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Easy AM and PM Routines for Maximum Productivity & Energy

January 18, 2019

We all have morning routines in one way or another—it’s just a question of how well that routine is serving for you.

In 5 Reasons Why I Became a Morning Person (and Why You Should Too), I mentioned that I took the Make Over Your Morning  and Make Over Your Evening course by a woman named Crystal Paine, and that this started the ball rolling on my multi-year productivity journey. Before the course, my morning routine looked something like: getting out of bed when my 2-year-old woke, staggering downstairs and making coffee, reading emails on my phone, flailing around to get breakfast for the 2-year-old and middle schooler as well as eating something not so healthy for myself, maybe getting a shower in, frantically getting dressed, a round trip to drop Isabelle off at school (which always included stress about getting out the door and her being late), and either rushing to get out the door, running late to get into the office, or chasing a toddler around my messy house. And my evening routine consisted of watching TV or mindlessly surfing the internet or pinning things on Pinterest until at least 11 PM and often 11:30 PM+.

Basically it felt painful every step of the way—from dragging myself out of bed to stressing out about an email or event I forgot to not having things for breakfast and then being late in the end to falling into bed exhausted.

It was so obvious that I needed a change! But it took a near personal implosion and being diagnosed with an ulcer to make a change.

After the course and my shift to early mornings (and its connected evening prep work), my daily evening and morning routines became calm and predictable:

Evening Routine

  1. Review my calendar and note the top priorities for tomorrow. I use these sticky notes in tandem with my organizer but you can use anything. I also use and recommend a paper organizer like the Living Well Planner or Planner Pad. I’ve tried a lot of organizers over the years but prefer either of these two because they focus on prioritizing while you schedule. But if you prefer electronic, try Evernote or one of the other many options out there. I use a combination of Google calendar with my appointments listed, the Living Well Planner, and Trello which allows me to prioritize and share to do’s with my family (or our personal pages) or with the No Qualms Mom team (on my NQM pages). Before I married Steven, I used the Planner Pad as it was a great combination of my current system but he is completely electronic-oriented as a software developer so I had to adjust. I tried Evernote but found it to be complicated yet I know many people swear by it. Side note: I’ve been seeing lately that a lot of former electronic subscribers are going back to paper because it’s purported to lead to more productivity yet haven’t explored the science behind that stance yet.
  2. Do tasks that prep for morning.
  • Check the weather & my calendar to best choose what to wear out of my Capsule Wardrobe (see below for glimpse of my Spring Capsule). and set outfit aside on my closet’s valet hook.
  • Prep the coffee maker and set timer.
  • Reset my coffee tray with cup/spoon/honey.
  • Set out all dishes & items I’ll need for Isabelle’s breakfast (she leaves quite early to catch the ferry to Seattle) and my breakfast.
  • Prep for a load of laundry: pre-treat any stains, load clothes into the washing machine and add soap (note some home efficiency guru start it at night and rotate it into the dryer first thing in the AM but our laundry room is next to our bedroom so this is too noisy).
  • Plug all electronic devices into charging box and put on Fitbit, double checking my Fitbit alarm.
  • Gather things I’ll need first thing like laptop/charging cord, any reading materials, my daily top priority list and place in my AM command center (aka the corner of my living room couch).
  • In the bathroom, set out my AM medication organizer, face cleaning towelettes, mouth guard cleaning tablets/cup.
  • If I need to go into my Seattle office or leave the house early for an appointment, I’ll put everything I need to bring like laptop bag, coat, umbrella, snacks/lunch, etc.

Photo by Angela Carlyle

Morning Routine

  1. (5 AM) The silent alarm on my Fitbit wakes me in case my natural body clock doesn’t work (usually when I’m over tired or my body rhythm is off for some reason). I personally hate a loud alarm going off because it feels like a stressful way to start the day plus I don’t want to wake Steven (and potentially Reina) up. Isabelle was expressing the same dislike for alarms so she used some of her summer job earnings to buy this Phillips sunrise simulation alarm that gradually rouses from sleep. She chose one of the higher end models yet there’s another model by Phillips that almost a third of the price, as well as one option in the middle and a higher end Phillips model that includes light therapy functions.
  2. Throw some cozy, lounge clothes on and Coffee Quiet Time followed by low sugar, healthy breakfast. Steven and I coined Coffee Quiet Time as a way to create a boundary with our then 2-year-old (now 5-year-old) for peaceful quiet while we drink our coffee, but now it’s morphed into my pre-mediation time and personal peaceful time since I drink my coffee way before she’s awake. Back when I did Make Over Your Morning , my body clock was set to need breakfast right away, but now I make my own version of bullet coffee and this tides me over until around 9 am for breakfast.
  3. Meditation. My meditation is not currently a formal practice but instead simply being quiet, staring out the window of my living room at the trees and water (when it’s not pitch black in Winter) and thinking about all the things I have to feel grateful for. Previously, when I first started MOYM, I did a more formal meditation and I’ve gone back and forth throughout the years. I’d recommend the Headspace app to start with and I’ve heard that the Muse Headband is very helpful. During particularly stressful periods, I go back to guided meditation and have found it to be amazingly relaxing and centering.
  4. Consciously not picking up my electronics. Wait until the end of your morning routine to check email, IG and the like. These are time wasters and can start your day off wrong in many cases and make you feel stressed right out of the gate. Remember that emails are other people’s priorities and emergencies—not yours.
  5. A few minutes of something that feeds my soul. Reading a magazine, listening to a book on tape, checking out a “blink” on Blinkist, minor decorating like arranging a bouquet of flowers I grabbed the day before, etc. Note that I do set a 15-minute timer for this because I often have lost track of time and ended up running late if I didn’t.
  6. Stretching and moving. Some folks opt for full workout here but for me that’s done later in the day. This is just simple stretches and a quick 5-minute movement routine that I learned year ago based on aligning your chakras, and end with simple energizing movements done to uplifting music (like my 2018 Song of the Year ) blaring in my headphones.
  7. Make my bed. It may sound like a trivial act, but I read a lot about habits of the most successful people and over and over making the bed shows up on their ritual lists so I committed to it daily (instead of randomly as before) and I will attest to it being a great springboard to productive days. My ex-husband is a retired Navy Seal Commander and because of this, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting now retired Admiral Bill McRaven a few times and his commencement speech at UT talks specifically about why making your bed is a key step in a great day. I’d really recommend watching his speech by the way—it’s very motivating—both because of his obvious successes in life but also because I can tell you that he, and his wife Georgeann, are the real deal kind of folks that we can all learn from. I don’t claim to know them well, nor have I seen them in many years, but they both always struck me as wonderful family and community leaders that were kind, intentional, genuine, and effective in what they do and in spite of their busy lives put the important stuff like each other and their children first.
  8. Quick shower, get dressed, and back to AM command center until Reina wakes around 7:30-7:45 and we have Snuggle Time.
  9. (8 AM) Assist in getting Reina ready for her day. Breakfast & lunch made, guiding her to execute on her other get ready systems (clothing basket to choose her outfit of the day, brushing her teeth and hair, socks/shoes and coat on, grabbing her lunch box); then we head down our long driveway to meet our carpool buddy.
  10. (8:45 AM) Quick house reset. Once Reina is off in the carpool, I do a quick 15-minute house pick up, dishwasher load, start washing machine load (I put in the dryer during lunch break) and wipe counters down.
  11. (9 AM) Head to my office and start work on No Qualms Mom. In the post House Tour: My Office, I’ve mentioned that my office is a 1-minute walk from my front door so I’m fortunate to not have to commute.
  12. VARIATION: 2 days a week, my babysitter arrives at 7:15 AM and on those days, I head out to my office and begin work early. I almost always write during the 7:15 to 9 am time block as my mind is at it’s most clear and creative after the routine I follow before hand.

On the note of my variation, it’s important to realize that things rarely go perfectly so you should have a back-up option or variation planned (or two, or three!). The MOYM and MOYE courses talk about this in depth so I won’t belabor it. Just know as you’re thinking through how you could craft your perfect routine, you should include some variations like evening volunteering events running late and sick kids.

It’s also important to note that my evening and morning routines may not work for you at all! It’s key for you to figure out your pain points and address them. You need to craft your best routines!  Don’t just do what the ‘experts’ recommend blindly. Many people include things that I choose not to like:

  • Daily gratitude notes or bullet gratitude journals
  • Reading affirmations and goals aloud
  • Catching up on the news and world events
  • Longer work outs
  • Journaling

NQM Tip on Journaling: It’s a fantastic way to boost creativity and work out problems so depending on your season in life you may really need this. It allows you to get feelings out, clears your mind of the odd assortment of thoughts and distractions we all accumulate in a day so that you can begin your day with focus and clarity. It’s also a great way to let go of negativity and allow yourself to be more creative and positive. Do note that many experts tout the need for it to be pen to paper to be most effective so find a pretty notebook (you’ve probably got at least 2 or 3 already) and give it a try. I have a number of friends that do this (some right before bed and some first thing in the morning) and they’ve all mentioned that it’s a big help when you’re struggling with depression or major life upheaval and that it lets them up their gratitude ante a lot during less stressful times.

In my process of gathering links for this article, I found a couple minute cartoon by Trello that can help you figure out what’s the best routines for you. Also, if you want to get a feel for Crystal Paine before you buy one of her courses, check out this free 5 Days to a Better Morning Challenge that she just announced. I literally just got this in my inbox today so I can’t vouch for it personally, but if it’s anything like her other courses, I’m sure it’ll be a quality, helpful challenge that you’ll gain some useful tools and tips doing.

As I mentioned in 5 Reasons Why I Became a Morning Person (and Why You Should Too), there are a zillion different resources out there on daily productivity. Pick and choose what works best for you yet I really hope that you take the tough lesson learned and personal burnout episode to heart and embrace the concept of deliberately crafting the best morning and evening routines! And be sure to pace yourself by doing something like the 14-day implementation of the MOYM course or just add a new piece of your routine every couple days. I genuinely believe you’ll be less stressed and far more productive!

All Photos by Angela Carlyle

*This contains some affiliate links but only if No Qualms Mom thinks highly of the product or service. While NQM may receive a small commission from some sellers if you buy from them, know that using my links does not affect your pricing in any way. And many NQM links are purely information – listed only to help you.