and be a jumping-off point for your reflection. You could even just take a minute or two to write down a few goals and intentions for the day to give yourself something to focus on.

The specific method that you use to reflect doesn’t matter; what matters is that you are intentional about it.

If you’ve never planned out a morning routine, these three steps offer a great starting place. Depending on what you choose, you could do all three in ten or fifteen minutes.

Focus on building consistency with your morning routine. Consistency is more valuable than having a “perfect” routine. It’s important to start small. After you can comfortably do these three things consistently, start building on your routine until it works for you.

Even after you get more comfortable with a longer routine, don’t worry about it if it starts to change. I add and remove steps from my routine all the time depending on what I need in my life at the moment. There’s no reason to expect each day to be the same as the last. Our needs shift often.

That said, these three steps are the three that I will never remove from my routine and do even on the busiest of days. I’ve been drinking water and doing something that I love first thing in the morning for years, and even though the addition of meditation and journaling was fairly recent, I can already tell that they’re keepers.

Do you have any steps in your morning routine that you just can’t miss?

Recommended Reading:

My Healthy Morning Routine

I Woke Up at 5 A.M. for (Almost) 30 Days

My Evening Routine For A Better Night's Sleep

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