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How do you start your day ?

Do you wake up naturally, or are you woken with a start by the clock ? Do you jump straight out of bed and into the shower, or do you pull on a gown and make yourself a cup of coffee ? I’m pretty sure I read that Tony Robbins starts each day with a plunge into an ice cold pool, there are many who have built the excellent habit of rolling out of bed and out to the Gym, and of course, Julia Cameron has her Morning pages (which I have experimented with myself, and show huge potential).

There are plenty of articles and thoughts about the best way to start your day - Hal Eldrod's excellent book 'The Miracle Morning' gives a very strong and well considered blueprint to start every day, and I know people who have found it incredibly valuable. For me it wasn't quite deep enough - Hal suggests focusing on 6 activities in an hour, cover all bases - but it might be perfect for you, and is certainly a great place to start.

Each of us has their own routine - back in my corporate days, mine used to be more of the ‘cup of coffee and scroll through the internet’ kind of pre-breakfast ritual, but as I have developed over these last 4 years, I have come to understand that a great morning routine puts you into the right frame of mind for the rest of the day.

In this post I will share my current (February 2018) morning routine. Is it perfect? No. Do I stick with it religiously every morning ? No. Do I get value from it and use it as my default setting ? Absolutely.

I aim to be up by 5:30am - I set the alarm for that time, but usually wake before then, get up and pull on my walking clothes. I start by making a great cup of coffee (I use an Aeropress, by the way) which helps me to focus, and means that the coffee is just the right temperature to drink by the time I have finished my meditation.

I go to my study to meditate - I have found meditation to be the most powerful positive change I have made in my life over the past 18 months, and it is now a non-negotiable part of my day. I meditate to light music (I have a playlist on Shopify of music by the band Hammock), and I have an Amazon Echo which I politely ask to set a timer for 16 minutes so that I can begin. 

I used the Headspace app for over a year, but although I credit it with helping me to embed my meditation practice, I started to find it quite repetitive, and prefer my own routine. I breathe deeply for 4 breaths and then close my eyes, and then the plan is to check in with my body, and then spend a minute or so reflecting on who I am meditating for (my family) by picking two words for each of them to set my intention. Once that is done, I focus on my breathing for the remainder of the 16 minutes.

Some days I know I am managing whole chunks of time with a relatively clear mind - other days I don’t think I manage more than a few seconds without all of the internal chatter. To me, it doesn’t matter - over hundreds of days there has been an incredibly positive effect, and so whether one particular day is a good or bad meditation is pretty much irrelevant.

Meditation over, my coffee is now at the perfect temperature to drink while I read for at least 30 minutes. I predominantly read good or great personal development books - from the classics like 7 Habits of Highly Effective people, through to more recent titles like Start with Why, or The Fortune Cookie Principle. I prefer paper books because I like to highlight any thoughts or ideas that resonate, and I find it easier than reading electronically.

I have recently moved my reading to become part of my morning routine, and I feel better for it. For a long time, I scheduled my reading for evening time - the logic being that it was a good way to wind down. I was, however, invariably tired by the time it came to read, and what should be an enjoyable experience was often no more than a chore, with a distracted mind, poor quality reading, and an eye on the clock so that I could close the book and relax. Now that I read in the morning, I find that I am learning more, and preparing my mind for the day ahead. Along with meditation, I credit reading and learning with making a major impact on my post-Corporate life.

Reading done, I sit at my desk, and plan my day. I use our Daily Intention pages to reflect on my positives and gratitudes, and then flow into setting out my critical tasks for the day. I used to just make a list, bullet journal style, but I found it was easy to make a big list of un-important stuff and feel like I was being productive. Now I add 4 things (1 critical, 2 key and one stretch task) and link them all to actions that move me towards my long-term goals. Some days I do all 4, other days I manage 1 or 2, but I do feel it is moving me forward to my goals faster than before.

Once my daily planning is complete, the only thing left is my walk, and this is the most flexible part of my morning routine in terms of timing - I like to have my walk completed in the morning, but equally I like the flexibility of saving it for later in the day as a way to clear my head.

I believe that exercise is critical for long-term health, but at 49, my days of triathlon-style training are over, and so I have found a good power walk to work wonders. I’m currently walking sub-14minute miles, and as a result my resting heart rate seems to be nice and low, which I think is good. I walk for anything between 30 minutes (the absolute minimum) and an hour. If I’m treating myself (usually at the weekend) I might walk for 90-120 minutes, but that doesn’t happen often enough. Out on my walk I sometimes listen to a podcast (Gary Vanynerchuk is a favourite at the moment) or I listen to my thoughts - it’s probably a 50/50 split, although recently I veer more towards walking in silence.

So, this is my morning routine. It rarely goes to plan, and I am always fighting a battle against getting distracted into Facebook, the news or some business admin, all of which have the power to completely de-rail my schedule. But on the days when I stick to the plan, I do find that I’m more productive throughout the day.

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