Resolutions (or just adjustments to my morning routine)
I am not usually big on New Year’s Resolutions, but the start of a new year is a good time to reflect on habits (good and bad) that I may have settled into during the course of the previous year. I have always been an early riser, and I value the time to myself first thing in the morning before the rest of my family is awake, but I didn’t always make the most of those early morning hours in 2014. This year, I am not reinventing the wheel with my resolutions, but I am adding a bit of structure to the things that I was already doing (somewhat sporadically) during those pre-dawn hours.
I’ll admit it… last year there were quite a few times that I gave into to the temptation to grab my phone from the nightstand and check messages, email, or Twitter/Instagram/Facebook notifications at 5:30 in the morning. I always justified it by thinking to myself, it will only take a minute and then I can get on to something more productive like reading, sketching, or a bike ride. Bad idea… so this year I won’t touch the phone until I have completely finished my morning routine.
As I mentioned, the individual parts of my daily morning routine aren’t new (with one exception). Grouped together though, I think of them as a structured evolution of things that I have already found to improve my mood, and increase my productivity for the day. So here it is…my roughly 45 minute early morning routine for 2015 (which has been going pretty well so far).
Step 1- Exercise: Cycling has always been my primary form of exercise, but it is not included in my early morning routine. Before I do anything else (with the exception of brushing my teeth), I do push-ups, crunches, leg lifts, and planks. Those exercises only take about 20 minutes, but they are enough to get my mind and body primed for the day. Twenty minutes of exercise isn’t much, but if I am not able to get out on my bike during the day, at least I know I started off with some activity. Not to mention the fact that the average cyclist is built like a T-rex… so a bit of an upper body/core workout is definitely a good thing.
Step 2- Meditation/Planning: I don’t know if it even counts as mediation, as I am only talking about a few minutes, but I have found that sitting down, closing my eyes, and focusing on breathing for a moment is a good way to alleviate stress and clear my mind for the new day. Afterward, I can think clearly about plans/goals for the day so that my priority list is not solely determined by emails and deadlines that may not be as important as they seem when delivered a false sense of urgency. By coming up with a few key priorities for the day first thing in the morning, I am able to ensure that my work time will be productive, and not just reactionary. That is definitely worth a few minutes of that early morning time.
Step 3- Reading: I can read more at night when I have the time, but the idea here is to spend about 15 minutes reading something that will inspire me or directly benefit me in some way in the day ahead. It might be an article on a site like Brain Pickings, a synopsis of a book on Blinkist (a website/app that I use to find out about nonfiction books that interest me enough to read in full), or it may just be 15 or so pages of a book that I am reading.
Step 4- Journaling: This is the part of my routine that is completely new (and incidentally is the part that I am most excited about). I kept a diary off and on as a kid, but I hesitate to use that word for what I started last week. I haven’t (and don’t plan to) chronicle the events that make up my life. Instead, I think of my journal as a place to express ideas and write quickly and freely for my perfect audience…future me. Actually, I am not even sure if I will ever go back and read much of what I write, but I became interested in the idea of keeping a private journal after reading this article at Brain Pickings (a site that you can tell I really like from this second mention). I definitely encourage you to read the full article, but I’ll share a couple of the quotes that resonated with me. One was in reference to Anaïs Nin’s feelings about the role of her diary “as an invaluable sandbox not only for learning the craft of writing but also for crystallizing her own passions and priorities, from which all creative work springs.” The other quote is one from Susan Sontag in which she refers to the journal as “a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts—like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate.” She goes on to say, “In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself.”
So there you have it…my 5:30 am routine. I probably won’t do all four of these things every morning. In fact, it’s only the second week in January, and I have already run out of time more than once (by 6:15, I have to make sure my kids are awake, and start getting ready myself). I do really believe that there is value to doing them all of these things together though…and according to a few sources I have noticed lately, I am not alone.
I am curious to hear if you have a morning routine that increases your productivity, creativity, and general happiness throughout the day? Mine is (and has for a while been) a work in progress, so I would love to hear from the other early risers out there. Share what works for you if you already wake up early with a purpose, and if you don’t…I encourage you to give it a try.
Photo: An early morning shot from a camping trip last year, which reminds me of one more resolution…wake up outside more often in 2015.