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Morning Rituals Revisited

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Sunrise

If you haven’t heard our amazing podcast on the importance of morning rituals, we highly recommend it. It’s a great introduction that explains what morning rituals are, and shows you how to set one up the right way. What follows here are some refinements that we’ve made since we recorded that – based on the experiences of other Asian Efficiency readers and our own friends and acquaintances.

There were a number of common issues that people came up against when trying to formulate their own morning rituals, so we decided to cover everything in detail in a text-based article. Some of these issues included length, knowing where the boundaries of the ritual were, and what sort of activities to include, and of course, how disciplined/strict you have to be to really see results from an effective morning ritual (or what some people call a morning routine). Let’s get into it.

Essential Morning Ritual Components

The first thing to reexamine are the essential component pieces of a morning ritual. We found that lots of people would try to cram in as much as they could – and ended up with morning rituals that exceeded 1.5-2 hours in length. Here are what we consider the essential pieces:

Water

Bottled Water

Water is probably the most crucial part of your morning ritual – it really is the difference between going through the motions of starting your day and still feeling tired at the end, or going through your ritual and feeling ready-to-go.

We recommend 500ml (16 ounces) of water first thing in the day.

Bathroom

Toothbrushes

This should be pretty self-explanatory: keep good hygiene.

Movement

Yoga Reverse Warrior

One thing that AE Thanh introduced me to was the concept of having some sort of physical movement to tell your body that the day has started. He does some light stretching exercises and a couple pushups. I prefer some simple joint rotations and then a quick alignment of my posture against the wall.

We’ve also met people who do a couple of sun salutations, or a quick 5-minute walk on the treadmill.

Breakfast

Beach Breakfast

As good as it looks... not what we'd recommend for breakfast.

We’ve written about it before, but your productivity is based largely on your physical capacity to perform. And the fuel for this, is food. Make sure you eat a solid breakfast. What you eat will largely depend on your other health and fitness goals.

Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast – the productivity consequences of that are extremely punishing.

Goals and Review

Evernote

You want to make sure you set your goals and outcomes for the day as part of your morning ritual. You can do this in your task management system, or in a journal entry, or however you like. There is the assumption that you have longer-term goals written out already (go ahead and write them if you don’t).

To do this, you want to reference:

  • Your goals.
  • Your schedule for the day.
  • Your task management system.

It may also be worth creating a small outline for what your day is going to look like.

Social Contact

iPhone Apps

Here at Asian Efficiency we like to place a large emphasis on the social aspect of productivity . Not a lot of productivity writers like to talk about it – I mean after all, aren’t we supposed to all be chained to our desks working 24/7?

To get the social parts of your brain going for the day, indulge in a small Facebook/phone check. I personally think the longer you can delay this the better, but if you must, checking your Facebook and email on your phone over breakfast isn’t a bad way to go.

Common Issues

Start and End

The start of your morning ritual is your 500ml of water. The ritual ends when you begin your most important task for the day.

Length

Ideally, morning rituals are supposed to be short and efficient – no more than an hour. If you workout in the mornings, it’s a good idea to treat that as separate from your morning ritual.

It may take a while in the beginning, but once you’ve gone through the ritual for about 30 days, it’ll be come second nature.

Skipping Rituals and Steps

Don’t skip your morning ritual when you travel. You may not be able to do everything (e.g., eat an ideal breakfast), but do your best.

It’s OK if you skip steps accidentally when you are learning a new morning ritual. A good way to make sure you don’t however, is to print out a piece of paper with a checklist of everything, for example:

  1. Water.
  2. Stretching.
  3. Bathroom.
  4. Breakfast.
  5. Goals and Review.
  6. Facebook and Email.

You can then carry this around with you, or stick it on your dresser to remind yourself every morning.

Implementation

It takes about 30 days to form and solidify a habit. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. And once you’re used to it, you can start swapping in and out extra components to the ritual.

If you have any questions about morning rituals or would like to share yours (or ask questions about it), leave a comment!

Photos by: Maxxer_, Leo Newball, Jr., Anderson Mancini, ZenNomadshinya, MSVG

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Timo Kiander November 29, 2011 at 6:14AM

Aaron,

Morning rituals are essential to one’s ability to be productive.

I think that one aspect of rituals is the ability to change them over time. For example, with the birth of my child, my morning ritual has changed from my original one (I have less time to do my ritual).

I also feel that morning rituals are somewhat linked to evening rituals. I know that I perform certain parts of my morning routine (for example breakfast) faster, if I have done some preparation work the night before.

Cheers,
Timo

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Steffen June 1, 2012 at 4:18AM

Cheers,

Additionally to a list I also think that some kind of preparation is essential to find the motivation in the morngin.

Extreme example: I want to go jogging first thing in the morning, I sleep in my sport outfit (ok, without the shoes).

Anyway thanks for the ideas :)

Steffen

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Thanh Pham June 3, 2012 at 2:14PM

Thanks Steffen.

Yes that is a good point. Planning the night before is a great way to do this.

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Karla October 25, 2013 at 10:56AM

More extreme example, go swimming :p

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Thanh Pham October 29, 2013 at 10:04PM

Kind of like this idea :)

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Marcos W. July 23, 2012 at 2:29PM

For me the most important part is exercise. I do a quick 5-10m series and it is what really puts my mind into the right state for starting the day. While exercising I put highly motivational songs and visualize my long term goals.

Another cool thing that I started doing recently is waking up by a tv series episode that I set up to start on my evening ritual. It’s the better alarm clock that I’ve found, only thing that solved the problem that I had with waking up early. I’ve had the idea to setup this after testing different rewards for waking up and it’s working great for me.

Now I’m having more difficult with sleeping early so maybe it’s time for a “Evening Rituals Revisited” :)

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Thanh Pham July 25, 2012 at 2:12AM

Thanks Marcos, that’s a really creative alarm clock!

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Jason Teale July 28, 2012 at 4:20PM

This a really great post. For the most part I started doing the social aspect as I am in Korea and it help to set the goals for the day and communicate with those abroad due to the time difference. The water and exercise is something I have to work into the routine as I know that one of the main factors to why my brain takes so long to fire up in the morning.

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Thanh Pham July 30, 2012 at 2:48AM

Hey Jason thanks for stopping by and I’m glad you’re finding our content useful. Water and exercise are huge. Especially water – just adding that to your daily routine will make a huge difference to how you feel.

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Kevin August 10, 2012 at 9:16PM

Yes, I find that eating properly and planning the night before makes a world of difference. I actually hold off on breakfast until after my morning run (3-6 miles), which fits as my first work break. I then eat my smoothie while starting the social aspect of my work.

1.)Water
2.)Read Positive Quote of the Day (set out the night before)
3.) Stretching (5 min Qi Qong)
4.) 50 bounces on the rebounder
5.)Bathroom
6.)Goals and Review
7.) Eat that Frog

(Then comes the morning run, followed by breakfast) I don’t consider this part of the morning routine.)

Occasionally, I will eat a piece or two of fruit while reviewing goals, but i like having an empty stomach for the morning run. My diet allows me to feel high energy without needed to eat too early in the day.

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Thanh Pham August 13, 2012 at 1:39AM

That’s a solid morning ritual Kevin! I like the addition of the positive quote of the day.

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KyraJames September 22, 2012 at 5:42PM

Hi Thanh do you have any advice for me, I have to admit unfortunately I am kind of high maintenance. My main problem is twofold:
1) I hate the preparation the night before, I’d rather be doing something else, I feel like it takes way too long to make my food for tomorrow, set out my clothes, organize my bags, etc.
2) Shower/makeup/etc. (I know I know) takes me about 45-60 minutes in the morning… I don’t know how to fit that in or around the ritual you discuss (which I really think is great and I want to do it) plus because of my often failure of proper evening preparation I can easily waste a whole hour in the morning getting ready for the day when I could have done that stuff the night before.

Open to advice, thank you thank you!

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Thanh Pham September 23, 2012 at 3:46PM

Hi Kyra,

1. This is an inner struggle you want to address. Why do you feel that way? What if you only spend 5 minutes on it?
2. If you prepare the night before, there is less time to “waste” in the morning. I suggest you grab a pen and paper, and really write down the steps you have to take each morning to get ready. This should take no more than 10 minutes. Once everything is written down, every morning look at this list and follow it step by step. Maybe you need to be more aware and conscious what exactly you need to do. This also helps speeding up your mornings.

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KyraJames September 23, 2012 at 8:39PM

Thanks Thanh I look forward to trying these suggestions tonight and tomorrow; especially writing a list each morning, it sounds simple but I think this will really help me. Thank you I’m so glad I came upon your website!

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Arsarn October 9, 2012 at 8:31PM

This is my morning rituals (I wake up at 5):
1) Water
2) Meditate (1hr)
3) Workout (Push up/Pull up/Body Movement) (1hr)
4) Bathroom
5) Read my tailored-made secret (from the secret book and I do this during the day as well)
6) And then breakfast + nutritional supplement that boosts my energy throughout the day

So normally I would finish everything around 8.00.

I will add goals and review as suggested. (Have never realized that goals and review are that important before start working.)

Question: Is my morning rituals too long?
My initial answer in mind is: No. (Since I’m quite comfortable with it.)
What’s your suggestion?

Please advise.
Arsarn

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Thanh Pham October 9, 2012 at 10:08PM

Hi Arsarn,

As long as you’re comfortable with it – that’s all that matters. Some people want to get out of the door fast and consistently while others take their time and have an extensive ritual. The ritual you have right now is working for you, and if you add your goals review to it, I think you have a pretty solid routine.

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Caroline November 3, 2012 at 5:41PM

I really like the idea of the positive quote or secret for the day. My mother used to have a book that you opened a page randomly and it would give you some guidance for that day. Does anyone use one of these?

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Thanh Pham November 5, 2012 at 10:35PM

I’ve never seen such a book but I like that idea a lot. I think we should come up with such a book :-)

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Brett Warner November 17, 2012 at 10:37PM

Flipping to any random page in “The War of Art” works well…

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George November 4, 2012 at 11:44AM

In an ideal world there would be a breakfast diner 1/2 mile from me, Where I could get up, a morning prayer, 16 oz water as I jog to the diner for breakfast, while planning my day in my mind. Briskly walk back, shoer and go on my way. Two items though:
1) What is an ideal breakfast?
2) Caroline, a book of positive quotes or a Bible. As mom said, open randomly for your daily message as a surprise.

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Thanh Pham November 5, 2012 at 10:38PM

“ideal” is subjective to every individual, but anything that has carbs + fats + protein is good to have. My perfect breakfast is easy to make, quick to consume and nutritious. For example, a smoothie with protein powder, supplements and veggies. I like to have almond milk, banana, blueberries, vega one protein powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds and cacao nibs in my smoothie. Super nutritious and easy to make.

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George November 4, 2012 at 11:45AM

*shower not shoer (I need to proof read more.)

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Alberto Gualtieri December 17, 2012 at 3:56PM

Hi Thanh,

my routine is

1. morning exercise (stretching+ 15mins pushups + 15mins abs)
2. bathroom
3. breakfast – social

I’ll try adding the water as a start since I have had some issues with hydration lately. My question is: since i do breakfast and social interaction together could be a good idea to split them apart?

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Matt December 23, 2012 at 6:53AM

Best blog post I have read in a long long time. This is a bit of an aha moment for me, I never looked at planning and goal setting/reviewing as a ritual, more of a chore. Powerful stuff. I’m definitely gonna check out the audio :)

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Karthik January 13, 2013 at 2:44AM

Great Post !!
Tried out the suggestions mentioned in this article. Had a productive day. That is probably why I love this site, practical suggestions that have been personally tested by the authors, no hype and advertising. Only stuff that works.

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Aaron Lynn January 16, 2013 at 5:05AM

Thanks Karthik!

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chloe February 2, 2013 at 5:39AM

So glad people are talking about this. Thanks

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Sarie San Pablo April 30, 2013 at 11:13AM

As usual – great post from AE.

Just one question, though – is journalling better if it’s handwritten or now that we are in the digital world – does it make any difference when we do it using your keyboard?
Would appreciate your thoughts on this guys. – although Evernote has Moleskine for Evernote already. :-)

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Aaron Lynn May 1, 2013 at 11:50PM

Whatever is your personal preference. I personally use Evernote and enter data via keyboard/phone/tablet. I know some people prefer sticking with paper.

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Anthony May 29, 2013 at 2:58AM

Thanks for another great post, although I’m SHOCKED to see the order…I mean, drinking water *BEFORE* brushing your teeth? Doesn’t your mouth smell bad after a long night’s sleep?? or maybe I’m missing something? Please clarify, thanks!

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Aaron Lynn June 12, 2013 at 8:11PM

I’m pretty sure it’s fine :)

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Jo June 12, 2013 at 6:32AM

Great article and very insightful. Unfortunately my morning ritual is defined by waking up, making breakfast for the kids, making school lunches, making beds and trying to get the house in a decent enough order so that I can return to it after school drop off and go straight to my home office without feeling nauseated by my surroundings. I wake up at 7 and usually have breakfast at 10am when I sit at my desk because its the first moment I can focus on my own needs. Any suggestions?

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Aaron Lynn June 12, 2013 at 8:17PM

Hi Jo,

Is it possible to separate out the “must do every day” from the “can batch for another time” activities in your morning routines?

For example, I would say that breakfast, school lunches, making beds – these are “must do” items, as something happens on a daily basis that puts them into an actionable state.

Getting the house in order – is this something that can be moved to say a weekend when you have more time, or is it something that is reset every day? I’m just thinking back to when I was a kid and we all helped out with the cleaning once per week and the house was pretty much in order the rest of the time.

The other side to this is the hard answer that if you need more time for yourself, you need to wake up earlier and do what you need first. Essentials like drinking some water, using the bathroom and some really brief stretching shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes. In your case I may also suggest leaving reviewing your goals and checking your phone/social messages until after you’re back from dropping the kids off.

Hope that helps!

- Aaron

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Ally March 11, 2014 at 11:39AM

Hi, Jo. I so get your dilemma. I’m a single parent with two businesses which I run from my home office, three kids and very little margin in my day. I also need a reasonably clean house in order to function well. This is the biggest challenge for parents, I think, as we are pulled in several directions by children and mundane household responsibilities in addition to work and long term goals.

Here’s what works for me (all is a constant work in progress, but I have spent lots of time organizing my morning as the launch pad for my day): First, wake up before the kids. I so needed “me” time that I used to stay up after they went to bed until near midnight. If you reverse it and go to bed with them but rise earlier, it’s a really satisfying start to your day. Second, I force myself to get up by putting my alarm in the bathroom. On arising, I drink water, shower or wash my face and dress to workout shoes on getting up. I do a few sun salutations and I use my rebounder for one song.

I use FlyLady’s morning routine (look up her site if you are interested) I try to have most morning chores (dishes, laundry, my room, bed and bath) done while I am waiting for coffee (for other it might be tea). Also, I drink the rest of my bottle of water, eat a handful of almonds or walnuts and a couple of boiled eggs and/or egg whites, maybe piece of fruit while I’m doing those first household tasks. Then I have my first cup of coffee as a reward. At this point, I sit down and do a breathing meditation for about 5 minutes. I often read a devotion, my Bible and pray. Then I look at my schedule and goals for the day. Depending upon my day, I then do a Pomodoro segment or two (22/8) for my top projects or do a run or additional cardio. By this time, the kids are waking up and then it’s getting them dressed, fed, out the door and into the car with ALL their stuff and to school on time.

I don’t look at social media, the internet or email until I have them all to school. It’s my reward. After I drop them off, I park and spend 15 minutes looking at social sites and email. I try not to get on it again until after lunch. I use a timer. Otherwise, it’s the rabbit hole in my day.

Also, with kids, anything you can do the night before or even on Sunday as you set out your schedule and prep for your week will reap major benefits. If I’m on my A game, I pack lunches with dinner leftovers as I clean up. Getting kids out the door is like herding cats. Since I have a lot of deadlines, I actually get up between 4-5 a.m., so I can have a couple of productive hours before they get up (between 6:30-7:30), but I also give myself one to two 15-20 minute naps during the day and also pray and meditate a lot during the day. These practices refresh me immensely. Also, recently, I hired a house cleaner twice a month to come in a do the deeper cleaning as I was spending my weekends doing this instead of spending quality time with my kids. This is worth every penny. Hope some of this is helpful. I so get your dilemma. Also, if I have a day where nothing works (sick kids, difficult clients, life events), I just give myself grace and self-forgiveness and a do-over.

Blessings,
Ally

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Roy Bhasin October 19, 2013 at 12:44PM

You can tell that my morning ritual drew inspiration from this entry:

- Drink a glass of water.
- Brush my teeth & have a shower.
- Stretch for 15-20 minutes.
- Eat breakfast and read the news, check my email, facebook, twitter, etc.
- Set and review my goals, and glance at my calendar and list of things to do.

So thanks for posting this! Eventually I think I will work in some meditation and reading into my morning ritual – but for now i’m content with something relatively short and sweet.

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Sridhar November 20, 2013 at 1:06PM

Hi,

I have a question on morning rituals.

I don’t know how we can have 500 ml of water without even brushing our teeth in the morning. Is it hygienic? Or do you mean after brushing up.. Still 500 ml of water at one shot is too much for me.I feel we can have that water extended throughout the day.

But, yes I understand your point on morning rituals.

Thanks,
Sri

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Tim January 27, 2014 at 10:13AM

another great article. i wonder if it is healthy to workout right after standing up, or if you should wait for some time? i read that stress right after waking up leads to more heart attacks. and i wonder if it would be practical to visualize (goals and review) while working out to save time?

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Brian Yee June 23, 2014 at 3:20AM

Aaron,

Getting here by reading a post by Charles Ngo regarding how to focus. I heard a little bit about morning rituals before but I never take action because I thought its impacts are not big to my productivity. I’d like to try it out for the next 30 days from now.

Thanks for the insightful post.

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Ryan June 30, 2014 at 10:00AM

Question when I put this list for morning/evening routine into OmniFocus I end up getting a clutter forecast view. Is there a way to get around this so the forecast is still usable throughout the day on iPhone?

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Filiz September 3, 2014 at 12:58PM

I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been searching such a framework with details to learn what is esential for being a productive person EVERYDAY. I draw some outlines and make/write some plans everyweek but I feel there is something missing and couldnt find it so far. You are the person/persons who helped me a lot to find my way in daily life. I registered for email notifications. Cant wait to get motivated by your writings. A big THANK you all.

Reply

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