Why Your Morning Routine is Killing Your Productivity


What you do in the morning during the hour or so after you wake up sets the tone for the rest of your day. A good morning routine sets you up for success; a bad one sets you up for failure. Here are eight morning routine mistakes that are holding you back, and what you can do to fix them.


1 | Not Having a Consistent Morning Routine

One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is not having a consistent morning routine. Order breeds order and chaos breeds chaos. Starting your day off feeling organized and prepared will give you positive momentum to carry you through the day.

Even something as simple as making your bed when you wake up can have a profound impact on the trajectory of your day.

As Admiral William H. McRaven said in his UT Austin commencement speech: “If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”

Starting your day off with a few small wins gives you positive momentum to accomplish bigger wins later in the day. On the other hand, starting your day off with a few small losses halts your momentum and sets you up for further losses.


2 | Hitting the Snooze Button

Mistake number two is hitting the snooze button. It may seem harmless to silence your alarm and sleep for another ten minutes. It may even seem beneficial to get in a few extra minutes of rest when you’re feeling tired. The reality is, though, that hitting the snooze button often does more harm than good.

When we sleep, we cycle through four different stages. Stage one, stage two, and stage three are known as non-rapid eye movement or non-REM sleep. Stage four is known as REM sleep.

When we fall asleep, we first pass through the lighter stages of sleep, stages one and two, before going into the deeper, restorative stages of sleep, stage three and REM. Throughout the night, we cycle through these four stages of sleep completing one cycle about every 90 minutes.

The problem with hitting the snooze button is that it disrupts the sleep cycle. When you go back to sleep, you don’t necessarily pick up where you left off.

In other words, you might have cut yourself short on precious deep sleep only to return to less restorative light sleep. So the extra ten or fifteen minutes of sleep after hitting the snooze button is unlikely to make you feel any less tired.

Waking up tired in the morning is a reflection of the quality of sleep you got the night before. So instead of trying to fix it in the morning once the damage has already been done, you need to fix the problem before it occurs. You want to be proactive with your sleep instead of reactive.


3 | Not Getting Enough Sun Exposure

Number three is not getting enough early morning sun exposure.

As humans we are diurnal, meaning that we are biologically wired to be awake during the daytime and asleep during the nighttime. One key hormone that helps regulate this biological rhythm is melatonin. It helps set our circadian rhythm and primes our bodies for sleep come bedtime.

Research has shown that when people are exposed to sunlight in the morning, their nocturnal melatonin production occurs sooner in the day and they have an easier time sleeping at night.

This alone has been game-changing in me getting a better handle on my sleep onset insomnia. I shoot for at minimum 2 minutes of morning sun exposure when I’m rushed, but ideally at least 5 minutes and up to 10 when time allows.

Sun exposure also promotes the production of vitamin D, which is important for bone and immune health. As a society, we are spending more time inside and less time outside. As a result, it is estimated that approximately 42% of Americans are vitamin D deficient.

Short, repeated sun exposure throughout the day is ideal for increasing vitamin D, so starting your morning with even a few minutes of sun exposure can be a great way to jumpstart your vitamin D production for the day.


4 | Checking Your Phone First Thing in the Morning

Mistake number four is checking your phone first thing in the morning.

While you sleep, your brain can work free from the distractions and overstimulation of everyday life. Your subconscious can focus on problems that you weren’t able to solve throughout the day and can explore creative solutions to overcome them.

When you start your morning with a screen, however, you hinder the “download” process from occurring.

It also puts you in a reactive state rather than a proactive one. Instead of being intentional with your morning and emotional state, you are reacting to all the nonsense going on in the world.

As Matthew Walker, Professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkeley, explains:

“When you check your phone first thing in the morning, you let a flood of anxiety wash onto you. This is problematic not just because it’s a bad way to start your day, but because you train your brain in a sort of Pavlovian way to expect a rush of anxiety when you wake up. And this anticipatory anxiety is enough to negatively impact the quality of your sleep.”

For many of us, checking our phones first thing in the morning has become so deeply ingrained that it can be a difficult habit to break. When implementing any habit change though, the best way to approach it is to start small.

Start by committing to wait five minutes after you wake up to check your phone – maybe after you brush your teeth and use the bathroom for instance. Then after a couple of days, extend it to ten minutes, then twenty minutes, and so on.

Ideally, you should give yourself about an hour after you wake up before you check your phone so you have adequate time to complete your morning routine free from distraction.


5 | Neglecting Your Hydration and Nutrition

Mistake number five is neglecting your hydration and nutrition.

While you sleep, you lose water not only from normal metabolic processes but also in the air that you exhale and by evaporation through your skin. Since we are asleep and aren’t taking in any fluids, we aren’t replenishing the water that we are losing. For this reason, it’s common to wake up feeling dehydrated. This is also why you’ll often notice your urine is quite concentrated in the morning.

An important part of any morning routine is to replenish the water you’ve lost while asleep. I make sure to keep a large water bottle filled near my bed, as it decreases the friction to stay hydrated. This way, I don’t have to go through the trouble in the morning to go to the kitchen, grab a cup, and fill it up.

If you’re one who regularly forgets to drink water in the morning, I strongly recommend that you do the same.

After you’ve rehydrated yourself, the next piece of the equation is nutrition. When it comes to breakfast, there are two types of people: those who eat breakfast and those who don’t. I believe that both can be viable options depending on the person and their situation.

I currently follow a 16/8 time-restricted feeding schedule and usually don’t start my feeding window until 11 AM – several hours after waking up. That being said, if you are going to eat breakfast in the morning, avoid processed foods like sugary cereal, pop tarts, or sweetened yogurt.

These foods may make you feel good initially, but they often lead to a crash shortly thereafter. Instead, try to eat a more balanced meal containing a mix of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. This type of meal will be slower digesting and will provide you with more sustained energy throughout the day.


6 | Missing Out on Morning Movement

Mistake number six is missing out on morning movement.

If there’s one habit I never miss, even going back to 2012, it’s getting my body moving every morning.

Over the years I have developed my own custom stretching and mobility routine and have completely fallen in love with it. I’ve noticed that when I do this as a part of my morning routine, I stand with better posture, have more energy throughout the day, and simply feel better.

These beneficial effects were even more noticeable when I was a resident surgeon and had to spend long days standing in the operating room or clinic. Given the compounding effects of starting your day off with movement, it’s almost silly not to do this every morning.

Spend just a couple of minutes stretching in the morning while you wait for the shower to heat up or while you make your coffee. If you stick with it for a few weeks and I can almost guarantee that you won’t need me to tell you the benefits because you’ll feel them for yourself.


7 | Missing Out on Mindfulness

Mistake number seven is missing out on the opportunity to practice mindfulness.

Our lives are full of distractions. Between the news, social media, text messages, and zoom meetings, our attention is constantly being pulled in different directions.

Outside of the morning, there are few opportunities for us to take a quiet moment, sit down, and be alone with our thoughts.

For some people, mindfulness can mean following a guided meditation. For others, it may mean going for a walk outside without distraction. For you, it may mean something entirely different.

I won’t go into the full details of how regular mindfulness practice can benefit you in multiple ways; however, Tim Ferriss notes that over 80% of his guests of world-class performers start their days with some form of mindfulness practice. Coincidence? I think not.


8 | Not Setting Intentions for the Day

Finally, morning routine mistake number eight is not setting intentions for the day.

There are many different ways you can go about doing this. Some people prefer to do visualization practices and envision what they want to do later that day.

For me, I prefer to use a journaling app which auto-populates a custom template that I fill out each morning. This morning template includes writing about three gratitudes, three long-term goals, today’s 3 targets, and 3 affirmations.

This simple practice takes no more than 3 minutes, and it primes me for the day ahead by getting me into the right mind space. This is the journaling template that works for me, but feel free to experiment and find what vibes with you.

If you’re motivated to build your own perfect morning routine, remember to start small and celebrate the small wins.

Try adding or modifying one element at a time and experiment for yourself. And don’t get discouraged if things don’t stick immediately.

Keep experimenting with and refining your routine until it becomes something that you look forward to every morning.

Take pride in your morning routine, and I can assure you that it’ll be an investment that continues to pay dividends.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out my piece on the Anatomy of a Successful Morning Routine or the Anatomy of a Perfect Night Routine.


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