10 ways to make your morning routine less stressful and more productive

Posted by
Abi Jackson
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

You know it, your friends know it, and your alarm clock certainly knows it - you are not a morning person. No matter how many times you hit snooze, or how hard you try to bury yourself deep into a sea of pillows and duvets, that dreaded alarm will continue to nag you until there is no choice but to start your morning, stressed out and groggy. No amount of caffeine is going to fix that feeling.

Once you have finally decided to crawl out of bed, all of a sudden you can't seem to find your keys, the hot water has completely run out, you've already managed to smudge your eyeliner and every single pair of your tights is sporting a rather unfashionable ladder. Brilliant, just brilliant.

Does this all sound a tad familiar? The morning struggle is very real, and for many of us out there the prospect of swapping our warm and cosy beds for a dark and miserable 7am start is pretty uninviting. So we fall once more into the downward spiral of kidding ourselves with five more minutes, and before we know it, chaos ensues.

The problem is, as much as we try to escape from the morning's clutches, we still have to tackle them every day. Therefore, it is time to make the executive decision to turn our mornings around, stripping them of their foe status and instead welcoming them in as a friend.

By making the transformation from 'night owl' to 'morning lark', you will not only be starting your day relaxed and energised, but will also become a happier person. A study conducted by Live Science examined the psychology and sociology of opposite human behaviours and personality types - those who stay up late vs. those who are early risers. Their findings showed that morning people are generally happier and healthier than those who prefer to sleep late.

If you need more proof, you just have to have to take a look at the morning routines of some of the world's most successful people. Heather Rabbats CBE, the non-executive director of the Football Association, told the Guardian she is usually awake before 6am, because she enjoys being an early riser. "I love that sense of quiet first thing in the morning as the world (well, those of us on GMT) wakes up."

If things still seem a bit daunting, and you are already considering diving straight back under the covers and not coming out till Christmas, fear not and read through these top tips of how to turn mornings into your favourite part of the day.

Exercise in the morning

No, wait, before you fling your latte in this direction, hear us out. As impossible as it sounds, getting up and out of the house to do some exercise is one of the best ways to improve your morning. Exercising will give you a boost of energy to start the day right, a well-earned sense of accomplishment, and a revved up metabolism to awaken your body.

Furthermore, Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego says, "Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better." He continues, "The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere."

Exercising in the morning can also improve your diet habits. A 2012 study conducted by Brigham Young University tested 35 women's neural response to food on a morning after they have completed 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise, and on a morning without exercise. The results found that the women's response to the crave-inducing food pictures decreased after the brisk workout. Moreover, on the day all of the women partook in morning exercise, they all increased their physical activity throughout the day. Win-win.

Michelle Obama (such strong arm envy) told O Magazine that she gets up at a staggering 4.30am to workout. She revealed her mindset: "If I had to get up to go to work, I'd get up and go to work. If I had to get up to take care of my kids, I'd get up to do that. But when it comes to yourself, then it's suddenly, "Oh, I can't get up at 4:30." So I had to change that. If I don't exercise, I won't feel good. I'll get depressed."

Even Vogue's Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour partakes in morning exercise. According to the Guardian, before her daily blowdry, Ms Wintour starts her day at 5.45am with an exciting game of tennis.

1. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you get moving. Be it a gym session, a run through the park, a brisk walk or even stretching next to your bed, any form of activity will tick all the right boxes and you will start to feel the benefits.

2. Leave your workout gear by the end of your bed. Better yet, sleep in the clothes. This way, there is no chance that you can avoid seeing them, and the guilt you'll feel for ignoring them will override any intention to get back into bed. Happy exercising!

Track every minute of your day

Time management expert and author of the book What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast Laura Vanderkam says that the morning is a prime time to get the things done that you want to do but always think you don't have the time to do. This could be running three miles, reading a book or having a long conversation with your partner.

To combat this, Vanderkam suggests keeping track of your minutes in the same way a dieter would track their calorie intake. Activities to record include how long it takes you to shower, the time it takes to walk from your door to the train station and what time you sit in front of the TV at night. After seeing how you spend your time every day, you can then see the things that need to be changed, and thus create new and more productive habits. It's time to invest in a nice new diary (the 15 year old girl in you giggles with excitement).

1. Plan a 'top heavy' day. A by-product of taking control of the minutes in your day is being able to plan each hour meticulously. With this new found power, we suggest creating a 'top heavy' schedule. By completing the hardest task at the start of the day, you will not only feel extremely accomplished, but the prospect of your day getting easier and easier will be encouragement enough to get things done.

2. Use your commute to be productive. Laura Vanderkam also suggests using your commute as chance to catch up with emails or planning your day/week – it is usually a journey spent in silence, so it is the perfect time for you to get things done, giving you a sense of achievement when you arrive at your desk having completed tasks before you even reach the office.

Step away from the snooze button

At first, the snooze button on your alarm seems like your best friend, graciously allowing you nine more minutes of snuggly shut-eye. But do not be deceived by its enticing exterior, for the snooze button is in fact your worst enemy.

The quality of sleep you get during your snooze intervals is actually incredibly low. Dr. Matthew Mingrone, lead physician at Eos Sleep’s California centres reveals that hitting the snooze button will in fact, "leave you groggier and more tired than initially getting out of bed after the first alarm. Instead of achieving an additional nine minutes of restful, deep sleep, our bodies endure nine minutes of light sleep.”

Furthermore, according to Dr. Yizhak Kupfer, Assistant Director of Critical Care and Pulmonary Medicine, the loud and sudden wake up you experience from the sounds blasting out of your alarm clock produces an adrenaline and cortisol release. "This triggers an instant stress response, which causes a person to feel immediately alert. However, when that feeling quickly subsides, the result is disorientation and grogginess.”

So there you have it folks, the age of the snooze button is officially no more.

1. Leave your alarm on the other side of the room out of arms reach. This will force you to get out of bed just to turn it off, and then, VOILA, you are half way to the shower.

2. Download an alarm app to help you find the perfect way to rouse you from your slumber.

- Wake N Shake, otherwise known as 'the evil alarm clock,' forces you to vigorously shake your phone in order to turn off the alarm.

- Morning Routine for Android requires you to scan the barcode of different items around your house before it is satisfied and turns off the racket. This app will have you making your way to the bathroom, living room and kitchen, so when you get there, you may as well turn the kettle on.

- Alarmy (Sleep If You Can) is similar to the Morning Routine app, yet instead of scanning bar codes to silence your alarm, you must take a picture of items around your house. When you download the app, it asks you to take a series of photos of your everyday household items, so that when it comes to the morning, the alarm will not stop unless you take an identical photo as the one stored in its memory. Who doesn't love a scavenger hunt in the morning...

- Sleep Cycle is perhaps the kindest of the alarm apps. The aim is to place your phone under your bed sheet close to where you lay your head. The app then tracks your movement throughout the night, helping it to figure out the best time to wake you from your sleep cycle. Wave goodbye to grogginess forever - BYE GROGGINESS.

Listen to your body clock

No no no, not the one ticking away reminding you of your remaining baby-making years, the one that is otherwise known as your circadian rhythm. Your body uses sources of light (the sun for instance) to time a variety of different and important biological functions, which include your mood, appetite, sleep and energy levels. This 24-hour regulation of body functions is called the circadian rhythm.

As a rule of thumb, the average adult requires 7-8 hours of sleep per night. So, to start dancing to the same tune as your circadian rhythm, try counting back 7-8 hours from the time you need to wake up, and then make sure you are in bed asleep by then. For example, if you have to get out of bed at 7am, you should be aiming to be drifting off to sleep between 11pm and 12am the night before. Simples.

Once you get into your new circadian groove, you won't be needing that dastardly alarm clock anymore due to the fact that your body will be waking you up naturally at the same time every morning, feeling refreshed and energised.

Permission to throw alarm clock at the wall? Permission granted.

So fresh and so clean

A guaranteed way to ensure a relaxed, calm and energised morning is to immerse yourself in a clean and fresh environment. However, feeling fresh and invigorated can come from more than just bathing in the morning - there are a whole range of things you can do. A clean you = a happy you.

1. Have a shower or bath in the morning. Finding the time to bathe after you wake up is an excellent way to both relax and energise you, as water is known for having fantastic calming effects. Feeling clean and fresh will not only improve your mood, but will also help you to focus throughout the day on tasks and jobs.

2. Clean you workspace the night before. Clearing your desk at the end of the day means that you will not have to when you sit down to it the next morning. A clean workspace helps to focus your mind and see your tasks more clearly.

3. Drink water. Naturopathic doctor Alexis Sheilds and anatomic pathologist Melissa Conrad Stöppler suggest waking up and drinking two glasses of pure filtered water to re-hydrate your body tissues. This freshening up of your insides boosts your energy levels and wakes up your body. Sheilds says: “Hydration is a healthy way to start your day, no matter what your intention is!”

4. Find the time to meditate. Meditation can help you clear your mind, discarding the thoughts that can fog up your head. Dr. Sheilds and Dr. Stöppler both agree that meditation in the morning is a fantastic way to destress, giving you the clarity you need to start your day.

Preparation is key

"The way you start your morning informs the way you spend the rest of your day," says Christine Louise Hohlbaum, author of The Power of Slow. So, if you start want to have a fantastic morning, why not utilise the night before to make sure you wake up on the right side of bed?

Hohlbaum suggests preparing everything the night before, such as your packed lunch, your briefcase and your outfit to guarantee you have more time in the morning to focus on you.

1. Be meticulous. You would be surprised by how much the little things matter when you are in a rush. When you plan your outfit the night before, make sure you even choose what underwear you are going to wear and what accessories you are opting for. Deciding these things before you wake up will save you those precious coffee drinking, magazine reading and croissant eating minutes.

2. Check the weather the night before. As obvious as it sounds, many people will assume it is going to be sunny, wake up to thunderstorms, and then spend half the morning frantically searching for an umbrella that isn't broken. Then there are those days where we think it is going to be a chilly day, but when we leave the house wrapped in a scarf and winter coat, the sun is shining and we start melting. It happens to the best of us. To avoid having to continuously relive such an experience, checking the weather before you start preparing your outfit will ensure a smooth running operation in the morning.

3. Set an alarm the night before as a reminder to prep. When the alarm goes off in the evening, it stands as a reminder for you to jump up from the sofa and begin preparing all the things you shall need in the morning. This way, you will be able to drift off to sleep safe in the knowledge everything is done.

4. You can apply all these tips to your children. For all those parents out there, you know the periods in the morning before you ship your kids off to school are the most stressful moments of your week. Someone is missing a shoe, another can't find their homework, and one is not quite sure why he's got his sister's P.E. kit in his bag. By prepping your children's school bags, packed lunches, uniform and P.E kits the night before, the only stress you'll have in the morning is waking them up, which we know is difficult enough. Every little helps.

Have a "Launch Pad" to ensure a smooth Lift Off

So, you've got everything prepped, your planned outfit looks amazing, you have a delicious packed lunch waiting to be gobbled up, and a....oh wait, hold on, where are your keys? Your oyster card? Your phone?

An enormous stress that can make your morning go from hero to zero is the inevitable dash around the house looking for that crucial item you just cannot run out the door without. You tear through handbags, ransack drawers, search under the bed, and after all of the time-wasting and stress attacks, you find it on top of the kitchen table.

Ann Dolin, an education specialist, recommends creating a Launch Pad, a place where you leave all the things you are going to need in the morning. This way, all of those important items you can't leave the house without are all in one place, patiently waiting for you to finish your coffee and have that relaxing shower. Be it a table by the door, a bowl on your kitchen counter, or a box in the hall, whatever Launch Pad you choose is sure to guarantee a smooth take off. Houston, we do not have a problem.

Do not give into the email-checking-temptation

Your alarm goes off, you open your eyes, and the first thing you do is roll over, grab your phone and start refreshing your inbox. As tempting as it is to make checking your email the first task of the day, we are here to tell you to stop doing it.

Despite many people, including successful CEO's, stating that they start their days with a quick email scan, experts have argued that becoming a slave to your inbox can actually be quite damaging. Julie Morgensten, author and consultant to companies such as American Express and Microsoft, has written a book on the subject, named Never Check Email In The Morning. She explains that emails are reactive and not proactive, which means you will constantly be bouncing from task to task and attending to other people's issues whilst not taking the time to focus on your own. "Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless... there is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes."

Of course, some jobs demand instant responses, and some people work in trans-national corporations with non-traditional working hours. However, for those of us who do not fall into those tricky categories, it is time to swap out email checking in favour of single-focus tasks. This could be working on a personal project at home, having breakfast with you family, exercising or even tackling a work task that needs completing. By leaving your inbox untouched for the first two hours after waking up, or even until you get to the office, your morning routine will instantly become more focused, giving you a wonderful sense of clarity for when you finally do open up your Outlook.

It definitely sounds easier said then done, but with a little practice, you will kick that email-checking-addiction.

1. Check your emails at specific times of the day. Gina Trapani, founder of analytics app ThinkUp has set up a schedule to check her emails at specific times of the day. This allows her to stay focused on single tasks without any distractions, making her work day more productive and relaxed. Her first scheduled inbox check of the day is 10am - leaving her morning routine email free.

2. Send out a note to your colleagues informing them of your email schedule. Of course, some of your colleagues may not understand your new scheduling system. If this is the case, Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, suggests sending an alert to your colleagues, politely informing them of your new email availability. He also recommends creating an autoresponder that will explain when you shall be checking your email, and contact details if the matter is extremely urgent.

3. Keep your phone away from your bed. The best way to avoid the morning email scan is by removing the technological culprits from your vision. Keep your phone, tablet and laptop outside of the bedroom, so when you wake up in the morning, you bypass the email check and instead embark upon the rest of the routine.

- If you use you phone as your alarm, place it outside of your room, yet close enough for you to hear it go off. This way, you will have to get out of bed to turn off the alarm, and voilà, before you know it you are on your way to the shower/gym/kettle and have no time for your Gmail.

Eat breakfast

You've heard it countless times before; breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The thing is, it is completely true. Katherine Zeratsky RD. LD. from the Mayo Clinic says that eating breakfast will wake up your metabolism, which leads to reduced hunger and boosted energy levels for the day ahead.

Furthermore, finding the time to sit and enjoy your breakfast in the morning will be extremely relaxing, as slowing down the pace of your rushed mornings can help you focus as well as help you to remain calm. So, who wants eggs?

1. Freeze all of your smoothie ingredients. Keep the portioned ingredients stored in a Ziploc bag in your freezer so it is ready to be thrown in the blender in the morning. You can use this tip to plan your smoothies for the week!

2. Make your own cereal or energy bars. Not only is this extremely handy for grabbing a breakfast on the go, but because they are homemade, you can custom them to your personal preference whilst also knowing exactly what is going in them. Try some of these recipes:

- Mulberry and Apricot Bars - Naturally Sassy

- Healthy 5 Ingredient Granola Bars - Minimalist Baker

3. Make overnight oats. This breakfast is not only delicious and healthy, but is a brilliant time-saver. Here are some of our favourite recipes:

Dance the morning away

Music has longed been used as a motivator for a range of activities. Be it studying for an exam, going for a long run or cleaning the house, we all have our favourite songs to get us in the zone. A study in 2011 for Nature Neuroscience found that listening to music releases a specific chemical into your brain which immediately enhances your mood. Music psychologist Dr Vicky Williamson commented that the study, "shows that music is inextricably linked with our deepest reward system."

Inspired by this, our next top tip is to create a morning playlist, made up of you favourite upbeat, happy and motivational songs. Have this playlist go off as your alarm in and keep it playing throughout your morning. The length of the playlist equates to the time you have to complete your morning routine.

For example, the first song is to wake you up, get out of bed and have a little boogie in your room. The second song is the length of your shower, the third and fourth is for breakfast, and the fifth is for makeup. You get the picture. Not only will your favourite songs be motivating you and enhancing you mood, but your subconscious will start to adhere to the time restraints given by the songs.

Share this article


Abi Jackson