If you compare the average personal development junkie’s morning routine to that of an industrious creative 100+ years ago, you’ll notice some key differences:
- The personal dev junkie tries to fit as much as he can in his morning routine before working (probably because he doesn’t enjoy his work)
- The junkie believes that simply by having a morning routine, he will eventually get ahead of those who don’t have any formalized routine (because that’s what a book told him)
- The only consistent thing about the personal dev junkie’s routine is that it changes—all the time.
Compare this to W. H. Auden, who “rose shortly after 6:00am, made himself coffee, and settled down to work quickly…” (src: Daily Rituals)
Or Hemingway, even after a night of drinking (and he did that well) would wake early and get to work. “When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.”
Of course, not everyone was like this. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his later years, relied on Corydrane to get his work done, along with two packs of cigarettes, more than a quart of alcohol, and a cocktail of other drugs.
But the point stands: many of the creative legends we know didn’t muck around. Whether it was in the early hours of the morning or late at night, they worked.
Good vs. Bad Morning Routines
There’s a difference between having a morning routine that gets you ready for the day and improves your life, and a routine that’s shaded procrastination.
The easiest way to tell the difference is by how you feel during your routine.
If you’re reading for two hours every morning before you start your work and you feel guilty for doing so, it’s probably because you know you could be working.
But if you’re reading for 30 mins every morning and you know it’s preparing you for the day, and you feel proud of yourself for practicing that habit, then it’s helpful.
In my experience and observation, most people pack their morning routines with too many habits, sabotaging their ability to do their best work.
How Simplifying My Routine Led to Greater Productivity
Admittedly, I was the personal development junkie I mentioned at the start of this post.
I tried all kinds of hacks and habits, desperately searching for the morning routine that would “click” and make my life perfect.
But I could never shake the feeling of wanting to procrastinate before starting work.
And then I read The War of Art and realized that this feeling is normal and unavoidable—you just have to work anyway.
In the past, my morning routine looked something like this:
- Wake up with an alarm (around 6am)
- Cold shower
- Read 30 min
- Write 30 min
- Plan day
- Finally start work
Usually it took me 2+ hours from the time I woke up to the time I started work. And I did not want to start work.
Nowadays, I know that the best thing I can do is fight the resistance as early as possible. Those other habits (like working out) can wait.
My current routine is very simple. I’m not prescribing it, but it works for me:
- Wake up naturally (no alarm because I prize sleep quality)
- Walk 20-30 min around the block (hopefully get some sun)
- Make coffee and start work
Around noon, I’ll workout, eat, and take a short break before getting back into it.
Audit Your Routine
Over to you.
Is your current routine (or any part of it) a form of procrastination? You’ll know if it is.
Try changing it.
Try doing less.
Try starting work earlier.
See what happens.