We all know – consciously or unconsciously – the importance of having a good morning as a way of setting yourself up for a great day.
Too many people, however, simply rely on “waking up on the right side of the bed” as their strategy for the morning. Basically, flip a coin and see where it lands.
When I first quit the world of full time work to become a freelance musician, I faced two big challenges. They are GREAT challenges because each is a solution to the other.
Problem 1 – a lot of “free time”.
Without the luxury of planned meetings and time limits managed by someone else (i.e. the boss at my old company), I suddenly had lots of time and a need to fill it with meaningful work.
A lot of free time might sound like only a positive thing, but it can be as damaging to your mental wellbeing as no free time and a lot of stress. A lot of thinking time is great, but it can very easily become a lot of overthinking time – not so great.
Problem 2 – a lot of things I wanted to do or improve in my life.
I had a long list of these things in the back of my head: taking better care of my body (e.g. diet, exercise, flossing) better care of my mind (meditation, mindfulness), better care of my musical craft (singing routines, guitar practice, piano practice, regular songwriting) and other miscellaneous tasks (learning new languages, keeping better in touch with my family, and so on).
A large part of solving these twin problems lay in how I approached my mornings. Rather than trying to fix everything overnight and become a happy, healthy, multilingual songwriting robot on Day 1, I gradually built a daily routine that would kick start my day effectively and flow seamlessly into songwriting work. By the time I got to it, I would already feel like I achieved so much with my day!
I want to summarise step-by-step how I took control of my mornings, whilst using this to suggest a plan for how YOU can do the same.
STEP 1 – LIST ALL THE THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO DO
What are the things you constantly tell yourself you should be doing? When you’re sitting around doing nothing, what should you be doing? Write a list of anything that pops into your head.
NOTE: you are NOT going to do ALL of these things – the list is just to provide you with ideas for your perfect routine!
To make this easier, you can think about the following categories:
Health & Fitness
Music & Creativity
Social & Family Life
Your list might look like this, broken into the categories:
Health & Fitness
- 15 minutes of yoga
- 40 press-ups
- 5km run
- Eat a bowl of muesli & fruit
- Brush your teeth after breakfast
- Stretch and roll out your back
- Drink a glass of water when you wake up
Music & Creativity
- Come up with a new idea for a song
- 15-minute vocal warm up
- Steaming (for your voice)
- 15 minutes instrument practice
- Learn a new song on the guitar/piano/other
- Read the lyrics to a song you really love
- Listen to something you’ve never heard before
- Watch a video of live gig footage of another band and write out what you like about it
Social & Family Life
- Call your parents
- Check in on your best friends
- Write to five of your friends to ask them what they’ve been doing recently
- 15 minutes learning a new language (Duolingo is GREAT to get started with this)
- Watch a TED Talk
- Read an article online about a topic you know nothing about
- Write a diary entry
I am a naturally curious person and love learning about new things – this is what gives me inspiration for new songs and generally keeps me happy. So for me, I always want to be learning a new language (currently it’s Russian), as well as learning about new things every day.
But the list might look completely different depending on what is important to you in life. If you place a high value on self awareness and mindfulness, you might focus more on things like writing a diary and meditating.
FINAL POINT about this – each of the tasks on your list should be things that can be done in a short amount of time (less than fifteen minutes).
For example, I wouldn’t put “write a novel” on my list because I can’t do that in 15 minutes. But I COULD put “write 500 words of a novel” on the list.
STEP 2 – WRITE A PRIORITY RATING NEXT TO EACH ITEM
Next to each task on the list you should now write a rating for how important it is.
I would use high, medium and low.
Make sure not to have too many ‘highs’ on your list – really think carefully about what is most important to you!
This step helps you put the various things into perspective – rather than a big complicated mass of ‘things I should be doing’, you’ll have a more focused list broken into what is actually important and what is less needed.
STEP 3 – CHOOSE THE FIRST THREE TASKS YOU WANT IN YOUR ROUTINE
It is important not to overthink this – the whole point is that you’re going to try different things and see what works / what makes you feel great every day. Pick from your ‘High’ priorities.
I started with these three:
- Daily Yoga (I can recommend Fightmaster Yoga and her 30-day challenge to get you going on this)
- 15 minutes of Spanish learning using Duolingo
- Drinking a big glass of water
I chose yoga because it does several things at once – it allows me to wake up more gradually, stretch out my body after sleeping, tone my muscles, work on breathing (great for singers!) and creates a space to clear the mind.
STEP 4 – MAKE A NOTE EVERY DAY WHETHER YOU DID THESE THINGS
This is where my love of spreadsheets really helps [here’s an article on 5 ways I use spreadsheets to manage my life as a musician] – I created something that looked like this:
But you can use whatever you want: pen and paper, a calendar, an app (it’s called a ‘Bullet Diary’ so you can search through options on the App Store), etc!
Now, and this is REALLY important – DO NOT WORRY that you are not hitting all these tasks every morning. What you want to do here is first see what works best for you.
If something isn’t working, swap it out for something else. E.g. if you’re not getting along with yoga, try doing a shorter exercise routine like 40 squats/press-ups.
Keep track of how you’re finding the different tasks. The best thing is to write notes on how you feel each day, using the following questions as a guide:
- How easy is it to do each task?
- How long does each task take
- What tasks make you feel great after you’ve done them?
- What makes it harder to do a specific task? [we have a blog about this here]
STEP 5 – USE YOUR LEARNINGS IN THE PREVIOUS STEP TO BUILD YOUR PERFECT MORNING ROUTINE
This will really depend on how you respond to different tasks; what makes one person feel great might have no impact on someone else.
I would recommend including 3-5 things in your perfect morning routine. You can then start adding more things one by one as you get more confident and organised.
There are a couple of key things to note at this stage:
Firstly, your routine will likely keep changing over time.
For example, for several months I found writing a diary really helped me keep a clear mind, but then this was taken over by my blog writing which helped me get my thoughts on paper in a different form.
Your individual tasks might change too – e.g. I recently changed up my Yoga routine to make it shorter and more repetitive day-to-day, thus guaranteeing that I do it every day.
Secondly, it’s ok NOT to be perfect every day.
The last thing you need is to put too much pressure on yourself if things aren’t working. The routine is there to make you feel great, not beat yourself up.
But if you can build a great routine that is achievable, you’ll start your work for the day feeling like you have actually achieved something. It will help clear your mind of self-doubt and allow you to focus on your music work with a spring in your step.
As always, thank you for reading and please leave a comment below! Have you got your own morning routine you want to share?