Mattan Griffel is co-founder and CEO of Y Combinator-backed One Month, a collection of highly engaging, self-paced courses for learning how to code. He is one of Forbes's 30 Under 30 in Education.
Young entrepreneurs tend to do a lot of work at night. They fill up their schedules during the day and still need to meet hard deadlines, so there's a tendency to work later and later. It's like in college when you have a big paper due and an exam the next day, so you cram the entire night just to get it done. Nights seem to have endless possibilities, and when you drink enough coffee, it feels like they can continue almost indefinitely.
But by now you probably know that nights are overrated. Pull an all-nighter and you're out of it the entire next day. It can take several days to recover. In general, by the end of a day, the last thing you want to do is more work.
So it's important that you switch to being a "morning person." Many morning people don't start out as morning people--in fact, most executives I've talked to still kind of hate mornings, and I suspect that almost everyone actually hates mornings until they discover the habits they're comfortable with. Even if you never really embrace mornings, setting a routine can transform your entire workday.
First, Create a Better Sleep Routine
Studies show that people who get seven hours of sleep (almost exactly, not more or less) are much healthier and less likely to get sick.
To be in bed early enough to get seven hours, you have to make a few changes to your routine. Many people claim they don't get tired early enough to go to bed earlier. That can be fixed by adjusting your evening schedule. For the last hour of the day, disconnect from technology and read a book. Turn down the lights; put on your pajamas. Take the steps you need to prepare your body for sleep, and try to stay away from caffeine too late in the day.
I highly recommend an app called Sleep Cycle, which I use to track my sleep. It sits on the corner of my bed and wakes me up--within a 30-minute block of time that I've set--at a point when I'm least likely to be in a deep sleep. When I use it, I feel refreshed in the morning. Even if I don't feel better, I know that snoozing for another 10 or 20 minutes is likely to make me feel worse rather than better, so it's not worth it.
Make the Most of Your Morning
There are several routines that work well for me that can help you start the day with a clear head:
- Meditate. Meditate for 10 to 20 minutes first thing in the morning using an app like Headspace or Buddhify. These apps both work really well for beginners since they have starter programs made for beginners that build up slowly.
- Write. The Artist's Way recommends a practice called morning pages, in which you write two to three pages to clear your mind in the morning. Check out 750words.com, which will keep track of your daily writing and show you interesting stats each day.
- Stretch. Try doing nine stretches every morning for 60 seconds each as part of a program called Starting Stretching. It's a great way to get your body moving and blood flowing, and is especially suited for people who can't think too early in the morning.
- Prepare tea. Preparing a cup of tea can be part of your morning ritual. Experiment with different varieties of tea (green versus black, caffeinated versus not) to find one that suits you, or switch it up depending on how you feel.
Other ideas include going to the gym for an hour, going for a walk, reading a chapter of a book, taking a long shower, listening to your favorite album, or even just taking the time to prepare your own breakfast.
Whatever you choose, avoid checking email on your phone, as it's very easy to distract yourself and lose the benefit of the clear mind and productivity that having a proper morning routine can provide.
3 Reasons to Commit to Your New Routine
A solid morning routine can impact your whole day. Here's why it's so helpful:
- Daily routines, which are important for developing almost any habit, are much easier when you do them in the morning. Morning is the one time of the day that doesn't have a degree of randomness built into it. Before meditating in the morning, I would plan on meditating at night--and then something might come up. A friend reaches out for dinner, and then we do drinks after, or I end up watching a little too much of some TV show. In the morning, you can control those things. My rule of thumb is: If I don't do something before 10 a.m., there's no guarantee it'll happen during the rest of the day.
- You have the most mental energy in the morning. At least you're not exhausted or wanting to relax. Just drink a cup of coffee or tea and you're good to go. And you're not distracted by all the stuff you've had to do all day--the important tasks that may have piled up that make you not want to do anything but them later in the day.
- It gives you a reason to wake up, and a thing to do when you wake up. Having a morning routine gives you the feeling of structure, which is important in a full-feeling life.
It's hard to develop a morning practice if your night schedule changes drastically each day. You need to be in bed by midnight for this to work. (Yes, this means I haven't been able to go out for drinks with friends as often--I'm OK with that.)
One of the ways I force myself to get up early is by drinking a full glass of water right before bed. I also have comfortable slippers sitting by the bed for when I wake up. Being cold makes the mornings harder, so I slip right into slippers and men's Lululemon pants (and a sweater), and the day feels great.
What's your morning routine? Any tips for making it stick? I'd love to hear about other methods that work.