Getting your mornings right

There are tons of articles out there detailing successful people’s morning routines. And sure, nothing compares to the joy of knowing that Richard Branson goes for fruit and muesli in the morning. But I’m going to take a wild guess here about what Richard Branson and possibly every other successful person have in common: they don’t give a damn about anyone else’s morning routine. Neither should you.

What you actually might want to care about are the two basic principles behind a positive morning experience. Copying someone else’s morning routine probably won’t work for you but building your own personal routine around these two basic principles just might.

So, how do you make sure you have a great morning?

# 1: Get your sleep right

Get enough sleep. That’s your number one prioritiy. Sleep is essential. Getting 5 hours of sleep for just four consecutive nights lowers your brain’s performance in the same way having a couple of drinks does.Source:Sleep Medicine Journal Over time, sleep-deprivation negatively impacts your decision-making skills and creativity.

Secondly, don’t hit that snooze button. Snoozing feels nice, but it messes up your brain. It’s like eating cookies – a short-lived pleasure that in the end does more damage than it does good. How so?

Before you wake up, the stress hormone dopamine is released in your bloodstream. This helps you wake up. However, if you snooze and fall back into sleep, your body releases serotonin, a hormone that helps you relax again. Serotonin is great and it’s responsible for how good snoozing feels. However, with both dopamine and serotonin in your bloodstream, you’ll end up feeling disoriented when your sweet 10 minutes of snooze sleep are over.

Another point to consider with snoozing is that around waking hours, you’re most likely in the sleep stage known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep your brain deals with learning, forming memoriesSource:Wikipedia and regulating emotion.Source:Psychological Bulletin These processes are disrupted if you set your alarm earlier than usual, so that you can give yourself time to snooze. Not only overall sleep deprivation, but also specific REM sleep deprivation can negatively affect your mental functioning during the day.Source:Neurobiology of Learning and Memory

The good news is, with a little discipline you can get yourself into a sleep rhythm that increases your productivity in the morning. Here’s what you can do.

To be at your best, you need about 7-9 hours of sleep per night, so if your target wake-up hour is 07:00 am, you need to be in bed by 22:00. Yes, that early. You don’t have to do it from one day to the next, though. In fact, if you want to build a long-term habit of sleeping enough, there’s no point in attempting drastic changes. Instead, ease your body and your lifestyle into a new sleep rhythm by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each week until you reach your target. The goal is to eventually start waking up naturally before your alarm.

Sounds like a pretty grown-up thing to do, doesn’t it?

# 2: Get your food right

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? It depends.

If you simply never feel hungry in the morning or you’ve never had the habit of eating breakfast, forcing yourself to start now won’t necessarily make you more alert or productive. When it comes to your brain’s performance, more research is emerging to show that breakfast behaviour and breakfast composition don’t affect everyone in the same way.Source:Frontiers in Human Neuroscience So, whether breakfast could make a difference in your morning productivity is personal. Richard Branson has breakfast. Elon Musk mostly doesn’t. How do you find out what works for you? Listen to your body.

In Europe, 19-53% of breakfast-skippers admit that they do it due to lack of time, rather than lack of appetite. Frankly, not being in control of your time in the morning sounds like the worst reason to stay hungry. Heck, not being in control is the worst reason for anything.

Your body agrees. People who only occasionally skip breakfast end up experiencing more intensive feelings of pre-lunch hungerSource:Obesity Journal than those who never have breakfast. Feeling hungry is directly linked to low blood sugar levels and a sense of fatigue. That’s hardly the best way to start your day. Not to mention that hunger is the ultimate distraction.

So, if you’re hungry in the morning, you’ll definitely benefit from adding breakfast to your routine and sticking to it.

The next level: Making your morning routine your own

After you cover the basics, you enter the realm of personalisation. This is where you make your morning routine your own. Are you looking to kickstart your creativity or do you want to start working out first thing in the morning? Figure out what works best for your goals and when it works best. After all, you might want to optimise your workday mornings but embrace full-on improvisation on weekends. Here are some examples to consider while building your routine.

Drop the droppable

Although you don’t always feel it, decision-making is mentally taxing and if you need to make a lot of decisions in a day, it can lead to the so-called decision fatigue.Source:Wikipedia Decision fatigue results in a decline in the quality of your decisions. It can even cause a complete aversion towards making further decisions. As you can imagine, that’s less than ideal if you’re trying to be productive.

One way to avoid decision fatigue is to spend minimal resources on trivial decisions, like many of the ones we make in the morning. After all, why do you think Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerberg wear the same outfit every day? They consciously divert mental resources from choosing clothes to more important decisions.

You can minimise morning decision-making in many ways. You don’t have to resort to a black T-shirt and jeans forever, but you can pick what you wear from the night before. Do you have breakfast? You can have the same meal every day or pick a couple of options that you rotate without having to think about them. Whatever fits your situation, identifying the decisions that consume mental resources without adding sufficient value will help you spare precious brainpower for things that really matter later in the day.

Keep it about yourself

Checking emails seems to be a part of many successful people’s morning routines, sometimes taking place even before they’re out of bed. For Tim Cook and Elon Musk, it’s a useful tool to prepare for the priorities of the day. By all means, do it, if it gives you a more focused start of the day. But it probably won’t. Here’s why.

If you’re going to start checking emails, you’re already jumping ahead to what others are expecting from you today. Instead of helping you prioritise, it’s more likely to start you worrying about the amount of work coming your way. Or, just as easily, you’ll give in to the temptation of answering some emails that seem urgent right away. What’s next? You’re stressing out and running out of time to get ready. Before you know it, you decide to leave hungry because you don’t have time for breakfast. In the end, you’re not in control of your morning anymore. And, unless you’re a firefighter and there’s a fire burning, emails can wait until you’re at the office. That’s just another wild guess I’m taking.

So, what does your new morning routine look like? Can you use a healthy and complete breakfast to boost your morning? Experience what difference a Jake Shake can do to your morning routine.