@nateemee via Twenty20
For as long as I can remember, I have used an alarm clock to wake myself up in the morning, and although I despise the jarring beeping sound, it’s better than when my kids beat my alarm to the punch before dawn.
Mornings have long been a struggle for me. I hate getting out of bed, I tend to wake up groggy, and it takes a long time and a lot of caffeine to get me moving.
Over the past year, I made a concerted effort to seize the day by setting up a strong morning routine. I began setting my alarm earlier, often waking for a 5:30 a.m. run or hot yoga class. At 6:30, I would stare at my computer screen for a while, unable to form words because my brain was still not functioning, and I would linger over making my to-do list for most of those early hours. I drank a lot of tea, felt cranky for most of the day and was dying for a nap around 2:30 in the afternoon when it was time to pick up my three kids from school.
I felt pretty productive most days, but I also felt really tired. Those extra couple hours I got in the morning were lost to the midday slump. I also found the routine unsustainable. If I forgot to set an alarm, or decided to rest on the weekend, I felt like I could sleep forever. I set my bedtime earlier and earlier to combat the fatigue, sometimes rolling into bed at 8:30 p.m. I still couldn’t wake up without an alarm.
It felt like there was no amount of sleep that was sufficient for me. I could sleep eight hours or I could sleep 12 hours, but if I was up before the sun, it still felt onerous to pull myself from bed. Then, one small change revolutionized my morning routine and led to a whole pack of great new habits.
You see, I was great at structuring a good morning routine with time for fitness, meditation, work and planning, but I didn’t have the energy to do it because I hadn’t set up a strong evening routine first. I usually spent my pre-bedtime hours watching TV or working (since I wasn’t getting much creative work done in the morning) or scrolling mindlessly through my phone for some downtime.
So I took a more holistic approach to my routine from start to finish, so that I could feel productive from the moment I woke to the moment I went to sleep each night. That meant not simply going to bed early, but going to bed mindfully. I began setting a bedtime for my electronics, making sure that I didn’t spend my evening hours in front of screens. I started using that time for reading and prepping my to-do list for the next day. It was hard to kick my technology habits, but in just a few days, I saw that it was well worth it—I began waking up before my alarm went off, a major milestone.
Soon, I was waking consistently between 5:30 and 5:45 a.m., my mind and body both anxious to get out of bed. I kept waiting for the inevitable exhaustion to snatch me back into my old ways, but as long as I kept the screens at bay, my tired days stayed behind me.
Now that I had the bandwidth to really think about what I wanted out of my routine, I rearranged my whole day to optimize my morning performance. I began working out lightly in the morning so I wasn’t too tired to get in some productive hours of creative work. I started eating my meals at set times each day (and planning them ahead) so my energy levels wouldn’t crash midday. But most importantly, I kept putting away all the screens two hours before bed. Those evenings spent reading got me through at least eight books a month and fueled my morning creative work like nothing I’d ever known before.
Some days I still catch myself wondering when it’s all going to come crashing down around me—still unable to believe that the solution to my sluggish mornings could be so deceptively simple.
Each part of my routine supports the whole, but the screen-time bedtime was the game changer that set everything in motion. It not only gives me time to unwind each evening, but also allows me the space to think about how I want the next day to look and feel. It gives me a head start on making better choices. It sets the routine in motion in my mind, and by the time morning comes, it feels like I’ve spent all those sleeping hours preparing for what’s next. I’m actually ready to seize the day before it ever begins.