I used to be the kind of person who checked email first thing in the morning.
I’d wake up at 5 am, brew a French press, and sit down at the desk in my home office. The dogs would follow along and settle into my office sofa, promptly falling back asleep. Then, to the soothing sound of their snores-before taking any time to ground or center myself-the very first thing I’d do was check email.
And then I’d check social media.
After all of those reactive tasks, I’d start working—usually some form of writing (programs, emails, blog posts, etc.).
I was getting up so early and starting my work day before the sun was up, but I just couldn’t understand how I wasn’t feeling wildly productive. I couldn’t understand why I felt perpetually anxious and overwhelmed, and why I was so busy but never actually felt as though I was accomplishing anything.
How was it possible to start working as soon as I woke up and still feel like I couldn’t get anything done?
In The Princess Bride, Vizzini (the Sicilian criminal mastermind hired by Prince Humperdinck to kidnap and kill Buttercup) told his cohorts Fezzik and Inigo to go back to the beginning if they ever got into trouble. So I went back to the beginning, because often times the beginning lays the foundation for the rest of the adventure.
Rather than check email first thing in the morning-or worse, lay in bed scrolling through my iPhone-I’d put my phone in airplane mode before bed and painstakingly resist the urge to open my laptop for the first 15 minutes of my day.
Instead, I began sitting on my patio (in my robe, of course), with my coffee and a book. Coffee and a book gradually turned into coffee and a book and my journal. And that eventually became coffee/book/journal/yoga. Only after I did those things, would I open my laptop and begin my work day—and even then, I wouldn’t check email until about 11 am.
Instead, I’d start with proactive tasks like coaching and writing, using all of that creativity and clarity I’d just manifested to actually create. What I realized is that by using those waking moments to get clear, calm, and centered, I was more productive and ultimately, more successful.
Now I spend the first 10-60 minutes of my day on my flexible morning routine. The time I have to dedicate to my routine is wholly dependent on when I wake up and what unavoidable tasks I have (appointments, taking my son to school, etc.). I don’t stress out about it—instead, I take the time I have and make the best of it.
Some days I wake up at 0500, burn some palo santo, pull some tarot cards, read something with heart wisdom, write in my journal, and do 5-10 minutes of yoga. Other days I only have a few minutes so I briefly write in my journal or I read a few passages from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
Other days still, when things are really crazy, I will simply close my eyes and take 20 deep, cleansing breaths.
The intention isn’t to have a perfectly crafted morning routine, it’s to spend my waking moments on activities that help me feel ready to take on the day ahead—because a centered beginning will improve my chances of having a centered middle and end.
This simple intention, to spend the first few minutes of each day in solitude, is one of the most powerful things I do with my clients. So many of us wake up already anxious and frazzled and fail to take the time to get centered; I get it—we’ve got all got loads to do.
But when I start encouraging my clients to pause and reflect before hitting “GO” on their day, they report a drastic increase in productivity coupled with a noticeable decrease in anxiety.
When we go back to the beginning, we have the opportunity to set ourselves up for success. This is more than just reading or journaling, my friends—this is self care at the most basic level.
How we spend our mornings can have a massive impact on the outcome of the rest of our day, and because I want you to the have the best days, I’m going to share with you one way to have a better morning.
Rather than getting up and immediately hitting go, hit pause and open up your journal.
What you see here is my personal journaling format; it may or may not work for you, but it’s a framework that both I and my clients have found great success with. This format helps me feel more mindful of my mental and emotional states so that I can have a better understanding of how to go about my day—and it only takes 5 minutes.
Emotional Check In
First, I do a quick emotional check-in; this might be a few descriptors of feelings (anxious, heart-heavy, calm, curious, etc) or it might be a few sentences. The intention is to go inward and dump whatever emotions I’m having onto paper.
Physical Check In
Second is the physical check-in; Am I feeling sore? Aches and pains? How’s my digestion? Am I ovulating? The intention is to check in with my physical body so I can address this later with movement or rest.
Then, based on those check-ins I jot down ONE OR TWO actions I can take to improve those feelings and states, if necessary. I only want to give myself a few action steps because the point is to make this doable, not overwhelming.
So if I noted that I’m feeling distracted, my action step will be to take 3 minutes to meditate. If I’m feeling sore, my action step might be to do some restorative yoga or to foam roll for a few minutes.
Third, I set some intentions for my day, both things I want to manifest and things I want to release. Again, I keep this short, maybe 1-3 things for each. Some things to manifest might be creativity, focus, awareness, compassion…some things to release might be impatience, quickness to anger, attaching myself to a destructive narrative, and so on.
Lastly, I end with gratitude so that I can put myself in a positive, appreciative state of mind. I write down 1-3 things I’m currently grateful for, ranging from the sunset I witnessed the night before to a new lipstick shade I’ve just acquired. Gratitude doesn’t have to be heavy—it’s simply the things that make you feel warm and fuzzy.
This process is just a few minutes out of my day and it makes a huge impact. Taking those few minutes to get clear on my emotions and my state of mind is crucial to my ability to function productively throughout the day, and I would go as far as to say it’s the most important part of my morning routine.
If you ever find yourself feeling unproductive, uninspired, or uncreative, go back to the beginning. How are you spending your waking moments? Are you setting yourself up for success? Are you crafting a morning ritual that leaves you feeling ready to crush the day ahead?
I invite you to take this journaling format, play with it, add, subtract, make it your own. However you go about it, I urge you to spend just a few minutes a day checking in and getting clear. I guarantee it will make a massive difference to how you feel and and how you show up in the world.