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Use Morning Checklists for More Productive Days

“Starting off your day right” is a commonly used phrase but for a good reason. Almost everyone’s had the experience of waking up late, spilling their coffee and getting stuck in traffic. This snowball effect can last for hours, ruining your day.

On the other hand, a relaxing morning routine sets the tone for a calm, productive day. Many people use checklists to set themselves in gear and keep them on track. This can help build habits, allowing you to calm your mind while reaching goals quicker.

In this guide, we’ll discuss the importance of morning to-do lists and how you can create the perfect one.

Why Morning Routines Are Important

Developing and sticking to a good morning routine can improve your mental and physical health. You may be wondering if your schedule counts as a routine. Routines are simply a set of actions done regularly. Waking up, eating and exercising could count as a routine, but so could a longer set of 10 actions. There are several ways you can benefit from a good morning routine:

Limit Decision-Fatigue

Knowing what tasks to do in what order can help you save your mental energy for more important things throughout the day. For example, waking up and wondering whether you should workout, and if so, which exercises to do, can waste your decision-making skills.

Combined with other tasks during the day, this can lead to what is called “decision fatigue.” After making too many, you may avoid making decisions entirely or make worse ones. If you work a job where you’re in charge of choices, this can affect your performance.

If your routine is to work out every morning, and you do specific exercises on certain weekdays, your choices are limited. You conserve your decision-making skills. This is the reason why Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and former President Obama wear the same outfit almost every day.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Routines are also important when you consider their relationship to habit (routines are basically a collection of habits). One study found that about 40% of people's daily tasks are habits. Over time, these small habits add up to big changes. To ensure that change is positive, you want to create positive habits.

Breaking down your goals and adding them to your morning routine is a good way to form habits for success. For example, if your goal is to improve your physical health, aim to follow a yoga routine every morning after you’re done your coffee.

As opposed to evening, morning is a great time to add habits to your routine. A 2017 study compared the success of adding new habits into your morning vs. night routine. Researchers found that those with new morning habits had them become automatic 50 days sooner. While they aren’t exactly sure why, researchers think it’s because your body takes advantage of the cortisol (stress hormone) surge many people naturally get in the morning.

How a Morning Checklist Can Help

We discussed why forming new habits in the morning can be the most beneficial—but how do you actually put that into practice? One tool you can use to focus is a checklist. Although simple, checklists have several benefits:

  • Prevents overwhelm. If you wake up and your mind is swirling with things you need to do, your brain can feel clogged. It can be hard to keep track of each task. Putting it all down on paper allows you to release it from your mind because you know you can’t forget them.
  • Helps you prioritize. With all the tasks you need to do in a day, it can be difficult to know which order to perform them in. Making a schedule in your head and trying to remember it can, again, lead to overwhelm. Lists allow you to organize your to-dos so you can complete them efficiently.
  • Conserves mental energy. As we discussed above, you can only make so many decisions before you start making poor ones. Knowing your routine step-by-step is less intensive on your mind than asking “What should I do first today? Then what? What’s next after that?” One study suggested that noting down plans for goals helps free up cognitive resources for other tasks.
  • Limits distractions. If you know you have a set five things to do before you go to work, you’re more likely to do them. On the other hand, having a vague idea in your head of what you should be doing can allow distractions to creep in. For example, instead of going for a walk right after breakfast, you may find yourself scrolling through social media for 20 minutes.
  • Saves time. If you’re specific with your list, it can help you save time. For example, if you know today’s exercise will be a cardio workout, you won’t waste time at home or in the gym deciding which body part to focus on.

What to Include in Your Morning Checklist

What you should add to your morning checklist depends on:

  • The maximum time you’re willing to spend in the morning (how early you’re willing to wake up)
  • Your goals (personally, professionally, psychologically and physically)
  • Your evening routine (you may wish to move some tasks to your morning routine)

Considering those points, here are some ideas for what to add to your morning checklist:

  • Make your bed. Navy Seal William H. McCraven, author of Make Your Bed, suggests that completing this small task first thing will get the ball rolling for bigger to-do items.
  • Drink a glass of water. Even if you’re well-hydrated at bedtime, the body loses fluids during sleep.
  • Eat a healthy breakfast. Eggs, fruits, oats and Greek yogurt are good options. Quick meals include protein shakes and Aurora’s soon-to-be-released breakfasts.
  • Exercise or stretch. If you’re having trouble keeping an exercise routine, forming the habit in the morning may help. Gentle movement like yoga or stretching can also engage and energize the body.
  • Go for a walk. Getting outside is a good way to boost mood. Research shows being in nature can improve mental health.
  • Meditate. Sitting in stillness is another way to elevate mood and increase focus. You can also try guided or walking meditations.
  • Read. Aim to read for a certain amount of time or a certain number of pages. It could be a novel, self-help book or one related to your professional goals.
  • Get ready. Including showering, getting dressed, etc. You already know you need to do these things, but adding it to your list helps you organize the order of tasks.
  • Journal. Making a list can be a form of “mind dumping,” but journaling can help get out any emotional thoughts.
  • Practice gratitude. For example, list three things you’re thankful for. Research shows that gratitude can improve physical and mental health.
  • Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Choose a topic you enjoy and play it when you’re doing less enjoyable tasks, such as exercising or driving.
  • Plan the rest of your day. While you don’t necessarily need to itemize your entire day, you can block out hours for work and after-work activities, chores or errands.

Take Advantage of Your Mornings

Chugging down a cup of coffee and using the jitters to rush out the door is one way to spend your morning. But with some extra time and planning, you can flow into your day better. Spend some time thinking about your goals and activities that relax you, then add them to your morning checklist. You can do this a few ways:

  • Create a checklist in a journal (some people love the visual aspects of bullet journaling)
  • Write on a traditional checklist notepad
  • Use a checklist app, such as Wunderlist

You’ll probably notice a better mood and productive day almost instantly—but it can have positive long-term effects too.

Creating a morning routine and using checklists can help you reach your goals quicker. Tasks on your checklist can soon become habits. Each time you check something off, the sense of accomplishment reinforces you to continue the action. You’ll also feel more confident tackling the rest of the day knowing you’ve already mastered your morning.

Sources:

  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2019/05/13/how-to-identify-when-youre-experiencing-decision-fatigue/#5469dc4f7fb4
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/brain-wise/201904/the-science-habits
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931.htm
  4. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-27629-001
  5. http://users.wfu.edu/masicaej/MasicampoBaumeister2011JPSP.pdf
  6. https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2018/05/30/the-importance-of-establishing-a-morning-routine/#61c96b662c31
  7. https://zapier.com/blog/daily-routines/
  8. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/connection-between-hydration-and-sleep
  9. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaax0903
  10. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm#hed3
  11. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentID=4552&ContentTypeID=1
  12. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/images/uploads/GGSC-JTF_White_Paper-Gratitude-FINAL.pdf

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