By Thomas Frank
Most of us deal with the occasional lazy, zero-motivation morning.
You know the feeling – you wake up knowing you have a bunch of stuff you need to get done, but you just can’t convince yourself to do any of it.
So you sleep in instead. Or maybe you get up and waste time playing Mario Run on your phone. Before you know it, 11:00am has arrived and you’ve done nothing.
A reader asked me how to deal with this problem recently:
“Do you have any advice for someone who plans out everything the night before, but then loses all motivation the next morning?”
Even though my girlfriend likes to occasionally accuse me of secretly being a robot (which isn’t true – I love circulating oxygen through my clearly biological respiratory system and exhaling carbon dioxide as much as the next fellow human), I’m not immune to this problem.
However, I’ve learned a lot over the past few years that has helped me to make lazy mornings occur far less frequently. Today, I’ll share a few ideas that will help you achieve a similar level of consistent morning productivity and motivation.
At a glance, here are the solutions for increasing your morning motivation that we’ll be going over:
- Experimenting with your schedule
- Using a morning routine to build “productive momentum”
- Reducing your intention-achievement gap with the Rule of Three
- Leveraging “pull motivation” by doing one thing you love every morning
Beep boop… er, I mean, let’s get started.
I’m a sucker for articles that detail the habits and morning routines of authors, entrepreneurs, and other famous people. I’m talking articles like:
- The Daily Routines of Great Writers by Maria Popova
- From Steve Jobs to Barack Obama: The morning routines of 8 of the world’s most successful people by Hazel Sheffield
- The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers by James Clear
One interesting thing that I’ve learned from reading these kinds of articles is that the schedules of individual writers differed greatly. For instance, here’s how Haruki Murakami, author books like 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, starts his day when he’s in novel-writing mode:
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 AM and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 PM.”
This routine differs quite a bit from someone like Margaret Atwood, who once admitted to,
“…spending the morning worrying, and then plunging into the manuscript in a frenzy of anxiety around 3 PM.”
Yet both Murakami and Atwood have been incredibly successful authors. So have many others, all with differing schedules and habits. What this says to me is that there’s no perfect formula for success; you can structure your day in whatever way you see fit, as long as it helps you maintain motivation and drives you towards achieving your goals.
Furthermore, the contrast between the different authors’ schedules illustrates a divide between what I’m going to call morning maniacs and momentum builders.
These are completely arbitrary terms that I just made up, but they fit my purposes for the moment, so I’m going to use them. And you can’t stop me because you’re too far away.
Morning maniacs are the kind of people who can simply roll out of bed and start working on their most difficult, challenging tasks right away. Haruki Murakami is a morning maniac; Ernest Hemingway was one as well, as he revealed to George Plimpton:
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.”
By contrast, momentum builders are the people who need to wake up and build a bit of what I like to call productive momentum before they can really get into the swing of things. In other words, they need to do some small tasks to essentially get their brains into “work mode” before they can tackle more challenging ones.
Here’s the thing… it’s not always apparent which category you fit into. That’s why the first thing you should do in order to start waking up more motivated is to experiment with your schedule.
Personally, I’m more of a momentum builder during the mornings – but I only know this because I’ve experimented with both types of schedules. If you haven’t, give it a try.
If you’ve never been a morning maniac, try getting up and immediately tackling the most challenging task on your daily plan.
If you don’t know which task to choose, look at your task list and ask yourself which task you feel the most resistance to starting. As Steven Pressfield puts it in The War of Art:
“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North – meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.”
Use the resistance you feel to guide you. If this schedule works out and you discover you’re a morning maniac, congrats!
One huge benefit that this kind of schedule brings is that it crosses off that most challenging task right away; once you’ve finished, everything else on your list should feel easy by comparison.
If you discover you’re not a morning maniac, then you need to take a different approach to building that morning motivation. To start, let’s get back to that concept of productive momentum again and try to explain it a little better.
A few years ago, a friend gave me a piece of advice for when I was feeling particularly resistant to working on a big project.
“When you find yourself procrastinating,” he said, “Go do the dishes.”
His reasoning was simple: doing the dishes – or doing any simple, manual chore – is low-level work. It’s work that doesn’t require a ton of creativity or brainpower, and hence you’ll probably have very little resistance to starting it. By contrast, writing a paper or studying for a test brings a lot of resistance.
However, once you get into the flow of doing the dishes, you start to build up some productive momentum. Your brain goes into work mode. And once it’s there, you can use that momentum to carry yourself into those harder tasks that were so difficult to get started on before.
If you’re not a morning maniac, then you need to find a way to bake this process of building productive momentum directly into the start of your day. To do that, you need to set up an intelligent morning routine.
By picking a few simple, productive habits to do right after waking up, you can start your day off on the right foot and build up the momentum you need to jump into your task list with true intensity.
Here’s a brief look at my current morning routine, which I start at 6 AM every weekday:
- Drink a half-liter of water
- Feed my cat
- Meditate for 5 minutes
- Exercise (I hit the gym three days a week and do outdoor cardio on the other two)
- Shower and dress
- Cook and eat breakfast
- Read for 30 minutes
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