the elegance of a morning routine

Posted on September 28th, 2010

I’m quite convinced that having some sort of structure to the start of your day is key to living a life that counts.

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It gets you out of bed with a purpose. Delays, wonderings, phaffings…they get us down at early hours.

It gives you, possibly,  the only space for yourself all day (got kids? staff? partner? an agent?  true?)

And it ensures you tick off things that are important to you…before the day grabs you by your britches and runs away with you.

And this is the salient bit: the best kind of morning routine is one that’s a fiesta of stuff that gets you grounded, that nurtures your “inside people”, that brings you home to you. You tick off these things and then you can get on with serving the world. And all the rest.

Leo from Zen Habits outlined his routine the other day:

1. Sit. I wake up and start the coffeemaker, drink a glass of water, then sit on a small pillow. I just sit, and focus on my breathing. You don’t have to meditate — sitting still, contemplating, taking in the world, is a beautiful thing.
2. Read. I read a book. The paper kind, that doesn’t require electricity. I like reading with no distractions. I’ll read for about half an hour to an hour.
3. Write. Before I check email or Twitter or read my feeds, I sit down and write. It doesn’t matter what — a chapter for my new book, a blog post, answers to an interview someone emailed me, anything. I just write, without distractions.

I have friends who do the below:

1. Write. Creatively, for fun (as per The Artist’s Way)

2. Cook. They enjoy making dinner for that night in a slow cooker, before the kids get up

3. Drink coffee. In bed and reading fiction before heading off to the office.

Me, I do this:

1. Drench. I drink two litres or so of hot water with a hunk of lemon squeezed in. I potter while I drink. Tidy a little…and, let’s be frank, hang about until nature calls.

2 .Exercise. I leave the house and get outside to job, walk, do yoga at the beach. I don’t think about it too much. I just slide into my green running shorts and grey singlet and… move. I try to go with what my body needs…often a 20 minute walk or stretch in my lounge is enough. But the deal is, I move every day. No deliberation. I just do it. It’s my routine.

3. Meditate. I always meditate for 20 minutes, often down at the beach after exercise. After exercise is best – my body is open.

4. Feel. After meditation, I sit for two minutes and feel for a bit. I try to access the tone of the day that I’d like to lead. It’s just a faint feeling and then I try to hold it for as long as I can, as I have a shower and get out of the house…the longer I hold it, the more grace I carry.

Then my ratbaggy, chaotic, anxiety-laden day starts. But, thing is, I carry with me a satisfied, expansive sense that I have owned a piece of the day for myself. If I don’t do this, I feel resentful, like everyone else owns a part of me. I spend alot of the day wishing the world would get out of my face!

It’s tempting to skip the routine when I have an early start. But mostly I don’t. Mostly because it’s become a routine. Creating a simple structure around the things that matter to us is the ONLY way to ensure we lead a meaningful life. Otherwise distractions take over. I’ve come to learn that we humans do not like having to draw on discipline to make things happen. It’s too much for us. Too punishing. Too backward in essence. No, we are creatures of habit and we need patterns and routines and rituals in place that we can slide into. Straight from our pyjamas.

What’s in your morning routine that works?

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  • Nicky

    Oh I love my little routine – if ever I stray from it, the day just feels off.

    I set my alarm for 5am so I can snooze for 45 mins (for some reason it makes me feel like I get that lazy time before having to get up) then I get up and go for a run, or do some other exercise for 60mins.

    Leaving 45 mins to have a shower and get ready, then drive to work, get coffee on the way and have that with my breakfast at my desk!

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  • kate

    kudos to artists way reference Sarah. my morning pages really do reconnect me to my inside peeps

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  • Jacqueline

    How I long for the discipline to wake up early enough to do ANYTHING. Any suggestions on how to wake up early? I have tried EVERYthing. :)

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    Lea Ann Savage Reply:

    Hello Jacqueline, are you getting a full 8 hours of sleep (or more ;-). If you go to bed early, it is easier to get up early. I have all of my “props” for my morning routine set out the night before. I have to walk straight out the door within minutes of getting up in order to get my exercise started (a 30-minute walk). If I do that, I come home energized, and the rest of my routine is easy to follow through on. If I waver, I think of both negative and positive reinforcing thoughts – negative = how bad I will feel about not doing the walk, and the positive = how good the walk is for me. Hope this helps!

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  • Mia

    I always get up at 6am, drink lemon-y water as well, and clean and potter. Check the weather. Occasionally do laundry. I really need to get into the habit of reading and meditating, I enjoy those things a lot but tend to run out of time in the afternoons!

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  • sal

    I’d love to start my day the same way each and every day. But, just how do you do it when life demands so much?

    Take this morning. I had a work meeting commencing at 7, which meant arriving at my ofice at 6.30 to prepare, which meant leaving at 6, which meant rising at 5.30. Of course, I could have woken at 4.30 to exercise, relax, read, drink water or tea. But that would have deprived my body of that extra 1 hour sleep. And it would have broken all the other important rules we hear repeatedly about ensure your body has enough time to heal through sleep. Adhere to one ritual by breaking another?

    Should I tell my boss no more early morning meetings? Or, the other day, should I have ignored the pleas of my child who had snuggled into bed just as i was about to hit the gym, with a temperature raging and a stomach about to let rip?

    I really love your inspirational musings and often practical advice, Sarah. But this time, I’m afraid I have to question the ability of most people to be able to achieve such routine, even if they desperately want to.

    I know you’ve worked hard to get to a place where you are, effectively, your own boss and your timetable may be a little more flexible. And the freedom of a child free house adds flexibility too. But most of us simply don’t have those options.

    Still love you though :) You’re my ‘aspirational’

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    Berta Reply:

    Sal, is there any way you can get to bed an hour earlier, or schedule ten to twenty minute naps into your day? Also meditation, for even five minutes here or there during the day may help you to feel less harried. You may even come up with your own solutions to your challenging schedule during those few minutes of peace. I used to read or nap in my car instead of lunch, and even for the fifteen minute breaks, when the office got too crazy for me. No-one missed me most of the time, but the important people knew where I was if an emergency came up (and those were rare even in my field of health care). Keep an open mind for solutions.

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  • James

    Big believer in routines, there’s comfort in it, I don’t know where i’d be without my routines……..maybe it’s the OCD in me! Anyway, embrace the routine.

    2 lites of warm water…….hahahaha, my god…how do you get down to the beach without exploding??

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  • Jason

    To Sal,
    Sal, stop complaining. The reason you went to a meeting at 7am is because you wanted to. Next time, say no. Tell your boss you have things to do and he will reschedule the meeting later that day. I mean, who has a meeting at 7am anyway?? If you want a routine in the morning, go for it. I don’t think you will find much else that’s more important. There is a book you may like to read called The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Oh, and delete your Facebook and Twitter accounts. You actually don’t need them at all.

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  • Danielle

    I always get up at 5am, before my pre-schooler & toddler wake up and steal me away for the day. I go for a run and come back and stretch for about 20 minutes. The stretching part is my time to meditate I guess, it’s my calm before the storm. By the time I get inside, the children are awake and my husband has got us all breakfast. We sit as a family for breakfast, say a prayer for the day ahead and eat together. Then I have a shower, then hubby is off to work and I start my day routine!

    Without this calm start to the day, and some time to myself without being ‘mum’, it really puts me in a wrong frame of mind.

    I cannot start the day with lots of water, my pelvic floors will not allow me to exercise on a belly full of water! lol! I have my water when I get home from my run!

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  • Jo

    Over the past few months, since I started full time work, I’ve started to cultivate my morning routine. I never thought that it was possible for to get up at 6am to go for a run, as I never considered myself to be a “morning person”. However, like you Sarah, I just put my clothes on and head out the door without giving it a second thought.

    Getting the paper on the way home, and reading it with a cup of tea actually feels indulgent and I arrive at work feeling calm and ready to face the day.

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  • Scarlett

    I completely agree that structure can help the body and mind! Everyone loves time out but keeping active and stimulated is so beneficial! Interestingly I wrote something similar in my blog called ‘nothing guilt’.
    Muesli and walking my puppy Digby in the morning is my secret remedy!

    S x

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  • Selena

    Thanks Sarah, I love this post!
    I agree there is a certain level of comfort in routine; especially if you are a person that likes to have everything ‘all together’ and if you have the added variable of health uncertainty due to an autoimmune condition.
    I love my Saturday morning routine! I wake up and drive over to Paddington and go to 1.5 hrs of relaxation yoga, I then catch up with close girl friends for brunch across the road at my favourite little bohemian café. I then stop into Sol Breads to get 2 loafs (gf fruit bread and pumpkin bread) and then go to the West End markets for fresh fruit, veg, gf pasta, organic chai tea and some hand made jewellery/clothes. Just love it!
    Unfortunately, my weekday mornings are not so zen! Alarm goes at 5.45 am, I roll over and check the Blackberry to see how the night shift went, get up, get ready, take my medication, drive 40km along the highway (thinking of strategies to tackle any of the night shift issues), race up to my office, devour a banana/gf bar, get my safety glasses and ear piece, make sure there has been no major safety or quality issues and that everyone has made it in to work, catch-up with my direct reports, find out what other chaos has happened since I left home (which often trumps the strategy developed during the drive!), develop a new strategy for the day (which is then often trumped by the immediate needs of my Manager), go to the morning meeting to report status and then just continue to fight the fires! No routine in that really…an environment where priorities and high level strategy continually change!
    Thankfully Saturday comes around every 7 days :)

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  • sal

    Jason,

    Thanks for your comments. You may not have sensed from the tone of my piece that I wasn’t actually complaining, rather stating fact. I try for routines, but more often than not it proves very difficult. I would ask you a favour though – can you come and tell my very demanding boss (who is a workaholic) that i can’t attend a scheduled 7am meeting? (I have three this week sue to the demands of my job, which requires urgent legal advice to clients). Then when he tells you that I’m no longer employed, can you please pay my bills for me? Not everyone has the luxury of being able to dictate their own working hours. Just another fact.
    And PS: I’m not on facebook or twitter. My most treasured routine is spending 10 minutes, twice a day engaging with the outside world, via great blogs like this.

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  • http://sezalou.tumblr.com Sarah

    My life is too busy to relax in the mornings – I work in the city commuting from over an hour away, so I get up at 6am, shower/breakfast/feed the cat/do hair and out the door for the train to the city. I wish I could work closer to home but there are no jobs in my profession located in my small town.

    SO this is my wishful morning routine –
    Get up, exercise along the beach, come back for an omelette breakfast with a nice tea and read the paper, then shower and ready for the day. oh how I would love to have the time to do that!

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  • Sarah

    Sarah, I hear your pain. And your comments remind me to be grateful I work for myself and can ride to work. I hope one day you get that morning routine you crave! xx

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  • Jason

    Sal,
    You sound like someone who is too frightened to question your boss. Who cares if he is a workaholic? Most bosses are. No big deal. I suggest you tell him yourself you can’t make a 7am meeting. Stop being such a puppet and start living the life you deserve.

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  • http://www.colourfulwords.com.au/ Natalie

    My kids get up around 5am so relaxing in my own space is not a prolonged experience but my husband does bring me a cup of coffee in bed and the few minutes (seconds) I get to sit with that cuppa and my thoughts is heaven. Sometimes I’ll get up and go for a run at 5.30 and that puts me on an absolute high for most of the day. Most days I drink lemony water too (not quite 2 litres though!)

    I think the main thing is starting the day on the front foot, feeling like you are driving it rather than racing after time. However you can get to that point is a brilliant place to start.

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  • http://www.givingbackgirl.blogspot.com Lisa

    OK, you’ve all inspired me because I wake each day and feel like a sad-sap-need-to-pull-my-socks-up kind of victim. Three children = x 3 morning madness. Not one iota of me time comes into my morning. I am always running to keep up. I am always nagging. I maybe drink some water. I always get my kids worlds sorted. I often feel stressed.
    Like I say, I’m inspired to attempt to take ownership of my mornings again. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

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  • Alexandra

    I agree with the principle, trouble is, Im just not a lets-go-running-first-thing-in-the-morning sort of person.

    So I take the time at night.

    I jog for 30-60 minutes and if Ive had a stressful day slip into the bath. It works wonders. I sleep better. I wake up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to take on my day.

    I think its just a matter of making life work for you.

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  • NatalieW

    to Natalie : your husband is so sweet!

    I’m not really a morning person. My routine might sound abit loud and not peaceful enough lol. with tv and computer.
    I turn on music, I have a playlist in my ipod which called morning music. It consist from beyonce crazy in love, pcd (those dance-y music) to inspiring but still upbeat music, fighter, survivor, i will survive. The sunscreen song.
    Then I’ll dance around in my living room making coffee and making juice. Then stretch. about 10 min.
    i usually read something inspirational. I usually read your blog in the morning Sarah. If you havent updated it (no complain, you update them very often) then I read one article from Oprah website. while sipping coffee. or even just the daily quote and reflect abit.
    I then have this short morning list which i read every morning. it consist of things that i have to be grateful for and how life is great and a few of my fav quotes,
    Sometimes I hv a 15 min quick run, although abit lazy during winter , but now there is no reason nt to do it!.
    then hv a shower (the neutrogena rain bath is so refreshing and smell amazing) and while I make/have breakfast and drink that juice, i watch ellen on arena2.
    I like watching something funny in the morning. It makes my mood happy .
    Then Im ready to go and face the world. hehe

    a few times a week i’ll have breakfast at a cafe (i like to try different cafes from somewhere close to somewhere far), sitdown,do some people watching, browsing the paper, and have like pancake n milkshake for breakfast. I have this feeling of naughty because i dont do my run and oprah ritual n stretch (i still read ur blog in e afternoon tho:)) but instead of feeling quilty and beat myself over it, I just feel a bit naughty n laugh. I think since I saw amelie the movie, I like to observe people (nt in a creepy way of course) but i like the way she enjoy her life, every little thing can be life’s greatest pleasure.

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  • http://www.colourfulwords.com.au/ Natalie

    to Natalie W: I’ll tell him! (being brought a hot drink in bed is definitely one of the best ways to be woken up)

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  • Viola

    Jason, you sound like a bully. I wonder if that’s your intention?

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  • carol

    sarah mentioned leo babauta and jason commented and mentioned tim ferriss, so i thought i would let everyone know that they will be speaking together at samovar tea lounge, here in san francisco today. you can watch online at: http://samovarlife.com/ today, sept. 28 at 5 p.m. p.s.t. don’t know how that translates to aussie time, but i hope you can check it out.

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  • Jason

    Hey Viola,
    You are right . I did sound like a bit of a bully. Not intentional. Guess it was a bit OTT. Sorry Sal!

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  • http://www.givingbackgirl.blogspot.com Lisa

    ..and this morning I started my day with a glass of water and a run. Thanks Sarah. Thanks everyone.

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  • jess

    @ Jason – you have resorted a little bit of my faith in people who post comments on blogs.
    @ everyone else: good morning! :)

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  • James

    Mornings are such an opportunity to grow and change from within. I’ve been having this internal struggle in my head for a year or two now about ‘if I didn’t have to travel 1 to 1.5 hours each way to work each day I would get up do some exercise, have my brekky (love brekky, best meal of teh day) and then do a meditate.’

    As it stands I get up, race through brekky, drive my drive to work, get my coffee, get into work and read emails and start to stress! I come home, do my exercise, do a meditate most days, read and fall asleep. Meditation has helped slow my mind chatter and has had amazing benefits but after reading Dan’s post just then It’s time fot somr change….no more excuses. It’s called changing my lifestyle…..change, change, change. I’ve done it before so no reason it can’t be done AGAIN. If it means up at 5am it’s just earlier to bed……..ouch!

    Hey….loving these posts. A bit of conflict is ok…..shakes something inside us maybe…..will that little window open more to look inside……..painful sometimes but ok. I think it’s more beneficial than perpetual back slapping or rescuing! There just may be something that helps me grow and maybe not if completely inappropriate.

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  • sal

    HEY JAS,

    Didn’t see your comments until today. Thanks for being so nice about it – no bullying intended, I’m sure. people who come to Sarah’s blog can’t possibly be bullies in the first place. have a great one!

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  • Aine

    I have managed to get my boyfriend into a great routine , we wake up and listen to the news on the radio . He gets up and puts oatmeal on for us and has a shower. He then makes my just how I like it honey soy milk and natural yoghurt heated bowl and a latte, yummo! I then listen to 3aw , turn it off and then sit for a few minutes and think about how I’m going to tackle the day. I actually look forward to this part of my day.

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  • http://sezalou.tumblr.com Sarah

    James: your day sounds as complicated as mine! I’m so glad you’ve found some YOU time, I have that internal struggle every day also.

    From all these posts I really think I should start meditating or doing yoga, something to relax me because I get so wound up with work and everything happening as fast as the wind. I have on numerous occasions set my alarm to 5am to get up and do some exercise/get outside in some fresh cold air to wake me up properly, but my alarm goes off and I’m always too exhausted to move. I’ll get there one day!

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  • Kathryn

    I have to say it again – I love your work and your blog really does make my life sweeter on Friday! Sometimes it can be just a few words that change your perception, today it was ‘I move every day, no deliberations, I just do it, It’s my routine – how simple and inspiring! I can do that too, Thankyou!

    Hey Sarah, I also just wanted to say because I saw you had written you have soy milk in the morning (I know you have a naturopath and all) but just check out a little bit about Soy. I just noted an article today about a class action against Bonsoy for high iodine content. I stopped drinking soy a few years ago after reading a book by Elaine Hollingsworth ‘Take Control of your Health’ she runs the Hippocrates healing centre in Queensland and it is a great book (just google her name). I just felt compelled to tell you about it so I am, hope that’s ok. Have a great day.

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  • Sarah

    Hey Kathryn, I don’t use soy milk…Dan Buettner mentioned it. I totally agree with your thinking!

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  • http://www.jacintafleur.com jacinta

    great post Sarah and so true. i’m backpacking thru Europe at the moment which is amazing albeit exhausting. Aside from eating way too much bread, the one thing I’ve been struggling with is missing my peaceful morning routine that i have back in Sydney. I feel all jumbled up without it. But as they say, when in Rome…

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  • http://armand.stephanie@gmail.com steph

    before i started my new job this was my routine:
    7 am get up
    drink lemmony warm water and take my pills sometimes have aloe in the water try to mix it up.
    do 30 mins of yoga in my lounge to new age music
    or go for a power walk depending on how menstrual i am.
    7.30 brekky and ready
    8.00 to 8.30 dress
    ,then go to work.
    now i have an hour and a half commute so the yoga bit has gone out the window!, and i feeeell awfull so gonna start getting up at 6 and getting my yoga on next week, you have motivated me!. Oh i also do affirmations and visualise in the train and i meditate a few times a week with my ipod, i downloaded some guided meditation which works a treat as my mind is too scatty otherwise. Meditiation is amazing !!!Kate James from total balance.com.au has some good ones. Rituals are the key to success ask any athlete or professional!!!

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  • Kathryn

    (re soy milk) sorry Sarah, I’m mixing things up. Good to hear!

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  • http://www.theoneinpink.com Sarah Smith

    Reading this post (and the subsequent comments!) has made me crave a morning routine even more. I have no excuses, really – I’m a young married person with no kids and a job that doesn’t really require me to show up until 10am. I fully take advantage of this and often don’t get out of bed until 8:30am. Yes, I am the epitome of lazy, because even that is hard for me. I like to use the line “I’m not a morning person” but the truth is, I really, really want to be! The few times that I do wake up, I love the peace, the quiet, the ample time to stretch, eat breakfast, and drive to work without the rush.

    Husband does wake up at 7am each day to do his routine, but I do need at least 8 hours of sleep, and quite often my husband and I are up until 11 or 11:30 each night. I guess it’s a matter of going to bed at a different time or just getting used to waking up an hour or so earlier. I’ve written out plans/schedules but executing them is the toughest part.

    I guess I just need a swift kick in the booty to get moving.

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  • KMartin

    Sarah,
    I love the idea of a morning routine, however I am a nurse, working long and irregular hours. I just wondering if you have any suggestions to make a morning routine when the definition of “morning” is constantly changing…
    Many thanks,
    K

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  • Briony

    Why do you drink 2 liters of water all at once. Just wondering if you enjoy it or do it for health reasons?

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