Why Even Spontaneous People Need a Morning Routine

Shannon Hilson

Morning routines aren’t the enemy. They’re the key to meeting your goals and being your best.

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As a dyed-in-the-wool creative person, I used to be positively allergic to the idea of having any sort of routine, especially in the mornings. I’m a natural night owl, so I never even liked the idea of being awake in the mornings, let alone focusing on being productive that early. Then I started working for myself as a full-time writer out of my own home.

No longer having a timeclock across town forcing me out of bed in the morning left me free to manage my days the way I thought I wanted to — flying by the seat of my pants without any plan.

I woke up whenever I felt like it — sometimes well into the afternoon — and I had no standing rituals in place for starting my day on the right foot. My productivity suffered a lot, as did my growth as a business person and an individual.

Overhauling the way I started my days and finally establishing a routine I could work with changed all of that for the better, and it can do the same for you. The trick is to create one that works for who you are and gels well with your unique goals and aspirations.

Why does setting a routine matter so much?

Days that start well tend to be days that progress well and finish strong, so morning routines matter. And yes, this is the case even for creative types (like me) who are sure they’re too fierce and unfettered for routines. Routines help even the most spontaneous, creative people prioritize better, meaning we learn how to master our schedules instead of letting them master us. They’re the best way to find a groove that results in consistent, quality work you can be proud of, as well.

Routines, especially those you start your day with, also keep stress at bay. You’re less likely to become overwhelmed if things get busy or hectic. You’re calmer and more collected a lot more of the time, not to mention less likely to take any frustrations out on loved ones. You feel better emotionally, mentally, and physically, as a result — something anyone can appreciate. Here’s how to get started.

Choose a wake-up time that’s right for you.

Part of the reason I fought the idea of having a morning routine for so long is the way so many self-help gurus insist on getting up with the sun. Like most night owls, there’s a part of me that’s proud of being able to count the number of sunrises I’ve experienced on one hand with fingers to spare. I honestly don’t even like the sun, so getting up at dawn was always a big “no” for me.

Then one day, it occurred to me that I only had to do that if I wanted to. It’s not like the sun police were going to arrest me for not being up at 5 AM or anything, so I experimented a bit until I settled on a good time for me to wake up. It turns out that’s about 10 AM, so that’s now when I officially start my day during my work week. It’s early enough that I’m not abominably out of synch with all the 9-to-5ers I work for, but late enough that I still feel pretty rested.

I suggest you use similar reasoning when choosing the right time for you. Just make sure you’re giving yourself some wiggle room to work with before you have to head for the office, get the kids up for school, or do whatever else you need to do. Launching into your day in a complete rush is one of the easiest ways I can think of to start on the wrong foot.

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Get up and get your body moving.

I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never been one of those people who’s raring to go from the minute their little eyes pop open after sleeping all night. I’m still not, and I sincerely doubt I’ll ever be. The occasional rare morning will find me ready to go more promptly than usual, but generally speaking, I need a minute to get used to being conscious.

And I take that minute, especially if I wake up a little early. Like a lot of people, I lie in bed for a bit and look at my phone. I check my email to see if there’s anything pressing I’ll need to make a mental note of for later. I see what my friends are up to on social media. I try to limit that to 10 minutes at the most, though — long enough that I’m awake and aware of what planet I’m on, but not so long that I’m just wasting time.

Then I get straight out of bed, head for the little corner of my office that serves as my home gym, and complete my daily workout. I always work out first thing in the morning like this for a couple of reasons. To begin with, nothing gets you ready to face your day more quickly than exercise. Also, I’m not a natural exercise nut any more than I am a morning person, so starting my day with a workout is the best way to make sure it gets done.

I’ve long ago stopped kidding myself that I’ll magically find the time and energy to exercise later on. That hasn’t happened even once, as I keep myself relatively busy and am genuinely exhausted after working all day. Doing it first thing, on the other hand, energizes me and gets me ready to go. It also ensures that every single weekday starts on a high note — with something productive, necessary, and good for me getting done right away.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to complete a full-circuit gym-style workout every day (unless you want to, of course.) Any movement does the job, so pick something you enjoy that you can see yourself sticking with. Do some yoga poses, walk the dog, dance around the room to your favorite song — whatever does it for you. When and if you’re ready, you can always extend your workout or flesh out your routine with different activities.

Do something to nurture your mind, as well.

Mornings are a great time to tackle just about anything you wish you could turn into a habit, but never quite get around to. Possibilities include mental or spiritual pursuits like prayer, meditation, journaling, or self-education. That’s why I always follow my workouts with something I consider useful for my mind, my spirit, or both.

I personally like to pray or meditate while I take a breather after working out. Then I follow that with some time spent studying something that interests me. I’m a language nut, so my daily Duolingo practices are part of my morning routine. Sometimes I’ll watch the next lecture installment of one of the video courses I’m always taking as well.

Occasionally, I do the learning stuff while I’m exercising instead of listening to music or getting lost in my thoughts. Other times, I’ll do it after. The point is I do it every single day because, like exercise, pursuits like language studies and meditation need to be done consistently if you’re truly going to benefit from them.

What you do is up to you. Just make it something you wish you were more consistent about. Then it’s done for the day. No more struggling to find the time to do it later and then feeling guilty when it never happens!

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If you do eat breakfast, make it a proper one.

Full disclosure — I drink a lot of water first thing in the morning, but I’m not much of a breakfast person, and I don’t always eat one. Yes, I know it’s “the most important meal of the day” and all. I’m not a big believer in forcing myself to eat when I’m not hungry, though, and I’m frequently not ready to eat first thing when I wake up. I tend to advocate for people listening to their bodies in the same way, so I’m not going to suggest you force yourself to eat if you’re genuinely not hungry.

I will emphasize the importance of starting your day with something light, healthful, and nutritious if you do eat breakfast — no big bowls of sugary cereal, over-sized cinnamon rolls, or giant plates full of greasy diner food. You’ll wind up feeling like crap all day or like you’re badly in need of a nap within an hour of eating. Instead, plan a little so that making healthy choices instead is easy and appealing.

Like many folks who aren’t “morning people,” I don’t like to cook first thing, so most of the breakfasts I do eat consist of things I can grab quickly and assemble on a plate in minutes. I keep my fridge stocked with lots of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies. I’ll usually pick a couple of different kinds and add them to a small plate along with some toast and a healthy protein. What I choose varies according to my mood, my tastes, and what I have on hand.

My only real rule is anything that goes on the plate needs to be relatively healthy. I also try to make it as balanced as possible, and I mix it up a lot to keep things interesting. Sometimes I do raw veggies with hummus and pita. Other times, I’d rather have a little bit of granola or peanut butter with fruit. I love seafood, so I often have lox or good-quality canned fish around. Cheese is delicious in a pinch, too.

Have fun with your plate. Take the time to make it pretty and select items that go well together, both visually and in terms of flavor. It’s a chance to do something beautiful for yourself and to make your morning a little bit brighter. Food always tastes better and nourishes more thoroughly when prepared with love and care, in my opinion.

Approach your day with intention.

I used to hate the idea of keeping a calendar because it just didn’t seem like something that was for creative people. However, once business started booming for me as a writer, I realized I needed one to keep all of my deadlines straight and get everything done on time.

Now, I sincerely wish I’d done it from the beginning because calendars make everything so much simpler. How you go about it is up to you, but I like Google Calendar myself. The color-coding makes it super easy to understand my days, weeks, and months at a glance — work deadlines, deliveries to watch out for, miscellaneous reminders, and so forth. I can share it with my husband so we can coordinate our schedules. Embracing the act of proper planning has put my productivity through the roof to boot.

These days, anything I want to make sure to do daily becomes part of my morning routine, so I don’t have to find free time for it I may not have later. Everything else — work tasks, bills to pay, goals for my personal writing — goes on my calendar so I can plan for it properly. I always make sure to schedule myself some wiggle room, as well, so I’m covered if anything takes me longer than I planned, or I plain need a break at any point.

How you plan out your own collection of morning rituals is completely up to you. The important thing is to create something that complements your goals and lifestyle, as well as to stay consistent with it. Doing so was what made the difference for me when it came to making real progress toward my goals and finally achieving things, instead of just talking about it. It will do the same for you if you give it a chance.

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Professional copywriter, blogger, critic, and journalist. Evergreen content on self-improvement, fitness, food, relationships, dating, freelancing, and productivity. Occasional hot takes on news, trending topics, movies, music, and television.

Monterey, CA
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