8 Ways to Make Your Mornings More Pleasant and Productive

She looks like a morning person, but maybe she's just got a great morning routine. (Photo: Mila Supinskaya/Shutterstock)

I've never been a morning person; it's just not my chronotype. Once I realized that, I got over beating myself up for the way I felt in the mornings, and instead started to work with my unique set of skills. I'm a big believer in working with your strengths (and around your "weaknesses" or differences) instead of feeling guilty — which doesn't improve anything anyway.

Over the last few years, there has been quite a bit of research and data-mining (as well as a plethora of anecdotes from titans of business and other successful folks) about how to start the day most effectively — the key is that they all have a morning ritual, from Mark Twain to James Joyce. If you agree with the premise that the start of your day matters, then it's a matter of reverse-engineering your first few hours so you arrive at work on time, you feel good and are armed with as many tools as possible to be productive. And I've found, when it comes to mornings, that when mornings do present challenges, whether it's difficult weather, annoying coworkers or a stressful email, that if you're feeling good, it's much easier to deal with the problem.

Forthwith, some proven advice (and some personal tips) about how to get to noon without pulling your hair out. Creating new morning habits can make your mornings — and the rest of your day — significantly better. As Charles Duhigg writes in "The Power of Habit," "Changing habits isn’t necessarily quick or easy. But it is possible."

woman sleeping, hair bun
The best way to make the morning go well is to get a good night's rest. (Photo: Big Joe/Shutterstock)

1. Rest up: I know you don't want to hear this again, but it's true, and worth repeating. A great morning starts with a good night's sleep the night before. Simply put, you need to get to bed on time. How? Avoid caffeine late in the day so you can fall asleep within a reasonable time frame. You can help yourself fall — and stay — asleep by eating at least three or four hours before bedtime, drinking a half-cup of chamomile tea an hour before bed, doing some mellow stretching and keeping all screens and electronics off for an hour before you want to do lights out. I recommend a warm shower and warm oil rubs too (doing all or most of these things most nights as a habit will prompt your body to slow down and quiet down). It's incredibly common for people to keep their minds and bodies racing until the moment they want to drop off to sleep, but your body is not a smartphone — it needs time to unwind at night. And if you need more ideas on this front, read Mary Jo DiLonardo's Tips to help you wake up feeling amazing.

2. Commit to waking up: If you're unable to wake up on time every single morning (and you are older than 19), then you are sleep-deprived or working against your chronotype. If the latter is true — you are getting enough rest but the timing is just too early for your body clock, see if there's anything you can do to adjust your schedule. For example, switching my wake time from 6:45 to 8:15 has made a world of difference in my life — I wake up refreshed. I'm not sleeping longer hours, just different ones. If you can't change your schedule, stop torturing yourself with the snooze button — you're just cutting into your sleep time and making the morning stressful. You are literally starting your day by lying to yourself, trying to subvert reality, and stressing yourself out. It's unhealthy. Promise yourself that you will wake up when your alarm goes off for one week, and set it at an appropriate time. Do it for five days in a row (getting to sleep on time the night before) and see how your mornings change.

3. Keep it quiet: Leave the TV off, the talk radio silent, anything loud and aggravating blocked out, for now. This is called "keeping the world out" and it's a popular tactic by those who want to take control of their day and not have the day take them over before they've had a chance to get their footing.

Pouring watch from a pitcher into a small glass
Our organs need a steady supply of water to function, so drink up!. (Photo: science photo/Shutterstock)

4. Drink water: Your body has been resting and processing the previous day all night long. Beginning your day with a large glass of filtered water (I add the juice of a half an organic lemon to mine for flavor, a shot of vitamin C, and an extra liver-cleansing boost) gives your body a chance to clear whatever might be hanging out in your kidneys from the day before, rehydrates you and gets your digestion going.

5. Don't check your email first thing: Looking at your inbox on your phone before you get out of bed can mean the difference between a great morning and a horrible one. Since it takes over an hour for most people's brains to wake up, checking email before you get out of bed means you're more likely to misunderstand something — or stress about it until you get to work. What's the point? Keep your mornings as "you time" or for you and your family alone. Your first hour each day shouldn't be about work. Need more convincing? Highly successful people, as a rule, never check email first thing. Julie Morgenstern even wrote a book about it, after talking to leaders from various walks of professional life: If you start your day off by responding to emails, "you'll never recover," Morgenstern told The Huffington Post. "Those requests and those interruptions and those unexpected surprises and those reminders and problems are endless ... there is very little that cannot wait a minimum of 59 minutes."

Woman exercising
Start slow with stretching and your body will thank you with increased flexibility. (Photo: SerbBgd/Shutterstock)

6. Stretch and move: Taking five minutes to work out the kinks in the morning (whether that's a yoga sequence or something else) will ground you in your body for the rest of the day, and it gets your blood flowing and gives you a chance to focus on your breath, which can come in handy later in the day. I take about 10 minutes to do my morning movement and combine it with meditation as mentioned below. I don't want to sit first thing in the morning, so I breathe and stretch in a sequence of moves I developed myself that make me feel great.

7. Meditate: Setting an intention for your day sounds a little new-agey, I know, but it has proven benefits for focus and productivity. And meditation doesn't have to mean sitting on a cushion with your legs crossed; it's just a piece of time, every day, during which you breathe and clear your mind for the day ahead. If you need a quick primer, read Judd Handler's How to meditate.You can combine it with movement, as I do, sit, stand, walk, even do something relatively mindless like dishes or folding laundry. Whatever it is that works for you, make it a ritual or habit that signifies that the workday is about to begin. Your body and mind will now be ready for your day.

8. Eat — or don't: Some people need to eat in the morning, but not everyone does. The idea that we should all eat a hearty breakfast has been found to be untrue, as is the idea that not eating breakfast will make you fat. But some people need the kickstart of breakfast — so what's the answer for you? Judge for yourself if you feel better eating within an hour of waking or not.

Think this is all too much to fit into a morning? If you're efficient about your bathroom time, I've found I can include all of the above, without feeling rushed, in about 30 minutes.

Yes, your morning routine could change your life; check out how these real people with real lives, families and responsibilities do it every day.