Leverage the morning when you need to cut it to the quick

How do you practically utilize the morning?

At first I was living with the phrase I have no time. I was at level 0. I had no control over what happened to me.

Time passes. Years do. I realized I needed some fixing.

I then reached level 1: life hacking. I decided to squeeze out some time with tips and tricks. I was inconsistent though. Things kept popping up and derailing me.

I was then at some point pulling it all off, the career, family, relationships, and even managing some basic self-care. But I was always somewhere between level 0 and level 1.

I was always feeling like I was in between having no time and surviving by life hack after hack

How do you up-level in terms of reclaiming your time?

The common wisdom in productivity to have a morning routine, as some of the most materially successful people on the planet swear by. While at level 1, you probably even tried some of those things - working out, journaling, meditating, avoiding screen time while setting your agenda for the day.

But you still don't feel like you are part of Tim Ferris's Tribe of Mentors.

What if your job starts early in the morning? Can you have a meaningful morning routine?

Currently I have seen two main ways the AM routine is pulled off.

Either waking up extra early or waking up a little less early and pulling off some kind of checkbox life hack right before you start work.

Waking up extra early

In order to pull off the AM routine life, people wake up obscenely early.

It is not uncommon for mothers with inflexible careers to be waking up at 4:30 AM in order to pull off everything they want to and show up to work by 7:00 AM.

For dentist Toni-Ann Mayembe this is the way she gets to be an attentive mother, podcaster, and provide people with beautiful smiles.

While there are many high-performing women who wake up early, it is extremely difficult to pull off.

First your chronotype may not be suited for the morning at all. You will also hear people who have learned to become a morning person because of the buzz of the AM routine or just out of sheer necessity. They had to brute their way into it.

But there is a problem. Willpower is highly overrated. Benjamin Hardy in Willpower Doesn't Work describes the need for forcing functions so that you are able to get something done. You know yourself, you plan for the distractors ahead, and you create constraints on yourself so that you don't regress to your old ways. For example, in order to curb my Netflix consumption, I signed out of my phone knowing that trying to find the user and password would be too painful.

Second, you likely are sacrificing some sleep. It may be on the order of 1-2 hours. Sleep is so foundational in self-care, that while this kind of AM routine is productive, it is not necessarily healthy.

What price are you willing to pay for the morning routine?

And if you can't have healthy productivity, what's the point? Do you really want to be celebrating your accomplishments while you are on the floor half-conscious?

Checkbox life hack

Another way we pull some sort of AM routine is waking up just a touch early, on the order of 20-30 minutes in order to do something that helps center the day.

This is where the exercise, meditation, setting intention type stuff comes in.

Because that 30 minutes can easily become 10 minutes (think sleeping in a little more, using the bathroom, having to deal with something related to house, kids, or getting ready for work), you may only have time for 5 minutes of meditation that morning.

You feel good because at least you did 5 minutes of meditation. You should feel good. It is an accomplishment. Way better than thinking about work.

But over time, you notice that still don't feel as good as the common productivity wisdom suggests. You haven't moved the needle on your work-life juggle as much as you wanted.

You checked off the box that you meditated, but you are still somewhere between level 0 and 1.

Leverage the AM to your purpose

In order for me to pull off coming to work for a staff meeting that started exactly at 7:00 AM, I would leave my house at 6:10AM. I would at least have to get up by 5:50AM in order to just barely make it out the door.

That was my level 0 existence.

I tried to wake up before 5AM,  but lost steam after a few weeks. I physically just couldn't maintain it with young children. The days I did I was kind of half-zombie functioning.

Then I tried to at least wake up by 5AM so that I could pull off a checkbox hack of exercise.

Sometimes I would put in the extra effort of going swimming in the morning.  Even by arriving to the pool by 5:30AM when it opened, I was only able to manage swimming 15 minutes in order to have my hair dry and ready to start work.

I was still operating somewhere between level 0 and 1. While physical activity is essential and I felt better, ultimately I wasn't feeling closer to managing my work-life split optimally.

I had to pause. Was I truly a morning person? Did I want to be?

You will have to really think about it for yourself from a practical perspective. For me, I decided I was at my highest energy level in the morning. So why on earth was I working those hours? Should I be dedicating those hours to something I need more? 

I decided that I was going to make an active commitment to leverage the morning in a way that suited my physical and mental health.

The steps I took:

  • With my employer, I negotiated a late start and pushed those hours into working later into the day.
  • I secured childcare (in my case I have the help of an au pair) for the morning hours so that those could be protected time for me. I asked my husband to help out with the children during the later hours.
  • I force functioned shutting my phone down and ignoring the state of the house during those AM hours.

Since I only had a little time in the AM, I had to hyper-prioritize. I decided to dedicate it to my passions. It's in these hours I wanted to write, read, learn, make, and do now manage to get some exercise.

I leveraged the morning. But maybe you want to leverage the afternoon or the evening. What would it look like if you could you change something about the way you do things in order to make your dreams and passions come true?

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