Treading Lightly
Treading Lightly

Simple Morning Routine for a Productive Day

How I spend my morning can make or break my entire day. It has taken me almost a year of working at home to hone in on what works for me, and what completely derails the rest of my day.

One of the most important things, I think, is how personal a morning routine is. Over the past few months I have tried different iterations of routines that people swear by: exercise first thing, clean out email, no email, reading, journaling, start working immediately after breakfast, and on and on.

Many of the things that are conventionally accepted or that highly productive people swear by were complete failures for me. Exercising in the morning, or even before 11 a.m., led to a minimum of three hours were I felt like nothing got done. Email quickly leads to me reading newsletters and then the entire internet.

Simple Morning Routine for a Productive Day

 

Trial and Epic Failure

Working from home was a shock to my system. So much of my routine was built around getting to the office and settling in. When I no longer commuted and had the routines of the people around me to feed off of, I felt unmoored.

For the first month or so I completely threw out the idea of a morning routine. I was so excited to start over and do whatever I wanted. It felt like summer vacation after a grueling nine months of college. I slept in when I felt like it. I did whatever I wanted first thing in the morning. I went completely rogue.

I thought it would be glorious, but I ended up hating it.

I am a person who thrives on routine, especially a morning routine.

The right morning routine sets me up for a good day. It helps to make me feel grounded and present. My morning sets the tone for how I will approach my work and how I feel about the rest of my day. If my morning doesn’t feel productive, I often feel like the whole day is wasted. It doesn’t matter if the afternoon was actually wildly successful.

 

Simple Morning Routine for a Productive Day

 

My Morning Routine

These are my general guidelines. Some of them are more strict than others, but in general they are meant to help me transition from a foggy, sleepy brain to a productive, creative mindset.

1. Wake Up

I wake up between 7 and 8 a.m. during the week. Most often it’s 7:30 am.

 

2. 9 Minutes to chat and check the weather

I got into a really bad habit of lying in bed for 15-20 minutes after the alarm went off. Instagram and blog posts would capture my attention, and I would laze about in a semi-conscious daze. The longer I was in bed the less motivation I would have to get up and get moving.

What I read could also completely alter the rest of my day. Some posts or stories could inspire me, or they could leave me upset and off-kilter. In the aftermath of the election I realized that reading the news from bed left me feeling unsettled. A single headline could change my mood for the rest of the day. All it took was me swearing off news for a week or two for it to really settle in.

Now I give myself the time of a snooze to talk with my boyfriend and accept the fact that I have to get out of the warm bed. Once the alarm goes off again, I need to be out of bed getting dressed (or you know, putting on the sweats I will spend the whole day in).

Important: The snooze is not for sleeping! I spend the rest of the day exhausted if I drift back off to sleep after the alarm goes off.

 

3. Breakfast

Always! I often wake up hungry in the middle of the night or early in the morning. Breakfast is essential and nonnegotiable.

 

4. Tea and 30 minutes of reading

For the past two years (at least) I have started every work day with a cup of tea and the internet. I loved to catch up on the news and my favorite blogs. But it often left me with dozens of tabs open that I felt compelled to finish before starting work. What I didn’t get to would distract me throughout the day. Minimized windows would sing their siren songs as soon as I sat down to work on an important task.

Not anymore.

At the beginning of January I realized that this reading was the biggest detractor from my day. It left me with a busy brain full of facts and random thoughts that made it impossible for me to hear myself through. I couldn’t focus afterwards.

I hated starting the morning feeling overwhelmed with information. 

Instead I have been experimenting with reading a physical book for up to 30 minutes. This gives me a chance to let my brain get used to thinking again while still leaving me relaxed and ready to work when I’m done.

I don’t know if this will stay, or if the time will change, but so far I’m really enjoying it. Fifteen to 30 minutes of reading in the morning has completely changed my mindset. I still feel like I get to relax and indulge a bit first thing in the morning without overstimulating or draining myself.

 

5. Five Minutes of Journaling

So far this bit is more conceptual… as in I haven’t really done it. But doesn’t it sound great? Usually I get started on a blog post or skip this little bit in favor of jumping in on first big work task for the day. I’m keeping it here because it’s still a goal for me.

 

6. Work Through Until Lunch

It’s so tempting to jump on the internet and start voraciously reading all of the blogs and news sites that I put off in the morning as soon as I’m done with the first thing on my to-do list or during my first Pomodoro break (you can read more about how I use this productivity technique/tracker here).

But that quickly spirals out of control and before I know it it’s time for lunch and I’ve only done 30 minutes of actual work.

It took me months to realize that the morning is my best writing/working time. I get the most done during this time when I stay disciplined and give myself room to actually do the work. And if I get stuff done and feel productive, the rest of the day feels productive and successful. The mornings that I succumb to procrastination and time wasting end in frustrated evenings and late nights to catch up.

1 Productive morning = 1 Productive day. 

Every day so far has been a fight to stay focused and not slip back into bad habits, but so far I haven’t slipped up.

 

Why Stick to a Morning Routine

I’ve known for months (if not the whole year) that my mornings were not going the way I wanted. But I finally decided I was ready for change when I realized:

When I waste the morning I struggle to regain momentum all day. I run out of time to get things done. My work bleeds into the evening. It pushes dinner later and later and causes us to go to bed late. Then I wake up tired, lay in bed too long reading, and put off work. It’s a vicious, stressful, disappointing cycle.

And I am breaking that cycle. One morning at a time.

Simple Budget and Spending Tracker

Tracking your spending and frequently checking in on your monthly expenditures is key to sticking to a budget. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated and confusing!

Simple Budget and Spending Tracker – Free Download

I’m one of those people who loves a good budget and can easily tell you how much I spent on groceries in the past month (it’s a frighteningly high number). I should be a dream user for most budget and spending apps/services. But after playing around with a few of them I realized they were either too complicated, time consuming, or rigid. I needed a budget spending tracker that could easily fit my typical expenses and the random purchases that most apps don’t know how to categorize. And I really didn’t need all of the extra junk that just got in the way.

So I made one myself.

For the past four years I’ve been tracking my expenses and planning my monthly budgets in a simple Google spreadsheet. It’s not fancy or complicated, and it works great.

It takes me maybe 20 minutes a month to track all of my purchases, adjust my budget, and transfer my savings from one account to another. I used to spend more than that trying to get my purchases properly categorized.

 

Download my free, simple budget and spending tracker

All you have to do is open the link and copy the spreadsheet to your Google Drive. You can also download the spreadsheet and save it to your computer as an Excel doc under File – Save As – Excel.

 

Simple Budget and Spending Tracking Tips

1. Consistency.

I like to update my spreadsheet with my most recent purchases twice a month. Payday is a great reminder to update and check in. Once a week or even once a month would also work. But keep in mind that the more frequently you enter your spending into the tracker the easier it is and the more likely you will keep doing it.

 

2. Be honest.

A budget is worthless if you aren’t honest with yourself about what you are really spending and what you can actually save. It’s tempting to leave off purchases that you regret or didn’t have control over (like that insurance deductible), but this won’t give you a real picture of what you are spending.

 

3. Make it your own.

Change the categories. Create a new color scheme. Make fancy graphs. Do you.

 

How I use a planner to stay organized

I’ve tried a few different techniques to stay organized and productive, but by far writing things down by hand in a planner is best for me. It helps me to break down big tasks into smaller to dos over a few days. I can visually see all of the things I need to get done and feel like I have a grasp over them all. Plus, you just can’t beat the feeling of physically crossing something off your list.

How to Use a Planner

After at least 15 years of using a planner, I finally have a system that works for me. What started as a place to keep track of my homework has morphed into how I organize my entire life. I use my planner to keep track of my work tasks, daily errands and chores, habits, and personal goals.

How to Use a Planner

How to Use a Planner

 

1. Plan Big Three

Each day I set aside my main three (or fewer) tasks for the day. These are my main priorities that need to be done before I can call it a day. If I only do these three tasks, my day is a success. My last work task for the day is writing out what needs to be done the next day.

 

2. To Do List

Laundry, quick emails, and other lower priority tasks go to the side of my big three. In theory I should do my big three before diving into these quick to dos, but in general I tend to sprinkle them in between.

 

How to Use a Planner – Blogging Editorial Calendar

 

3. Monthly Editorial Calendar

For years I would hand draw a calendar for my blog in a lined notebook. It was tedious and didn’t make it easy for me to actually sit down and plan out my posts for the month. Now all of my tasks are in one place, and I can quickly flip to the front of my planner to see what I have coming up for the blog.

 

4. Deadlines and Dates

Meetings, appointments, and deadlines all have a home (and a symbol) in my weekly planner. While I also have all of these in a digital calendar, I find it really helpful to have it written out. I can easily take them into consideration when I’m planning my tasks and priorities.

 

How to Use a Planner Habit Tracking

 

5. Habit Tracking

There are so many great ways to track habits. But I find I won’t actually mark it as complete (or do it at all) if my tracker isn’t front and center. Each week I hand draw my own habit tracker right into the weekly spread. Lately I’ve been tracking habits related to my ankle physical therapy including how often I contrast bath, do scar tissue massage, eat or drink foods high in anti-inflammatories, and other ankle-related tasks.

This is a great way to track multiple habits, but there are so many ways you could do it. You could highlight the days you completed your main habit (or New Year’s resolution), put a mark on each day, have a symbol you draw on the day when you’re done, or create a little logbook style like I have.

 

6. Sketch It Out

In college I got into the habit of planning out my priorities and to dos for an entire week at a time. While this was helpful for me to plan out when I needed to get started on things and to space out my workload, it was terrible for actually getting it done. If I didn’t finish something it caused catastrophe.

After years spent working off of yesterday’s (or last week’s) to do list, I finally learned how to frame out my big projects and take it a day at a time. These days I will take a big project and break it down into individual tasks that have to get done. I then add them to do my to do list one day at a time so I have room to move them from one day to another if things aren’t chugging along perfectly.

This technique is key for my freelance writing assignments. I will have anywhere from 5-10 articles due in a month. At the start of the month I sit down and roughly sketch out when I will do each step for each article so I don’t get overwhelmed or miss a deadline.

Because this process is messy and constantly shifting, I use a piece of scratch paper so I can cross things off as I go and rewrite them as necessary. My rough frame lives in the back pocket of my planner, but you can also include it in the notes section. Or you know, use a pencil.

 

7. Move It Forward

Any main priority tasks that don’t get completed are automatically the top priority for the next day. Sometimes I just don’t realize how long a task will take me and my top three for the day are really more than I can tackle. Instead of feeling like a failure for not getting it all done, I just move it forward to the next day.

There are exceptions to this rule. I will always meet hard deadlines. Typically I have it all planned out so I’m not doing anything last-minute, but things happen.

 

8. Set Yourself Up for Success

Like most people, I could easily write out 20 things that I want to get done each day, but that’s never going to happen. I am strict with only having three top tasks for the day. No matter how many times I try it, four isn’t realistic. I just can’t get it all done.

There are days where three is way too many as well. Know what your priority will take (time, effort, energy, focus, someone else’s time, etc.) and plan accordingly. If something is going to take you six hours to complete, don’t add two more priorities to the list under it. You’ve already filled up your day with your main task.

 

How to Use a Planner – Goals and Intentions

 

9. Set Goals or Intentions

I put my goals for the week front and center so they are always on my mind. Sometimes these goals are big projects I want to tackle that week or my general focus for the week (like reflection, goal planning, inspiration gathering). I don’t always have an explicit goal for each week outside of just getting my normal tasks done. On those weeks I just leave the space blank.

 

Planner

The planner I use isn’t special. I searched for hours (I wish I was exaggerating) for a sustainable, ethical notebook that did everything I wanted, but I ultimately came up short. I’m currently using Moleskin’s 18 month, weekly planner. In the past I used a handmade, 100 percent recycled paper planner from Etsy.

 

Related:

I haven’t tried bullet journaling, but I am fully intrigued by it. I mean look at these examples! The colors and perfect penmanship make me happy. If only I knew how to draw (and could write legibly).

How to Get It All Done