I was talking to an Academy member the other day, who was needing some help figuring out how to chunk and sequence her 12-week project. Instead of focusing on a “work” project, she made the excellent and hard choice to focus on “getting herself together” (her words), since the last year has been a whirlwind for her and she’s just been out of sorts.
One of the sub-parts of the project she mentioned was creating a morning routine for herself. She knew she was a morning person (a lark, for those who have read Start Finishing), but things are currently so chaotic for her in the morning that she then spends most of the day in hummingbird mode. We locked in “morning routine” as the first of three other month-sized projects.
But when she discussed how she would go about it, I saw the common pattern of her making it too hard to start because she wanted to do All.The.Things from the very beginning. To put everything she wanted to in her morning routine, it would take her 75–90 minutes. She felt overwhelmed by how much was in it and figuring out how to make that much time from the very beginning.
I suggested a much more modest starting point: in the first week, just focus on ten minutes of deep breathing. So many of the powerhouse entrepreneur moms like her that I’ve worked with have forgotten how to breathe and one of the simplest ways to get grounded is to do some deep breathing exercises. She told me that she only really did deep breathing exercises after she was so anxious and overwhelmed that she had to and immediately got how helpful it would be for her.
But, more importantly, “ten minutes of deep breathing” was simple and doable. It didn’t cost her anything, there were no apps she needed to download, and ten minutes wasn’t so onerous that she couldn’t make time for it. It’s something she could do while coffee was brewing or before she got her kids up.
We then stacked a few other activities like stretching and planning that could be done in 10–15 minutes, but those activities were sequenced one at a time in the following weeks. By the end of her first month, she had the full routine she wanted, but she got there by starting simple and stacking vs. starting with the full deck.
What we didn’t discuss, though, was what to do if she fell out of the routine, which happens to all of us. Falling out of the routine isn’t a sign that something’s wrong with the structure of your morning routine — it’s a sign that you’re human. The simplest answer is to pick up where you left off, and if that’s too difficult, start from the beginning. (Tweet this.)
For instance, though I have a pretty habituated morning routine, launches, deadlines, travel, or sickness often throw me off of it. Launches are especially disruptive for me because the intense periods can last two or three weeks, there’s daily urgency or time-sensitivity, and it’s a lot of email and Slack time. After launches, I have to re-habituate to my normal routine, with the keystone habit being to do solo work before collaborative work. It can take me two or three weeks to get back into my normal groove simply because it can take that long for me to shake the urgency beast rather than continually feed it.
In her case (and in yours, too) I suggest going back to deep breathing for ten minutes unless there’s another keystone habit that’s more effective. If it worked the first time, it’s likely to work the second time.
What’s true of creating morning routines is true of all routines: start with a small step that provides an immediate meaningful benefit, then stack on others after you’ve ingrained the first step. If you’re having trouble getting started with it, it’s likely that you need to start with a smaller step, or the step you’re starting with doesn’t provide you with the right meaningful benefit.
When times are uncertain (like now), creating solid routines (morning or otherwise) can be the grounding anchor you need to get yourself together, find your new normal, or move forward on that personal or professional project.
What routine have you wanted to create for yourself and what’s the simple keystone step that gets or keeps it going?