Develop A Morning Ritual To Prime Yourself For A Productive Day

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

If your answer was either:

  • “Run out the door with toast in my mouth and hope I don’t miss the bus.”
  • “Eh, whatever I feel like, maaaaaan.”

…then you should seriously consider developing a morning ritual.

The writer Leo Babauta gives the following reason for having his morning ritual:

“The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instill a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I’m getting certain things done every morning … namely, my goals.”

My reason for building a morning ritual is similar: It’s full of small, productive habits that act as quick wins. Starting my day out with these habits builds up momentum, which carries me throughout the day while I’m working on my bigger projects.

I find that it’s a lot easier to get into a state of flow with my main work this way, rather trying to sit down and start “cold”.

In his book The Motivation Hacker, the author and programmer Nick Winter talks about the concept of success spirals. When you consistently see yourself succeeding at something, it helps to build your confidence and increases the likelihood that you’ll be successful at the next thing you try.

“Motivation increases with Expectancy – confidence that you will win.” | Tweet This

Developing and sticking to a morning routine gives you several things you can see yourself succeeding at every day. This, in turn, builds your confidence and helps you succeed at even bigger goals.

In addition, a morning ritual gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning – one that you’ll actually look forward to. I don’t know about you, but I never really looked forward to waking up and going to work or class in the morning. Now, however, I have a couple components built into my ritual that I’m always excited about.

Lastly, the time you spend on your morning ritual is likely to be the best “you” time that you’ll get throughout the day. Most people aren’t up and about in the morning, meaning it’s unlikely you’ll be interrupted. I love my time alone in the morning; on the odd morning that someone else is up as early as I am, I’m actually a little annoyed.

Get an Early Start

Thrown out of bed

For most of my life, I was the kind of person who would sleep until I absolutely had to wake up. Since I knew this about myself, I would always schedule classes or work as early as I could in the morning – thus forcing myself to get up at a decent time every day.

Still, this meant that most mornings saw me hopping out of bed, frantically throwing clothes on, and running out the door to make it to work on time. Most mornings.

But then there were those rare occurrences. The mornings when, somehow, I’d wake up a couple hours early and weirdly not feel like going back to bed.

Like lucid dreams, these mornings were elusive but amazing. I had to time to relax, actually eat breakfast, and maybe even read for a while. I loved them.

But my sleepy self wouldn’t let me have them often… so I knew I needed to come up with a binding method of getting up early. Something that would be too painful to weasel out of.

The method I came up with? Essentially, I threaten myself with both public shame and monetary loss. Here’s how it works:

  • I schedule a tweet with Buffer that says, “I’m not up because I’m lazy! Reply to this for $5 (assuming my alarm didn’t malfunction). #sleepingin
  • This tweet is scheduled for 6:10 AM.
  • Every morning, I have to wake up before the tweet goes out, log into Buffer on my computer, and re-schedule it to the next day.
  • If I don’t, people will see it and I’ll have to pay them.
  • In addition, the #sleepingin tag will trigger an IFTTT recipe, which will tell Beeminder that I’m sleeping in – costing me even more money!

You can get all the details about this method in my article on using Buffer as a wake-up tool.

I’ve been using this early wake-up method for about five months now, and it’s had a 100% success rate. I’ve never failed to wake up and get started while using it.

Another method that might work for you is building habits with if-then triggers. These conditional triggers make it easy to solidify the habit you’re trying to do – in this case, waking up early.

My Personal Morning Ritual

My Morning Ritual

Once I wake up, I immediately get out bed and get moving. I get up about 15 minutes before my Buffer-scheduled tweet is set to go out, which gives me ample time to get to my computer and reschedule it without having to rush.

This is also done so I can pack a few parts of my ritual in before logging into Buffer, specifically:

  • Petting my girlfriend’s cat (it’s therapeutic)
  • Walking outside for a few seconds – both to gauge the temperature and to let the sun wake me up a bit more
  • Take my vitamins
  • Drink some water
  • Brush my teeth
  • Check my calendar and review the upcoming day

Once these things are done, I’m pretty much over any of the remaining grogginess that I woke up with. I then go into my room, turn on my computer, and deal with Buffer. After that, the rest of my morning ritual goes like this:

The food is part of the ritual as well, actually; I eat pretty much the exact same thing every single morning – a habit I picked up from my friend Matt Giovanisci.


Mmmm, coffee….

In case you’re curious, here’s what my simple, tasty breakfast consists of:

  • Cooked spinach, with olive oil, salt, and roasted garlic added – microwaved for 4 minutes
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Toast
  • Decaf coffee made with an Aeropress (the best coffee maker you’ll find for $25)

Pretty simple stuff, but it’s way more nutritious than a bowl of cereal.

How to Build Your Own Ritual

To start on your own morning ritual, you’ll first need to find a method that lets you get up early enough to have ample time before your first real commitment of the day. You can try the method I described above, or find something else that works for you.

After that follow these 5 steps to implementing your ritual:

  1. Review your goals (maybe look at your Impossible List?) and figure out which ones you can make progress on with small, daily amounts of effort. These are perfect for morning rituals.
  2. Figure out how much time it will take you to finish them all in the morning. This will probably require some trial and error to get right.
  3. Once you’ve figured out your required time block, start waking up that much earlier.
  4. Start practicing your morning ritual!
  5. Make adjustments as necessary. If you eventually hate doing something, re-evaluate its importance to your life.

I also recommend getting into the practice of tracking each of the habits you build into your morning ritual. Looping back to The Motivation Hacker’s explanation of success spirals:

“Success spirals – backed up by the simple tracking of success – were the key habit for me. Starting tiny, tracking success, and slowly strengthening the habit of building habits: this is how you tend your success spirals.”

When I started practicing my ritual in earnest, I used Lift to track all of the tasks in it – plus some other habits I was trying to build, like flossing every day.

These days, I’m using HabitRPG as my main habit tracker and daily/near-future task manager. For me, the video game mechanics – like gaining experience for my character whenever I practice my habits and get things done – provide a great source of extra motivation. Plus, it’s just fun (especially since I’m in a party with my roommate Martin).


The habits in my morning ritual that I track with HabitRPG.

Whether you want to keep it simple with something like Lift, or get really geeky with HabitRPG, find a way that lets you track your progress.

When I started, flossing every day was actually really hard for me. You’ll notice that it’s not on my Daily list in the screenshot above anymore – that’s because it’s become so automatic at this point that I don’t even feel like it’s worth earning EXP for. It’s as ingrained as brushing my teeth is now.

Which is exactly the point all of this.

If you’re looking for some more practices you could implement into your morning routine, here are some suggestions:

  • Stretch or do yoga
  • Write something (maybe start journaling – this is a habit I’m going to start including)
  • Drink water
  • Make and eat breakfast – get good at one (or a few) meals, so cooking them doesn’t take up much mental effort
  • Walk or run – outside is best
  • Do some simple exercises – push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups
  • Listen to an educational podcast
  • Spend 30 minutes working on one of your goals
  • Read a book
  • Work on a self-driven learning project

Be Wary of Derailing


Before you go to bed each night, mentally run through all the habits in your morning ritual and think about what their dependencies are. Examples:

  • Headphones for listening to podcasts
  • Groceries in your fridge for making breakfast
  • A full water bottle ready to drink

The less friction you face during your morning ritual, the better.

When you’re starting your morning with lots of little productive habits, it’s very easy to derail when you can’t do one. The “what-the-hell” effect is a killer.

I’ve had a few mornings in the past where I’ve woken up unable to find my headphones, or realized I didn’t have any eggs. On those mornings, I found myself checking email too early, or wasting time on the internet for two hours. Not really a good start to the day.

Minimize those mistakes; plan ahead each night, and your morning ritual will go smoothly.

That’s it!

Remember why building strong habits is so useful:

“Habits change into character” – Ovid | Tweet This

Creating a morning ritual is an excellent way to start building some small habits, which help set the tone of your day and eventually help you build motivation to create even bigger habits.

What does your morning ritual look like?

Images: Clock, derailed, thrown out of bed

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Hey there! Please note that some links in the article may be referral links, meaning that if you buy something through them, I'll earn a commission (at no extra cost to you). This helps to support CIG, but please don't buy anything unless you truly believe it'll benefit you! You can learn more here. Thank you :)

Want to Earn Better Grades?

Did you find this article useful?

Over 150,000 awesome students are learning how to dominate their classes, get more done, and land the jobs they want - and you should too.

Join in, and I'll also send you a free copy of my book on earning better grades!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I am just curious why you choose decaf coffee instead or regular? What is the motivation. I too love coffee, but only drink caffeinated because I feel like I get a good jolt to my day, but sometimes it can also help me feel more groggy.

  2. Hi, Thomas!!

    Thank you for all this amazing information 🙂
    Well, my morning routine looks like this right now:

    1. Wake up and pray for a great day, wish good things and be grateful
    2. Drink lemon with water (it’s good to clean your body)
    3. Do 6 sun salutations (yoga exercise)
    4. Do breathing exercises (pranayamas)
    5. Meditate for 10 minutes

    I think it is basic to start and contains everything I want to start a good day 🙂 I’m willing to improve it with time.

  3. your insights are generous and practical and thanks for sharing your morning routine..

    I have more control over my mornings now than previously.
    I started small (from just walking my dog) and then I built from there.
    Now my morning routing is 90 min.
    30 min guided meditation with earphones whilst laying in bed.
    30 min of combined cardio,strenght and yoga exercises.
    30 minutes of writing/reading i,e journaling, reading work related or inspirational material.

    I don’t watch TV/ or listen radio or read newspaper in the morning but later in the day.( to keep me positive from too much bad news and media at the start of my day)
    I delay breakfast(only coffee in morning) till 10 am

    I working hours are 07h30 till 6pm.
    I am up at 5am.

    Your article really inspired me Thomas.

    Thank you much

  4. Found your blog and post.

    I’m absolutely loving everything. I thank you for taking the time and effort to create a website and record YouTube videos.

  5. Hey, I just recently found your blog and youtube channel. You’re an amazing researcher, and the tools and resourses you provide for all of us to use are amazing so thank you very much.

    If you don’t mind me asking this, how many eggs do you eat? I don’t know very much about the eating habits there is in the United States but, here in Portugal we are told to not eat more than thee eggs a week. I mean I guess you exercise enough to burn the calories. But still curious.

  6. Something a lot of people don’t mention when talking about getting up in the morning is when they go to sleep. How much sleep do you get?

    • I try to get at least 7 hours. Since I’m actually getting up at 5:30 now, that means I try to be in bed around 10:15. According to the science of REM cycles, 7.5 hours would be better (assuming my cycles don’t deviate too far from average), but I find it really difficult to get into bed before 10.

  7. I really want to use Habit RPG but the problem is that I have so many new things I need to do that i need to add them immediately to my mass list but then i have trouble adding a good value for that task that’ll give me a good reward. Like if i consider 2, each of them are different difficulties, but worth the same amount of coins then my reward isn’t really as justified compared to if I did the harder task.

  8. Hi. I have a silly question: I downloaded the Habit RPG and I have difficulty to distinguish what should I put into the “habits” folder and what into the “dailies” folder. So is there any rule to distinguish them easily? Thanks. P.S.: Both of your website and YouTube channel are great.

  9. I really like the idea of the morning ritual, cause mornings are definitely my least favorite part of the day. I do have one question though. Do you also do your morning ritual on weekends, or on mornings after a late night of fun with friends or whatever else? I suppose it wouldn’t be too difficult to just do it later, but I’m curious.

    Thanks for the awesome post! I really love your website and I’ve been hitting it hard the past few days! Stay awesome!

    • I’d like to say I austerely get up on weekends and complete the ritual, but sadly I don’t. On most weekend days, I’ll sleep in until about 8, and then get up and chill during the morning until more people wake up. I’d like to get into the habit of doing the ritual on weekends in the future, though.

      Late nights are a pretty rare thing for me these days; I’m usually in bed by 10:30 since I get up so early. When I lived in dorms, I’d often just climb up into my loft and go to sleep even when there were 15 people playing CoD in the room 😛

  10. Thomas, Nice post! There are less people try to formulate their morning ritual yet.
    My personal morning ritual looks like this:
    1. Drink water
    The first thing I do in the morning is drinking water to hydrate the body.
    2. Keep good hygiene
    Brush my teeth and take a bath
    3. Exercising
    Do some simple exercises, the objective is to stretch the body.
    4. Have my breakfast
    With a cup of coffee too. My favorite is white coffee.
    5. Reading
    I have some quick reading while having my breakfast.
    6.Review my vision and purpose
    Remind me what are my goals and dreams
    7. Plan the day.
    After reviewing my vision and purpose I’d plan how my day will be going on.

    The whole process usually doesn’t spend me more than an hour, if it exceeds one hour it should be end before one and the half hour. My ideal morning ritual is less than one hour because more than it I feel like I’m not spending my time on productive things.

    It seems like your morning ritual is more than one hour. How long you spend to carry out your morning ritual?

    • Looks like you’ve got a great morning ritual, Brian! Personally, I think it’s more effective to plan my day the night before – that way, I’m almost beholden to yesterday’s plan instead of feeling like I’ve made it up on the spot.

      My morning routine generally takes 2 hours, though I’ll sometimes read longer than 30 minutes. However, all the other things are pretty consistently done in 90 minutes.

  11. This is an awesome article!

    I’ve always wanted to establish a morning routine but I wasn’t sure what to do and I never really had the motivation to do so. But recently, after starting my own business, I realized that it’s not possible to be efficient while slacking off (go figure)… So thank you for the wake up call that I definitely needed!!!

    • Thanks Tanya! Glad I could give you a wake-up call (no pun intend-ok yeah, pun intended). What are you hoping to accomplish with your morning routine?

  12. I’ve been trying the past few months to cultivate a morning routine. When I started my blog/began building my website last semester, I had trouble finding time to write or work on it. After reading one of Leo’s posts (I think it was the “Lovely Morning” one) I started getting up 30 minutes earlier to carve out writing time. Really made a difference not just in the blog and website, but also in my day overall. Particularly on college campuses, even getting up at 8 is still earlier than most, and it does create a peaceful start to my day. I aim to get up even earlier this semester so that I can have time to read or take a walk in addition to writing.

    Loved your latest podcast, by the way. While I have no interest in pursuing a medical career myself, the study tips were golden, and the episode also helped me understand just how much work goes into getting a medical degree. English seems so easy in comparison. 🙂

    I’ll be checking back often, particularly in anticipation of your book.

    • Thanks Ransom! I’ll have more info out on the book soon 🙂

      It’s funny… for me, getting up at 8 actually seems really late. When I sleep that late, I often feel like part of my day is wasted, and I’m more prone to the “what-the-hell” effect and wasting even more time. It’s not really rational, as I could just stay up later to make up the difference, but that’s how it feels anyway…

// Read This Next

How To Learn More Outside Of Class Than You Ever Could Inside It

Want more? Join over 150,000 students and grab my free book on earning better grades  →