You’ve probably read dozens of them—articles with titles like “Morning Routines for Writers,” “Daily Habits of Successful People,” or something else along those lines. They’re full of great advice that would probably enhance your morning if you followed them to a T.
But those articles assume a lot: that you’re healthy, have money, and can afford to take your time in the morning. Think about it—who actually has the time, money, and motivation to get up at 5am, run six miles, and then grab Starbucks every single morning?
Professional writers are busy. We’re trying to cram in blog posts and 1,000 words into our novel and answer all the emails in our inboxes, all while managing families, houses, possibly a non-writing job, and whatever else life throws our way.
At first glance, a lot of the advice in this article may seem like something you’ve read before, but take a deeper look. For each piece of advice, I’m going to give you a variation that’s faster, easier, and much more realistic, so you can still feel like you’re accomplishing something in the morning even when life happens.
Because, as we all know, it does.
We’ve already established the fact that there are a lot of morning routines out there—and most of them are wildly unrealistic.
Why is it a bad thing to hold yourself to a standard of the “perfect” morning routine? Simple: because you’re only setting yourself up for failure. And when you fail first thing in the morning, what kind of tone does that set for the rest of your day?
As you figure out the habits you’d like to cultivate in the morning, make sure they’re not too challenging. Keep things attainable so you can start things off on the right foot and feel good about yourself as you continue on with your day.
You’d probably rather hit snooze. It’s understandable.
But hear me out first: Ben Franklin woke up early. Howard Schultz woke up early. Ernest Hemingway started writing at 5am each day. Were the three of them successful?
Many successful entrepreneurs, especially writers, swear by getting up early to get things done—whether that means pounding out a client’s blog post before 7am or catching up on all the invoices they didn’t get around to making last week.
If you’re a professional writer, especially one who is self-employed, you’re probably very self-motivated—meaning you see the value in waking and working before your competition. Plus, you can get ahead on the day’s work, giving you a safety net in case any unforeseen tasks arise later.
I have a chronic fatigue illness. Among other things, that means I can’t physically get up earlier than 8am because I’m drowsy and my legs are tingling with nerve pain. The later I was up the night before, the worse it is in the morning, to the point where I sometimes literally cannot walk.
So, as much as I’d like to get up early and jump right into my to-do list, it’s impossible. It’s all I can do to start working by 9:30 in the morning.
Instead of forcing myself to get up early—thus sabotaging the rest of my day, because I will inevitably crash later—I’ve learned to roll with it. I’ve paid attention to my productivity habits so when I do get up, I can still get everything done.
Similarly, if you aren’t able to begin working until later in the morning (for instance, if you have to get the kids off to school first), don’t sweat it. Or if you know you’re not a morning person, no matter how hard you try, it’s OK. Instead of forcing yourself to wake up at the crack of dawn, focus on learning how long it takes you to complete certain regular tasks.
Maybe you’ve learned that it takes an hour to write that weekly article for your website. Or you need only 20 minutes for a Skype meeting with a client. Or it takes only half an hour to edit blog posts.
This way, you can effectively plan out the time you do have. And as you think about how long it takes to complete certain tasks, tie this back to your wake-up time—when you add all those tasks up, you may find you don’t have to get up quite as early as you thought.
If you’re like most people, the first thing you reach for in the morning is your phone. Twitter, Instagram, the news—whatever it is, you’ve got to get your fix.
But don’t. Take a few minutes to start your day right. This means leaving your phone where it is and doing something creative, such as sketching or writing in a journal for 15 minutes.
Creativity first thing in the morning will help stimulate your mind to get ready for all the more structured writing work you’ll be doing throughout the day. For instance, just listening to music has been shown to up both your creativity and focus.
And whatever you do, don’t check your emails right away! If you do, the tasks ahead of you will be all you can think about as you try to continue with doing something creative in the morning. Don’t open your email until you’re ready to sit down and begin your work. If someone really needs you, they’ll text or call you.
Following these guidelines will give you something to look forward to when you wake up, as well as get you on the right track to create content all day long.
Creative activities aside, many professional writers simply can’t afford the time it would take to do something creative each morning—not checking email in the morning is probably the easiest task on this list to accomplish.
Whether you have time for a full-blown morning routine, or whether you have to immediately walk to the bus stop to head to work, you’ll probably do something after you wake up and before you begin working.
So the solution is simple: Whatever you do in the morning before getting your workday started, just don’t check your emails. Don’t feel like you need to bend over backward to fit something creative into your morning, but do help your mind stay empty instead of cluttering it with stressful emails before you’re ready to dive in.
And if you want to add something creative, try picking up a gratitude journal (this only requires writing a few sentences each morning), setting a timer for five to 10 minutes, and drawing whatever pops into your head, or simply pausing to look up at the clouds and find shapes.
Yoga. CrossFit. Walking the dog. Whatever it is, when you stimulate your physical muscles, your mental ones begin working too.
You’ve probably heard this before, but you might not realize just how connected exercise and creativity are: A Stanford study showed 90 percent of people were more creative after they exercised (especially during walking), which is reason enough to grab those dumbbells before grabbing your laptop.
Besides, we all know writing is a very sedentary occupation; you sit at your desk staring at a screen for hours and hours a day. So when you get some exercise, both your body and mind will thank you—and doing this in the morning can really get your day started off on the right foot!
Since I often write in the fitness niche, I’m fascinated with workouts, and (energy-dependent) I try my best to squeeze in something every day.
The great thing about exercise is it really doesn’t take long to get a good sweat. Try looking up short YouTube videos to complete before beginning work; even a 5-minute Pilates ab workout can leave you feeling the burn all day. Do a circuit, like 15 reps each of squats, lunges, push-ups, and tricep dips, and repeat as many times as possible in 10 minutes.
And if you struggle to make time for exercise due to your busy schedule, stretch in the kitchen while you wait for your coffee, do calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth, or hold a plank for 60 seconds right after getting out of bed. Finding creative ways to squeeze even just five minutes of movement into your morning will put you in a good position as you sit down to begin work.
Many creative people are spontaneous and scattered; they tend to do their painting or writing or composing whenever the urge strikes them, and only when the urge strikes them. On the other hand, many non-creatives are very logical and methodical, preferring to make detailed schedules to help them get things done.
Even though I consider myself to be highly creative and imaginative (after all, that’s why I make a living as a writer, right?) I can make plans, lists, and schedules with the best of them—and it helps me get much more work done than the average scattered creative.
Even if you prefer to be spontaneous about when you do your work, you’re going to have a far better chance of actually getting everything done if you sit down in the morning and physically write out things like, I will work on Client A’s blog post from 2–4pm. When you see something written down, not only does it stick with you longer—studies have shown you retain more this way—but also the list on paper, versus just in your head, helps hold you accountable.
Every morning, right after I open my inbox, I take my two daily planners over to my full-size whiteboard and schedule out my day, hour-by-hour. Between writing novels, juggling multiple long-term freelance writing clients, and working for a local nonprofit, it’s the only way I’m able to attain the level of productivity that I do.
My chronic fatigue illness forces me to bed at 9:00 or earlier most nights (if I stay up any later, I can’t walk in the morning), and since I also coach softball in the evenings, this means I’m lucky to get 1–3 hours of free time each day, which I typically use to read. Making a detailed map of my day is an integral part of my morning routine, proving, again, how I need a to-do list to function.
Scheduling out your day will help you reach max productivity levels—a schedule that’s been written out and placed somewhere visible will help you focus and avoid distractions.
This just may be the most difficult item on the list to accomplish. You can plan in the morning all you like, but who knows what will happen throughout the day?
I follow three guidelines to help me retain some semblance of a plan no matter what comes my way:
These items are important for one big reason: they reduce stress. Checking my email, leaving myself extra time, and focusing on being flexible give me peace of mind as I work.
Starting work at 10am, working out for only 10 minutes, and intentionally scheduling empty hours in case your day is interrupted may not seem like the ideal morning routine.
But when life happens and you can’t have your ideal morning routine, with a little tweaking, you can still have a morning that will get your day off on the right foot. Just keep things realistic to ensure you set yourself up for success all day long.
Hailey Hudson is a full-time freelance writer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. When she isn't working, she's coaching fastpitch softball, writing her latest YA novel, or snuggling with her beagle puppy, Sophie. Learn more at Hailey's website or by following her Instagram @haileyh412.