I read a lot of blogs, articles, and books about productivity, and one of the top suggestions for success is developing habits and routines - specifically in the morning.
Morning is a time of day I love to BE up and productive, but my problem is the GETTING up! Many of the books say you should get up at 5 a.m., exercise, meditate, and never look at your phone. Well... my mornings have almost always been the total opposite of that. I've traditionally set the alarm for as late as possible to allow me a few snoozes and then scurry around until I'm all sweaty and it's a little past time to get in the car for my commute.
I've gone through spurts where I got up early and walked on the treadmill or did yoga or maybe even read an enriching book, but it never lasted much than a workweek. I'd look to other research to support my theory that maybe I'm just not a morning person. The book The Power of When by Michael Breus is very interesting and suggests that each of us have a chronotype that dictates when we tend to perform the best. Though there's truth that I might not naturally pop out of bed at 5 a.m. happy and looking fresh, work and school still start early in the day, so I've got to figure out how to embrace the morning! I distinctly remember the feeling I had one crisp, fall day in college when I'd gotten up early to finish a paper and walked across campus to turn it in. I closed my under-20-year-old eyes, breathed in the cool air, and thought, "It feels good to already be done with something this early in the morning." I often think of what it felt like to breathe in that feeling of early morning achievement. How do I get that feeling back? How do I become consistent in early accomplishment?
Here's what I've come up with:
1. Have Something You're Excited to Get Up For
THIS is where it's at! If you enjoy sleep more than you enjoy what you do in the mornings, obviously, it's going to be hard to get out of bed. Thinking back to that feeling I had of early morning accomplishment when I was in college - what I remember most was the beautiful, cool morning air. I used to, very rarely, and only on a weekend, go out to my deck to read if I needed some alone time. The weather had to be perfect, the angle of the sun had to be perfect, and the timing had to be perfect so there was no dew on my chair. All three of those things aligned a few weeks ago, and I was enjoying my book and the sounds of the birds in my backyard. I looked around me and saw the overgrown plants, the dusty table, and the leaf-covered boards of my deck. I decided if I was feeling so calm and enjoying my book in the outside so much in the midst of that disaster, how great would I feel with pruned plants, a clean table and a swept deck? I spent a few hours that day cleaning things up and vowed to sit outside every morning that week before work for at least a few minutes and do something I wanted to do - read, write in my journal, work on my blog, plan in my calendar, do a devotion, just sit and listen to the morning - whatever I wanted! What a great week it was - I made progress on my e-book, I planned, I read, I smelled my flowers! I'm not going to lie, there was a day that all I did was take two deep breaths of morning air and then headed back inside, but even on that day, I looked forward to getting outside, which made it much easier to get out of bed!
For me, getting outside coupled with having some dedicated time to do what I wanted to do was key! I did have to adapt to the dew on the chairs (a towel to sit on or a chair from inside brought out) and the humidity (not fixing my hair until after the outside time), but because I was excited about the time set aside accomplish my personal goals, I made it work! Now that I've made going outside in the mornings a habit, I'm going to try to get up a little earlier in the coming weeks to enjoy more of that time! Winter in Indiana may prove a little difficult for outside time, but I plan to create a nook somewhere to stand in for my deck during the worst of the weather (though I'm not going to dwell on winter weather when I still have late summer and fall still to enjoy!)
2. Do what you want to -- and what you don't
As excited as I am about my outside, alone time to do thing things I want to do, I'm still a mom, wife, homeowner, and employee, so everyday there are tasks that aren't necessarily making me jump up and down with joy. But since I'm allowing myself that time to do what I want to do, it makes those other tasks not as bad. Is there a really daunting task for work that you could get a jump start on at home, do you need to start a load of laundry or maybe even scrub the toilet? Pick at least one task that you don't care for (and it's ok if it's a tiny one) and just get it done! You will feel so good that you've gotten it out of the way
"I often think of what it felt like to breathe in that feeling of early morning achievement. How do I get that feeling back? How do I become consistent in early accomplishment?"
3. Plan ahead
I wrote about this topic earlier this year, but I think it makes such a difference in a morning routine that I'll sum it up for you again. Limit your morning decisions by picking out your outfit, and either pre-packing your lunchbox or at least having go-to snacks available to pack. Use your phone to remind you of what you need to do on a specific morning or to alert you when it's time to get in the car! I also like to time myself so I know exactly how long certain morning tasks take.
Multi-task! Normally, I'd tell you single-tasking is a better bang for your buck, but in the morning, you can do a few things at once like let your hair dry while you put on your makeup. Quit opening up the same cabinet over and over - plan your morning attack and be efficient! Leave something in your home clean before you exit the house for the day - for me it's my bathroom counter, for others it's their made bed. Give yourself a quick win to start the day feeling productive! And finally, make a note of all the stuff floating in your head rather than trying to remember it. A note on a piece of paper, a digital note on your phone, or even a voice memo, are all great ways to empty your head without worry of forgetting so you can focus on your morning routine. (If you'd like to read to whole post about tips to avoid a mad rush morning, click here.)
It's really hard to get up early (and do it consistently) if you don't get enough sleep. That's not a profound statement, just common sense. In a previous post, I wrote about a really good day I had that began with a good night's sleep, so I wanted to figure out how to consistently get that kind of sleep to create more really good days! I've found that stress has a huge impact on my sleep, so making my bedroom as calming as possible is a must! Even if the rest of the house isn't clutter-free, I try to make sure my bedroom and bathroom are picked up. A bedtime goal (mine is 10:30 - 11:00 p.m.) also helps, but I've found that one of the most important parts of getting a good night's rest is to go to bed before my husband. Reading a physical book in bed to the light of my bedside lamp with the noise machine set on the rain sound makes me sleepy. I use a specific scent of lotion every night (and only at night) right before I turn off the lamp to tell myself it's sleeping time! I also prepare for whatever temperature I might want in the middle of the night. If I start out with no socks, I have a pair on my bedside table. I have headache medicine in my bedside drawer and some water within arm's reach just in case. The quicker I take care of small nighttime nuisances, the more sleep I can get. My sleep goal is 7-8 hours per night. I track it with my fit bit, and normally am just shy of 7, so I've got some room for improvement!
5. Don't compare
Who cares if you haven't run three miles or read a chapter of a personal development book or made your family a hot breakfast? Morning routines are about YOU, not everyone else. Like I admitted earlier, my personal, outside time on some days is literally just breathing! What matters to me is that I'm up, I'm motivated, and I'm growing. I don't share my ideas and experiences with you so that you feel bad about yourself for not doing exactly the same, I'm sharing them so you can feel inspired or motivated to find your own, personal morning routine that works for you! As much as I wish I loved exercising and could check that off my to-do list before 8 a.m., it's probably never going to be part of my morning routine (because I will continue to be red-faced and sweaty even post-shower for hours after any level of physical exertion!) So, you know what? I'm ok with my own routine that may not fit the "ideal" because it fits me!
I encourage you to find what works for you and stick with it for at least 3 weeks to determine if it's going to move the needle. I could see positive change after just one workweek of going outside in the mornings, but one workweek does not a habit make - keep it up! I would love to hear what you find as the key to your morning - share with us in the comments or on the Facebook page!
I've been planning to write an e-book for about a year. I'd get super excited about it, dreaming about all the people that I might be able to give just a little bit of help or encouragement, and then I'd start doubting myself. I came up with excuses why I couldn't or shouldn't put my content out there for the world to read, and I just plain procrastinated! Fear of failure and rejection set in, and I put that goal aside.
Well, this week, I decided I'm going to just start and not in a "someday I'll publish this" way, but in a hard core, 6 week sprint with a for real deadline kind of way! This spring, I listened to Natalie Eckdahl on her Biz Chix podcast talk about hitting your next goal in just 6 weeks, and I got excited. She told success stories, and I was sure I could do it! But soon, the excuses started again as I looked at my calendar and realized there was a vacation coming up in the next 6 weeks, and that would just throw a wrench in things. The next time I thought about it, there was something else on the calendar in the following 6 weeks, and I was a little relieved to have another "reason" not to start.
Choosing not to proceed - not to challenge myself - limited me and made me feel inadequate. I really believe this began a vicious cycle that caused me to began procrastinating on all sorts of other things. Not only was I not accomplishing my goals, I was feeling guilty and weighed down by all that was undone. A good friend recently gave me some great advice. She said to pick one thing that I could finish that day, just one. I did it, and you know what finishing just one little thing did for me? It gave me momentum to want to do more and more! In Brian Tracy's book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, he shares about the old saying: 'if you eat a live frog first thing each morning, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that it's probably the worst thing you'll do all day.' Use the frog as a metaphor for that thing that you know you should do and that you know you'll feel better when you've done - and just start!
My Sprint Step by Step
There's no magic formula, but here's what I'm doing. Would you like to join me and do your own sprint to accomplish that thing that you've been putting off? You can download a FREE worksheet here, but please read on for some suggestions.
Don't wait for a Monday or the first of the month or when things slow down at work or when the kids start school - start TODAY!
Announce your goal to at least one other person
If you keep your goal to yourself, it's all too easy to continue procrastinating. Once you share it with even one other person, your chances of meeting your goal go up significantly. The American Society of Training and Development reports that chances of success increase by 65% when you commit to completing it to one other person and chances go up to 95% when you check in regularly to report on your progress. I am currently doing a 5 day Infinite Growth Challenge hosted by Pinterest Marketing Strategist, Rachel Ngom, and one of the daily assignments was to post in the Facebook group - for all to see - what the one thing you need to do even though you're scared to do it. I shared that I'm going to write my e-book, and now I feel accountable to the others participating in the challenge to get it done!
Commit to make forward progress (however small) EVERY day!
How big your goal is will determine how much you have to do every day, but don't let a day go by without some action. Create a chain that you promise yourself you won't break. 6 weeks is only 42 days - you can do this for 42 days!! Set aside a time each day where you will record your progress and adjust your plan. I've been spending 5-10 minutes on my deck in the mornings making my notes.
Start by thinking about what success will look like. That's where you want to be at the end of week 6. My goal is to publish an e-book by September 11, 2019 (which just happens to be My Life In Order's 2 year anniversary!) Now work backwards on what you have to do to get there, starting with weekly goals. Here are my weekly plans thinking with the end in mind:
I've decided to make out daily goals a week at a time. For example, this week looks like this:
Next week, I'll make daily goals around actually writing!
Now the hard part, actually do the thing! Here is a FREE printable I've created to help you be successful. Please share with us in the comments on this post or on the Facebook page what big things you will be accomplishing in 6 weeks! You've got this!! I'll be sharing with you my weekly progress on social media (so be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram) and I'd love to hear about your weekly progress, too. If you'd rather not share with everyone, feel free to email me at email@example.com .
Will you help me with my research by completing a 1 minute survey? Click here! And, if you want to be one of the first to know when the e-book is available, sign up below!
Wissman, Barrett. “An Accountability Partner Makes You Vastly More Likely to Succeed.” Entrepreneur, 20 Mar. 2018, www.entrepreneur.com/article/310062.
Eckdahl, Natalie. “Hit Your Next Goal With a Six Week Sprint.” Biz Chix, 28 Mar. 2019, bizchix.com/363-hit-your-next-goal-with-a-six-week-sprint/.
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
A while back, I wrote about my struggle with my weight, and I'm still working on it! I have a trip coming up in a couple of months which is a great motivator for me to set a goal and crush it! I've been trying to figure out how to keep track of my progress and while also setting myself up for success.
Research says habits are broken down into three parts:
Identifying triggers can help us to avoid them or come up with strategies to cope with them. I've always thought my triggers were stress and free food, but what I've been noticing is that the lack of a plan or accountability seems to be what really gets me in trouble.
I don't know about you, but I'm really good at rewarding myself, but I struggle to find a reward that is appropriate and doesn't undermine my intended outcome. For example, I often feel like when I've lost some weight, I "deserve" a milk shake or a candy bar or some jalapeno poppers! I think the reason I feel like I've earned some "bad" food is because I've felt deprived during the short stint of weight loss.
I've been brainstorming a way to help address my triggers and my feelings of deprivation. I ran across James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, who says that the first step to successfully developing a habit is to make one so small it's almost impossible fail. I like the idea of not failing, so I decided to give this miniature habit thing a try. I chose just one thing to focus on for a very short time period of time.
I saw an intriguing idea on Pinterest about tracking habits with a very simple chart with dates for an entire month listed down the left side of the paper and habits across the top. This would create squares that could be colored in to indicate completion of a task. Using different colors to indicate different actions gives a quick visual representation of your actions. I decided to create my own chart, and even though I fantasize about producing a beautiful bullet journal (and maintain a Pinterest board about it), I took a shortcut and created a printable that I could just color in. My chart is a little different, and instead of various habits across the top, I listed the hours in the day to help me see patterns in my eating throughout the day.
I wanted to track one goal at a time, every day and see my progress in small increments - as small as every hour. Each hour, I can color in the corresponding box with either green (I did good), red (I did bad) or blank (I didn't do anything related to my goal.) Then over just a few days, I can quickly see how I'm doing and if there are any particular days or times of days that are tripping me up. By focusing only on one goal, I am much more likely to be successful, and then I can eventually add additional goals after my first one has become a true habit.
My first goal was to avoid white flour. I tracked my progress for the last few days of February, and the picture above is how I did. What I noticed was that by focusing only on one goal, I didn't feel deprived and thus didn't feel the need to reward myself with food for a job well done nearly as much as I had during previous weight loss efforts. I also noticed that even though I was focusing on only one goal, it made me very conscious of my other food choices, and I ate better overall than I normally did. I love being able to look at my chart and immediately be able to tell that I have a good breakfast and morning snack routine going, but I eat lunch at all sorts of different times, and my problem time is evening and late nights! The jury is still out if this plan will work for me long term, but I'm excited to give it a try. Who knows, maybe this will work so well I'll eventually add in some exercise to the mix!
Check out the free Habit Tracker printable, and give it a try! You can come up with your own color system and make it as elaborate or as simple as you'd like. Print out just one or use multiples as you add to your goals and habits. I will be reporting back before my trip in May to let you know how this system is working for me. I'd love to hear from you if you test out this system and would especially like to see pictures if you draw a really pretty one in your bullet journal!
Quora. “The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/13/the-science-behind-adopting-new-habits-and-making-them-stick/#4f1430e843c7.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. Cornerstone, 2019.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!