My morning routine

September 17, 2015

For me to be productive, I find it’s important to have a strong morning routine, and to never break it. The less decisions I have to make early in the day, the more cognitively rested I am for the important work (in my case, writing) I want to do after I’m up and moving.

The reason for this is that humans are cognitive misers. A simple way to explain this: Imagine that the number of decisions you can make in a day is finite. Those decisions are your mana pool, and every time you cast a spell (make a decision), you expend some of your mana. But unlike Aegis, there are no shortcuts to get your mana back quickly. Only time and rest (and not spending more of your decisions) will refill your mana pool. Mostly that means a good night’s sleep

(This is also why clothing shopping is so exhausting: It’s a ton of micro-decisions.)

This is my current morning routine. I try to do it every day, without fail:

  1. Morning exercises. These include: Push ups, plank, and jump squats. Yes, I do these even before getting dressed. Ladies *winks*
  2. Breakfast tea. I make a cup of black tea (English Breakfast or Earl Gray) with a little milk, and drink it while I read webcomics and watch funny videos.
  3. Podcast + green smoothie + eggs + bacon + anime. I put on a podcast (currently The Time Ferriss Show or Hardcore History) and make a green smoothie. That’s to get my micronutrients for the day. While I sip on that, I make eggs and bacon, with sautéed onion and tomato + sliced avocado on the eggs. That’s energy for the day. I watch one or two episodes of anime while I eat, usually from the same series.
  4. Meditate. I meditate for 15 minutes immediately after I eat and finish my episode(s). This helps me clear my mind for my work ahead.
  5. Green tea + Freedom app + write. I make green tea this time, which is my trigger to get into the writing mood (though in reality, the whole routine is a trigger). I also set Freedom for two hours, so I won’t have any distractions. Once the tea is ready, I sit down at my (writing-only) desk and work on my fiction for at least 20 minutes. Usually longer! But if I do 20 minutes, I consider it a success. This achievable goal makes it easier to start.

Notice how I only have one real decision to make in this entire routine: What anime to watch. If I do this routine faithfully every day, I feel so much better when I sit down to write. It puts me in the correct frame of mind, and I struggle less.

(I also take one day off of writing, currently Saturdays. But my morning routine remains the same, up to Step 4. I just skip Step 5 and go about my day.)

Of course, I break this routine all the time, and I always regret it. Always.

It happens at least once a week. I get to sleep late, then when I do get up I feel like I’m “behind,” so I skip a step—and I’m surprised when I struggle. Or I get to sleep late (this is a common problem for me), and I have some errands to run, so I do those first—and I’m surprised when I don’t sit down to write until 9pm or later. And so on.

It’s not like I can’t write if I don’t do my routine. I’m not as fragile as that. The routine just makes it easier and more pleasant. I make as few decisions as possible so that when I sit down to write—which is a TON of decisions every minute—I’m rested and ready to do my best.

Even if you don’t do creative work, I think having a set morning routine is useful. It means that, when it’s time to do your work (or have your fun) for the day, you’ll be totally rested and prepared to tackle the day.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.