I know exactly how well my day is going to play out in the first hour of the day. The alarm goes off, so I grab my phone to silence the noise, then catch up on news while I rub the sleep out of my eyes. I walk to the kitchen to make my breakfast (oatmeal, a little brown sugar, and water to drink), then eat it while watching YouTube clips or a little Netflix. Then, once I've cleaned myself up and put on my work-at-home uniform of a pair of shorts and a white undershirt, I sit down at the computer with a Red Bull by my side and get to it.
Now I wouldn't call myself a successful creative, but I'd make the argument that I'm fairly productive, and my morning routine is a bit part of that equation. Over the years, the creative habits of many successful writers, artists and designers have been analyzed, and the results are pretty interesting. How can you become better at your job like those people? Simple. Get into a routine that works for you. And, if possible, work in some of these tips.
They Wake Up Early
Let me stop you right now before you get all huffy on me. "Dude, I'm a night owl. I live to work late into the evening." That's cool, hypothetical reader I made up for this story, but let's talk a little bit about the advantages of waking up at sunrise, or even sooner.
First off, you'd be in good company. Ernest Hemingway did it, as did Benjamin Franklin. Why? Well there's something about the feeling of being awake when nobody else has started their days yet that can motivate you throughout the day. For me, I find that my most productive times bookend my day: early in the morning and after 6pm. Since I can schedule my work however I like, why not take time out in the middle to do whatever? And if waking up early does make me more productive, then I'm all for it.
They Eat a Healthy breakfast
This may seem obvious. Of course you need to do that first thing in the morning. But as we get older, our routines set in and soon skipping breakfast to get to the office becomes the new standard — and you don't have to be over 35 for that to be the truth. I know that at one point I'd have a coffee on my way to the office and think that was good enough, but inevitably by 10am I was dragging hard and would overeat at lunch. That would then make me tired in the afternoon, and now that I'm thinking back on that time, I wonder how I got anything accomplished.
The goal here is twofold: get some protein into your system and fill yourself up for the start of your day. Eggs are a great staple, as is yogurt with some nuts or fruit. "But I don't have time in the mornings to make breakfast!" Sure, then try making it the night before. Need some ideas? Lifehack.org has a ton of great options.
They Get Their Caffeine Fix
One of the great books on this topic is Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey, and in an interview with NPR, one of the things they talk about is the common thread among many creatives: Caffeine. "Soren Kierkegaard preferred his coffee with sugar, or perhaps it was vice versa: 'Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled above the rim,' his biographer observed. 'Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid.'"
Caffeine isn't for everybody, but for some of us it's the only way to fly. If you prefer a good coffee, then feel free to go that route, but know that it can stain your teeth. I'm a Red Bull guy, but energy drinks contain a ton of sugar, so consider the sugar-free options. And then there's tea, which can be the best choice of them all, but again, it comes down to sugar intake. Whatever you choose — if you pick any of them at all — make sure to keep your sugar levels in check.
They Reflect and Ask Questions
One of the more famous quotes about morning rituals comes from Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. I've embedded it below, and the part in question comes up around the 9:05 mark:
The gist here is to ask yourself a question or two of reflection before you start your day. In this way, you're not only looking at what you're about to do and judging whether or not it's a good or bad idea to do so, but it gives you pause so that you can truly understand the path you're traveling.
Here's another tip I picked up a few months back along that same vein. The Self Journal contains a section where you list out the three things you're grateful for before you start your day. Now that seemed silly to me at first, but then I bought Day One for my iPhone and Mac, and setup a reminder for every morning at 8:05 am (right after I get into the office). Sure enough, writing down those three things puts me into a better state of mind, and focuses me for the day ahead.
They plan the night before
Ever walk into your office, plop down in front of your computer and think, "What do I do now?" It's the question that task management gurus have been pushing for years, and most of them agree on the same basic principle. We only have so much willpower and motivation to get everything done in a 24-hour window, so by eliminating the time it takes for you to think about what you need to do, you're putting your body on autopilot. You don't think, you just do.
Whether you're a GTD person or not, it is a routine that works for many, so maybe you should give it a shot. Take a moment to write down what you want to accomplish the following day and then leave it right next to your computer. There's no better way to remind yourself than that, right?
All this advice is great and all, but not all of it is going to work for you. The key is to try out different things for a week or two and see what sticks. Sometimes you'll find just one thing that works, so you add it to your routine and try something new. Eventually, you'll find a system that gets you up and moving in the morning and more productive than ever. It's just a matter of time.
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