The Scenario…

You are working from sunrise to sunset, perhaps commuting, driving kids to their extracurriculars in the evening, doing your best to eat somewhat healthy, and trying to get some exercise in here and there, and on top of that, someone tells you that you should build a morning routine for its health benefits…and I wouldn’t blame you if you’d snap!   One more thing in your already busy schedule seems simply impossible, but if you have read this far, please keep reading.

The misconceptions

The concept of a morning routine for those of us with important time constraints sounds like a utopia.  We tend to imagine someone waking up at 5 am full of energy, doing a 30-minute-long meditation, some stretches, journaling, exercising, and of course…some grounding walks in the grass (obviously whoever is doing this does not live in Toronto in January) and honestly, it can be an extremely daunting idea.  Specially, when your day is already packed.   But morning routines are much more than that and require a lot less than that.  Sounds contradictory right?

Routines have been in place for centuries.  Doctors recommend new parents to keep babies in a routine to provide them with some stability (among other things), routines allow some level of predictability into our ever-changing lives and create some structure in otherwise unstructured days.  There have been scientific studies reporting on the importance of instilling routines to allow for the adoption of habits in the world of lifestyle medicine.   Morning routines are just one of many routines we can adopt, but one that may have the ability to impact the rest of our day.

Morning routines are surrounded by some interesting misconceptions:

  1. They require a lot of time – This is the biggest misconception of all.  A morning routine can be as short or as long as your busy days allow you.  
  2. They require some meditation or journaling – Another myth.  A morning routine does not require any specific activity.   You will build your own using the activities (or lack of activities) that work for you.

Why a morning routine

Why bother with a morning routine if you seem to be doing very well by waking up jumping on your phone to check your emails and turning on the TV to catch the news while getting ready?

There is no shortage of evidence to suggest that taking some time for yourself before getting into the business of your day, will help with stress management and productivity, will help improve your perception of unforeseen situations throughout the day, and consequently help improve the quality of your relations with those around you, personally and professionally.

How to build a morning routine

Let’s look at what you need and won’t need to build a morning routine:

  1. You will need “some” Time – but even one minute will work.   Morning routines are not about the amount of time you spend on them but the quality of the things you do during them.
  2. You will need an activity/or a lack of activity – There is no reason why a morning routine requires an activity.   Drinking coffee on a couch and visualizing your day for 2 minutes is as valuable a routine as meditating for 30 minutes.   Choose an activity (or a lack of activity) that works for you.
  3. You may or may not need your phone – This is a tricky one.  While I am all about no electronics, my morning routine does include my phone where I have my prayer app.  Just be mindful that the phone be part of your routine and not a distraction from your routine.
  4. You will need some silence – I do believe that the more able you are to spend some time in silence (meaning external noises such as kids, TV, kitchen activities, etc), the better.   This correlates with the “right” time to do your routine.    Find a time in your morning when you can get some silence.
  5. Movement is encouraged but optional – this is another one that is “nice to have” and which you can build within your routine even when short on time.
  6. Build something you look forward to doing every morning – The only way your morning routine will become a routine is if you look forward to that time of the day.   You don’t get a prize for doing the routine of your friend or neighbor, but you may benefit from learning what your friends are doing as part of their routine as it may provide ideas you would want to explore for your own.  
  7. Finally, you will need to be alone – If someone were to ask me, of all the things I’ve listed here, which one is non-negotiable, it would be the ability to be alone.  Your morning routine is meant to be some time for you, to slow down before it gets busy, to reflect on the previous day, and to plan the new day.   Whatever your morning routine may look like, make sure you are doing it on your own.

Start where you are and build from there.   As your life changes, so will your morning routine and this is great because it means that you had a routine to begin with!   Observe how having a routine (short or long) impacts your day and make the adjustments needed as you get more and more comfortable with yours.

Finally, remember that 5 minutes is all you need to get started!