I am NOT a morning person, and I always resisted the need for a morning routine.
I used to wear this as a badge of honour. Or an excuse, depending on the situation.
The truth is, whether we need zero alarms in the morning or 15 of them strategically placed, the rest of the world runs on a schedule that expects us to get our butts moving in the morning.
If watching a video is more your thing, here’s one:
My Catalyst for Change
When the lockdowns started back in 2020, at first many of us enjoyed the opportunity to sleep in a little later. At the time the situation seemed perhaps temporary, so some of us allowed ourselves a bit of a mini-break. We were gentle with ourselves. We were encouraged to listen to our personal needs and get the rest we needed.
Others responded to the first lockdowns with a sense of productive opportunity. Finally we had the time to do all the things we otherwise didn’t have time to do.
Some started at-home exercise routines, some comforted themselves in bags of chips. Some starting writing that novel they’ve always wanted to write, others binge-watched all six seasons of Schitt’s Creek. (I’ll be honest, I was a mix of all of these things.)
Something that really started to bother me was my general unproductiveness. Left with a wide-open day and no external pressure to show up at the office at a specific time, it was far too easy to let my mornings become later and later.
Also, I could see my kids watching this happen, and I wanted to do better for them too. I knew the time had come to start a morning routine.
The Work Still Needs to Get Done
One of the things about having a lot going on is the work still needs to get done. Back in March 2020 I was still a regular professor with teaching duties, some admin and some practicing to do. The gigs dried up, teaching was put on hold, and there were some other things to clear up. I also have my side business. Oh, and a family.
I knew my work situation would change. As we became more aware that the lockdowns were not temporary, I knew in July my workload would increase as I became department Chair for the second time. I knew the workload would be intense and that I would be expected to be available when the rest of the university is on regular work hours too.
I made a pledge to myself: I would work a typical employee work week in my day job, so Monday to Friday, 9-5. Any time outside of this would belong to me to spend time with family, work on my business, write my blogs, and have time for me.
The alternative? Enjoy leisurely mornings but work late into the evening, always a slave to the work email, and basically never turn off. Because the work still needs to get done.
Finding the Right Wake-Up Time (for you)
This plan is all fine and dandy if you’re someone who willingly gets up at a regular time. I’m not talking crazy early here, but if I need to be somewhere at 9am (in this case, at my computer in my home office), stuff needs to get done beforehand.
What happens if I get up at 8am? If you’re a Night Owl you’ll understand how this might feel early but not unreasonable. If you’re a morning person you’ll feel like by 8am half of your morning is already gone.
8am felt rushed, so I pushed it back gradually over time. Every time I pushed back the wake-up time I did a reassessment. Am I getting the things done before work that I need or want to do? Is it enough time?
Every time I pushed back the wake-up time I had to take a closer look at my lights-out time too. Sure, you can shoe-horn an earlier wake-up time, but if you’re still turning out the lights at 2am you’re not going to be able to sustain a new habit of getting up at 6:30.
The Night Owl Conundrum – The Need for “Me” Time
If you’re a morning person chances are you’ve already stopped reading. If you’re a Night Owl I’ll bet you’re still here.
This is the real problem, right? We Night Owls love the deep, dark hours. They’re quiet and productive, creative and distraction-free. I get more done in my prime hours of 11pm-1am than I do in a full 8-hour workday.
But working until 1am means, realistically, lights out at 2am. That wasn’t going to work anymore. I had to put on my big-girl pants and address the real problem, which was how to shut off the lights at a reasonable hour.
You’ll notice I didn’t say “get to bed at a reasonable hour.” We all know how that goes. Sure, I can get to bed at 11pm but that’s when my brain is still firing hot. No way I can shut out the lights and fall asleep then. So what happens? In my case it’s social media scrolling and Candy Crush, morning routine be damned.
Revenge Bedtime Procrastination
I wrote a post about this a few months ago and it got a lot of interest. You can read it here: How I Beat Bedtime Revenge Procrastination
In a nutshell, Bedtime Revenge Procrastination (“BRP”) is when you haven’t had enough time for yourself during the day so you find the time when you have it, which is often late at night. You stay up late playing Candy Crush or scrolling social way past your reasonable lights-out time because you desperately crave that time.
I also love to practice or write late at night, even when I know it pushes my bedtime back later and later. Sure, you can function fairly well on 4-6 hours of sleep every once in a while but we all know it’s bad for us, and it’s definitely not sustainable, or healthy.
The other thing is, when we function on little sleep we become less functional during the day. So we spend so much time being tired that when we have our evening rush of cortisol and its accompanying burst of energy, boom! 11pm work time, which you need because the work didn’t get done during the day.
Shifting the Focus
Again, I started to experiment. Instead of focusing on an effective morning routine I shifted the focus to the evening routine instead. What did I have to do to get my butt to bed and avoid the endless rabbit hole of BRP?
One thing I learned quickly was you can’t just take away a habit. You have to replace a habit with a different one. A couple of things I tired were gratitude journaling instead of social scrolling, and playing Candy Crush standing up so I would be less likely to while away the time.
Sometimes those worked, sometimes they didn’t. I don’t do those things any more so I guess there’s your answer.
A few times I tried just not opening the tablet at bedtime, and instead going right to bed and turning out the light. That was totally weird.
The answer to this whole problem came in a way I wasn’t expecting.
The Surprise Strategy: Get More Done During the Day
You want to know the big secret to shutting off at night?
Through all of this I was concentrating on upping my game in the daytime productivity world. I wanted to get a handle on the increase workload that came with the Chairship. I worked on email management, planner systems, and leveraging my essential oils to maintain boundaries and increase productivity.
Guess what happened? I was able to shut down my work obligations completely at 5pm and not let them drag into my evening time. My evening time was for my own interests. Then I was able to shut out the lights at night with the secure feeling that I had all the important things under control.
The answer was not in the evening routine, or the morning routine. It was in the daytime routine.
Everything Works Together
I have my routines pretty well figured out now, but I’m always tweaking and revising them. Only now, when I recognize the need to make an adjustment in one place, I always look to see how that one change will affect all the other routines.
Right now I’m trying to back up my wake-up to 15 minutes earlier, but I recognize that I’m not always getting the amount of sleep I need. Before I can make that morning time shift I need to figure out how to address my lights-out time challenge.
Before I can fix my lights-out time challenge I need to see whether I’m on track during the day. Turns out I’ve got some cleaning up to do in my daytime work tasks. So, instead of trying to get up earlier, I’m going to clean up my email and see what happens.
It seems strange to think of it that way, but this really looks to be the answer. I’m fully expecting my email clear-out to result in a more productive workday, which will turn into more solid lights-out time, and the ability to back up my morning routine that desired 15 minutes.
A Little Help to Get You Started with your Morning Routine
I have a freebie download for you to help you with the bedtime routine part of the equation.
Grab my step-by-step guide to “Tackle Bedtime Revenge Procrastination“. You have to start somewhere, why not give this a try?
Let me know how it goes for you. Good luck!