A Morning with Meaning

We often get up in the morning and immediately jump into where we left off the night before: we flip open our laptops (or even just roll over and grab our phones) and dive back into email or whatever windows we left open on our computer. The problem with this (as I’ve written about before) is that often times hours can go by and then we realize that we haven’t actually gotten anything of any importance done.

I started an experiment a couple of weeks ago to see what would happen if I didn’t look at my inbox until I had done at least 3 hours of real work. This practice worked great – I got way more work done and still took care of what I needed to in terms of responding to email. I deviated sometimes, especially when the work I needed to do was related to the emails I had waiting for me, and it was a struggle to constantly remind myself to adopt this new practice, but it proved to me how much we get sucked into to doing things that make us feel busy.

Doing the email experiment connects with something else I started thinking about earlier in the summer. I had been thinking about the few things I can do in a short amount of time each morning that have the highest ROI. My thought was that if I can make my day meaningful in the first hour that I’m awake, then on the days when things seem to spiral out of control, I don’t end the day feeling like it was a waste.

So I’ve been experimenting now with a high meaning, high ROI morning. It’s a combination of the things we know have the highest impact on our overall well-being, our creativity, and our ability to contribute something meaningful to the world. And it takes less than an hour.

  1. Do 10 push-ups and 50 situps (less than 5 minutes). It may not seem like much, but at least it is something. At least I get up and get my body moving. Doing this small amount of exercise motivates me towards doing more and on the days I do this, I feel better.
  2. Write Morning Pages (10 – 15 minutes, sometimes a little longer). This is the morning mind dump. Whatever you woke up worrying about, whatever you’ve got on your mind, falls out onto the page. Morning pages is a concept I learned through Julia Cameron‘s book The Artist’s Way. In the traditional way, you write 3 pages by hand of literally anything that comes to mind. If you need a more modern way (because writing by hand can be painfully slow), I use 750words.com.  No one is going to see what you write. It’s your way of clearing your mind at the start of your day.
  3. Meditate (10 minutes). I used to shy away from meditation because I associated it with freewheeling hippies who didn’t shower, always smelled like patchouli, and had an unrealistic view of the world. But the research is there that meditation is absolutely one of the best things you can do for yourself mentally and physically. It reduces stress. It helps you handle the ups and downs of a day. It teaches you a skillset that you don’t really learn anywhere else. My favorite way of meditating in the morning is with Susan Piver as my guide – she is the one who helped me realize that meditation is not just hooka-hooka stuff for hippies. You can follow ten-minute guided meditations as part of her Open Heart Project. 
  4. Create something (1o to 30 minutes or longer). This is something that stuck with me from a post on Leo Babauta’s blog about creating a profound workday. We are really good a filling our days with doing, but not so good at filling our days with creating. If you start each day by creating something – writing a helpful blog post, taking a photograph, even drawing a little sketch – the day feels different because you’ve already added something meaningful.