Quick: Think back to the last time you had a truly productive day. How did you start your morning? A pre-sunrise workout? A 15-minute meditation before powering on your Keurig? A few chapters in your new book before hopping into the shower? It may seem like an insignificant detail, but your morning activities have a notable impact on your health, mood, and overall productivity. Consequently, that makes a morning routine important and a productive morning routine even more so.
Not sure where to start? We’ve compiled a list of 7 science-backed morning routine ideas to help you establish your most productive morning ever, so you can finally ― you guessed it ― rise and shine.
Why a Productive Morning Routine Matters
Before we hop into some ways to turn up your a.m. productivity, let’s take a closer look at why morning habits are so important.
Firstly, there’s research behind them. For example, Harvard professor and biologist Christoph Randler surveyed a sampling of undergrads to find out when they had the most energy and how likely it was that they would take on challenges. The results? Students who were more energized in the morning were more proactive when it comes to addressing issues than those who got energy spurts later in the day. And proactivity is related to succeeding on the job.
In other words, this evidence suggests that a productive routine in the morning sets the stage for success.
That’s not to say productive mornings belong solely to early birds. In fact, some of the world’s most successful individuals are late ― or lateish ― risers. Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, has said he typically starts his day after 8 a.m., while Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti tends to snooze until 8:30.
Ergo: You don’t have to be an early bird to get the worm (or in this case, to have a productive morning). You just have to be conscious of how you spend your waking hours so that no matter what time you hop out of bed, you’re ready to carpe your diem.
7 Science-Backed Ways to Build a Productive Morning Routine
Here are seven ways to create a productive morning routine, regardless of when you rise.
Skip the snooze button
We know; this isn’t our favorite one either. In the short run, it may seem as though hitting “snooze” gives you a few extra Zs. But research proves that the habit has negative effects on your health overall. Why? Though you feel like you’re getting more rest, a post-alarm snooze sesh doesn’t last long enough for you to complete a sleep cycle. In other words, the more you snooze, the more confused your body and brain become, leaving you groggy once you pull back the covers.
What’s more, this kind of sleep inertia can last for up to four hours after you leave your bed, research finds. By skipping that oh-so-tempting extra five or ten minutes, your body can recognize you’ve begun the day, and you’ll awake feeling more refreshed and on-the-ball.
Make your bed
Mom was right about this one: Surveys show that regularly making your bed can make you happier and more productive.
In a survey conducted Best Mattress Brand, 82 percent of participants reported having more productive days after making their beds. And bed-makers were twice as likely to say that they enjoy their jobs than non bed-makers were. What’s more, a survey by OnePoll and Sleepopolis revealed that those who made their beds tended to be more adventurous, social, and confident than those who did not.
In his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas, Austin, Naval Admiral William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations, pointed out how bed-making can make you feel successful right off the bat. “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” he says. “It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
Yes, it sounds campy, but it works. Do it right when you wake up and check that first to-do off your list.
Soak up some sun
If you love the dark, you might want to reconsider. Exposing yourself to daylight first thing in the morning helps send signals to the body that it’s time to start the day.
In fact, researchers found that exposing people to a simulated version of morning light made them feel more active and less groggy, overall. Why? “Daylight resets your circadian clock and helps shift you toward morningness,” Harvard biologist Christoph Randler explains in an interview with Harvard Business Review.
So whether you step outside for a cup of coffee, draw your blinds, or grab a sun lamp, try working 15 minutes of daylight into your morning for a more productive day.
Spring for a workout―even if it’s a quick one
Regular exercise can improve your memory and concentration, according to lots of research, increasing mental sharpness and decreasing the likelihood of brain fog later in the day.
In fact, a recent study found that after only three months, adults aged 60-88 with early Alzheimer’s symptoms who walked for 30 minutes a day, four times a week showed strengthened connectivity in the region of the brain linked to memory loss.
That said, committing to a full-hour workout first thing can feel like a daunting and impossible task (especially in those dark winter months!). By setting a smaller goal of 20 to 30 minutes of morning sweat, you can achieve the health benefits of exercise, like increased blood flow to the brain and reduced levels of the body’s natural stress hormones, without having to set your alarm for an unreasonable hour.
The beauty behind meditation is the simple way in which it activates your parasympathetic nervous system. In short, it brings on deep relaxation while slowing your breathing, increasing your oxygen levels, and improving circulation. So even if you feel groggy when you first wake up, doing a quick meditation is totally worth it.
Alternatively, board-certified psychiatrist and the chief medical officer at Elocin Psychiatric Services, Dr. Nicole Bernard Washington, says “gratitude affirmations” are a great place to start.
“In a world that tends to highlight the negative, starting your day off on a positive note can have positive effects on your mood,” she tells NBC.
Jot down your goals
The act of merely writing down your goals is so simple but so effective.
One researcher who studied the science of goal-setting found that of two hundred and sixty-seven participants, those who wrote down their goals on a regular basis achieved them at a significantly higher level than those who did not. In fact, she found that you become 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals, simply by regularly writing them down. Sold yet?
Another survey found that vividly describing your goals in writing is strongly associated with hitting your goals. People who very vividly described or pictured their goals were anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to successfully accomplish them than those who didn’t.
Why? Perhaps in part because writing by hand influences the parts of the brain associated with learning. So what’s the takeaway? Spend five minutes in the morning denoting the tasks you hope to accomplish for a big boost in your likelihood of completing them.
The adult human body is made up of about 60 percent water (though some days it’s more like 60 percent Thai food, right?). So naturally staying hydrated is wildly important for keeping that brain in tip-top shape. That’s also why you should add getting enough of it to your productive morning routine.
And it’s especially important to get your water in the morning. Why? While we sleep, our bodies become massively dehydrated since we’re not consuming any water.
Dehydration can cause some serious issues for your productivity. For example, in a 2015 study, participants were found to commit a greater number of errors while driving (such as lane drifting and late braking) if they were dehydrated. In fact, their performance was just as poor as that of those driving with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent. Dehydration impairs concentration and the brain’s ability to function correctly. (No water = no fuel!)
By drinking a glass of water first thing, you’re not only rehydrating but fueling your brain.
To sum it all up…
Whether you’re an early bird, a night owl, or somewhere in-between, establishing a productive morning routine can help launch a better day. By incorporating one (or more) of these simple hacks into your morning, you’ll find that your productivity — and positivity — are just a little bit easier.
Your turn: What’s in your productive morning routine? Give us all the details in the comments.
Author: Jennifer Lance
Jennifer Lance is a writer living in New York City. A former editor at Glamour, she’s written about everything from the Oscars to Marie Kondo-ing her love life. Her pastimes include watching The Bachelor, filing her taxes at the 11th hour, long walks on the beach and also short walks to her neighborhood Dunkin’.