What You Must – and Must NOT Do – in the Morning

morning routine

Recently a friend of mine grilled me on my morning routine.

What does it look like? Do you really get out of bed at 4 a.m.? How do you avoid email and checking your phone? What do you eat for breakfast? When do you exercise? Do you meditate?

The morning is my – and your – Magic Time.

It’s when we can get ahead of the world, take massive action on our big goals and dreams, and have victories that no one can take away from us, no matter how crazy the rest of the day gets.

Why is success more easily available in the morning?

Because there are no distractions, fewer temptations, and you have greater willpower and discipline, focus and persistence, and energy and clarity.

But here’s the million-dollar morning question I’m sure YOU want answered…

What should you be doing first thing in the morning?

There are so many things you want to do… so many things you hear others doing… so many things “gurus” are telling you do… It can all be a bit much. The good news is that there are just a few very important things you should be doing, and frankly, a lot more you should actually stop doing in the morning.

Today you’re going to go on a deep dive into discovering how to design your perfect morning routine. You’ll learn what you must – and what you must NOT— do before breakfast.

To identify your morning rituals for success, we first start with looking at exactly what I do, how I do it, what I don’t do, and how I prepare for my perfect mornings.

From that, I’ll teach you why you must incorporate some of my strategies, and why you should even consider saying “NO thank you, Craig!” and reject some of my personal morning choices.

By the end of this ultimate guide for your morning routine, you’ll walk away with clarity on…

  • The first thing you should do in the morning
  • The top 3 mistakes most people make before breakfast
  • Why you need to cut back on your morning routine
  • How to create a morning routine if you have young kids, a bedroom partner that won’t let you out of their arms, or if you’re a night owl
  • Secrets for TRIPLING your productivity and generating a feeling of victory and peace before the sun rises

What’s my morning routine?

You can listen to all of the details of my morning routine in this podcast here

I get up around 3:45 a.m. so that I can start writing at 4:00am. That’s right, there IS truth in advertising. As the editor of Early To Rise, it should come as no surprise that I’m early to rise. I walk the walk and talk the talk.

I love early mornings. I always have. But I didn’t always take advantage of the opportunities available to me to get ahead in life while everyone else was sleeping.

Back in 2006 when I was a know-it-all young man of 30 years old. Earlier that year my online business had started generating a lot of money, allowing me to have no boundaries on my work and personal life. I worked late and slept late.

One morning I woke up at 7:30 a.m. stressed out and anxious, immediately checking my phone for emails. This made me even more stressed and anxious, and it was then that I recognized the negative influence of these bad habits.

I immediately made a decision to move my alarm ahead 5 minutes earlier every day until I found the right wake-up time for me. Within weeks I settled on 5:30 a.m., but then I began traveling to California on a regular basis on the 8 a.m. flight from Toronto to LAX. That change in my lifestyle inspired me to get up even earlier, and eventually I discovered the magic of 4 a.m.

My business partner, Matt Smith, has long loved the solitude available at this hour, as does my coaching client, Isabel De Los Rios. Then I read the book Daily Rituals and discovered that many authors are up and writing at that quiet and mystical hour. It’s spiritual to them, and to me.

Getting up at 4 a.m. allowed me to write The Perfect Day Formula, my daily essays at ETR (like this one that I’m finishing at 5:23 a.m. from my kitchen table), and overcome the temptations of the world that start buzzing and binging when everyone gets to work at 9 a.m.

It truly is a secret to my success.

However, I’m not saying that you need to get up at this time.

Success is not about the hour you get up, it’s about what you do with the hours that you are up.

My mentor, Mark Ford, is more successful and more productive than me and he doesn’t get out of bed until 5:30 a.m. But as the founder of ETR, Mark understands the magic of the quiet morning hours for getting ahead in life.

Success comes from what you do with your time, how you structure your day, the routines you create, and how you block the temptations and obstacles that try to get in your way.

There are two types of people in life.

First, there are reactive people that try to find time for what matters, and second, there are proactive people that make time for the important things in life. It is the former that struggle, and the latter that succeed.

The difference comes down to two words. One person tries to find time, while the other makes time.

You can’t find time! It’s not hidden under your bed with Ab Rocker, collecting dust. You have to make time for your priorities in life. One of the easiest ways to make more time is to get up early.

What time should you get up?

You don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. You simply need to get up 15 minutes earlier than you do now.

Now you might be thinking, what good is that? Trust me. In 15 minutes you can make massive progress towards your big goals and dreams. For example, if you want to write a book, you can write 500 words in f15 minutes. If you do that six days a week, you’ll have a 30,000-word booklet in 10 weeks!

You can also make progress on your business, getting out of debt, or improving your health in just 15 minutes in the morning before anyone else in your house gets up. You don’t need a lot of time to make progress when you are focused, disciplined, and avoiding distractions.

Getting up 15 minutes earlier is the #1 piece of advice you can implement right now to make a HUGE difference in your life.

Don’t tell me you can’t get up 15 minutes earlier than you do now.

After all, there was probably a time in college or high school when you slept in late, and somehow you managed to survive the transition to getting up earlier once you got your first job in the “real world.” If you want to get up earlier, it just requires planning and preparation.

Yes, I know, staying up late seems like the cool thing to do. Everyone wants to be the night owl that works until midnight, but if it’s not working for your goals, then you have to draw a line, hunker down, and make an important lifestyle change to get up early.

The fact of life is that the world is designed for people to get stuff done in the morning. There are simply too many temptations at night. It’s too hard to be a successful night owl. You have your partner that wants to cuddle, Netflix that tricks you into binge watching television, alcohol that makes you tired, and busy days that leave you exhausted. Working at night simply is wishful thinking for most people.

If you’re a writer or an artist and worry that you won’t be as creative, that’s unfounded. You can still be creative early in the day.

There are just as many great authors, artists, and even architects that worked early in the morning (Beethoven, Van Gogh, Hemingway, Maya Angelou, Frank Lloyd Wright, etc.) as there were famous night owls. Three famous authors who have switched from a night owl schedule to writing in the morning are Toni Morrison, Anne Rice, and Neil Strauss.

Even Stephen King writes in the morning. If he can get up and start writing his horror novels at 9:00 a.m., then we all can get up early and work on our big projects every morning, too.

Here’s what I do in the morning.

First, I’ve perfected the art of slipping out of bed and sneaking downstairs.

This is something you have to plan. I’m serious. You also need to have your workstation set up downstairs so that you don’t crash-and-bang and wake anyone up. In fact, success in every area of life comes down to planning and preparation. It might take a couple of false starts, but eventually you’ll have your morning get-up getaway routine perfected into a well-oiled machine.

I do. So does my dog.

Each morning at the bottom of the stairwell my chocolate lab, Bally, is waiting for me. We do a little ritual where I pet him and rub his belly, then he goes back to bed and I begin my writing routine.

It starts with drinking a cold glass of water mixed with greens powder, vitamin C, and glutamine. This keeps me from getting sick on my constant travels. Then I pour a giant glass of water, fill it with ice, and sit down at my computer.

Writing is my number one professional priority, so I do it immediately. On a good day I can finish 1,500 words in an hour. These early morning hours are my most creative and productive, and I refer to them as my “magic time.” Everyone has a “magic time” during the day when they are three times more productive, efficient, creative, and energetic than they are at any other point in the day.

When you identify and use your magic time, you can triple your productivity.

To find your magic time, use my free time and energy journal found here. Track when you are most creative and productive. You’ll quickly identify your magic time, and then it’s up to you to ruthlessly protect it from others and leverage it so that you get ahead in life.

Don’t think that you need to copy my morning routine. My magic hour is unlikely to be when you experience your magic hour. Success is not about duplicating details, but practicing the right principles for you.

My life and my morning are customized for me, just as your morning must be customized for you.

Your single most important success principle is built around spending time early in your day on your number one priority in life. Legendary author and speaker, Brian Tracy, refers to this as “Eating that frog.”

Most people want to procrastinate and avoid doing the hard work on the hard things in life. But that’s a reactive, unsuccessful approach to life. Instead, you must be proactive about working on what matters – and that often means as early as possible in the day.

Not eating that frog is one of the three big mistakes the average person makes before breakfast. The full list includes:

1) Not having a plan made the night before
2) Not focusing on what matters
3) Trying to do too many things (What I call, “AM Overachiever Syndrome”)

As you’ve probably noticed, success begins the night before.

How Do You Prepare for Your Mornings and Why?

My morning routine starts the night before with an afternoon brain dump, preparing my to-do list, and then outlining action steps for my number one priority the next day.

A “brain dump” refers to a little exercise that will help you reduce stress and organize your thoughts. Take out a scrap of paper, or your Perfect Day Formula scripting pad, and write down all of the work-related thoughts running through your head. This allows you to leave those thoughts behind and separates work time from personal/family time.

Once you’ve done your brain dump, you can organize all of those thoughts into a clear and concise script (schedule) for your next workday. Assign each major task to a block of time with a start and end time. This helps you stay on track (it’s amazing how easy our time can be eaten away when we don’t monitor it).

The third step for getting off to a great start in the morning is to do a little planning for your major tasks. For example, if you have a phone meeting, write down the measurable objective, any background details you need to know or research, and other pertinent talking points.

If you’re like me and want to write a 1,000-word article, jot down a few bullet points to stimulate your ideas and make morning writing a little easier.

With your planning complete, you can now go home peaceful and prepared, and focus on quality time with your family, friends, health, and hobbies.

Other small things you can do later to make your morning easier include preparing your lunch the night before, laying out your work clothes, packing your work bag, and even sleeping in your (clean!) exercise clothes, if you want to exercise in the morning.

This planning prevents one of the major mistakes made in the morning by many overachievers who try to do too much. The harsh truth is that you can’t do a dozen things before breakfast when you should be focusing on your few most important matters.

The problem is that magazines and websites have been running click bait-style articles claiming that successful people do “14 things before breakfast.” These articles are nonsense, not the least for the fact that if you added up the time it takes to do the 14 things that you’d be at 4.5 hours of activity! That’s ridiculous.

Unfortunately, many of my ambitious clients have become obsessed with trying to replicate these lists and end up stressed out before 7 a.m. (That is NOT the purpose of a successful morning routine!) The truth is you don’t have time to do yoga, meditation, gratitude journaling, exercise, free-form journaling, interpretive dance, and whatever else is the “current morning trend.” Instead, you need to cut back, say NO to these distractions, and focus on the number one priority task that is going to move you ahead in life.

Once you’ve had a victory then you can reward yourself.

For example, when I’m done writing (usually around 5:30 a.m.), I meditate for 10-20 minutes before taking Bally out for a walk. Once we return, he’s fed, we go in the house, and I have one of three breakfasts.

If you want to know what I eat for breakfast, listen to my morning routine podcast here

While eating breakfast I attend to my social media tasks, writing a quick but shareable post for Facebook and Instagram. Remember, I’ve been up for more than three hours at this point and I’ve made massive progress on my top priority (writing). This isn’t like I woke up at 7 a.m., rolled over and checked Facebook… that’s a big no-no. You have to earn your social media time, just like you have to earn your email time.

I live by this social media motto, shared with me by my friend, Joe Polish:

“Use social media, but don’t let social media be used on you.”

I only allow positive social media into my life. I don’t get into debates on Twitter, I don’t argue politics on Facebook, and I don’t follow any negative influences on Instagram. Your social media feeds can, and must, be designed to deliver only positive information. Otherwise, you should just quit social media completely.

What do you do if you fail to follow your morning routine, and how does this influence the rest of your day?

I never fail. My morning is spiritual to me and missing my morning routine would be like the Pope missing morning mass. It does not go neglected, period.

It all comes down to planning and preparation, and knowing the benefits of following the plan. That is how you control your days, own your life, and live perfect days without regret.

You can do it too, no matter what time you get up… because remember, one last time, say it with me now, it’s not about the hour you get up, it’s about what you do with the hours that you are up!

Make the most of your minutes with your morning routine and you’ll make the path smoother for success in all areas of your life.

Find out how I get up at 4 o’clock in the morning…

By listening to my morning routine podcast here