It's nearly impossible to recover from a bad morning, or so they say. And for me, things don't even have to go all that wrong to throw my finely tuned "get-ready machine" all out of whack. For most of us--and especially for those with the added challenge of getting small (and typically cute but uncooperative) ones ready and out the door--mornings are stressful. And it's unfortunate, because a bad morning can throw off your whole day.

My mornings are compilations of small, sequential activities, all on the critical path, that get everyone where they need to be at a certain time. When one task takes two minutes longer than the four minutes I have allocated for it, something else gets pushed out. If I snooze for five minutes instead of getting up right when the alarm goes off, well, I just might not be able to eat lunch that day.

A quick internet search returns oodles of checklists and advice columns on morning time management and its linkages to overall productivity. Recommendations abound and cover the gamut--from what to eat to how much coffee provides the optimal energy boost to what to do the night before. The key to making those recommendations work, however, might surprise you.

The trick? Do them every day. Yes. That means on weekends, too.

We typically think of time management for our workdays only. The problem? Two weekend days in every week interrupt our weekday flow and weekday patterns don't set. A lack of daily (and I mean every day) practices equates to a much harder time getting good habits to stick.

So the No. 1 thing you can do to be more productive in the morning is to be consistent. That's why the recommendation to work out three to five times a week doesn't work for most people. They end up blaming themselves for having a lack of willpower, but it's really not a willpower problem at all: it's that they followed the guidance but weren't able to get the pattern to stick. It can be incredibly difficult to start a challenging exercise routine--couple that with only doing it on certain days, and you're almost sure to slack off and then eventually quit altogether.

Routines have to occur on all seven days, or you risk going to zero.

Before you get too depressed, I'm not suggesting that you work seven days a week or that you don't take time to relax on the weekends. You absolutely can and should do that--as soon as you've completed your morning routine.

So what are some of the most effective daily patterns to establish? Here are five morning habits that work for me.

  1. Do less. Part of this strategy is to do everything that you can the night before--within reason. That means laying out your clothes, packing your gym bag, programming your coffeemaker, and taking care of the multitude of "other" tasks, if you add kids to the mix.
  2. Reduce the number of decisions you need to make. Lunch or breakfast can become standard for you, or you can eat them according to a predetermined menu or schedule. Tip: The more you plan regular decisions like meals, the more likely you are to stick to your plan and, in this case, eat healthier (whatever "healthier" might mean for you). Here is LearnVest CEO Alexa Von Tobel’s perspective on the benefits of reducing (or eliminating) routine decisions about food, meetup spots, and workouts.
  3. Adopt a uniform. I absolutely hate this idea, but I think it works. Just read Bartie Scott’s recent post on how entrepreneurs make their mornings simpler. I recently purged bags and bags of my lesser-worn clothes and then took that exercise a step further by limiting my closet to a color palette (admittedly, it's a pretty wide range of colors). The set colors and styles do help me get dressed faster, and frankly, no one at work notices or cares anyway.
  4. Build in 30 minutes of quiet time every day, just for yourself. A daily writing habit has the potential to do more for your sense of purpose and well-being, your focus at work and your clarity about what is important to you, than any other daily pattern. If you do nothing else, find these 30 minutes to read, reflect, and write.
  5. Avoid looking at your email or social media. You'll get sucked in and have nothing to show for it. Especially for "social" social media--when you're likely reading about a long-lost high school friend's experience brushing her teeth that morning. Save it for your commute (if you're on the train or bus) or for when you're otherwise stuck waiting (in line for coffee or for a conference call to start).
Published on: Sep 17, 2015