Mornings are a great time for getting things done. You’re less likely to be interrupted than you are later in the day. Your supply of willpower is fresh after a good night’s sleep. That makes it possible to turn personal priorities like exercise or strategic thinking into reality.
But if you’ve got big goals–and a chaotic a.m. schedule–how can you make over your mornings to make these goals happen?
Because I write about time management frequently, I’ve gotten to see hundreds of calendars and schedules over the years. From studying people’s morning habits, I’ve learned that getting the most out of this time is a five-part process. Follow these steps, though, and you’re on your way to building morning habits that stick.
1. Track Your Time
Part of spending your time better is knowing how you’re spending it now. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that nutritionists tell you to keep a food journal because it keeps you from eating mindlessly. It’s the same with time. Write down what you’re doing as often as you can. Use my spreadsheet, a Word document, or a pad and pen.
While you measuring your mornings, try tracking your whole week. The reason? The solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day. You may be too tired because you’re staying up late. But if you look at how you’re spending your nights, you’ll notice that you’re not doing anything urgent. The Daily Show can be recorded and watched earlier–possibly while you’re on the treadmill at 6:30 a.m.
As for the mornings themselves, you can be organized but still not be spending them well. Question your assumptions. You may believe that “a man who wants to keep his job gets into the office before his boss” because that’s what your father did, but your boss may be disappointed that he doesn’t get the place to himself for an hour first! If you decide that something is a top priority, do it, but understand that we have to do few things in life.
2. Picture the Perfect Morning
After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself what a great morning would look like. For me, it would start with a run, followed by a hearty family breakfast. After getting people out the door, I’d focus on long-term projects like my books. Here are some other ideas for morning enrichment:
For personal growth:
Read through a religious text: Sacred texts can teach us about human nature and history, even if they’re not from a religion you subscribe to. If they are, pray or meditate and get to know your beliefs in a deeper way.
Train for something big: Aiming to complete a half-marathon, a triathlon, or a long bike ride will keep you inspired as you take your fitness to the next level.
Do art projects with your kids:. Mornings don’t have to be a death march out the door. Enjoy your time with your little ones at a time of day when you all have more patience.
For professional growth:
Strategize: In an age of constant connectivity, people complain of having no time to think. Use your mornings to picture what you want your career and organization to look like in the future.
Read articles in professional journals: Benefit from other people’s research and strategic thinking, and gain new insights into your field.
Take an online class: If a job or career change is in your future, a self-paced class can keep your skills sharp.