I Don't Believe in Morning Routines, But I Do Believe in Waking Early

Toby Hazlewood

It’s all about time.


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Photo by Sanah Suvarna on Unsplash

Like most who are driven to improve their lives, I’ve experimented with my morning routine over the years.

In 2015, as a newcomer to the world of personal development my morning routine seemed like an easy place to start — to strive to get more out of life by actually being awake for more of it.

But what to do once awake while the rest of the household slept on? The obvious answer was to experiment with the hacks, habits and practices of the rich and famous.

Meditation, journalling, exercise, creative writing, inspirational reading, cold showers, hot showers, breathing exercises, specific foods, drinks and supplements — all have featured in my morning routine over the last few years.

It got to the stage where I was having to get up progressively earlier just to fit them all in.

While each had benefits, adopting them wholesale and layering one on top of the other made it impossible to know which was making the most difference. There were simply too many ingredients thrown into the pot at once.

As my mornings became packed with one practice after another it became apparent that I was merely going through the motions with many of them.

One morning’s journal entry became much the same as the next. I’d get distracted in meditation and find myself drifting off into a 10-minute stream of distracted thought, forgetting that I was supposed to be watching my breathing until the timer went off.

And so gradually the habits dropped away — the routine wasn’t preserved in the same way it had been.

I’ve given up being constrained into thinking that one day must start the same as the last in order to set me up for a productive day. I still meditate and often read a few articles to stimulate my thinking and positivity while avoiding news and current affairs. But there’s no defined structure and some mornings are completely free-form and off-script as far as routine is concerned.

What is consistent is that I still wake early, even without a morning routine to occupy that time.

It may seem silly to forsake sleep without a planned routine to justify doing so. Voluntarily waking an hour or more before the rest of the family seems pointless, but it’s the one truly enduring habit from my years of experimentation with a routine. Here’s why.

It encourages me to get to bed in good time.

It sounds pretty dumb to get up early just to ensure that I go to bed early, but hear me out.

Waking early means my day is front-loaded towards the things that make a difference to the quality of life. The quantifiable benefits of spending 4 hours relaxing in the evening are the same if that time is cut down to 2 or even 1 hour.

What actually makes an enormous difference is having more useful time available to spend with my wife and kids, to exercise, to make progress in work and against side-projects. An extra hour in the morning unlocks time that can be devoted to all those causes. An extra hour on the couch in the evening is less impactful!

I’m unlikely to let my evenings drift aimlessly, and it helps discourage me from mindless channel-surfing late into the evening to know that the alarm is going off at 5am regardless. I’m purposeful about what I choose to do with my evening knowing that if I do anything that keeps me up late, it had better be worth it.

I start each day with an act of discipline and purpose.

Each day starts with a positive and conscious choice to get up when the alarm goes off, voluntarily and without thinking.

Once I’m up and about, it feels good to start the day with an act of resolve and discipline. It’s the same as making the bed as soon as you get up — even if you accomplish nothing else that day at least you’ll return to a tidy, made bed at the end of the day.

I get up early through conscious choice, ready to do what I can to shift the needle just a little in the right direction. If that’s all I have to show at the end of the day, then so be it. At least it’s something that reminds me I have choice and free will over how I live my life.

It gives me time to ease into the day focused on myself and my needs.

In normal non-pandemic times I’m the only person in our household who works from home. It’s easy to get drawn into a supporting role for everyone else as they blunder through their mornings. I’m called upon to make breakfast, help track down sports kit and homework, to iron school uniforms, pack lunches, scrape ice from car windscreens and so-on.

My family’s perception seems to be that as I’m not leaving the house then I’ve got all the time in the world to help others to do so, on-time.

In reality, I don’t mind — it gives me a sense of purpose and is part of the life I chose.

Getting up while the rest of the family sleeps is my way of ensuring that I still have uninterrupted time to myself to use as I see fit in service of my own needs. I may use it to read, to drink a leisurely coffee, to exercise or meditate uninterrupted if the mood takes me. Sometimes I simply potter around for half an hour and then take my coffee back to bed.

Whatever I choose to do, I’m not disturbed by the family or by work. That time is precious to me and worth getting up early to enjoy.

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It prevents feeling rushed or overwhelmed.

Knowing that I have a chunk of time each day that’s protected to use as I see fit helps in many ways.

I seldom lay awake at night worrying when I remember I forgot to do something in the course of the previous day — I simply note that I can do it when I’m up early.

I rarely fret at night over how much I’ve got to do the next morning as I know I’ve ringfenced at least an hour of useful time before the wider world is awake. I can use that time to get ahead (or to at least make sure I’m not behind).

I hate rushing and hate feeling flustered — the extra time in the morning helps me avoid such feelings and staves off overwhelm and worry.

Getting up early is about putting oneself on the front foot in life — getting a head-start on all that life will demand of us.

Time — the greatest asset

One consistent theme of personal development is that time is precious, the only truly constrained asset in life. We can’t make more of it. It’s up to each of us to extract whatever value we can out of the hours in each day.

While I’ve certainly experienced benefits from practices such as meditation and journalling, it is winning back an extra hour of useful time that has made the biggest difference in my life, through getting up early.

Routines are important of course but it’s in having more time available to use as I see fit that has been the greatest win for me.

How much difference could an extra hour each day make to your life?

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