“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
(commonly attributed to Mark Twain)
How do you make time for writing once the holidays are over and you are smack bang back in the whirlwind of everyday life?
It’s one of the most common complaints I hear. And yet, there’s such a simple answer. Make it part of your morning routine.
Get up 15 minutes earlier and make writing the first thing you do each day.
It’s a small luxury that can transform your life.
Write before you become reactive, before you engage with the world, before you interact with your kids, your spouse, your inbox… write before you do anything that will turn on your analytical mind.
Why? Because we are at our most creative in the early mornings. It’s when everything is fresh, when your energy is highest and the pre-frontal cortex is at its most active.
The analytical mind, research tells us, is a late riser. Turn the early mornings into a date with your intuitive mind. It’ll make you more productive and it’ll make you a better person.
It’s so simple and yet, how do you make it stick?
To make writing a daily habit is not about willpower. It’s about ritual and routine. It starts with a proper morning routine.
Having a routine means, you don’t even waste energy thinking about it. You just do it.
The importance of a morning routine
I’ve never been a natural early riser. Growing up in Germany, there was very little incentive to jump out of my warm bed at the crack of dawn. Living in the tropics I have little choice. If I want to get a walk in before it gets too hot, I have to get up early.
It’s taught me to cherish the time before the world is up, before I’ve spoken my first words. It’s my sacred time, it’s when I am alone with myself in stillness, listening, checking in. It makes me feel anchored inside myself.
Every morning we have a choice to let that precious time when everything is fresh again, dissipate by checking our phones too soon or by deliberating whether we deserve to hit the snooze button. I have wasted many a sacred morning hour with indecision and felt grumpy all day. Who hasn’t.
These days, I give myself two whole hours of ‘me time’ every morning. It transforms what kind of day I have. When I miss it, my days tend to feel unstructured, and emotionally all over the place.
But packing two hours of ‘me time’ into my busy day isn’t easy. So this year I’ve joined the 5 am club. It’s official. Make me accountable.
Why I joined the 5 am club
It wasn’t a productivity or self-help guru, that inspired my conversion. Far from it.
It was the communist morning radio broadcast. Twice a week it blasts from 5 am sharp right into my bedroom at full volume for an hour. Sometimes it goes on for an hour and a half. It’s enough to drive you crazy.
Trying to sleep through it, earplugs and all, has led to high levels of frustration and stress. Both for myself and my partner.
In the end, there was only one sensible solution. Jump out of bed at 5 am on the dot and into my running gear and run until the radio broadcast is over.
It’s done wonders for my fitness and somehow, the momentum I gain from striding through my local fishing village in the pre-dawn darkness helps to kick-start my productivity.
But I shouldn’t be surprised. The self-help gurus have known this all along.
Getting up early is the new sexy
Motivational gurus and productivity experts all preach making use of the golden hour between 5 and 6 am as if it were the holy grail. Robin Shama says it gives you a psychological edge:
“When you wake up uber-early you have your day, your way. Don’t lounge in bed after the alarm clock goes off. Jump out of bed and switch on the light. You need 66 days for it to become a habit. Being able to get up at 5am will make other (much harder) things easier – because you’ve overcome one of the things that holds people back from greatness – getting out of bed.”
Many super productive people, from politicians, to CEOs and writers, belong to the club. Entire books are dedicated to the 5 am club, including strategies on how to get up early. Do we really need books on how to get up early?
Morning routines are also getting a lot of media attention. The online magazine, Mymorningroutine, is dedicated entirely to, you guessed it, the morning routines of the uber-productive. Who has a glass of water first thing, who reserves 8 minutes for applying moisturiser and make-up (Ivanka Trump), who makes time to learn something new, who writes in a journal. Who needs to know I thought? Well I do actually. It makes for fascinating reading.
My morning routine
Here’s my new revised morning routine for 2018 in case you are interested.
- I lay out my exercise clothes the night before and at 5 am on the dot, I jump out of bed.
- By 5:05 am I am running down the dark streets of my little village, past old men in pajamas on their way to the local 5 am breakfast club to drink thick sweet coffee and play cards.
- At 5:50 am I practice my 20-word Vietnamese vocabulary with my neighbours.
- By 6 am I am back home and do some yoga stretches and abdominal work. Well, let’s say, the abdominal work is part of my ideal routine.
- For the last two years, on most mornings I’ve done the following: 20 minutes on the yoga mat, 20 minutes meditation, 20 minute journaling.
- Between 7:30 – 8:00 I’ll have breakfast, maybe I’ll hang up the washing or go to the market.
- By 8 am I am sitting at the desk, another coffee by my side, ready to start the work day.
- I like to do my to-do list the night before. That way my goals are already on a yellow sticky note by the time I start work. I haven’t always been this organised, but I am really trying this year! I have a lot of work to get through.
- I also try to start the working day by swallowing a live frog, but I am still struggling with that one.
In case you aren’t familiar with the concept. “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” is a favorite quote with productivity experts and self-help gurus. It’s usually wrongly attributed to Mark Twain. It illustrates that if you get the most difficult and dreaded task out of the way first thing in the morning, the rest of the working day will be a breeze. As I said, still working on nailing this one.
You don’t have to get up at 5 am to be successful
I am by no means the model citizen described in productivity bestsellers. I was once a card-carrying night owl and I am still easily swayed. But since tasting the benefits an early morning riser enjoys, given a choice, I’d much rather die an early riser.
But that doesn’t mean that you too have to become an early riser. Just get up 15 minutes earlier for a week and see what happens.
I believe everybody needs to tailor-make their own individual morning routine in tune with your own body clock. Structure your morning in a way that fits with a rhythm that is comfortable for you.
The important thing about a routine is that you make it non-negotiable. That’s the hard part, but trust me, the rewards are worth it.
What is your morning routine?
Are you a lark or a night owl? Or maybe you are a frog?
Please join me in the comments.