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9 morning routines to get your day off to the right start

By Hannah Herman · June 6, 2024
Hero image of someone in bed looking at their alarm clock

As a newly-minted morning person, I know that most advice on how to become one is pretty terrible. There's already a lot to hate about mornings: they're dark, they're cold, and—between your alarm clock, your kids, and your Slack notifications—they're often all too jarring. 

Most morning advice is focused on being more productive or doing unpleasant exercise, all of which I've found make me more stressed in the morning, not less.

So instead of focusing on maximizing your time, consider reorienting your mornings around a couple key habits. 

Why do morning routines matter? 

Everyone says that your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. And that's true: having a bad morning usually makes for a bad day. 

But mornings also matter because they're valuable time—and I don't mean that in a grindset, hustle-culture kind of way. For those of us working regular day jobs, so much of our lives are crammed into "after work" (or as the TikTok influencers call it, the 5-9 after the 9-5). Whether it's chores, hobbies, quality time with the people you care about, or just some solitude, we often try to squeeze it all into those precious few evening hours. 

That's why maximizing your mornings can be so valuable: it gives you extra time for things that matter, especially things that you might deprioritize on evenings when you really need to get to Home Depot before it closes.  

9 morning routine ideas, for work and pleasure

It takes a lot of trial and error to craft the perfect morning routine. Here are a few great habits that I've loved practicing myself or that my friends and colleagues rave about:

  • Start your morning with a walk

  • Read (or listen) for an hour 

  • Play word games to get your brain going

  • Write morning pages

  • Set up your nighttime routine

  • Do a quick bedroom reset

  • Hydrate

  • Ice your face

  • Get up, then go back to bed for 15 minutes

1. Start your morning with a walk

Over the last few months, my work schedule has been a bit of a gong show. I often have back-to-back meetings from 10 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m., meaning I'm glued to a computer screen basically all day with only a couple quick breaks. And since I work remotely, there are some days when I just don't leave my house. 

To make up for the lack of sunshine (and exercise), I've started taking early morning walks. I'll wake up, make myself a coffee in a travel mug, and walk laps around a local park. It's been a really great way to ease into the day, as well as gently move my body before I sit in a desk chair all day. And unlike a workout class or more intense exercise, it's easy and fun—especially in beautiful weather—so I'm more likely to consistently do it. 

If you're already taking a morning walk for pet or child purposes, consider turning it into a sweet little moment for yourself as well. Buy or bring a fun beverage, turn on some tunes, and enjoy the sunshine.

2. Read (or listen) for an hour

For knowledge workers, it's easy to feel too brain-fatigued to absorb news or enjoy a novel at the end of the day—after all, you likely spend a significant portion of your day looking at words and processing information for work. Why would you want to do more of that after hours?

By switching your reading or listening time to the morning, you can do a few things. First, you can actually make a dent in your "to read" pile, browser tabs, or playlist. That's great and enriching. It also gives your brain a chance to warm up, so you're not just diving straight into a pile of dense work. Most importantly, however, it gives you time to enjoy a good story and start your day with some fun. 

3. Play games to get your brain going

They—and by "they" I mean Instagram influencers—say that by the time you turn 35, you either run marathons or have a complex relationship with the New York Times Games section. My husband, overachiever that he is, is into both. 

"I like to do Spelling Bee first thing in the morning," he says. "It warms my brain up, trying to get all the words." Sometimes, he swaps in a language-learning app like Duolingo instead: "I've really tried to prioritize improving my French, and I know that if I don't spend time on it right when I wake up, I probably won't remember to do it at all." 

While you might not be learning another language, the morning is still a great time to gently warm up your brain with a low-stakes challenge like sudoku or Wordle. Think of it like stretching for your brain: it'll keep you mentally limber all day long.

4. Write morning pages 

If you work in a creative profession, you might already know what morning pages are. If you're unfamiliar, here's how Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, describes the practice: 

"Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning," she writes. "There is no wrong way to do morning pages—they are not high art. They are not even 'writing.' They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind—and they are for your eyes only."

An empty journal

While they're originally a tool to foster creativity, morning pages have a wide range of benefits, from helping clear your head to squashing impostor syndrome. Not a big writer? No problem—morning pages can look different for everyone. Despite the common wisdom, you don't have to write freeform or creatively. For example, you might use this time to go over your planner page for the day and write out notes for any important meetings. It's still a head-clearing writing practice, just a bit more focused. 

5. Set up your nighttime routine

Maybe you'll just never be a morning person. That's ok: you can still get more out of your mornings by using them to set up your evening. 

For the last year, I've set aside five minutes every morning to set up my evening routine. I count out my evening vitamins, lay out my comfy evening clothes, and set up my skincare with a fresh washcloth on the bathroom counter. I also refill my humidifier and make the bed so that everything is ready for me to start powering down and heading to bed. 

Doing all this in the morning lets me truly unwind after work, instead of feeling like self-care is just one more thing on my evening to do list. I highly recommend it, especially if you're not a morning person—your evenings are precious, so front-load as many small tasks as possible. 

6. Do a quick bedroom reset

Beyond setting up your nighttime routine, you can also use your mornings to get ahead of household chores. But instead of overwhelming yourself with a long, random to-do list, try focusing on your immediate surroundings: your bedroom. 

I like to do a quick, 10-minute bedroom reset every morning. And when I say 10 minutes, I mean it; I literally set a timer and do as much as I can in that time. It's a great time to make the bed, bring empty cups downstairs, and vacuum up any crumbs from late-night snacks. 

Home organization experts like Tracy Lynn, founder of Declutter in Minutes, also swear by the morning reset. "You can set a reminder on your phone at the same time each day for your room resets," Lynn writes. "This gentle nudge may be all you need to turn this new goal into a routine habit you can do without thinking."

7. Hydrate

Whether it's tea or coffee, most of us start our mornings with some kind of caffeinated beverage. And while I'm all for a hit of caffeine immediately after waking up, I also always have my water bottle handy. If you snore, sweat, or just exist, your body loses water throughout the night, which means you need to rehydrate in the morning. But dehydration during the day can also contribute to poorer sleep the next night—so it's important to hydrate regularly, even right when you wake up. 

A mug of warm water next to a computer

If you're not a big water drinker, experiment with what your water preferences are. You might try incorporating a flavored electrolyte tablet or changing the temperature of your morning water; maybe you only like ice water. Some folks even replace their morning coffee with warm water and lemon, though you don't need to go that far. Simply sipping on a glass of water—iced, room temp, warm, or however you like it—is good for your body and can help you feel more alert. And if you're crunched for time, you can always take it to go.

8. Ice your face

Bed head. Morning breath. Sleepy eyes. We're not at our physical best in the mornings; after a night spent in horizontal paralysis, we're often a bit of a mess. And aside from the puffy look, we're also just groggy.

That's where ice rolling comes in. Keep an ice roller in your freezer and gently move it over your face after waking up. The cold (and slight manual pressure) will wake you right up.

Not into ice rollers? You can use cold metal spoons instead—just stick them in the freezer the night before. Or try taking a cold shower to increase endorphins and clear your head before a long day at the office. Whatever you choose, try to enjoy it as a mini-spa moment. 

9. Get up. Then go back to bed for 15 minutes. 

This tip might sound a little strange, but my friend Michelle—a successful lawyer—swears by it. "Every morning, I get up and take a shower. Then, after I've wrapped my wet hair in a towel, I get back into bed and cuddle with my cat," she says. 

While getting back into bed might sound counterintuitive, it could be the emotional boost you need—especially if you use it to spend time with your family or pets. Try inviting your kids or dog into the bed for a quick snuggle before everyone goes their separate ways. You can also combine this routine with other morning habits, like doing your daily reading in bed or sipping on your hot water with lemon. 

Build your mornings around what you need

If you're living with other people, it's crucial to make sure that those around you also have a routine. If they're old enough, make sure your kids have clear expectations for the morning; for younger kids, you might need to plan distractions, so you can do your own routine in peace. The same goes for a partner or a roommate: make sure to communicate your morning routine to them, so you aren't fighting for the shower or the treadmill at the last minute.

Ultimately, the key to great mornings is finding what works for you. The best habits are the ones you can consistently remember to do—so experiment and don't be afraid to stop doing something that's not working. And to give yourself even more flexibility in the morning, consider automating the repetitive tasks you have to do every day.

Related reading:

  • 14 morning and evening routines to set you up for success

  • 5 daily scheduling methods to bring more focus to your day

  • The best time blocking apps to manage your calendar

  • How to actually get work done on a plane

  • 8 end-of-day routines for more productive mornings

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