How to Create the Perfect Morning Routine (or Fix One That’s Not Working)

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Brian Roberts

March 21, 2016  •  7 min read

morning routine tips

This post is by Jonathon Knepper. We’ve been friends and blogging pals for over three years and he’s my go-to guy for website stats and SEO optimization.

Whether it’s traveling, being your own boss or running your household, we all want to stay on track and feel productive when we start the day.

This time last year I had no morning routine, so I decided to do an experiement. This “project” of working on my own routine via reaching out to a bunch of successful entrepreneurs was just a line in my running ideas list.

The thing that finally kicked my butt into gear was finding out last summer that I would be having my second daughter. Because if I couldn’t get some traction with my morning routine as my life was in that moment, how would I do it with a newborn?!

Fun fact: My daughter Nora was born on the same day my ebook, Win YOUR Day: Insights, Inspiration & Data From 100+ Entrepreneurs to Improve Your Morning Routine & Daily Productivity, launched on 2/4/2016.

And while my routine is/will always evolve (and falter some days), I can report that I’ve gone from no routine, to checking off all of my top to-dos most days. As a result, I’m more productive and I feel better.

Plus it’s one of those pat-myself-on-the-back-moments to know that I’m taking care of myself (even if just a little). I’m notorious for putting myself last every day.


Are you trying to start or fix your morning routine?

Check out this infographic I created below, that highlights the top five morning routine building blocks, plus other key takeaways from examining the morning routines of 100+ Entrepreneurs.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few months, there are an endless amount of ways to start your day. In fact, that’s part of the reason why I started this project.

“My morning routine helps structure my crazy freelance business life. I travel a lot so having a regular schedule keeps me on track, while feeling comfortable and at home no matter where I am.” – Carrie Smith Nicholson

There are tons of great posts around the web, but I didn’t know how to make them my own. I learn best by example, through immersing myself in a topic and via aggregate data review (see: nerd).

At the end of the day, you have to do what works best for you. For me, that means I do a few things outside of the top five listed:

  • Consume content – This generally means part of a podcast, blog posts or something via the NPR One app. I know this is generally seen as a time waste but what I find is by doing it in a structured way each morning (20 – 30 mins tops) I don’t think about it later in the day plus I learn/get energized/etc. If I’m being real real, this time usually includes some type of cheesy inspirational or funny video.
  • Family time – I spend as much time as possible with my family in the morning. I love making breakfast, having conversations, packing lunches and getting everyone out the door.

Below you’ll find a deeper look into the building blocks called out above, including useful resources, studies and insight from real entrepreneurs.

Use this as a springboard to work to hone or start your morning routine.

“There’s no right way to do a morning routine! Just do what’s innately you. If you do what other people say will make you successful, you give up a part of yourself, and in that, you’ll never be happy. Just trust yourself and stay grounded in what makes you happy.”Lauren RD Fox

1. Be focused when eating or drinking

Shocker, right? It shouldn’t be too big of a surprise that nourishing your body is at the top of the list.

Now, before you hit the snooze button on this section, this isn’t going to be a lecture. There is more than enough research on how food affects your productivity throughout the day.

Instead, I want to focus on something I’d never thought of before starting my research: the time it takes to make a decision to fuel our bodies.

More specifically, my gears started turning when I read the last part of this quote:

“I’m pretty lax about when I make breakfast and what I eat. I’d like to make this a bit more regular in the future so there’s less decision-making involved in my mornings.” – Belle Beth Cooper

I waste a lot of time making decisions because, I don’t think it really matters. Not only have I been more deliberate with my breakfast (sometimes making it the night before), but this stuck with me in bigger ways.

How much time do you spend making little decisions and/or foundering with them? It’s a lot for me.

2. Extend exercise beyond the gym

Over half of the entrepreneurs surveyed reported some form of exercise as part of their morning routine.

And while it might not come as any surprise that there were plenty of full-blown gym routines (hats off if this is you), I was shocked by the volume and range of activities that extended beyond the gym:

“I jump up and down 50 times for my bone health and to get my circulation going.” – Emilie Wapnick

“I live a block from the beach so talking a walk on shore is a peaceful way to collect my thoughts and get my blood pumping.”Christian Wenzel

Between the gym and living by the beach (jealous!) are options like yoga and 7 minute exercise apps including this free one from Johnson & Johnson that I use.

And I’m currently trying to work out more often.

3. Add in some form of reading

While number three on the list, 50%+ reported reading in the morning for some duration of time. This is a testament to the importance of education for entrepreneurs:

“I read something thoughtful, philosophical or spiritual. For example, I’m re-reading The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer in 10-15 minute increments most mornings.”Jason Moore

The content consumed ranged from general to industry specific and in many cases was double-dipped in another activity like social media and/or email.

A few parents surveyed mentioned reading as a way to connect with their kiddos in the morning.

Beyond the above, several readers also made it a point to read fiction. Reading has several benefits, including improving your ability to understand the people around you.

4. Be thoughtful when checking email

Pepsi vs. Coke, toilet paper over vs. under, and now add email vs. no email in the morning to the list of greatest debates of all time.

On one side — with the research to back it — email can mess with your productivity. As it relates to her morning routine, Courtney Boyd Myers’ (aka CBM) #1 tip for Win YOUR Day was: “Whatever you do, stop checking your phone first thing in the morning. Get out of bed, stretch, and say 5 things you’re grateful for.”

On the flip side — with research to back it up as well — email as part of a routine can reduce the Interruption Effect. People like Harrison Tsai check it first thing: “I tend to always check my email first thing to see if there is anything of urgent matter to attend to.

I feel that skill was ingrained in me while I was working at a corporate office, where you would look over the emails, and prioritize based on highest urgency to lowest.”

Whatever side you fall on do your best to check your email at a certain time, in batches and above all don’t let it consume your day.

5. Make time for planning & goal setting

Rounding out the top five is planning and goal setting. From the power of small wins to beating debt, planning can have a profound impact. Want to know the best part? Your system doesn’t have to be anything crazy.

Start small and stay small, if that works best for you. Three easy options for planning your day include:

  1. Write 1 big to-do and 3 small to-dos for the day on a post it note or index card (Carrie calls it a “Hit List”)
  2. Use a notebook or freelance planner to track daily and bigger picture progress
  3. Fill in your workday hours with ‘task blocks’ each day on your phone or desktop calendar

In this case the early bird wasn’t always getting the worm either. A number of entrepreneurs reported planning the night before as a way to jumpstart their morning routine.

What’s one thing you have to do in the morning? Do you have a tool or tip?