I’ve always been someone that wakes up early, even when I was a moody adolescent staying out past curfew. I wake up early; I love mornings. Or rather, I don’t like evenings. I’ve never done an all-nighter whilst studying, and I usually don’t do any work past dinner time. I don’t know if it’s because I tell myself that, but I’m useless in the evenings, so I prefer to spend my time cooking, seeing a friend, watching a TV show or reading a book.
Because of this, I need my mornings. I work a full-time job alongside fuelling my ambitions in writing. So my mornings are vital, and I always wake up early.
But even though I was waking up an hour and a half before I had to leave for work, I found that I wasn’t getting much done. I didn’t understand it, as that extra time wasn’t translating into words written or tasks accomplished. I was proud of getting up early, but had no reason to be proud of the effect.
I finally realised it was because I was starting each day with a blank slate, and this time in which I was most productive was being spent setting up/ getting into the zone and making decisions. They say that you should never leave decisions in your morning, if you’re an early bird, then you should set up your morning in advance.
I decided to take them up on the challenge, and through adding some simple steps to my evening routine - when I wasn’t productive anyways- I found that my mornings were transformed. And since then, I’ve managed to write at least fifteen articles a month on Medium and finish my manuscript. Here’s what worked for me.
By the end of a workday, or writing session, it’s tempting to switch off that desk lamp and head straight to the couch. Especially now, with working from home, we’re eager to escape the room or space that has kept us captured for so long.
But before you leave your workspace, take five minutes to set it up for the morning after. Your morning is ripe for productivity, so don’t waste that energy and mindset on a numbing task like tidying up. Take your coffee cups to the sink, organise your papers and have an empty desk ready for the morning after.
The less distracting stimulus on your desk, the better. So clear it up, and delay cooking or watching a show by five more minutes. Have everything ready for tomorrow, so that you can sit down and work. I mean that literally, as there should be no steps blocking you from this.
Part of reducing all decision making in the morning comes from arranging your to-do list the night before.
I’m a huge fan of to-do lists. I write one every single day, and I’ll even add tasks I’ve already completed for that satisfying tick. To-do lists are vital for organising your thoughts and highlighting your priorities. They encourage you to stay focused and effective and provide the reward path your brain sorely desires.
Simply put: to-do lists make you get shit done.
I write my to-do list at the end of a day, often from the couch with a glass of wine/ glass of water. It’s colour coordinated and includes a little section for writing three things that I’m grateful for. I recognise that it can be challenging to know what you’re doing the day before, which is why you can always adapt or add to your list the next day. The most important aspect is to write the first things you’ll do in the morning, such as what you’ll be working on first. I’m forced to choose if I’ll write an article or work on my manuscript, so that I can’t dally between the two the next day, avoid doing one more or waste any time in choosing.
If you’re hoping to write an article, you could even choose the topic the evening before, to give you time to mull over it. This is often done unconsciously, as our brain works hard without us even realising. Personally, I usually write on a topic that strikes my fancy in the moment, so I like to see what inspires me. Do I feel like writing a more personal piece or something more scientific?
If you consider whether you’ll work out once you wake up, it’s likely that you won’t, at least not as often as you would like. When that alarm rings and you groggily open your eyes, the last thing you want to do is go for a run. You know it’ll feel good, you know it’s in your best interests, but the warmth of your bed will be too tempting.
An article about waking up at 5:30 AM first highlighted this to me - which I certainly can’t manage! The author said that the only time they don’t wake up this early is when they’ve decided on it the evening before. This ensures that it is an informed decision - e.g. going to bed later, feeling unwell, needing rest- rather than an impulse.
“I always decide the night before. That removes the temptation of doing it spontaneously when my bed is warm while the house is freezing.” - Daphne Tideman.
So I started applying this to my workouts, and I make the decision the evening before when I’m focused on the benefits and bigger picture. I lay out my workout clothes, so all I have to do is stumble into them whilst wiping the sleep from my eyes and brushing my teeth.
It’s a relief to have the decision out of my hands and to allow it to be set in stone. Because as cliche as it is, once you’re out of bed, it’s so easy to go and actually workout. Just swing your feet out, and you won’t be as tempted to return.
The days that I start with a workout, or even a walk, are the days that end up being the most productive. Maybe it’s the rush of endorphins, maybe it’s a boost of energy, or maybe it’s having one accomplishment before my first cup of coffee. Whatever the cause, I love the writing that I do on those days.
If you’re a morning person, then you need to simplify your mornings. This includes your morning routine. I find morning routines to be a very personal thing; they’re all about traits, taste and interests. Some of us require more time on our hair, others on their skin, and so on.
Whilst I fully respect the difference between individuals in what they require and want, I think everyone has a few of those tasks that could be done in the evening. Consider your full morning routine and try to delegate at least two items to your evening.
For example, I realised that I struggled to choose what to wear in the morning. Since lockdown, I care less and less about what I’m wearing in the house, but I still took too long in the morning. Every evening, I get into my pyjamas, check the weather app for tomorrow, and set my outfit ready. This leaves me with my workout clothes pile, and next to it my daytime clothes. Following my shower, I can just pull on these clothes and keep my workout-high as I get stuff done.
Here are some other examples of morning tasks that could be delegated to the evening before:
These may sound like small tasks, some of which take a minute or two at most. But each one is time that could be added to working and being productive. It comes back to not wasting your peak period on such menial tasks, that could be done half-asleep before you lie down for the night. Each one is a choice that you can choose the night before.
I have said this many times by now, but I swear by it, and so I’ll repeat it, and this certainly won’t be the last time. If you add one micro habit to your life, let it be reading before you go to sleep.
People always ask me how I read so many books on top of the other things I do, and they claim that they “just don’t have time to read”. I’m going to lay a harsh truth on you.
Everyone has time to read, and everyone should make time to read. Even ten minutes a day dedicated to reading is a worthy investment into yourself. Reading has gotten me through this lockdown, reading has improved my writing immensely, and reading has even helped my mental health.
Whether it’s biographies, romance novels, self-help books or whatever else tickles your fancy, just read. There are benefits to every genre and type of book.
I dedicate the final part of my day to reading. Sometimes I’ll read on the train, or for a break from writing, but this doesn’t take away from my reading time in the evening. I simply keep a book on my nightstand, put my phone away on silent, and read for at least ten minutes, often more.
Here are some of the benefits of reading summed up nicely:
Try this habit for even one week, and I promise you’ll start to notice differences in yourself and your sleep. If not, feel free to come for me in the comments!
How does this help your mornings to be more productive? I’m glad you asked. Improved sleep means that you’ll wake up in a better mood and with more energy, allowing you to kick ass in the day that follows. You’ll be focused quicker, and able to get some work done before many of your colleagues have even woken up.
The time spent off of your phone will assist in building boundaries, and doing so can help you to be more productive in avoiding your phone. For your morning work session, your phone should be face down and silent, and there is really no way around it.
You’ll also go to sleep with a feeling of accomplishment, as you’re managing to read more, and that feels great. Reading more books is such a nice to fulfil, as it gives you so much and asks for so little, only time. You can tick that off your list, and feel better about yourself as you get to work,
These five steps to my evening routine may seem minimal, but I often think that the best habits are. If you challenge yourself to some huge change or task, you won’t feel motivated to get it done, as you’ll assume it’s too difficult. But small adjustments are building blocks, that together add up to more effect than that vast, impossible goal.
Micro habits such as these are effective in that you don’t even feel the difference, and you don’t miss the time taken or resent the effort. But their impact will be noticed quickly, and you can easily build more habits or further them, as you’ll be motivated by your initial success.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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