Over the past several months running my online publication, The Ascent, I’ve read (or at least skimmed) hundreds, if not thousands, of articles from talented, up-and-coming writers.
These articles have varied in subject matter from a wide range of topics, but business and entrepreneurship have often been core themes. And of those, a common trend I’ve noticed among the highest performing ones has been the idea of success and its correlation to a solid morning routine.
Now, before I start examining and challenging this idea outright, I think it’s important to mention the high-level benefits of actually having a solid morning routine. From what I’ve seen, morning routines can have an effect on your health and wellbeing, bring about a positive mindset or clarity of thought, help you be more productive, or help you stay consistent and comfortable throughout the day.
The problem for me, though, is when people view the morning routine as an end-all, be-all formula for success. And there’s a simple reason for that: the most successful people we all know tend to have solid morning routines.
My argument is that the most successful people we all know tend to be solid at a lot of things, hence why they are successful in the first place. The morning routine just happens to be a convenient starting point for dissecting them as individuals, and it happens to also be the easiest thing for us commoners to emulate.
Deconstructing the Morning Routine
What makes a solid morning routine? From what I’ve seen, the most successful businessmen and women tend to be early risers (except Mark Zuckerberg, who famously stays up until 6 AM every night chatting with his programmers), they eat healthy breakfasts, and they do some form of exercise, whether for the body, or the mind, or both.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is great! If we were all committed to doing those types of things every day consistently, we’d probably all lead happier, healthier lives in the long run.
But, would we all be successful? I don’t think so, and that’s because how we spend the rest of our day also matters. In fact, I think it really matters, especially if success is what you seek. [Insert “we all get the same 24 hours in a day” quote here.]
Adding a Little Variety to Your Routine
That subhead is a bit of an oxymoron, wouldn’t you say? I think it will make a heck of a lot more sense in just a minute…
I truly believe that your individual success is dependent on finding the custom-fitted daily “routine” that works best for you – and it doesn’t hinge on doing the same thing every single day, at the same time, in the same place.
We aren’t all round pegs meant to fit into the same round hole. You can lead a structured, efficient lifestyle that also happens to include spontaneity and variety. Here’s how:
Integrate “Flex Time” Into Your Routine
No, I’m not talking about spending your morning flexing your muscles in the gym. What I mean is, block off a window of time — ideally the same time every day — and keep a running list of things you can do with it.
For me, personally, I block off 1–2 hours each morning and either spend that time writing (like I did today), growth hacking my Instagram account (i.e. following and engaging with individuals and content pertaining to my interests), or jamming through unread emails. Nothing crazy, I know, but it’s just consistent enough and just spontaneous enough to keep things efficient, yet interesting.
Work From Anywhere as Often as Possible
One of the reasons I left corporate America was because I hated the idea of being chained to my desk each and every day. I loved the actual work I did, sure, and I loved the people I worked with even more, but sitting there for hours on end each day ultimately made me less healthy, less productive, and less happy.
That has now changed. The Internet has disrupted the way we do almost everything, but what fascinates me most is how it’s changing the way we work.
So, if you can, try working from someplace different each day. When I’m out and about, whether answering emails from a local coffee shop or filming a new episode of my vlog overseas, I’m just generally happier working from a plane, a beach, a lake, or wherever, than I am stuck inside at my desk.
I think you will be, too. Get inspiration to #workfromXYZ (a little side project we’ve been working on).
Find Your Ideal Time to Grind
One thing I’m quickly learning is that we aren’t all morning people. I’ve certainly gotten better about waking up early and being productive, but more often than not, I feel like I put my best work in after dark.
If that sounds like you, I’m giving you permission to be the best night owl you can possibly be. I mentioned above that Mark Zuckerberg stays up until 6 AM every night chatting with his programmers. There’s a reason for that; it’s what works best for him. It’s what works best for them.
[Insert “we all get the same 24 hours in a day” reminder here.]
Embrace Incremental Improvement (& Breaks!)
In the same way that you don’t get six-pack abs overnight, you don’t generally find success that way either. Another thing you can do to integrate a little efficient variety into your routine, similar to the flex time I mentioned above, is to work on improving yourself in small increments each day.
One surefire way to go about that is by making better use of your “downtime.” Struggling creatively? Go for a walk. Sure, it’s not equivalent to putting an hour in at the gym, but it is a moderate form of exercise AND you can clear your mind or do a little quick brainstorming to your benefit.
There are lots of little incremental things you can do like that. Heading to the restroom? Engage with a few of your Twitter followers or skim tech news headlines while you’re there (don’t lie, I know you take your phone with you anyway). Commuting via car, train, or bus? Load up your favorite business podcast to come along with you. Traveling somewhere via plane? Write a couple of articles or film a quick video to share so you can better position yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
In summary, take breaks whenever you need to but don’t waste the gaps of time they create for you.
As my girlfriend, Melissa, said to me this morning, we are creatures of variety. That statement is what served as the inspiration for this article and it was born out of the fact that I often complain about being unable to stick to a good morning routine.
But I realized something: I don’t have to, and neither do you. If success is what you seek, the recipe has always been the same: work extremely hard, be extremely efficient, and do both of those things each and every day. Your morning routine may play an important role in that journey, but it isn’t the end-all, be-all indicator of your success (or failure).
Find what works best for you and put it into motion, day by day. And above all, don’t over-plan. Execute.