The key to having a good day, one where you hit (most) of your goals and are at your best for yourself and others is having an effective morning routine. While I envy those who exercise first thing in the morning, journal in a coffee shop, and make bullet-lists of things to achieve, I think after 26 years of teaching I’ve found what works best for me. Here are my top 5 tips for harnessing the power of starting the day right, and owning your morning.
Everything you do, you best on a full night of sleep.
For years I thought that sleep was dead time, and a passive exercise. Having read Dr. Matthew Walker’s ‘Why We Sleep‘ (a must-read) I learned how important sleep hygiene (your pre-sleep ritual) is. At 8pm my Alexa devices announce to my young kids that “it’s time to turn off the screens” and at 8:30pm it tells them it’s time for bed. Once the kids are down, I can focus on my own routine, which typically involves a warm shower, a good book and a calming soundscape from Calm. Preparing for tomorrow, by selecting which sneakers to wear, priming the coffee machine (with decaf coffee!), and packing the kids school bags saves me from decision fatigue the next morning.
You snooze you lose.
My alarm goes off at 4:45am. While I don’t need to be up this early, I value my morning routine too much. It’s ‘my time’. The family is asleep, and this is my opportunity to set me up for success. For that reason, I no longer hit the snooze button. Sleep experts also advise laying off the snooze button for other reasons. Waking naturally (perhaps on a weekend, or during vacation) is certainly less ‘alarming’ than artificially terminating your sleep. Your morning alarm results in a blood pressure spike, an increase in heart rate, and triggering our nervous system. Hitting the snooze button only serves to put your body through that morning trauma again. Dr. Matthew Walker refers to it as cardiovascular assault! Waking at the same time each day allows us to maintain a good sleep schedule.
The most important meal of the day.
Eat like a king etc... I can not function without breakfast and you can tell how relaxed I am based on what, and how I eat my breakfast. I maintain that oatmeal is the best way to start the day. It provides me with slow burning carbohydrates to keep me full until lunchtime. During the week I soak oats overnight in milk and eat it with fruit. On weekends, I’ll eat a home made muesli, or make slow cooked oatmeal (or porridge as we call it in England) with a splash of maple syrup. True story – if I’m in a hurry I eat with a big spoon, and if I’m savoring my breakfast I eat with a tiny spoon! We know that hungry students perform worse at school, and it stands to reason that the same goes for teachers. If I am adequately fueled, I know I’m more likely to have a great day. For a great start to the day steer towards foods typically high in whole grains, protein, and healthy fats, and steer away from choices that are high in sugar, refined carbs, and additives. Break/fast. Breaking the fast is essential.
Screen time, or me time.
If you really want control of your morning routine, its important not to get sucked into your social media feed. This is one area in which I can improve. Checking feeds and notifications sets you up to be reactive, and runs the risk of knocking you off the course you had set for the day. Typically my me time does involve a screen, but recently I have embraced the ‘Daily Jay‘ with Jay Shetty on the Calm app. This is 50% meditation, 50% setting daily intentions and 100% an investment in me. I also read the New York Times on my iPad (teachers at my school have free access), check on my sports teams on Bleacher Report, and if I have time, read through my Flipboard feed.
Harness your commute.
I’m fortunate to have a 70 minute commute in the morning, and a 90 minute commute home. Yes, you read that correctly. That’s almost 3 hours of peace and quiet, under my control. This is time for me to listen to NPR, and then a podcast or three. I choose to access podcasts via the Stitcher app because it allows me to save podcasts into playlists. Depending on my mood I’ll pull something from my ‘binge’, ‘brain food’ ‘social justice’ or ‘teaching’ playlists.
I also take a gameful approach to my commute. Every green light, every time I see the same man walking to work, every stress free journey is a chance for me to level-up. I’m like Super Mario collecting gold rings. If I hit a red light, then maybe the next light is green – boom, another gold ring. I take that gameful approach into my day. Every smile from a student, fist bump, or hello, is another gold ring. I level up each time I walk from one end of the school to the other. I owe my gameful approach to Jane McGonigal‘s ‘Superbetter‘.
Perhaps, like me, you can find ways in which to use your commute as a chance to set yourself up for a great day. If I need to plan my day, I’ll drive in silence and run ideas around in my head. Podcasts are free professional development The long drive home can be a chance to reflect on the glows and groans of the day. What were my wins, and where can I improve tomorrow? I can decompress on my ride home, or singalong to a throwback RnB playlist on Spotify.
I’d love to hear in the comments below, or on social media, what tips YOU have to #ownyourmorning.
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Pair this blog post with the following:
5 Tips for Better Sleep by Andy Milne
Break Fast by Andy Milne