Why Morning Routines Don’t Work for Me and What My Clients Are Experimenting With Instead

The first, last, and only time I ever had a successful morning routine was in 2015. The childless, spouseless (and largely client-less) whimsical days of my business. I decided to write an e-book. Writing is not my favourite thing, and I had just learned the “eat the frog” concept (from a book by Brian Tracy that I have not read) so I decided to do the two things I didn’t like first thing in the day: writing and exercise. I would get up, put on my workout clothes, do a 20 minute workout in my office, then sit down and write for an hour. When my timer went off I was free! Then I would get dressed, have breakfast, and go about whatever else I had to do that day. I’ll admit, it felt AMAZING to have accomplished such big things first thing in the morning. The problem was, once I finished writing my e-book, my routine also ended. I tried using it to do other tasks, but it just wasn’t the same. Thus, my morning routine disappeared, never to be seen again.

And yet, morning routines are touted as the solution to all our problems. Have you noticed how polarizing it can be to talk about morning routines? People either love them and think everyone should have one, or they think they “should” have one. They feel like a failure if they can’t stick to one. They’re like catnip for coaches who often rush to suggest developing a morning routine as homework.

If you know me at all, you likely think I’m the kind of person who would thrive with a morning routine. I like spreadsheets, calendars, post-its, structure, and in theory, I like morning routines, too. I like achievement and checking off boxes. I like leading by example. In 2015 I even made a day planner called “My Perfect Day” that I used to give out (which included a daily meal planning section, which was genius, if I do say so myself!).

But this time, I’m drawing back the curtain to show you that you don’t need a morning routine to be a success. For most people it’s an impossible standard to live by, and most people inevitably fail even when they LIKE their routine.

Now, if you’re a parent, this is not news to you. You know your only chance at a morning routine is to get up at 4am before your family is up to get everything done in peace, but you also know that still doesn’t guarantee you’ll get uninterrupted time (yesterday my daughter woke up screaming at 4am…so I was awake, but I wasn’t doing yoga). There are a few select people who like to get up at 4am, which is awesome for them, but I’m not among them.

And before you ask, no I have not read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. And no, I don’t plan to. (But if you want to listen to a hilarious podcast talking about the book and all its flaws, check this out.)

Reality spotlight: My actual morning

This was my exact morning today:

5:27am Daughter woke up cold and had fallen off her bed, I went in and snuggled with her and we both went back to sleep

7:00am (victory!) We both got up, went downstairs, and snuggled on the couch watching Shaun the Sheep until the rest of the house got up and the heat kicked in fully

Then I have no idea what time it was after that. I was running around making breakfast, eating, helping my daughter get dressed, and brushing her hair (more like a nest).

Meanwhile my husband was frantically eating breakfast, feeing the dog, and dealing with the dog whining at him because he wanted to go for a walk. Then it took both of us to wrestle my daughter into her snowsuit.

8:45am? They left for their walk and I ran to get as much quiet writing time as I could while they were gone. But first I had an urgent email to deal with. (I got approximately the first 3 paragraphs written before they returned.)

Oh, and we’re staying at my in-laws for a few weeks because we’re not comfortable with the covid daycare situation, so we have even less of a chance of a consistent routine!

I would not be exaggerating to say I worked up a sweat doing this.

And this was a GREAT morning! Believe me, many are much, much worse.

So let’s please agree that morning routines can work for some people, but having a successful morning routine doesn’t make you a more evolved human or a more sophisticated business owner. It just means you’ve found something that works for you.

And no amount of life hacking like “wearing the same outfit every day” or “not checking email before 10am” will balance out the fatigue of getting a toddler ready in the morning. It’s about how to recover from whatever your morning throws at you so you can still have a successful day.

What to try instead

What about the rest of us? How can we mimic the positive aspects of a morning routine without being stuck in a loop of striving and failing? I don’t have all the answers, because again, we’re all different. I work with clients to help them find what works for them uniquely. Here are a few things we’ve come up with:

· Have a lunch routine. Just taking a planned break is a good start. You can also use it to recharge for the rest of the day. Read a book. Go for a walk. Just step away from your computer. I schedule this is my calendar or else it would get booked over with work.

· Have a routine for the start of your workday that sets your day up for success.

· Eat a good breakfast. Something that won’t leave you hungry by 10am and interrupt your flow.

· Find a way to calm down your nervous system after a chaotic morning. Could be a cup of tea, a stretch, looking out the window, or something else.

· Have different routines for different days of the week. This works best if you use a calendar to keep track of it all.

· Swap frustration for appreciation. Don’t use this to try and find the good in everything, but sometimes in the moment there are things to appreciate even if they aren’t going according to plan.

· Plan your day ahead of time so after the chaos ends you can dive right into work. I personally like to plan my whole week ahead on Thursdays before I finish work for the week.

· Be realistic about what you will or won’t do in the mornings. It’s worse to beat yourself up for failing than to just plan realistically.

· Have a backup plan. It can be helpful to plan buffer time or a backup day for the stuff that just didn’t work out during the week.

· Schedule in what you know — meals, drop off/pick up, dog walks, commute time, breaks — so you aren’t surprised when they come up.

· Look at it like an experiment. It’s okay to change your routine (or lack thereof). Keep what works, ditch what doesn’t.

· Don’t compare your morning to someone else’s.

· Don’t believe everything you see on Instagram.

So why did the routine work for me in 2015?

Before I sign off, a quick reflection about my successful morning routine back in 2015. Why did it work? I have a few guesses:

· It was for a specific time frame. Approximately 30 days. And there was a specific goal (to finish the e-book).

· The routine was time-based not outcome-based. I exercised for 20 minutes and wrote for 60. I didn’t care what I actually achieved during that time.

· I saw progress every day. I got stronger. My word count increased.

· I didn’t have kids or pets demanding my attention.

· I was getting enough sleep and eating healthy on a daily basis.

· My partner was making lots of money so I had the luxury of focusing on non-money-making activities in my business.

· The routine was novel. I typically have a lot of energy for a project or routine in the beginning, like lots of people.

· I did it every single day, not just weekdays.

· I don’t remember if I had this or not, but I was likely sharing about my morning routine online, so I had some public accountability. Leading by example is a strong driver for me, and I was likely trying to show my clients that morning routines were great (I know, the irony, but I’ve come a long way).

I truly hope that helps you get rid of any guilt you might have had about a failing morning routine. I see you. If you want to talk about setting your work day up for success, I’d love to talk. You can book a call here. If you have any tips to add, please let me know!

You’ve got this!