How I cut my morning routine time in half

Recently, I’ve been reading The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, an engaging book on how changing behavior should be done through understanding and tweaking the very basic habits that drive our daily routine. The book talks about identifying one keystone habit that, when built correctly, can ripple out to other changes in our lives.

I decided to take a look at one thing in my daily routine that seems to influence how the rest of my day goes: my morning routine. Normally, I wake up, lie in bed for 15 minutes checking my email on my phone, head over to my desk and grab a tissue while I wake my computer and start responding to emails or checking other things online. Then depending on whether or not I have a morning meeting, I’ll trudge downstairs and make breakfast (the current diet I’m trying calls for eggs, milk, and orange juice), or stay on my computer for another 30 minutes until hunger takes over. It takes me 45 minutes to make breakfast, then another 15 to get dressed and brush my teeth. This means that when I naturally wake up at 8:30am, it takes me about an hour and 15 minutes to get ready in the morning. If I have a 10am meeting, I’m usually rushing to get out the door by 9:30 and barely making it on time to my meeting. On days when I don’t have meetings, I’m ready to start working at 10am.

Now, when I dissected that morning routine, I saw several sub-routines that could be shortened. 1) Checking my email on my phone first thing I wake up. 2) Turning on my computer before breakfast, delaying food intake, which sometimes gives me a headache. 3) Taking 45 minutes to cook, eat, and clean up for breakfast, which is way too long to be spending on 2 fried eggs and 2 drinks.

One thing that stood out to me was how much of a time sink it was to go to my desk right after I wake up. So, I decided to start with a small behavior to change, keeping the same cue that precedes the behavior, and the same reward that follows it: moving my tissue box to the side of the bed instead of on the desk. Now, instead of gravitating towards my desk in the morning, the tissue box takes me a step closer to my clothes drawers.

The tissue box next to the bed, leading to the clothes drawer

Changing that one small behavior for a few days made me feel so accomplished that I started to lay out my clothes the night before, 2 steps from the tissue box. Yesterday morning, I tried to finish (cook, eat, and clean) breakfast in 20 minutes, timing myself. Watching the clock, I wasted no time idling, multitasked, and finished in 16 minutes.

This morning, I had to wake at 7am and be out the door by 8. I spent 5 minutes checking email on my phone, finished breakfast in 15 minutes, and got ready in 15 minutes. I spent some extra time taking care of some household things, and was out the door by 7:45am. Success!

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  • That’s awesome Chloe! I think I’m going to start examining my morning routine as well and make small changes that can optimize my day. Thanks for this post :-)

  • I have The Power of Habit on hold at the library and am glad that it looks like I won’t be disappointed. 

    I’ve been thinking lately about habits, especially in conjunction with Jonah Lehrer’s writing about the finite capacity of willpower. The thought is that if willpower is finite then engaging in some behavior that is not a habit will, on some level, subtract from your store of willpower. Because your habits are, in a sense, hardwired, then they won’t subtract from your allotment of willpower. So, if you’re engaging in behavior change that outlines why it’s so important to focus on a small number of changes until they become automatic before trying to change too much else. Too much attempted habit changes mean that you’re overdrafting on your willpower account.My problem in that past is that once I start changing a few things, I get too ambitious adding new behaviors for improvement and, according to this model, run out of my supply of willpower and fail to repeat any of the behaviors consistently enough to make them a habit. I like the notion of the keystone habit. Once you realize the limited capacity you have for behavioral change at any point in time, then you have to be strategic in deciding what to work on first. Identifying habits that have multiplier effects is key. For a lot of people, I think sleep is their biggest opportunity to improve something that would have many downstream effects. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to any more insights that come from the book.  

  • Thanks for recommending the book! I saw your recommendation on Twitter and enjoyed reading the sample of the book, I’ll probably start get it

    Also, I recently read Optimal Functioning: A Positive Psychology Handbook (http://www.amazon.com/Optimal-Functioning-Positive-Psychology-ebook/dp/B004ISLQCQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331416067&sr=8-1) . You may have read it already, but it is easy to read and makes very concise points. There is a chapter on habits :)

  • Thanks for the recommendation! It is on my to-read list :)

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