Quick: name two topics that get a lot of coverage on the Internet. There are a lot, but my two today are stress and morning routines.
But let's back up... Again, morning routines get a lot coverage: hit the gym, mediate, don’t snooze, don't check your phone for 20 minutes, don’t forget to eat breakfast, start the day with lemon water, don't eat breakfast (I made that up), take a cold shower, take a hot shower. The list goes on, and for good reason: they’re important. But the thing is, like every part of life, the optimal morning routine is different for everyone and takes time to find.
So is it worth it to explore yourself, your time, your needs, and your preferences to build an optimal morning routine? From me, you’re going to get a resounding yes for one reason: Doing this for myself has improved my overall life and drastically reduced my stress level.
Bold claim, I know.
A bit about me: I own and operate a leadership, life, and career coaching business. I’ve been doing this for 3 years and have expanded to building and leading workshops at global organizations and institutions. About a year ago I began teaching a Career Preparation course in the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago. Oh, and I also run a demand generation marketing program, that I’ve built from scratch, for a Fortune 100 company.
I love my work, but when I took on teaching I began to get overwhelmed (no surprise). I was now arguably holding 3 full-time jobs. I’m also a social, fun person so spending time with friends and family, traveling, and maintaining hobbies (like how I decided to re-learn the saxophone this summer) is important to me.
We’re all busy; I’m not glamorizing being busy or claiming I’m the *busiest* because I’m not (also here’s a good read about how we romanticize being busy, which does beg the question about my loaded plate, which I'll come back to...) In fact, it’s important to note there are a whole lot of women who are busier than I am—mothers, caretakers, people with more jobs. But again, that’s not the point. The point is how I took myself back from a near breaking point and the small move I made that brought me my sanity back.
For me, there was never a “breaking point,” which I feel lucky about. But in late winter of my first semester teaching I had a steady number of regular clients, my full-time job was expanding and travel was increasing, and I was behind on grading (like, really behind). I decided to take off the entire week of spring break from my full-time job. I spent this week doing some coaching work and grading but also just being. I got a massage. I got a facial. I cooked nice, long meals for myself. I went to my favorite gym classes. Some days I slept in. Some days I was up early. I sat and let myself enjoy the coffee I grind and brew daily like I do on a Sunday.
When the week passed I didn’t mourn the vacation the way I have before. Something else happened instead: I saw my needs and myself more clearly. I had been productive and happy that week but was also on a slower schedule. I was calm and breathing. I was relaxed. I felt better.
Now, yes, I was on vacation. This is what happens on vacation. But I felt that surely there were ways to incorporate this approach into my daily, non-vacation life. So I gave it a whirl.
I reflected on that week and asked myself what, specifically, was so alluring to me about that time. The answer: the mornings. So I decided I needed to figure out what I needed during that time and find ways to incorporate to my normal routine.
I started by reflecting on what my ideal morning would be. I decided I wanted time to slowly wake up (read: snooze button). I currently don’t enjoy a morning workout (but have in the past, and surely will again in the future) so I didn’t want to force myself to hit the gym early. I also really enjoy slow, quiet time. I don’t usually like to put on the news (again, something I’ve done in the past and surely will again in the future) and don’t even play music (again, has been different in the past will likely be different in the future).
Now that I had an idea of what I did and did not want, I started to design a short period of time that gave me this. I work remotely full-time so I have more time in the mornings that most people because I don’t commute. I had already been using this time to work but I started thinking differently about it. Yes, some days I’d be up and grading or up and taking an early morning client call. But I also wanted the option to sip my coffee slowly and not make my bed for hours? I started to give myself the freedom to make my mornings work for me.
How could this have such an impact on my stress?
I noticed that trying to cram so much into each day was leaving me feeling depleted, overwhelmed, and, well, stressed. This freedom gave me the space to decide what I needed each day and then ensure I got that. Some days I needed quiet time, some days I needed to work, some days I thought I needed to work and ended up sitting in silence drinking coffee next to my computer that I closed after 20 minutes of staring at a blank screen. The ability to decide what I needed actually let me figure out what I needed to avoid feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Again, there are some important nuances of my life: I am not a mother and I am not responsible for any dependents. That would drastically change things, I know. Also, I work remotely so I don’t begin my workday until sometime between 8 and 9.
My circumstances allow me to operate like this; not everyone’s will. But that’s also the point: to explore what, within your circumstance, makes for an ideal morning.
So, do that. Ask yourself: what makes an ideal morning? Consider how much time you have and what needs to get done for yourself and others. Maybe you can’t sit and process and do personal/side business projects like me (or you don’t want to or want side projects). That’s okay! Maybe you decide that you want to sit and eat (at an actual table) with your family. Or sit and eat (at an actual table) by yourself. Or maybe you like to take 10 minutes to sweep the floor and put dishes away because that’s soothing for you or because it will never get done after the workday. Maybe you live with a partner or roommate and want to operate in complete silence and avoid this person. Or the opposite—you both agree that you want to connect while you’re brewing coffee or blending a smoothie.
The point is not to carve out hours of time for yourself but to reflect on what you need and want from a morning routine that will enable you to have your ideal day.
Again with some examples because I cannot emphasize enough that our morning desires, needs, and routines should be as different as we are: I know women who prefer to motor through a morning routine so they can sit in a quiet, Zen-like office for forty minutes in peace. Or women who like to go on morning walks with their neighbors to catch up. Or women who like sit outside quietly sipping coffee regardless of the weather.
There’s no prescription for how to spend your morning but rather to figure out what your ideal morning is given what’s going on in your life and career, and fine a way to optimize your time. Trust me on this one. Now to wrap up this article because it’s nearing 8:30 am and I need to shift gears…
Jane Scudder is a certified leadership, career, and life coach, facilitator, and workplace consultant based in Chicago, IL. She helps individuals and group navigate their careers, teams, and personal lives. Find out more at janescudder.com.