Do You Have a Morning Routine Yet?

There’s a lot of talk about morning routines these day. And with good reason.

I developed my own “morning routine” instinctively long before I ever heard the term. I like order and structure (my own), and a morning routine sets a tranquil tone for the day.  My routine has evolved over the years, and it varies a bit, depending on the day or time of year, but there are several elements that are always there.

In case you are not familiar with the idea, a morning routine is a set of habits that we perform in the morning before moving into the responsibilities—work, school, family, etc.—of the day. Some authors and influencers recommend getting up extra early and/or at the same time every day in order to ensure that your morning routine happens. Ultimately, we all have to find our own best way to reap the benefits of a morning routine.

So, what are those benefits?

  • A morning routine is grounding. Engaging in positive, familiar practices helps orient us to the new day. It imposes the order of knowing what to expect and controlling our first actions over the chaos of indecision and lack of direction. Once our morning routine is established, we don’t have to make choices or decide if we are going to take certain actions or not. It is our routine, so we do it, saving precious mental energy. The peaceful feeling that brings centers us and allows us to take on the day from a more powerful internal position.
  • A morning routine contributes to the cultivation of an internal locus of control. Our locus of control is a continuum from external to internal. One end of the spectrum is not necessarily better than the other, but an internal locus of control may mean that we are more likely to take constructive action in our lives, simply because we believe that it will matter. The farther we toward the external end of the locus-of-control continuum, the less we believe that our actions influence outcomes in life. Instead, we assign control and, sometimes, blame to outside forces, whether that is God, government, the system or fate. Clearly, reality falls somewhere between the two extremes. We can’t control everything, but we can control some things. Acknowledging that positions us to help ourselves more effectively in life. By taking deliberate, meaningful actions every morning, we reinforce that what we choose to do makes a difference in the results we achieve, making it more likely that we will eat nourishing food, move our bodies and act in ways that improve our chances for health, happiness and success.
  • A morning routine allows us to begin with intention. One of the most potent techniques we can use in our lives is the pause. Pausing before we act—whether on the day or in the moment—can help us live in better alignment with our values and our highest aspirations. A morning routine is a form of pause, allowing us to start the day with, as Stephen Covey would say, “with the end in mind.”
  • A morning routine creates opportunities for success from the very start. Although life makes no guarantees, we are more likely to accomplish the things we want to accomplish in a given day if we start it on the right foot. We can set a pattern for success by starting the day with habits and actions that align with our values and goals. That feels good! Our early success helps fuel our sense of self-efficacy so we can build on that success throughout the day.

What counts as a morning routine? There are no “rules” about what constitutes a morning routine. It is what you need it to be to start your day in a positive way. That looks different for everyone, but a solid morning routine will generally encompass these elements:

  • It creates a sense of peace. Starting the day with activities that promote inner peace increase the likelihood of living the day in equanimity—remaining calm and grounded even if the world feels frantic around us.
  • It connects mind, body and spirit. Ideally, a morning routine addresses and integrates all three realms, honoring our nature as complex beings. A great example of this is physical activity that affords the opportunity to go inward. For me, this is best accomplished in a solo (or at least quiet) form of exercise, like yoga, cycling, walking or running—something with time and space to think and to listen for inspiration.
  • It generates self-satisfaction. Put simply, we feel good about ourselves when we do it. It feels like success, no matter how big or how small. There is truly freedom in discipline. When we have the discipline of a morning routine, we experience the freedom of doing those things that we truly want to do—the things that are aligned with our highest selves—rather than starting the day from a place of disappointment in ourselves for failing to live up to our aspirations, instead hitting the snooze button repeatedly and finally rolling out of bed to grab a donut or other non-nourishing excuse for breakfast.
  • It promotes mental and physical well-being. It may go without saying, but beneficial morning routines should include healthful behaviors, rather than activities that undermine our wellness.

How do you establish a morning routine? The best way to establish a morning routine is to think about what you want it to accomplish for yourself and to consider how much time you intend to give it. Some people have their morning routines broken down into strict segments—say, 20 minutes for each activity—or they have specific times for doing certain things. That is certainly one way to do it, but not the only way. You may just have a time to rise and an order of activities within an allotted time frame.

If your mornings are currently unstructured, I recommend starting small and building the pieces of your routine gradually, so that it is manageable and feels like a natural progression. There is nothing to be gained by taking on too much and becoming overwhelmed, so that you decide to scrap the whole idea.

Plan ahead. Think about what needs to be in place for your morning routine to be successful and take the necessary steps before you go to bed. This might include making your breakfast, so it is easy to eat nourishing foods in the morning. It could include setting out your exercise clothes, so you don’t have to spend time or energy thinking about what to wear and gathering them in the morning. It may include determining an order for your activities. The most important thing is not to leave your morning routine to chance. Elevate it to a place of honor and hold it sacred by making the preparations to ensure that it happens.

I will share the basic components of my morning routine, not as a prescription, because what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, but as inspiration and example to get you thinking about what you would like to include in your own.

As I mentioned above, my morning routine has evolved and changed as I have moved in and out of various seasons of life, and I expect it to continue to do so. While some elements will likely remain constant, others may give way to something new.

For many years, I got up at 5 a.m. every single day of the week. In some ways that routine was healthier because it also meant that all my evenings (including weekends) ended earlier. Those are good sleep habits. But, the needs of my family have changed. We are going through a challenging season right now. Having a teenager in the household has introduced different stressors than we have previously experienced. It also means that our evenings look different—admittedly, not always with the evening habits I would choose if I were on my own. Kenny and I often need distraction these days. He’s a ruminator—out loud. That stresses me out. To stop his speculation and catastrophizing around Logan’s activities, watching a movie at night often works best. This means I don’t always set my alarm for 5 a.m. on weekend mornings. I may allow myself to awaken naturally. This is never late, but, if I am lucky (Insomnia is another side effect of parenting a teenager, I am finding.), it is somewhat after 5 a.m.

On weekday mornings, I still arise at 5 a.m., and my mornings follow this basic pattern:

  • Turn off my alarm.
  • Find a quote in the volumes of self-collected quote books that are my bedtime companions. Using my booklight, I randomly select a quote to give me something positive to contemplate right off the bat. If the first one I choose doesn’t speak to me in that particular moment, I open to a different one, until something resonates.
  • Think of three things to which I am looking forward in the day. Although I am tempted on some mornings, I don’t allow myself to get away with saying, “Not much.” It may be a warm shower, my yoga practice, a bike ride, time alone or the book I am reading—sometimes seemingly mundane things—but I identify three positive things awaiting me before I get out of bed.
  • Make my bed. Easy. Quick. Done. Order and structure.
  • On weekday mornings when I am not riding my bike after work, I get up and change into my waiting exercise clothing.
  • Choose another quote to ponder while I am exercising.
  • Do a breathing exercise to put myself in the right mindset to move my body.
  • Set my intention for my workout.
  • Move my body with yoga, strength training, indoor cycle trainer, a walk or foundation training.
  • Meditate.
  • Make Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus tea.
  • Eat the breakfast I made the previous night. This is usually a smoothie filled with foods that nourish my body—some of which I include every day. (See a future post for more about that.) I generally drink/eat my smoothie, my water and my tea while I am getting Logan’s lunch (which I packed the previous night) and water bottle ready and washing and putting away dishes in the kitchen (usually left from Logan’s late-night feeding frenzies). If I am alone in the kitchen, I listen to an inspiring and/or educational podcast. This has the dual benefit of feeding my mind and spirit while I feed my body and preventing my mind from going places I don’t want it to go.
  • Occasionally, I will have time to do some creative work, like writing or posting to my business Facebook page, while I am supervising Logan’s morning activities (which are far less structured and orderly than mine 😊).
  • Once I get Logan off to school, I take my shower and move into the next phase of my day.

Weekends look a bit different, although every day includes some form of exercise, meditation, quotes, intention setting and a nourishing breakfast.

In the warm months of cycling season, I meditate, eat and prep to ride on weekend mornings. Then, I get out on my bike! This is the ultimate culmination of my morning routine—especially a long ride, when I can really think and open to inspiration. (Join my free course to learn more about making the mind-movement interaction work for you.)

The bottom line is this—Consider adding a morning routine to your life if you don’t have one. It is a way to make good things happen for yourself before you face whatever the day will throw at you. We can’t control how our days unfold, but when we take initiative to start the day in an intentional way, we position ourselves for success and positivity, and we are better equipped to handle disruptions and stressors with a greater level of equanimity. There are no guarantees, and I haven’t perfected it. But, I shudder to think how I would be handling my current level of parenting (and other) stress if I didn’t have a reliable, secure practice in place to reground, realign and start fresh each day.

Talking about fresh starts, if you haven’t registered for my FREE Spring into Action Move for Your Mind 30-Day Kickstart Class, be sure to save your spot. It starts this coming Saturday, March 20, in my private JustWind Coaching Community Facebook group. When you join, you will have the opportunity to gain access to the free companion workbook. Read more about the class in last week’s post.

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“All things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation of all things. You have to make sure that the blueprint, the first creation, is really what you want, that you’ve thought everything through. Then you put it into bricks and mortar. Each day you go to the construction shed and pull out the blueprint to get marching orders for the day. You begin with the end in mind.”

–Stephen R. Covey


Life in Progress: The Power of Tiny Chunks of Time

When I was in my second graduate program (We hadn’t met when I was an undergrad or in my first grad program.), Kenny commented on my habit of using every bit of available time. I hadn’t really thought much about it until then, but I realized he was right. It was important to me to excel in school, so I read every page ever assigned to me, studied for every test and precisely followed instructions on every assignment. As an undergraduate, working full time and going to school at night, I read assigned chapters, books or articles while folding laundry, washing dishes, brushing my teeth, getting dressed, and pretty much any other time I was by myself and not driving. That habit carried me through my Bachelor’s degree and both Master’s degrees, and it is how I still read over 60 books per year.

I don’t claim to have mastered time management or to be able to accomplish everything I want to get done, and I certainly haven’t internalized the abundant view of time that I wish I had. But what my reading strategy taught me so many years ago was the power of tiny chunks of time. If I waited until I had vast swaths of unencumbered time, I would never write a blog post, make progress on my book (over 55,000 words so far!) or accomplish much else.

Just last week, I started the JustWind Coaching business Facebook page. I did that in a small sliver of time before work. It takes me a tiny step forward on the journey to building my platform.

Although the practice of using small chunks of time started with reading, it can be implemented in many areas of life, and I find it to be a necessary component of a life full of obligations, opportunities, responsibilities and passions.

Two requirements for harnessing the power of tiny chunks of time are to be okay with viewing our lives works in progress and to appreciate every bit of progress.

It would be easy to feel discouraged about the slow progress of finishing my book and my book proposal (just the beginning of the publishing process) or of gaining enough traction with my coaching business to be able to take next steps in modifying my lifestyle. Sometimes I do feel discouraged, and it is not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed. But I combat those feelings by viewing my life and each goal as in progress. That way, every step I take in the direction of achieving my goal brings me that much closer. I may not be finished in the time I would like, but I am getting closer, as long as I keep moving in the right direction.

It is also crucial to recognize and appreciate each bit of progress. It was amazing how great I felt after starting that Facebook business page last week. It is a little thing, really, but was something, and I did it with the small chunk of time I had available. Win!

It is easier to view life as in progress and to appreciate the small steps along the way when we adopt a holistic view of our lives. I can have more compassion for myself over my frustratingly slow progress toward my creative goals when I put them in the context of being a full-time employee who is parenting a teenager in a pandemic. When I view my life from that angle, it feels pretty amazing that I have written over 55,000 words of my book (still to be finished and edited) in a little over 14 months.

Besides those lessons, my message to you is that you can accomplish more than you think you can if you commit to using those five, 10 or 15 minutes that you have between tasks or while waiting. You need to have a plan and know what you will do with that time. Otherwise, you will just spend those precious minutes figuring out what to do, and you will get nowhere. With an organized plan, you will know where to start.

Also, put your phone down. You have to concentrate during these slivers of time. If you are going to write, write. If you are going to paint or draw, paint or draw. If you are going to learn how to write a book proposal, Google that and find the resources you need. Whatever it is, focus on it. (I do make an exception for reading because I am really good at turning the pages of my Kindle–my usual reading format–with my elbow while brushing my teeth or washing dishes.)

Life truly is in progress. I don’t think we are ever really done if we remain interested in life and committed to growing into our greatest selves. As the Skin Horse said in Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit said,

“You become. It takes a long time.”

In many ways, I think that is the point of life. Bit by bit, tiny chunk of time by tiny chunk of time, to become who we are meant to be and to make the difference we are meant to make.

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Appreciating the Gifts of the Moment

“May the sun bring you new energy by day,

May the moon softly restore you by night,

May the rain wash away your worries,

May the breeze blow new strength into your being,

May you walk gently through the world and know its beauty all the days of your life.”

–Apache Blessing

I began writing this post early in the morning, the Friday before Memorial Day, in my bedroom, with open windows allowing the sound of gentle raindrops and various birds to serenade me. I appreciate the quiet solitude that I am often able to find in early mornings, while Kenny and Logan are sleeping and before I have to show up anywhere (virtually or in person) else in life. This beautiful Apache Blessing instills peace in my heart when I read it and contemplate its words.

We celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary on Tuesday, and Kenny was very nostalgic that evening, looking at our wedding album and other photos. It was obvious that he was reflecting on the surreal nature of the passing of 19 years. Where did they go? How do we have a 15-year-old son?

Although he seemed to have a stronger sense of the poignantly fleeting nature of life that evening, I also have more and more of those moments lately.

Whether it is raining or sunny, cold or hot, windy or still—meteorologically or metaphorically—if we can view the moments of our lives according to the gifts they bring, like the Apache Blessing illustrates, we are far more likely not only to appreciate this precious life, but to make something of it.

Our world is busy and full of distractions. As an introvert who is sensitive to external stimuli, this can become overwhelming for me. There are many disappointments that come with this COVID-19 pandemic we are all living. For far too many families, it goes beyond disappointment, to tragedy. And any of us could find ourselves there before this is over. For all of us, there are changes, many unpleasant. I bought groceries Thursday evening, a task I don’t particularly enjoy at any time. I choose my stores based on the likelihood of sensory overload. Right now, though, I really dislike the experience of shopping. Wearing a mask feels like the socially responsible thing to do, so I do it, and many others do, too. But we lose something behind the masks. We can’t really see other people. Eyes say a lot, but not everything. Everyone seems more guarded. It is both harder to hear people and harder to read people. The world feels less safe and more unfriendly. It is a minor thing, but it feels like a loss, and it feels like it may be our reality for the foreseeable future.

Like many, I try to find both the lessons and the gifts of this situation. What can I learn about myself, about life, about what’s next for me? And, what can I appreciate?

Personally, I appreciate (love) having fewer social obligations. I am working from home, and while I am staying plenty busy with that, having no commute at the moment is a gift. It is one I am not looking forward to relinquishing when I do return to the workplace. So, what does that tell me about what I should do moving forward? What changes can I make to have more of this and less of that?

There are undoubtedly some activities I miss. Biking Across Kansas is the highlight of my year, and it is cancelled. I am grateful that I can still ride my bike, though, and we are hoping to create some sort of family cycling adventure when it is safe to do so.

In some ways, this contracting of social activity feels like I have come into my moment. It’s not perfect. There are losses with the gifts, but I feel an obligation to recognize the lessons that may be prodding me to implement changes in my life.

What can I keep from this time? What can any of us?

As I have become more and more aware, time passes all too quickly. I need to make it count, and I need to do that now, in each moment. Because, in no time, 19 more years will have passed. Awareness is the beginning, but action is what really matters. The art is in soaking up the gifts of the moment, while taking action that implements the lessons.

Mindful awareness coupled with impactful action.

How can we achieve that?

While doing laundry and dishes yesterday morning, when I started the post, I was listening to a wonderful interview between Lewis Howes and Jim Kwik (How have I not known about this Jim Kwik? He is amazing!). He says that one of the reasons we don’t make progress is because we are overwhelmed—our project or goal seems too big. I know this can be true for me. He says, “What is the smallest action you can take?” Others, like James Clear, have proposed this idea, too. Just taking tiny actions, consistently, to keep moving forward.

I have a productivity plan that I keep on a spreadsheet with dates and priority ratings. It is the way I keep taking tiny steps. It seems slow and prodding at times, and I certainly get stuck now and then, but it does keep me moving forward. Because my Friday was full, writing this blog post was the only thing on the plan for me yesterday Of course, work and family obligations and an after-work bike ride were also part of my day, but this is the thing that feeds my longing to create and learn and grow. I feel like listening to the lessons and the inspiration that each moment can bring and figuring out how to implement them in my life are so important to really soaking up and appreciating what life has to offer.

If we don’t, time will pass anyway. As I have said in previous posts, I am really afraid of regrets. So, even if it is rainy, or we are in the middle of a pandemic, or I am not making the progress I wish I were making, I do believe I have an obligation to make each day, each moment count.

I am finding gifts in some surprising circumstances and would love to keep you posted. Please join my email list to stay informed and to receive a copy of my plant-based recipe booklet.

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“Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

–Maya Angelou, Excerpt from “On the Pulse of Morning”


A Simple System to Increase Productivity and Freedom

I have long valued organization in my life—whether of my time or of my space. I feel better when structure is present in my calendar and in my environment.

One of the practices I use to stay organized in my personal life is a running to-do list, which I call my Weekly General Task Plan. I keep this in an Excel spreadsheet on my personal laptop and like this format because it is easily modifiable and allows for columns. My list contains four columns: Task, Date, Priority and Notes. I’m sure there are more sophisticated strategies out there, but this is simple, and it works for me.

I keep a list of tasks. Some items on the list may only appear once. For example, a list last weekend included assembling my new 6-cube organizer. This is likely to be the only time this particular task will appear on my list. Other items are perpetually on the list because they are done regularly or periodically, and I simply update the date column to reflect the next time I will work on those tasks. Tasks in this category include organizing the weekly calendar and sending it to my family or managing my finances each payday.

I like having this list because there are things that I want and/or need to do, but I may not be ready or able to do them right away. By capturing them on my list, I don’t have to spend mental energy trying not to forget. I know they are on the list, and I have assigned a date for tackling each project. Once it is on my list, I can let it go until the assigned date.

This basic system has worked well for me for years. In the past, my list has looked somewhat different. For several years, I kept it on paper and just transcribed it to a new sheet in the notebook each week. This worked okay, but it was more cumbersome and less efficient for capturing future projects. I have used the spreadsheet method for a couple years now.

Late last year, I started to notice that I felt a sense of fatigue each time I looked at my list, like a heavy, hopeless weight was dragging me down. I felt more anxious and less productive because of it. I decided to make a simple change that has made a surprising difference for me.

“Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started.”—Gretchen Rubin

I decided to limit the number of tasks that I assigned to and prioritized on a given day. As a general rule, I will assign no more than three tasks to a work day with no evening activities, one task to a work day with an evening activity and five tasks to a weekend.

This is not a foolproof strategy, nor is it an exact science, for several reasons. First, not all tasks are equal. For instance, updating my website takes considerably longer than planning the calendar for the week. Not all days are equal either. A night with a haircut leaves more time than a night with a Scholars Bowl meet. However, this small adjustment in my strategy has been tremendously helpful.

Immediately upon implementing this new approach, I felt a lightness come over me. Before paying attention to how many tasks were on a given day (A weekend day might have a list of 13 items!), although I had no real expectation that they would all get done, they all felt like obligations hanging over me. Not completing them all felt like some level of failure. Now, not only did I have the possibility of the success of completing all my tasks in a given day, but I also had the possibility of something amazing—free time!

It had been a very long time since I really allowed myself free time. Since my daily lists seemed endless, I felt like I always had to be working on the items on the list. Taking time away from them, except for exercise and family obligations, felt like slacking off.

Suddenly, although the total number of items on the list may be similar to what it was previously, they are spaced out more realistically, and each day appears much more manageable. And, once I complete the tasks on my daily list, rather than start on tomorrow’s list, I give myself permission to read, watch a movie with my husband and son or do something else for enjoyment.

This may not seem like an earth-shaking idea—putting a realistic number of tasks on the day’s to-to list—but it has been transformative for me. It has led me to consider the importance of time and space and of creating space in time in our lives. Being organized and getting things done does not require being busy every moment of every day. And, putting an achievable number of projects on the list for the day does not mean that I am lazy. It means that I value my time, and I value the items on my list enough to work on them in a span of time that allows the reasonable possibility of accomplishing them.

Sometimes, items still get pushed to the next day or to the next week, depending on their urgency, but I work on them in order of priority, so this is not usually a big deal. They are still on my list, and they will still get done. I am respecting the fullness of my life, while still moving forward with activities and projects that are meaningful to me.

It has been surprising that something so simple has made such a big difference, but I am getting more done, and I feel less stressed and weighed down by the things that need to be completed.

It is easy to implement a system like this for yourself.

  1. Use your favorite method to create your list. The modifiability of an electronic system appeals to me, but you might like something else.
  2. Make a list of all the recurring, short-term, and long-term tasks that are on your mind or on other lists. For me, the order doesn’t matter because I prioritize them in another column.
  3. Assign a date that you will work on each task.
  4. Each evening, prior to going to bed, assign a priority ranking for the next day’s projects, from one to five on weekends, one to three on work days without additional activities and just one for workdays with other activities happening.
  5. If you find that a day has more than the appropriate number of items–five, three or one—depending on the type of day, choose other days for the lowest-priority tasks.
  6. Work on your projects each day, but have a cutoff for bedtime because sleep and self-care are important, too.
  7. Whatever is not done at that time gets moved to the next, or another, day.
  8. Check-in nightly to prepare for the next day.

I think you will be surprised—both at how liberating it is to limit the number of to-do items each day and at how your productivity increases.

Certain projects may be more involved and require multiple steps. The steps can represent items on your list. If it is really important or a very big project—for instance, a course proposal that I recently put together—I break the project into steps and then block out a certain amount of time each week to work on it. On the given day, the project functions as one of my task items, possibly the only one if it is a work day evening.

While I may tweak my system over time, I am happy with the changes I have made and have seen a noticeable improvement in both productivity and quality of life. It is incredible what creating a little space in my schedule can do.