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Aaron: You are listening to a podcast from AsianEfficiency.com. I’m Aaron.

Thanh: I’m Thanh.

Aaron: And today we are going to be talking about productive morning rituals. So what is a morning ritual? A morning ritual describes what you do from the time that you wake up until the point where you start your day, whether that’s at work or elsewhere. It’s basically your default autopilot way to start every single day. Now the word ritual I guess has certain connotations to it, and if this was the corporate world, we would probably call this a morning routine or morning process. But in our personal lives, the word ritual tends to fit better. It also comes from the book, The Power of Full Engagement, by Jim Loeher and Tony Schwartz, where aptly they coin the term rituals to describe this morning routine that we go through.

Thanh: So why is this important? The important thing about morning rituals is that they put you in autopilot mode once you have those going on for you. Just like, you don’t have to think when you brush your teeth. If you have a morning ritual you have done too many times, then you really don’t have to think about them every time you wake up because they become a part of you. Now the thing is, to get a new morning ritual, you have to do them every single day for at least 30 days. So, if you want to wake up earlier every single morning, guess what? You will have to do that at least for 30 consecutive days.

Aaron: Yea, it is basically designed to get you from your grumpy-I-just-woke-up state, to extremely productive without too much effort and too much thought. The obvious point is that it makes you more productive. The less obvious point is that it paces you for the rest of the day. It gives you enough energy and puts you in the zone until about at least mid afternoon, and it avoids that early morning crash that a lot of people have.

Thanh: Yes, and when you really think about it, if you have a morning ritual that puts you in a good state, in a good mood every single morning, well guess what?, the rest of the day is going to be so much easier to go through. Like if you have mornings where it is up and down a lot — so you wake up sometimes and you’re not really in the mood to do things, some days you wake up all happy and you are like on top of the world, sometimes you’re in the middle. The reality is, those effects of how you wake up are compounding throughout the whole day. So you wake up all upset, you’re all angry, then by putting on your slippers, if they don’t go on right away, then you get upset even more. If you brush your teeth and you’re out of toothpaste, you get even more angry. That compounding effect will have negative results throughout the whole day. So, by having a morning ritual where every single day you wake up and you go through this process where you make yourself feel good, you go through things that do good things for your body, then the rest of the day is going to be so much easier.

Aaron: Alright, to kick us off, we’re going to walk through our morning rituals, just to give you guys an idea of what they look like.

Thanh: So my ritual is as soon as I wake up I drink one bottle of water. The reason behind this is that, when we go to sleep, I sleep about 7 to 7-1/2 hours a day, so my body goes through 7-1/2 hours without any water. So I get really dehydrated when I wake up. Our body consists mostly of water, so you always want to make sure that as soon as you wake up you drink a lot of water. Now the next thing I do is, I do 10 pushups. The reason I do this, and this may sound crazy, is because when I do those 10 pushups I wake myself up. I get the blood flowing through my body. I can literally roll out of bed and then do 10 pushups and then feel wide awake. I also go to the gym, I do those on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Now if I go to the gym, then my breakfast will be different than on days when I don’t go to the gym. So when I do go to the gym, I like to eat like a protein rich breakfast, a little bit of carbs and usually I eat some fruit before I head out. Now on days when I don’t go to the gym, what I like to do instead is read on my iPad or Kindle and get some reading done, maybe watch some TED Talks, just kind of like give myself a little bit of information. I like to do this because I always like getting new information, learning things about what’s happening in the world, educate myself a little bit more and read about things that I enjoy. Another thing I like to do then, is when I eat breakfast, I catch up on Facebook. Because when I eat breakfast, there’s not that much focus that I need to have. So if you want to do multitasking make sure that when you multitask that you do an activity that doesn’t require much focus or brainpower. So that’s why I like eating breakfast over Facebook. Then another thing I like to do is a little bit of meditation. Meditation may sound complicated or woo-woo, but it’s really not. All you have to do is sit down straight, make sure that you close your eyes and all you do is try to focus on your breathing. So try to see when you exhale, when you inhale, and focus on the rhythm. Do that for at least about 8 minutes every single day. Now when you first start off doing this, it may feel really crazy, it may feel really weird to you because, this happened to me too, when the first time I did it, my mind went just haywire, it went crazy. All these thoughts come up – I have to do this today– tomorrow I have to do that–oh, I’m supposed to go on this date–oh, I have to get this work done… Where you want to get at is, after you do this so many times, you’ll get to a point where your mind is really calm and there’s no thoughts going. When you reach that point, that’s when you know that you are meditating. You want to do that every single day so that you clear your mind and then start your day. So after I meditate, what I do is I go into the bathroom, take a shower and get changed, get ready. Once I’m all ready that’s when I go to my task manager and see – Okay, what’s ahead of me today?, What do I need to get done today? Before I head out, I usually like to sync my gadgets. I’ll have my iPhone, my Mac, my iPad and Kindle all synched up. Once that is done, then that’s when I start my day.

Aaron: Yea, actually, I’m on a pretty similar morning ritual. I start out by drinking a half liter of water, that’s 16 ounces if you live in North America. Then use the washroom and as opposed to Thanh, I actually like to write in my journal before I get my body moving. The main reason for this is before I go to sleep at night, I’ll usually give my brain a problem to solve or something to think about and whatever my immediate thoughts are when I’m waking up, I’m kind of still half asleep/half awake, and I usually get all those down on paper first. What I then do, is I take a look at my goals every single day, and I also look at my task list so I know what I have to do for the day ahead. I then like to review affirmations and these don’t really have to be heavy, hard core self help affirmations, they’re just certain things I like to remind myself of and certain questions I like to ask myself every single morning. The reason for this being that reality is compounding, the more you think about something, the more it actually becomes reality. And then do a tiny bit of stretching just to remind my body that yes, I am awake and I am getting on with the rest of my day. I’ll check my Facebook and my email for about 10 minutes and then I’ll have breakfast, at which time I usually either listen to audio books or watch a short 15 to 20 minute TED Talk. Then, I’ll get changed and it’s time to start my day.

So, the thing about morning rituals is that there are some pretty common elements to all productive morning rituals. The first one is that you absolutely must drink water when you wake up. Thanh already said you’re sleeping for 7 to 9 hours, or at least you should be. And when you wake up you’re dehydrated and you need to replenish the fluids in your body. So the first thing is to always drink water when you wake up. Use the bathroom, that’s pretty self-explanatory. Having a good breakfast is also an essential part of productive morning rituals. Now, we’re not nutritional experts so you have to double check this and get your own advice, but as a general rule having a variety of foods and having lighter foods is usually better than having a heavy meal in the morning. By lighter foods, I have fruit, I have whole grain cereals, and blended smoothies. Now, I live in Asia where a lot of people in the morning will have something really heavy like fried noodles or rice and chicken or something. I don’t know, I have a feeling that that actually correlates to statistical data where work activity is actually lower in Asia. It might have something to do with it, might not. But I have found that when I eat something light, something that digests quickly, I can get on with the rest of my day a lot easier.

Another common element of productive morning rituals is reviewing your goals and your day ahead. Now, if you have a task manager or a task list, this makes it extremely easy. You just take a glance at it, you mentally map out in your mind what it is you are going to do that day and then you actually get on with the rest of your day and start doing it.

Another common element is checking your email or your Facebook or your social media networks. Now, if at all possible, you want to delay this until you’ve done the most important task of your day. One reason to check first would be if it’s critical to your business. By this we mean if you happen to run servers and data centers where every single minute counts, yes, check your email and our Facebook. Now we like to check our email and Facebook before we start our day. The reason we do this is that we’re pretty good at minimizing the amount of time that we spend on it, and we usually clear out everything in about 10 minutes. We know that after 10 minutes it’s not going to drag on into 30, then 40 and eventually hours.

Thanh: Now see, common mistakes with productive morning rituals are a lot of them are too long for most people. What you want to make sure of is that your morning ritual is long enough to get you started to put yourself in a good mood, get yourself into a state where you know it is going to be a good day and you are going to get work done. So a 4 hour morning ritual is way too long, whereas 10 minutes is way too short. So from our experience, it takes about 1 hour, 2 hours max, to get a good morning ritual going on. Now this will depend, if you like exercising in the morning, you go to the gym a lot, then obviously your morning ritual is probably going to be around 2 hours. If you don’t work out on the day, then your morning ritual will probably be around an hour or so.

Another one is when you skip and when you’re traveling. And this is a really big issue, because we both travel a lot for our work and for our side businesses, so it’s really easy to get sidetracked. Because a lot of times you don’t have the things around you that you are comfortable with and you’re in a new environment or our things are at home, so it is really easy to get sidetracked and skip your morning ritual. But that’s not the path you want to go. You want to make sure that when you’re traveling you always do your morning ritual, no matter what happens.

Aaron: Yea, I mean, I just got on a 24 hour flight here to Las Vegas, and when I got up this morning, I went through my usual one hour morning ritual. Something related to that is, if you’ve had a big night out the day before, if you’ve been out partying, it doesn’t matter what time you wake up, do your morning ritual. Whether you wake up at 6am or 2pm, it’s something you want to do every day. The main reason for one, is that it’s a habit and if you break that habit, it becomes a lot harder to continue it into the future. Now, the big and most common mistake with morning rituals is not sticking to it. We know that it takes 30 days to really form a habit in our minds, at which point it becomes automatic and reality starts to compound. So, when you’re starting out with your productive morning ritual, you want to make sure that you do it for 30 days to begin with, after which it becomes second nature to you and it’s just something you do when you get up every morning.

So to take away from this, how do you go about making your own productive morning ritual? Well, the first thing you want to do is you want to take out a blank piece of paper or a text program on your computer and use the framework that we have just given you. You know that every morning you have to drink water, you have to use the washroom, you have to have a good breakfast, you should review your goals and tasks, and at some point you have to check your email and your social networks. Using this, start building your productive morning ritual. Work out what pieces make you go from groggy to awake in the morning and build them into your morning ritual. And, by all means comment on this on this article, send us an email, send us a message on twitter, let us know how it goes. Let us know if you find things that you feel should be part of every single morning ritual.

Thanh: Thanks for listening to this audio podcast on Productive Morning Rituals by Thanh and Aaron from AsianEfficiency.com.

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Thanh Pham

Founder of Asian Efficiency where we help people become more productive at work and in life. I've been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, and The Globe & Mail as a productivity thought leader. At AE I'm responsible for leading teams and executing our vision to assist people all over the world live their best life possible.

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  1. I made a morning routine that fits me. I will write a blog about it at some point with what I discover. I did some similar writing about my experience with the 12 week year.

  2. good tipps. i should think about my goals (not the daily goals, the big longtime goals) in the morning, since i’m a “why-person”. maye this can give me another boost.

    didn’t know you have a podcast here aswell. you maybe should link to to the episodes in the sidebar or something (even when the audio quality is not perfect). i think audio is completely different than text. i consume it totally different than text and at other times (eg when doing boring tasks).

  3. Engage/calibrate all your senses. Sound, taste, touch, smell, sight. Listen to your environment whatever it is, be mindful of the taste of your breakfast, massage your body (especially the tense parts), smell the morning air because it’s fresher, and try to watch the sunrise because it gives a natural progression of light exposure from dark to light.

  4. Guys,

    Thanks for the great tips.  I have added the water to the morning ritual and found that it really improved my mornings!

    1. Hey Mike,

      Yeah drinking water as soon as you wake up can make a huge difference to how you feel. One thing I’ve added is to drink green tea with breakfast. Purely for health reasons, not to make you feel yourself better or anything. But I can recommend that too.

      1. Great blog post, and drinking green tea with breakfast sounds like a great idea, I think I’ll try that! Also, I’m wondering, when drinking water first thing in the morning would you recommend sipping over a period of time or guzzling it? Thanks for the tips.

  5. Before I do anything in the morning, I get my blood pumping with light stretching and light workouts. Right afterwards I drink protein shake and than get to breakfast. Working out is important part of my routine, it preserved me through all the time of working from home, so I didn’t loose shape. I think it’s crucial for anyone who has a home based job.

    Recently I started living with my girlfriend, so it kinda flipped my morning routine, because there’s two of us. But that’s something we’re gonna have to work on together. I’ll give in some tips when we get a hang of it.

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