I think our modern compulsion to optimize the living hell out of our mornings is counterproductive.
Okay. Maybe I shouldn’t make such a sweeping statement.
Let’s try again. For me, personally, when I tried to apply takeaways from the seemingly infinite number of Medium articles depicting the morning routines of highly productive people, it made me…
Maybe not in the mornings! But overall. And isn’t the holistic picture of productivity, of how productivity plays into our deeper senses of accomplishment, the real point?
It’s not about drinking turmeric tea in the morning instead of coffee. When I do that, I get a headache (I know that means I’m addicted, I’m okay with it, don’t @ me). It’s not about running 6 miles before dawn. I’ve tried that, too, and it results in a massive energy crash around noon. The rest of my workday is useless. It’s not about rising at 5am and following the arbitrary schedule that someone (usually a male someone) decided was how we ought to spend our pre-work moments, else be relegated to the ranks of lesser beings.
Many have critiqued the morning routine trope, to be fair, often positing that the mornings detailed are far from replicable for normal humans. But my critique is less about feasibility, as that’s discussed ad nauseum, and more about the deep-rooted motivations behind those routines: they focus on the noise of productivity, not the signal: accomplishment.
Where Sleep Hygiene Comes In
We’ve all heard the rules of sleep hygiene.
Avoid screens an hour before bed. Give your mind time and space to wind down. Make your bedroom as dark – and as quiet – as possible. Take comfort in routine. Turn off notifications in the nighttime hours. Use your bed for sleeping and sex, and nothing else. Don’t scroll through Instagram, don’t check your email, don’t respond to your Slack notifications, don’t swipe through Bumble.
I’ve found sleep hygiene to be historically difficult to recapture when I’ve let it slip, but quite easy to maintain. When I’ve been intentional about creating a routine that allows me to truly rest, I revel in the comfort of my bed and will do my best to methodically ensure the trend continues. But when I haven’t… I dread 11pm.
I suppose all habits are like that. At least the ones we know are good for us.
I’ve been quite good at maintaining my nighttime routine over the past several months. I fall asleep within 15 minutes of closing my eyes and wake up without an alarm 8 hours later. I’m sleeping well and sleeping enough. Many would envy me, I’m sure.
And yet, every morning was marked by exhaustion, freneticism, even stress. I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t running late or oversleeping. I obviously wasn’t undersleeping, either. I don’t have kids, or a pet, or a partner, or even a roommate to add chaotic curveballs to my morning routine.
It’s just me. I’m only responsible for me.
Note: This is a privileged place to be, and a situation that enables a level of sleep hygiene others are unable to pursue. I’m owning that.
So… why was I so tired at 9am? So completely frazzled that I could barely focus when I started my workday? I felt ridiculous, even self-conscious about it; I had no reason to be this drained by my very-easy-to-handle life.
A couple of months ago, it clicked into place: I was following the rules of sleep hygiene, but I wasn’t giving myself the same kindness in the morning.
Treating Mornings as a Treat
I’ve always been a morning person. I often wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6am, sans alarm, much to the chagrin of anyone who might share my bed.
When I’m falling victim to the narrative that our mornings must be optimized or else what good are we, I take my morning-person tendencies as a sign that I need to spring out of bed and immediately start work. I should harness that morning-person energy and use it to do great work before dawn because what else would I do? I have travel backpacks to market!
Except that, per the above paragraphs, doing so makes me miserable. And I love my job.
So what if I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed at 6am? I’m also bright eyed and bushy tailed at 9am. And at 11am. I don’t have to start work at the crack of dawn. I don’t have to work out at the crack of dawn, either. Nor do I need to rush to get dressed, or gulp down my coffee, or sprint through the ritual of packing my work bag.
I can savor morning moments. In fact… it’s more holistically productive for me to savor morning moments instead of trying to “do more.”
My old morning routine:
- Check messages, Instagram, Slack, and email. (From bed)
- Get up. Put on workout clothes. Make coffee.
- Drink coffee. Text a friend. Scroll through Instagram while leaning against my bathroom sink, procrastinating working out.
- Run 3 miles.
- Get dressed.
- Grab lunch from fridge, pack it inside backpack.
- Put hair in low ponytail, get on bicycle, bike to coworking space.
- Make more coffee.
- Open computer.
- Stare at inbox, attempt to focus, wonder why I can’t.
That’s not a terrible morning routine. It’s pretty solid, actually. But “get it done and go” is not the headspace I needed to start the day. It wasn’t a routine that allowed me to be kind to myself, to take what I needed from a morning. It wasn’t one of joy.
My new morning routine:
- Get up. Throw a cozy sweatshirt over my PJs.
- Plug in my fairy lights. Yeah, sure, I’m just going to unplug them when I leave, but they’re pretty and make me happy.
- Make coffee. Stretch in my kitchen while I wait for the water to boil. Watch people playing with dogs in the dog park outside my kitchen window.
- Grab my journal or a book. Maybe light a candle. Drink coffee leisurely at my kitchen table while I read or write, sometimes staring out the window at the rustling trees through my gauzy curtains. Allow my mind to wander.
- Get dressed. Allow myself to try on multiple options if I’m not feeling the first items of clothing that touch my body.
- Pack my work bag.
- Unplug my fairy lights.
- Bike to my coworking space.
- Make more coffee and open my computer feeling refreshed, calm, and ready.
For me, it wasn’t about optimization. It was about giving myself space to breathe, permission to create moments of calm instead of existing in a headspace defined exclusively by drive.
It’s about kindness to self. Not about productivity hacks. This isn’t a recipe to follow so that you can be productive. It’s a mindset of reverence, self-forgiveness, self-nurturing.
When I remember to take space and be kind to myself in the morning, my productivity during work hours soars.