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Why Your Long Morning Routine Could Be Killing Your Productivity (it did mine)
Updated 24 Mar, 2021

How long should a morning routine be? To have a productive morning I reduced mine to just 10 mins. Here’s why.

Coffee as part of your productive morning routine

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

There’s a never ending list of daily habits we’re expected to incorporate into our lives to be better humans.

Meditation, journaling, making the bed, writing thank you notes, decluttering the spice rack, grass-fed collagen smoothies…

Morning routine with grass fed collagen smoothie
Never underestimate the power of a grass fed collagen smoothie in your morning routine.

And if you’re anything like me – someone who’s looking for constant growth and improvement, you want to incorporate them all!

I mean who doesn’t want to cultivate a balanced mind, greater joy in life, smooth baby-soft skin and great digestive health??

Well, that’s how my morning routine ballooned into an elaborate concoction of:

  • drinking warm lemon water,
  • dry body brushing,
  • making the bed,
  • 45mins of meditation,
  • a walk,
  • gratitude journaling,
  • morning pages
  • and the occasional 6am yoga class.

This took me a grand total of 1.5-2 hours to complete. Sometimes longer if I procrastinated.

Some days it would be 10 or 11am and I’d notice I still hadn’t started any work (despite being already awake for 3-4 hours).

How my long morning routine killed my productivity

After following my morning routine religiously for over a year, I started to realise something wasn’t right:

1. On some days all I managed to achieve in the morning was my morning routine

My morning routine took a long time to complete so on days when I wake up late or procrastinate a little, half the morning is gone before I even start on any real work.

This was a problem because the main goal of my morning routine was to help me be more productive in the morning and smash through my most important tasks.

Well, I wasn’t even getting to my most important tasks because I was so busy prepping to get there.

It was like constant foreplay but no actual sex – not satisfying to anyone!

2. I became mentally dependent on my morning routine to make me ‘productive’

The other thing that didn’t make sense to me was outsourcing my ability to have a productive day to an external ritual.

It gave my power away.

See, I started to get a bit obsessive about absolutely having to complete my morning routine to set myself up for success and have a productive day.

It became like a compulsive behaviour, like where you have to make sure you don’t step on any cracks while you’re walking.

So when anyone interrupted my morning routine e.g. a boyfriend watching UFC videos on full blast first thing in the morning, I felt unbalanced – like I’d lost the opportunity to set the tone, and therefore couldn’t be at my peak productivity that day.

It made me dependent on my morning routine to have a productive day and extremely inflexible which I didn’t like.

3. I used my morning routine to procrastinate

Lastly, trying to get your environment and mindset perfect before you can start on any real work is a form of procrastination, and I knew that on some days I was using my morning routine to do this.

My morning routine now

After persisting for over a year I got to the point where I knew my morning routine wasn’t working so decided to make some changes.

These changes have definitely increased my productivity in the morning.

1. I shortened my morning routine and made it optional

To address actually getting to real work and not having my morning consumed by a long laundry list of items (no matter how essential to success the gurus say they’re supposed to be), I shortened my morning routine from 2 hours to just 10 mins.

I’m not saying that self-care practices like meditation and journaling aren’t important or helpful. But for me, I didn’t want them to overshadow the whole point of doing them in the first place – which is to get me to perform and get shit done that’s going to take me closer to my goals. 

You may have a different objective for your morning routine but being productive was mine. I was letting this slip by focusing too much on the morning routine itself instead of the outcome I wanted to achieve.

My current 10-min morning routine:

I’ve now adapted a shortened 10-min routine from Tony Robbins’s morning priming technique.

It helps me visualise my goals and settle my mind so I can get straight into working.

  1. I start with Kapalbhati which is a yoga breathing technique which helps energise and clear your mind. I do 3 sets of 11 breaths, 3 times.
  2. Then I spend 1 min each thinking about 3 things I’m grateful for. I really try to feel the emotion of gratitude rather than simply acknowledging it intellectually. It helps if you picture yourself in the moment you’re grateful for, and really hear, see and feel what’s happening. As an alternative, I sometimes just silently list all the things I’m grateful for which also helps the feeling of gratitude to come.
  3. I then do a quick loving-kindness meditation. I bless myself, someone I love, someone I’m neutral to, an ‘enemy’ or someone that’s annoyed me, and lastly, the whole world.
  4. Then I spend 1 min each visualising 3 things I want to achieve as if they’ve already happened and really feeling the emotion I’d be feeling at that moment. Usually one of the things is a short-term goal i.e. usually something I want to achieve that day. I imagine the pride and satisfaction I’d feel by being able to tick it off my list and all the things I can reward myself with as a result. 

Sometimes if my muscles are sore from workouts I foam roll, stretch or do a 10 min yoga session instead. Or sometimes I go for a walk. Or sometimes I just get straight to work if I’m really motivated. 

Fact is, I’m flexible and take a much more relaxed approach to completing my morning routine now. And I don’t feel bad for days I forget or choose to skip it.

2. I set a hard cut-off time to end my routine

As part of prioritising my most important tasks first rather than completing my morning routine, I set a hard cut off to start my most important tasks at 9am regardless of whether I’ve done my morning routine or not.

3. I adopted a new, more useful belief – that I can be productive in any conditions at any time

I didn’t want to be dependent on my morning routine to put me into a productive state or dictate how my day goes.

Instead, I wanted that to be my normal baseline.

So I adopted a new belief which is that I can work in any conditions and at any time.

I find this belief much more empowering and useful than ‘I need to complete my morning routine to set myself up for success’.

It also gave me the power to skip my morning routine if I wanted to and still have an awesome, productive day.

Have I noticed a difference after dropping my long morning routine? 

The short answer is no.

In fact, I’ve seen an increase in my productivity in the morning because I have an extra 2 hours back in my day.

I really think it’s down to belief. If you believe that your morning routine gives you special productivity powers, then it will.

If you believe that you can be super productive without a morning routine, then that’s true too. 

As mentioned, the second belief to me seems more useful, so that’s the one I’ve adopted.

And while I technically still have my 10 min morning routine, it’s much shorter and I’m not so diehard anymore.

I do it because I want to incorporate those practices in my life or because those practices support me in my goal, which is to get focused so that I can get work done in the morning.

It’s not so much about cramming every ‘essential’ self-improvement hack into my morning hours anymore, especially if doing so gets in the way of my ultimate objective.

The takeaway

How long should a morning routine be? If your goal is to increase your productivity in the morning I would recommend sticking to a shorter routine (e.g. under 30 minutes).

Some prep work can be good for your mind but anything that delays you from getting to your work asap can be used as a form of procrastination. If your biggest goal is to get work done in the morning, why not get work done?

Don’t fall into the same trap as me. I spent so long including all the ‘must dos’ to prep my mind for work, I never got to the work! Focus on your ultimate objective and don’t get carried away by all the hype of what you supposedly need to put in your morning routine.

Since downgrading the importance of morning routines and making them shorter/optional in my life, I’ve seen my productivity pick up with no ill effects to my sense of self or mental health. 

In fact, the biggest positive uplift to my productivity has come from changing my belief to ‘I can work and be productive at any time and in all conditions’, rather than depending on an ideal morning routine to make this happen.

To conclude, don’t be a slave to your morning routine – make sure it’s serving you and your ultimate objective. If not, consider shortening it or even canning it. I did and found no noticeable difference.

In the end, it’s really about what works for you so if your long morning routine is a pain in the arse, know that you don’t have to keep it to have a productive and successful day.

How long is your morning routine? What practices do you include to stay productive?

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