"Smile in the mirror. Do that every morning and you'll start to see a big difference in your life." Yoko Ono
It's somehow already September (whaaat) and even if you aren't going back to school/work, fall is a time of new beginnings. And anxieties. I read an article recently about adults experiencing back to school anxiety. Psychologist Dr. Josh Klapow said that, “Summer is about nostalgia and represents for so many of us a time when things were much more carefree,” he explained. The start of school “signals a time to go back to work. It signals that time is passing us. Kids are getting older, life picks back up.” -- and these feelings create stress!
Something that I make sure to do every fall is check in with my habits and routines. I see what's working, what's not, and make changes where necessary. Deliberately and consciously streamlining my life through habits and routines has been one of the most life changing "hacks" of my adult life. Mornings especially.
The early morning is my favorite time of day. But it wasn't always that way.
When I first started teaching -- like the first 4-5 years -- I was always rushing. I woke up tired and frazzled every day, rushed to get ready and out the door -- still feeling unprepared and still always tired. And the worst part: I didn't make an effort to change it -- I thought that's just what happened when you had to be at work before 7am. A part of the job.
When I started working at a new school I decided to change my habits. I had been reading about morning routines a lot (Ben Franklin's especially) and knew that I needed a change. Those rare days when I got up extra early were always the best, and I wanted more like that.
So I made small changes. I started getting the coffee in the coffeemaker at night. I picked out my outfits in advance. I got up a little earlier. And immediately my days were better. Immediately. I had more energy, felt happier, less stressed, and more productive.
And It's Science!
There is a lot of science behind the "larks" vs "owls" binary, but they can -- and do -- shift. I'm sure we've all heard of chronotypes -- basically, it's the time that your body is set up to sleep. Your circadian rhythms. A lark is someone who enjoys the mornings and an owl is someone who works better at night. Most studies show that, despite nearly everyone you meet claiming to be one or the other, most people lie in between.
While chronotypes are genetically based, they are still on a spectrum and can shift. The data shows that chronotypes are likely to evolve with age in the way that you would expect -- people generally need less sleep as they get older, and their sleep patterns shift more towards a lark.
But you can also make the change yourself. And although a lot of people talk about having the goal of "being a morning person", it doesn't seem like a lot of those same people actually do much to change their habits.
I mean, I don't think I'm a natural morning person, but I've made myself be one for so many reasons: it fits with my career, I like sunrises, I get more done in the mornings, feel more accomplished, and happier (and I'm not the only one). I forced myself.
There are articles outlining the morning routines of successful people all over (here, here, and here), and I don't claim to do anything different or better than anyone else (or be a successful person worth emulating for that matter). But, I am surprised when I hear coworkers and friends consistently talk about their rushed mornings. The mornings I used to have. So here are a few super simple and no duh things that I do to help get my day off on a good start.
Get Up Earlier (duh)
I wake up about 30 minutes earlier than the time I "need" to be up. At least. I generally wake up before my alarm, but it's set to give me that extra time. Of course, to do this successfully, you also have to go to sleep earlier :) I get at least 7-8 hours of sleep on a normal night, and the feeling of being well rested (and the way my skin looks haha) is way better than almost anything I would have stayed up for in the past.
When I wake up I immediately make my bed. This is SO IMPORTANT. I wrote about it before, but it truly does start your day off on a positive, productive note. I've already made my bed -- I can handle anything. Just try it if you're not convinced.
Routinize Daily Tasks
After my bed is made and I'm already feeling productive, I start the coffee, feed the cats, put on some makeup and curl my hair. Always in that order. This is important. While novelty is important in life -- it's not important for daily tasks. In fact, the less decisions you have to make on these things the better (remember decision fatigue?)
After my boring but necessary tasks are done, I start making breakfast. I eat the most in the morning because I know I always have a big day ahead. I generally eat avocado toast or a bagel with berries. The research on breakfast actually being "the most important meal of the day" is mixed -- but I know it's important for me. If you aren't a big breakfast person, try it for a week. See how you feel. When I started making breakfast (beyond a granola bar) a priority, I felt more energized, less hungry throughout the day, was less likely to snack, and actually lost weight.
I've written about margin before -- the time you intentionally schedule with no specific task. For the overflow. The things you don't have to do -- but want to do. I've scheduled this into my morning. Sometimes I will sit down to read a few articles or do some work for this site -- but no work emails until I am at work. I repeat -- do not use this time for work if you are not currently at work.
I also use this time to look over my planner, to do lists, and gratitude journal.
Catch up and prepare
When the coffee and breakfast is ready I will sit down to watch the news and browse the blogs that I follow with my breakfast. I make sure I have at least 20 minutes in the morning for this. At least. If I don't have this time I feel very off balance. Reading random fashion blogs is mindless, but makes me feel like I am doing something just for myself, while watching the news makes me feel prepared for the day. I have time to wake up, to enjoy my breakfast, and to mentally get in the right head-space for the rest of my day.
Then I get dressed (in the outfit I picked out the night before), get my bag and lunch (packed the night before) and head out the door. I usually stop at Starbucks because I like the human interaction and feeling of normalcy that comes from spending time with adults that aren't coworkers (and the baristas always compliment my outfits haha). I always get to work at least 30 minutes earlier than necessary in case anything comes up at the last minute and I don't check any work email until I am actually at work. Then I start my long day. Feeling prepared, refreshed, and accomplished -- all before 8 am.
Beyond the nuts and bolts, a morning routine is important for mindset. Mindfulness. Goal setting. All those words we hear a lot but can't quite pin down. When I take time for myself in the mornings, to really enjoy my time, and be present -- the rest of the day just feels better.
I'm less anxious. Less tired. Less rushed.
Of course, this isn't important for everyone. If you don't need to be at work at 7am (lucky), or are super productive between 8pm and 12am then go for it. But, many of us are not. Many of us want to be the early bird. And routines help. They may seem boring, but they actually give us back more time to be less boring. The better and more consistently my day starts, the more creative and exciting it can be later. So give it a try (if you don't already). What would you add to my routine?