During the COVID-19 pandemic, I sometimes struggled to get started with work in the morning. Prior to the pandemic, the start of the work-day was clearly delineated by walking into my desk at the office. The end was marked by the walk out and arrival at home. With the change to working from home, these delineations faded and the line between work and home life blurred, sometimes to the detriment of one or the other.
My solution was to come up with my own delineation, a set of actions I would take to start the workday and another set I would take to end it. The workday began with me brewing tea, taking vitamins and medication, and a quick 5-minute meditation. The workday ended with me making a to-do list for my tomorrow-self, taking a warm shower to decompress, and changing into more comfortable clothing. Most of the individual tasks I find pleasant, and thus in the morning I look forward to starting the ritual which inevitably leads to getting work done.
I recently realized that in creating these rituals for myself to create new boundaries separating work and personal time, I had also begun to classically condition myself to work. Now, my morning tea or vitamins almost immediately begin the process of bringing my mind towards focus for work. And my evening shower and new clothes are almost always associated with a release from the stresses of the day and diffuse / creative thinking. By making the first step in each of these rituals a pleasant one, it makes these quite useful mental modes more readily accessible.
Could this system work for you? Are there any rituals you can use to achieve certain mental or physical states, initiate long-desired habits, or build towards productivity goals? How can you start them with a pleasant or luxurious first step that you will look forward to each time? Let us know in the comments below if you discover something that works for you or already have a ritual that brings joy to your day.
We’ve talked a lot about habits on this blog already. One of the best ways to start building habits I’ve found is to set up a morning routine. When I first get up, I have a series of activities I do: the fact that I do it every morning makes it far easier to stick with it, and doing it in the morning rather than another time of day means I have a clear cue to prompt me, and rarely have a conflict or other excuse for not doing it.
A morning routine is my way of keeping a steady dose of exercise and other daily activities in my life, and frankly also getting them all done at once each day – I like the sense of having ticked a bunch of key items off my list before turning my mind to other things.
So what is my routine? It’s evolved over the years–I usually add about one new activity per year–but for now, it consists of:
- Two rounds of Wim Hof breathing (new this year – I read a book about breathing and was curious to try it)
- Five minutes of meditation
- 50 pushups and 50 sit-ups
- 200 strokes on the rowing machine
After that, my day really starts, and I shower, have breakfast, brush my teeth, and start work. I’m sure that’s not the right routine for everyone, and Wim Hof in particular has mediocre evidence for it at best, but it’s what is working for me.
Suggestions for a Morning Routine
If you’re looking to build your own morning routine, I have a few suggestions:
- Start small. I have added about one activity per year for the last few years. I did 50 pushups and 50 situps for a year before gradually adding stretching, rowing, meditation, and now Wim Hof.
- Don’t worry if you miss some. For some people I think having a streak is very motivating, but I’ve found I inevitably break the streak at some point, and then my motivation plummets. This is something I want to do for the long term: if I miss one or two mornings, it happens. Underscoring Charles Duhigg’s arguments about cues and habits, it’s very much an all or nothing affair: either I do the full routine, or I do none of it.
- Find a time that works for you. I’m a morning person: I get up early and I enjoy mornings. If you’re not, maybe you need an evening routine, or some other time of day. That said, find a time where you are consistently available. Even aside from my affection for mornings, the fact that I am sometimes out in the evenings would make it harder for me to stick to an evening routine. Find a cue that appears every day in your life, and tie your routine to it.
Your routine might be totally different. Maybe you want to drink a glass of water, do some yoga, and then write in your journal. Up to you. But figure out what things you want to do every day, that will help you get better and better over time, and build your routine accordingly!