Intuitively, we know that mornings are important, right? They set the tone for the day and can have significant impact not just on our mood and disposition with our colleagues but also our individual productivity. While we know that intellectually, in the morning most of us are like hamsters on a wheel just trying to scarf down a bagel, throw backpacks in the car in just enough time to screech up to the carpool line….late.
There really is a better way, and it starts with stepping back from your normal routine to analyze what’s working and maybe more importantly—what’s not.
If these six morning habits seem eerily familiar, that’s because they’re so common, but the cumulative burden they create can be significant. Don’t be fooled by their simplicity. These small habits can wreak havoc on your health and productivity so avoid them at all costs.
1. Waking up to a blaring alarm, then turning on the news – There’s a lot to be said for allowing your brain to gently awaken and peacefully embrace consciousness, and a blaring alarm followed by news on the latest neighborhood shooting or national politics is not a great strategy for starting the day with serenity. In fact, this ABC News article explains, “Waking up abruptly can cause higher blood pressure and heart rate. Besides increasing your blood pressure, an alarm can add to your stress levels by getting your adrenaline rushing.”
Instead, try waking to natural light if possible or choose a slow rise serene wake up phone setting or app that let you wake up to ocean waves, forest chirps or something else that’s calming. Then, immediately transition to another healthy, brain stimulating activity like exercise, meditation or showering. Having the news on in the background while you’re getting ready in the morning provides a consistent (usually stressful) distraction that pulls you away from focusing on the things that really matter during your limited precious morning time.
2. Eating unhealthily (or nothing) for breakfast – Skipping breakfast altogether or defaulting almost exclusively to carbs and fat can set you up for failure physically and mentally. In this WebMD article “The Benefits of Eating Breakfast” registered dietician Jessica Crandall insists, “The most common mistake we make is not enough protein at breakfast.” In fact, the article further suggests that adults need 20-30 grams of protein in the morning varying the amount based on gender and activity level. Personally, I try to eat one “superfood” every morning (usually blueberries or nuts) as part of my breakfast. For those with stronger culinary inclinations, the Eating Well article “7 Day Superfood Breakfast Plan” outlines a range of options. Certainly, eating something healthy and energizing for breakfast can help you feel like you’re starting the day doing something positive, and that never hurts.
3. Checking email first thing in the morning – Yes, this one is so common but yet so dangerous. Not only does checking email before you even get out the door (or sit down to work if you’re working from home) slow you down tremendously, it’s really risky professional behavior. It’s only a matter of time before you send a poorly worded email response, hit send on something prematurely, let an important message fall through the cracks or worse. Your inbox will still be waiting for you when your work day actually starts so focus on positive morning habits instead of checking email.
4. Racing around to find and pack items (including kids’ stuff) – I learned years ago that one of the best ways to save time in the morning was packing virtually everything the night before. If I have an important speaking event, I’ll sometimes pack my car the night before, and I’ve learned the hard way to make sure all the kids’ items are packed, at the door and ready to go for the next morning. Don’t underestimate the cumulative benefit of shaving a minute or two off a few morning tasks because they really add up.
5. Not planning your driving route in advance – How often have you made it into the car only to realize that you don’t know exactly where you’re going? Maybe you’re meeting a new client for a breakfast meeting or attending a training class, and you now have to stop in the driveway and find the address so you can plug it into your GPS. If you’re already running a minute or two behind, this last-minute stress can push you over the edge. Just take a few minutes the night before to plug your location into your preferred app for directions so that when you’re ready to leave, you’re really ready to leave.
6. Ignoring family members – Mornings can be frighteningly transactional, especially with little ones. It’s so easy to just move through a checklist of mundane tasks and not take time to acknowledge and connect with those closest to us. As one who struggled to wake up for decades, I learned first-hand that how I woke up really impacted me. I remember that being startled out of bed left me feeling frustrated and out of sorts for most of the morning so I make a point to be really light-hearted and affectionate with my kids (and husband) first thing in the morning. Some parents sing a little song to their kids to say good morning. I just dim their lights, give them a few kisses and alert them that they’ve got another 10 minutes to wake up fully. I think that little bit of acknowledgment and connection in the morning makes such a huge difference because then we’re not frenzied and screaming at each other before the day has even started.
If your mornings are on autopilot, chances are you’ve fallen into some bad habits that you may want to reconsider in the new year. Quite often mornings can shape your attitude throughout the day so it’s worth it to develop habits that encourage the mood you want. Stressful mornings often lead to stressful workdays so consider making just a few tweaks to make your mornings work for you.