Updated: Oct 22, 2020
There is one key thing that gives my days an exceptional start and when missing I often times feel a tangible difference in my mood, energy levels and productivity. I'm a firm believer that anything that begins well has a greater possibility of ending well, and so my morning routine has become a core set of practices that bring exceptional mind readiness and energy to my day. Many of us as leaders will tend to have default routines that kick start our day; typically it looks like checking our phones immediately upon waking, walking around with the phone while answering messages or shooting off the next command to our team, maybe the gym or a run and then somewhere in there is the absolute necessity of getting a cup of coffee to help yourself feel awake and energized.
Kudos to you if exercise is somewhere in the default list. I would like to suggest that the default approach lacks the focus on one's self and throws you and your thought processes into what needs "to get done". As leaders it is becoming increasingly necessary to shift from focusing on doing to also focus on being. This is largely because there are so many burn out and stress related diseases in the working world primarily attributed to bosses DOING too much and not being mindful in self-care. Daily routines are an excellent way to build in self-care and mindfulness into your day while staying at the top of our productivity game. Here are a few quick tips to help with getting your daily routines setup:
Create A Holistic Default Calendar
I suspect that if you're in a leadership role, you already use your calendar extensively or like me, you have 3 or 4 calendars that your assistants help you to manage. The first tip is to update your default calendars with the daily start practices for all 7 days of the week. Most of us are very diligent about our meeting schedules, but ignore the rest of our lives when it comes to our calendars. Begin with the amount of sleep 💤 you should be getting (7 - 9 hrs) and using that as one of the key drivers for the time you start your morning activities and the end of your evening activities. For those of you who don't have a default calendar, this is simply blocking out specific chunks of time on your calendar that are used for specific things like meetings, checking emails and doing deep work. Now include sleep, winding down, next day prep, meditation, exercise etc. so that your standing day to day view includes these items.
Detach From Your Devices
Start your day without looking through messages and social feeds until the end of your routine. Our attention is constantly on demand now that we are in a world dominated by internet tethered devices. Device domination has become not only a major time suck, but has also amplified the occurrence of several social illnesses including depression and anxiety. If you use your phone for an alarm, turn off the alarm and put down the phone OR get an "old school" alarm clock. In the evenings have a set time to separate from your phone, save and except there's an emergency and someone calls, there is really no reason to fall asleep with our devices in hand or beside us on the bed. You can also take the extra step of setting a timer on your handheld devices to shut off access to apps for a certain amount of time daily (which I did because some of us need a little more reinforcement). I typically have mine set to 30 minutes before bedtime and 30 minutes after wakeup time. Not only is it annoying to have to deliberately turn on app access, but it also creates a instant reminder of why I'm making this shift.
Introduce a Mindfulness Practice
Becoming a balanced boss requires the introduction of more mindfulness practices. Creating habits around meditation, gratitude, intention setting, stillness time etc. are becoming more and more mainstream and relevant due to the inherent benefits being observed by leaders who employ these practices. These are great options for "the first thing to do" after opening your eyes or right before bed. It also doesn't have to take a long time; anywhere from 5 - 15 minutes is enough to kick start a habit around mindfulness. For meditation there are lots of apps or videos on YouTube that are great for beginners and advanced alike.
I'll confess that I struggled with this one. I've never liked "active" exercise like running, weight training or going to the gym; however I've recently created a habit around adding this to my morning routine 3 mornings each week. Separately, I practice yoga everyday; during the week before work I may do a 10 - 15 minute session guided by a yogi on YouTube or just free-flow, while on the weekends and vacation time I'll go for 30 - 45 minutes or take the occasional 1 hour class. Many leaders already workout religiously at some point during their day, but for those of us who don't now is as good a time as any to begin. Again, it doesn't have to be more than 20 minutes... just do something!
Daily Top 3
I've found that by outlining my "Top 3 for Me" every morning helps me with creating focused productivity, especially on those days where I have a million things or people pulling at me and time seems to be fleeting. I jot down this list after checking my messages and emails within the prescribed 30 minute slot. Nothing excites me more than crossing things off my to do list!
Start and End with a Routine
For some of you this may feel like an inflexible way of being however I employ both a morning and an evening routine that is very deliberate. My evening routines help me with managing my children and their daily calendars as well as providing my body with a well defined winding down process. When I get it right, my sleep patterns are amazing and restful nights are the norm rather than the exception. I encourage you to try out ending your day with 30 minutes of review and closeout of the workspace and 30 minutes of quiet time with a bath, book, cup of tea or even meditation.