Why You Need a Morning Workflow
By Mike Raia Posted September 30, 2020
A few months ago, after reading a blog post about "establishing a morning ritual," I decided that it was time to try improving my mornings. Typically I was waking up anywhere between 7 am and 8 am and then scrambling to get ready for the day and make my train into the city. I started to realize that I was causing myself a number of issues by starting the day in such an inconsistent, disorganized way. Basically, I needed a Morning Workflow.
Here's what led me there:
Starting mornings off by having to make several decisions in a short amount of time is stressful. Small, seemingly insignificant decisions add up quickly for your waking brain. This invariably leads to anxiety and pressure, starting your brain on the wrong note which can last well into the day.
Add to that the normal anxiety many feel about starting the workday: What do I need to tackle first, second, third? What meetings do I have? What's the status of my project? Who do I need to call first thing? I wasn't enjoying the whirlwind of unresolved activity and questions each morning and kept feeling like there was a better system.
The amount of sleep we need is a moving target and, I think, very much specific to the individual. Some people need more; some people need less. All I know for sure is that I wasn't getting what I needed. I also knew that I was engaging in bad sleep habits like staying up too late, browsing news on my phone, checking emails, leaving the TV on, etc.
Also, I was spending the early part of the day in a bit of a haze and downing 3-4 cups of coffee by lunchtime to compensate. Some coffee is good. Too much coffee is bad, leading to everything from twitchiness, nervousness, stomach problems, and insomnia. I wanted to break out of that cycle.
Bad eating habits
If I woke up late (which was happening too often) the odds of me having a good, nutritious breakfast dropped precipitously. Even if I managed to get up on time without the snooze bar, my mornings were so disorganized that I'd end up skipping breakfast anyway, simply because it wasn't a priority. This meant coffee on an empty stomach (bad) or a dubiously-nutritious nutrition bar as I ran to the train.
Plus I was going out to eat almost every day for lunch because I never packed one. Chicago is an amazing place for food and I was taking advantage of it way too often. Bad for my health and bad for my bank account.
I realized, somewhat after the fact, that one of the things that had been preying on my mind every morning was the fact that there were often dishes left in the kitchen sink from the night before. Raised in a family of excellent cooks, where the kitchen was often the center of our world, keeping the kitchen clean and organized has always been important to me. However, there was that sink full of dishes staring accusingly at me most mornings, creeping into my subconscious. The kitchen is usually the place I start my morning workflow, so I decided it was important to keep it as stress-free as possible.
By the time I was getting to work, at a job I happen to enjoy greatly, I was needlessly stressed or feeling burnt for no good reason. That made getting into the swing of the day painful and inefficient. I've always used task lists and project planning tools, but I wasn't using them as consistently as I should. Part of that was coming from "planning on the fly" instead of thoughtfully and consistently in advance with a clear head and the proper perspective.
Getting Started with a Morning Workflow
Once I realized I needed to change my morning workflow, I started jotting down things I needed to do in the morning as well as things I thought would be helpful.
|Doing Now||Need to Do||Even Better|
|Sleeping poorly and not enough||Get better sleep||Get up earlier and consistently|
|Showering in a hurry||Shower/Prep without stress||Shower/Prep better and faster|
|Scrambling for something to wear||Choose clothes/get dressed||Have clothes ready in advance|
|Running for the last train out||Make the train comfortably||Make an even earlier train|
|Skipping breakfast most days||Have breakfast||Have a nutritious, energizing breakfast|
|Doing the bare minimum every morning||Have extra time||Have quality, helpful extra time|
|Commuting like a zombie||Enjoying my commute||Enjoying my commute productively|
One thing you realize quickly when planning a morning workflow is that it's not just about the morning. It's as much, if not more, about the night before. You can't really improve your mornings if you're not shifting much of the responsibility to the evening.
So here's how I sketched out my evening and morning workflows:
- Clean up the kitchen.
- Make tomorrow's lunches.
- Layout work and gym clothes for tomorrow.
- Plan tomorrow using the 1-3-5 Rule.
- Power off all electronics 1 hour before bed.
- Go to bed by 10 pm.
- Rise at 6 am. No snooze.
- Make one cup of coffee.
- Make a nutritious, energizing breakfast.
- Read news (non-digital) for 30 minutes.
- Shower with a cold finish.
A couple of things to note:
- This is the latest version of the workflow. It has undergone some tweaks over the first few weeks of using it and probably will undergo more over time.
- I started using a combination of a gentle alarm (my phone) and triggered lighting (Hue Smart bulbs) to wake up but at this point I just wake up on my own.
- I decided to start drinking green tea in the afternoon to provide a small caffeine boost this made it easier to stick to one cup of coffee per day.
- I use a Samsung Gear Fit watch, which tracks both sleep and activity which has been invaluable for keeping me on track.
- I use Aqua Notes notepads to capture any stray tasks or ideas that occur to me in the shower.
I've been doing a version of this morning workflow for about a month and a half and I have to say it's made a big difference in my days. I've had more energy and have been more productive at home and at work. Based on my tracking, I've slept longer and better. By controlling my diet better at breakfast and lunch, along with having the energy to be more active, I've lost about 10lbs.
I'd strongly recommend developing your own Morning/Evening Workflow. Steal some of my ideas, add your own, research more. There are a lot of things I don't do that others have recommended. I'll likely work some of them into what I'm doing to see if they help. If you have any ideas or thoughts about morning workflows let me know in the comments.