The Evolution of the Best Morning Routine

Man in luxury bedroom, bathrobe, morning
Man in luxury bedroom, bathrobe, morning

It was the best of routines. It was the simplest of routines.

This is the tale of two Charlies. They lived in the same era and followed a near identical schedule. They are two of the most well known authors in history, one for his Shakespearean-like works of fiction, the other for his groundbreaking thesis on the evolution of man. Both were prodigious, virtuous creators that stuck to a workmanlike routine.

They were early risers, morning writers, afternoon strollers, and evening recreationalists. This is the routine of most super achievers and one that you should adopt to win your mornings, conquer the chaos of the afternoon, and leave yourself free to concentrate on what counts in the evening.

Charles Darwin spent 33 years in London before abandoning the city for a healthier lifestyle in the countryside near Kent, England. It was there he wrote On the Origin of Species. Darwin stuck to a simple routine for his productivity and recovery, working a few hours in the morning, and taking habitual walks and scheduled rest breaks throughout the day. He started his days with a stroll, breakfast, and then a 90-minute work period beginning at 8:00 A.M. before reviewing the daily mail with his wife Emma. At 10:30 A.M. he went back to work for another ninety minutes before lunch.

Darwin was on to something. Contemporary productivity gurus, such as Robin Sharma, recommend you “spend the first 90 minutes of your day on your number one priority.” That’s the 80-20 rule. Ninety minutes is about 20% of your day, and concentrated effort on your number one priority at this time will give you 80% of your results for the day. Those are rough numbers of course. But in all likelihood you will find the first morning hours will be the only time of day you are able to focus on priority projects without interruption.

Both Charlie’s abstained from nearly all work in the afternoon. Like most creative types, they found that their minds were better served by taking a stroll. At noon, Darwin went for a long walk with his dog. He returned for lunch, sometimes even complimenting it with a small amount of wine, and then engaged in the 19th century version of surfing the web. He read the newspaper, wrote letters, and rested for an hour before fitting in another walk before dinner. After collecting his thoughts on these creative strolls, Darwin finished an hour of work before supper. In the evenings he neither read nor wrote, and simply played backgammon with his wife, before getting to bed at around 10:00 P.M.

Dickens lived in London all his life. He was a prolific author, and wrote his best-known work, A Christmas Carol, in just six weeks. He was able to do so only because of a strict routine. Dickens was up at seven, had breakfast at eight., and wrote from nine till two in the afternoon.

Dickens forbade noise in his home when he was working, and wrote in a precisely arranged studio. His desk was in front of a window with several items neatly laid out (pens, ink, and ornaments). Thanks in part to his strict morning routine and resistance to interruptions, Dickens often completed 2,000 words before lunch. In the afternoon Dickens walked the streets of London for up to three hours, where he would identify scenes and characters for his work. He did not return to work in the afternoons, instead leaving his new ideas for the next morning. Like Darwin in the countryside, Dickens spent his evenings in recreation and socializing with friends and family.

Dickens was a harsh taskmaster. “No city clerk was ever more methodical or orderly than he; no humdrum, monotonous, conventional task could ever have been discharged with more punctuality or with more business-like regularity, than he gave to the work of his imagination and fancy,” said his eldest son.

Darwin also had rules in place that supported his success. He evolved his operating system over time. You should too.

Most people might have a habitual bedtime and wake-up time, but when temptations come along those habits are easy to break. However, with a Rule in place, you take your habits much more seriously. You don’t need excessive amounts of willpower in place to support your habits. A rule is a rule is a rule. You do not break them.

Consider the difference between hoping, “I try to go to bed at ten,” and stating, “I have a rule that I must be in bed at ten every night.”

You will act differently, see yourself differently, and progress differently with a Rule in place, compared to simply trying.

To have your best days ever, you need to get a head start on everyone else.

“Adhering to a daily schedule that is led by your vision and run by your priorities is the surest path to personal freedom,” said Mark Ford, founder of ETR and one of my mentors.

To get on the road to personal freedom, add your new Bedtime Rule to your life so that you can get up early and work on the number one priority in your life before anyone or anything gets in your way.

Your number one priority might be preparing a sales presentation, writing a book, training for a competition, exercising for your health, praying, meditating, or working on your finances. It doesn’t matter what it is specifically. What matters is that you’re following a Rule that is not to be broken. You are taking action according to a personal law that makes it easier to attack your number one priority in life. This is how you are guaranteed to make progress every day.

With at least fifteen minutes of uninterrupted focus each morning, you can create a plan to climb out of debt, you can practice an effective sales presentation, you can do a short workout or prepare a healthy breakfast and pack a healthy lunch, or you can write 500 words for your book – and in just 120 days would have a full 60,000 word book completed. These minutes add up. They are vital to your success. They are available to all of us, and it must become your rule you use to ruthlessly protect them each morning. You can make this happen by laying down the law and setting the rules for your life. Everything becomes automatic. Success gets closer, faster.

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  • Pamela C. Babcock

    Craig, thanks so much for tying in history and zeroing in on two classic people. Very helpful article indeed, and now I’m off to get a Backgammon board…

  • FreshFire

    Was dying for you to tie in your Perfect Day bookset at the end Craig? Beautifully written. Thanks