For years I’ve read countless blog posts and magazine articles touting the life-changing magic of set morning routines–from CEOs to famous yogis, prolific writers to politicians, it seemed that everyone was jumping on the morning routine bandwagon, and it made me feel, for awhile, that because my day didn’t start with a green detox smoothie and yoga stretches out on an open deck, I was somehow failing this morning thing.
In fact, I already wrote a whole blog post about how I finally learned to embrace being okay with the fact that my morning routine was definitely not “ideal.” As I was a full-time teacher when I wrote the post, I talked about how I felt I needed to prioritize sleep over a slow morning, how I took my breakfasts to go and ate in the car on my way to the school because it made more sense than forcing myself to wake up sometime in the 4:00 hour, how I learned that though my routine might not be “ideal,” it at least usually wasn’t “stressed.”
When I quit my job as a teacher to stay at home with my daughter, I knew I would need SOME routine every day if I wanted to keep myself from going crazy and/or wasting a lot of time and valuable opportunities. So I created a rough weekly routine (which I’ve tweaked over time) and started to be a bit more aggressive when it came to my personal goals, first through making a 101 in 1001 list (rather than doing my typical new year’s resolutions) and then posting the monthly goals I make on the blog so I have some accountability.
All in all, I felt my stay-at-home routine was pretty solid.
Except for one thing–
Namely, the first hour or so of my morning.
Because let me tell you what–when you’ve been waking up at 5:30 almost every morning for four years of teaching and then you get a chance to NOT wake up at 5:30 every morning once you quit, YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.
At least I did.
So I let my daughter be my alarm clock day in and day out, which meant that my mornings sometimes looked like groggy 6:30 a.m. wake-up calls that I hadn’t prepared for (and which I tried to stall as long as possible by having her climb into bed with us rather than just all getting up and getting ready) or frantic 8:30 a.m. awakenings (by both me and my husband) that led to us all rushing around like crazy people so he could get out the door in time for work. (Though she wakes up that late rarely, it happened enough that we at least got smart and started setting up an “emergency alarm” for 7:30 just in case she hadn’t woken up by that point yet, but that was always more for Matt than for me—I would still continue sleeping as long as possible).
While this former routine did guarantee the most amount of sleep possible with an early(ish)-rising toddler, it hardly contributed to my day getting off on the right foot consistently. So when I took a hard look at my life and my dreams in order to come up with my 101 in 1001 list, I decided I needed to stop letting that precious morning time be dictated by anything other than my own good intentions and plans, and I made the goal to create a morning routine and stick with it for a month (with the hope, of course, that I would want to stick with it for a lot longer).
But WANTING to do something and actually DOING something are two very different things, and I still put off starting a morning routine for several months, using excuses like “I’m in the first trimester of pregnancy and feeling super sick” (valid) to “I can’t seem to get into bed earlier than 11, so it doesn’t make sense to wake up anytime in the 6:00 hour” (not valid).
Thankfully, the universe sometimes conspires to make you jump on a goal faster than you’d be likely to jump on it by yourself, and just such an intervention came in the form of a 6:00 a.m. nature call (#thankyoupregnancy) several weeks ago. Getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and going right back to bed is such a normal part of my life when pregnant that I’m surprised I had any sort of different inclination on this particular day, but 6:00 on that particular morning must have been *just* the sweet spot for waking up (as I felt refreshed and alert and energized), and when I noticed the subtle lightening of the sky outside the window, I had the crazy idea to just stay awake and take advantage of it.
And I did.
And it was AMAZING–basically 90 minutes of peace and quiet to do as I pleased, with the added bonus of the usual boost of morning energy I often have in the first few hours of the day (that then quickly spirals down by early and late afternoon).
Apparently all I needed was just to START and that was enough, since I’ve been getting up voluntarily at 6:40 ever since.
The first week or so, I didn’t have much in mind of what I wanted to do for that time, so I kind of did whatever seemed best on any given morning—I studied recent talks given in the last LDS General Conference by my church leaders, I got ready for the day, I emptied out the dishwasher, I looked at my to-do list, I read.
After about a week, I could see that I’d better put some specific priorities in place, as some mornings all I got was about 10 minutes of time to myself before Raven was awake, and others I got almost two hours.
So I thought about the kind of tone I wanted to set for my day, and how certain actions would help me get there. I thought about what tasks would put me on my best foot going forward, and which could more easily wait until the rest of my household was awake.
And this is what I came up with–my “priority list” for that time first thing in the morning (after going to the bathroom, of course):
- When I served as a missionary in El Salvador, we listened to a speaker one time at a meeting who talked about the idea of holding a “morning devotional.” The thing that stuck out to me most was the idea of waiting to pray in the morning until you were more alert and ready to do so, rather than just rolling out of bed and doing it first thing. Now, ANY prayer in the morning is better than NO prayer in the morning in my book, but after trying out his suggestion and waiting about 10 minutes before I said my morning prayer, I was astounded at how much of a difference it made to not be so groggy when I said one. For one, my prayers were much more coherent and meaningful. Also, they tended to be longer (not that length is important, but they definitely were more SPECIFIC) when I wasn’t trying to rush through and say one quickly because I was worried about falling back asleep.
- By the time I’ve used the bathroom and gotten my materials together for morning study to happen, I am almost always alert enough to have an intentional, meaningful prayer, which is the perfect start to the day.
2> Study a recent General Conference talk
- One kind of unique thing about the LDS church (which a lot of people don’t know) is that it’s a worldwide church, meaning we have leaders who have been called to preside over the WHOLE church, along with additional leaders who are called to serve over specific, smaller areas. It means that no matter which LDS church I attend on Sunday (anywhere in the world), I know that I’ll basically be getting the same format and lessons and feeling I’d get if I stayed in my own neighborhood ward (congregation). Twice a year, those leaders over the whole church give talks worldwide via broadcast, and then those messages are printed in the church’s magazine.
- After I say my morning prayer, I turn to the next talk in the magazine and study it with my highlighter in hand, looking for new connections, specific things to apply to my life, inspiration on who I can help that day, and deeper understanding of the gospel of Christ. It is astounding to me how much of a difference it makes to my mindset for the rest of the day when I start my day with inspired words rather than by scrolling through social media—it just changes what my focus is on for the rest of the day, you know?
3> Start getting ready (put on makeup, do hair)
- I might not be great at getting dressed in “real clothes” until I’m actually leaving the house to go somewhere, but something I HAVE pretty much always done (even when I was a very new mom) is at least do my hair and makeup. However, being able to get it done first thing rather than just whenever there’s the most convenient pocket of time makes me feel like I’m ready to tackle whatever life throws at me a lot sooner.
4> Work on weekly to-do list or 101 in 1001 list
- Often by this point my daughter is up, but if I happen to be hitting one of those rare mornings she isn’t, I like to get a head start on my to-do list for the week (or work on something for my 101 in 1001 list) because I find that my motivation to tackle nagging tasks (that I normally procrastinate like crazy) is highest in the morning, so it’s by far the best time to take on the worst/hardest/most put-off task on my list, if possible.
- Because I’m looking at my weekly to-do list more (as well as my monthly goal list), it also serves as a good refresher of what I’m actually wanting to accomplish during the week and month, since for me, half the battle is just REMEMBERING what I wrote down on the list in the first place. It basically means that my goals are always top of mind, even if I don’t have time to actually do much on them in that first hour of the morning.
- Lately, I’ve started tackling some tasks on my 101 in 1001 list that seem really daunting unless you work on them in really small chunks, like typing up all my journals (which includes the three I wrote in on my journal and the dozen or so I kept before that). If I think about how huge that task is for too long, all motivation to actually get started on doing it is totally gone, but if I say to myself, “Oh, I have a couple minutes until Raven gets up. I’ll just type up a page or two,” all of a sudden, I’ve typed up 5-10 pages a day for a week, and I’ve actually made a noticeable dent in what I’m setting out to do.
5> Start daily chores (by unloading the dishwasher, making the bed)
- Ever since I actually sat down and wrote out a daily (very do-able) chore list for myself, I’ve been sticking with it 90% of the time, which has made a big difference in maintaining some semblance of order in our home. Three of my six daily chores (making the bed, unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the blender we use nearly every day) are best done in the morning, and it’s a GREAT feeling to knock out half the list so early on. (I must note that even if Raven has woken up at this point, I still make sure I do these chores first thing, and she’s actually pretty good to help me with them.)
- Although it’s not noted on the list, I start our breakfast whenever it makes the most sense to do so. One of these days, I will post the loose “schedule” I have for breakfasts every week (for example, nearly every Monday we do scrambled eggs and toast), so since I pretty much always know beforehand what we’re having for breakfast, it’s easy to know when to start it so that it’s ready when both Matt and Raven are up and hungry.
In addition to just actually getting more stuff DONE on a daily/weekly/monthly basis over the past few weeks I’ve been doing this, the real difference has been in my overall mood as the day starts. It’s hard to put my finger on it exactly, but I think it’s because I feel empowered by starting the day out INTENTIONALLY every day, rather than just allowing the day to happen TO me from the get-go.
Before, because I’d just wait until my daughter was up to get started on anything, I always kind of felt slightly behind–like I was pressed upon by whatever was most urgent and then left to let the rest of the day shake out as it may.
Now, even though pregnancy hormones can still wreak havoc with me as the day progresses, it doesn’t feel like it ever gets *quite* as bad, just because I at least know that my morning started off right, at any rate.
It’s funny, because I basically knew that having a morning routine would change things for the better, but I still wasn’t eager to get started on one (much like with a new exercise routine—you know you SHOULD, but that doesn’t mean the motivation to actually get going is any easier to come by). I am really grateful I did this BEFORE the baby comes though, just because I know it’s going to go out the window for awhile once he’s here, and that motivation to wake up earlier than my kids in the morning will be harder than ever to harness.
But now, at least, I have a personal witness that IT’S WORTH IT.