The way you start your day has a big impact on the hours that follow. There’s a lot we can learn from examining the morning rituals of famously productive people.
“The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instill a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I’m getting certain things done every morning… namely, my goals,” writes Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.
If you’re like most people, you perform your morning rituals somewhat unconsciously. But, the way you begin your day is really powerful. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. So, it pays to put some time, energy and thought into developing morning routines and habits that help you be your best professionally and reach your goals.
Benjamin Franklin planned to “do good”
When it comes to productivity, it’s hard to find a better mentor than founding father Benjamin Franklin. His morning routine reflects his ambition as well as his desire to be a force for good in the world.
A self-described morning person, Franklin famously said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” And, there’s every indication that he followed his own advice. His daily schedule shows that we went to bed around 10 p.m. and woke between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m.
“5-7am – Rise, wash and address Powerful Goodness; contrive day’s business and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast.”
A central part of Franklin’s morning ritual was asking himself “the morning question” as he called it. “What good shall I do this day?” Then, at the end of the day his “evening question” left room for reflection when he asked, “What good have I done today?”
After “taking the resolution” in the morning, Franklin moved on to a solid four-hour block of “Work.” From 8 a.m. to 12 noon he hunkered down and deliberately invested himself in a focused and extended period of productivity. There was also a shorter block of time reserved in the afternoon for the same purpose with a break to “Read or overlook my accounts, and dine” in between.
Franklin’s morning ritual is a demonstration of the power of setting intentions and of putting extended time aside for focused work. Imagine how much you could get done if you followed a similar schedule.
Oprah Winfrey takes time to connect
Oprah Winfrey has accomplished quite a lot over the course of her life and career. Examining her daily schedule helps to illuminate something about how she’s done it.
Oprah’s morning routine begins around 7 a.m. and lasts until about 10 a.m. During that time, she brushes her teeth, takers her dogs out and enjoys her favorite espresso, “I mix caffeinated and decaffeinated espresso with milk and a little hazelnut,” and works out. There’s nothing particularly unusual about these rituals, per se, but the way in which Winfrey integrates spirituality into her routine really sets it apart.
Sometimes, the spiritual connections she makes as a part of her morning ritual are more subtle. Winfrey has preached the virtues of gratitude for decades, and it seems she observes the practice herself. As a part of her morning routine, she appreciates nature, the little things and the world around her.
“This morning,” she told Harper’s Bazaar for a day-in-the-life piece, “when I hit the blackout shades just after seven, the light was casting its golden glow over the green lawn, with the clouds and ocean in the distance. I watched three geese fly over the backyard and land in the pond. I hadn’t even had a sip of coffee, but it was already a perfect day.”
There is also time set aside for deliberate spiritual practice.
“I have a series of spiritual exercises that I do every day,” she continued. “After reading Gathered Truths, I check out ‘Bowl of Saki’ on my phone; it’s delivered to my inbox every morning. It contains the teachings of the Sufis, a Middle Eastern sect that believes all paths lead to God and that all religions are one, pointing to the same north star. Then I meditate. This morning, I observed 20 minutes of silence sitting in my breakfast chair. If it were warmer, I would go outside.”
Winfrey feels that gratitude and meditation can go a long way toward helping you to have a grounded and productive day. Do you integrate similar elements into your morning ritual?
Churchill stayed in bed
The morning rituals of highly productive people are just about as diverse as the people themselves. If you aren’t a morning person, don’t fret. Not everyone leaps out of bed at the crack of dawn to take on a 10-mile run.
Winston Churchill’s morning routine famously involved him staying in bed for quite some time. He was productive during these hours, though.
“He awoke about 7:30 a.m. and remained in bed for a substantial breakfast and reading of mail and all the national newspapers,” reports Eric Henning of The Churchill Centre. “For the next couple of hours, still in bed, he worked, dictating to his secretaries.”
Churchill finally got out of bed at around 11 a.m., “bathed, and perhaps took a walk around the garden, and took a weak whisky and soda to his study.”
Alcohol before noon might not be advisable, even if it is of the “weak” variety. Still, Churchill’s morning routine worked for him.
Is there anything that you do in the morning that works for you even though it may seem a bit odd to others?
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Tips for developing your own powerful morning routine:
There’s a lot we can learn from examining the morning rituals of highly productive people. But, in order to really benefit from this, you’ll want to integrate some of these practices into your own routine. Here are a few tips for developing your own powerful practice:
- Start early. One thing that seems to be true almost across the board is that productive people start their days early. At least, they don’t sleep until noon. There are a lot of benefits to being an early bird. Getting going before the rest can help you get more done in a focused and controlled way before the day even starts. That can do wonders for your mood as well as your productivity.
- Find some peace. Some people find that meditation helps them to start their day in a centered and peaceful way. Others enjoy connecting with nature. Or, others find that spending a few minutes with a pet can do the trick. The point is not to start your day in a rushed panic. Even though you have a lot to do, it’s best to get grounded before starting your work.
- Care for your body. Taking the time to eat a healthy breakfast will serve you well for the rest of the day. Prepare what you can the night before, if your morning time is limited. Similarly, if you’re able to squeeze in a bit of exercise, it could help you to feel happier and more energized throughout the rest of your morning and into the afternoon. And, it’ll probably help you to sleep better at night, too.
- Be intentional. Benjamin Franklin took the time to set intentions for the day (although he didn’t call it that) first thing in the morning. There’s a lot to be said for outlining a few crucial objectives for the day before it gets started. After all, how can you get where you want to go if you never take the time to settle firmly on a destination?
- Do what works for you. At the end of the day, everyone’s a little different. Some people prefer to exercise in the evening rather than the morning because it helps them to transition from work to home, for example. So, these folks shouldn’t work out in the morning. Similarly, you’d be wise to do what’s best for you in your own morning ritual. The trick is to be honest with yourself about which habits serve you and which hold you back. You might be in the habit of checking social media right away, for example. But, does that really help you to start your day on the right foot?
- Start the night before. Getting plenty of sleep is perhaps the most important ingredient to a productive and positive morning practice. So, be sure to go to sleep early and leave plenty of time for rest. It’s easy to get up on the wrong side of the bed when the alarm goes off before you’re really ready. Prioritizing your sleep helps the next day to run more smoothly. So, make a point to go to bed early enough that you’ll be ready to jump into your morning ritual when the time comes.
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