Most of us deal with the occasional lazy, zero-motivation morning.
You know the feeling – you wake up knowing you have a bunch of stuff you need to get done, but you just can’t convince yourself to do any of it.
So you sleep in instead. Or maybe you get up and waste time playing Mario Run on your phone. Before you know it, 11:00am has arrived and you’ve done nothing.
A reader asked me how to deal with this problem recently:
“Do you have any advice for someone who plans out everything the night before, but then loses all motivation the next morning?”
Even though my girlfriend likes to occasionally accuse me of secretly being a robot (which isn’t true – I love circulating oxygen through my clearly biological respiratory system and exhaling carbon dioxide as much as the next fellow human), I’m not immune to this problem.
However, I’ve learned a lot over the past few years that has helped me to make lazy mornings occur far less frequently. Today, I’ll share a few ideas that will help you achieve a similar level of consistent morning productivity and motivation.
At a glance, here are the solutions for increasing your morning motivation that we’ll be going over:
- Experimenting with your schedule
- Using a morning routine to build “productive momentum”
- Reducing your intention-achievement gap with the Rule of Three
- Leveraging “pull motivation” by doing one thing you love every morning
Beep boop… er, I mean, let’s get started.
I’m a sucker for articles that detail the habits and morning routines of authors, entrepreneurs, and other famous people. I’m talking articles like:
- The Daily Routines of Great Writers by Maria Popova
- From Steve Jobs to Barack Obama: The morning routines of 8 of the world’s most successful people by Hazel Sheffield
- The Daily Routines of 12 Famous Writers by James Clear
One interesting thing that I’ve learned from reading these kinds of articles is that the schedules of individual writers differed greatly. For instance, here’s how Haruki Murakami, author books like 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, starts his day when he’s in novel-writing mode:
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4 AM and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9 PM.”
This routine differs quite a bit from someone like Margaret Atwood, who once admitted to,
“…spending the morning worrying, and then plunging into the manuscript in a frenzy of anxiety around 3 PM.”
Yet both Murakami and Atwood have been incredibly successful authors. So have many others, all with differing schedules and habits. What this says to me is that there’s no perfect formula for success; you can structure your day in whatever way you see fit, as long as it helps you maintain motivation and drives you towards achieving your goals.
Furthermore, the contrast between the different authors’ schedules illustrates a divide between what I’m going to call morning maniacs and momentum builders.
These are completely arbitrary terms that I just made up, but they fit my purposes for the moment, so I’m going to use them. And you can’t stop me because you’re too far away.
Morning maniacs are the kind of people who can simply roll out of bed and start working on their most difficult, challenging tasks right away. Haruki Murakami is a morning maniac; Ernest Hemingway was one as well, as he revealed to George Plimpton:
“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible.”
By contrast, momentum builders are the people who need to wake up and build a bit of what I like to call productive momentum before they can really get into the swing of things. In other words, they need to do some small tasks to essentially get their brains into “work mode” before they can tackle more challenging ones.
Here’s the thing… it’s not always apparent which category you fit into. That’s why the first thing you should do in order to start waking up more motivated is to experiment with your schedule.
Personally, I’m more of a momentum builder during the mornings – but I only know this because I’ve experimented with both types of schedules. If you haven’t, give it a try.
If you’ve never been a morning maniac, try getting up and immediately tackling the most challenging task on your daily plan.
If you don’t know which task to choose, look at your task list and ask yourself which task you feel the most resistance to starting. As Steven Pressfield puts it in The War of Art:
“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North – meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing. We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.”
Use the resistance you feel to guide you. If this schedule works out and you discover you’re a morning maniac, congrats!
One huge benefit that this kind of schedule brings is that it crosses off that most challenging task right away; once you’ve finished, everything else on your list should feel easy by comparison.
If you discover you’re not a morning maniac, then you need to take a different approach to building that morning motivation. To start, let’s get back to that concept of productive momentum again and try to explain it a little better.
A few years ago, a friend gave me a piece of advice for when I was feeling particularly resistant to working on a big project.
“When you find yourself procrastinating,” he said, “Go do the dishes.”
His reasoning was simple: doing the dishes – or doing any simple, manual chore – is low-level work. It’s work that doesn’t require a ton of creativity or brainpower, and hence you’ll probably have very little resistance to starting it. By contrast, writing a paper or studying for a test brings a lot of resistance.
However, once you get into the flow of doing the dishes, you start to build up some productive momentum. Your brain goes into work mode. And once it’s there, you can use that momentum to carry yourself into those harder tasks that were so difficult to get started on before.
If you’re not a morning maniac, then you need to find a way to bake this process of building productive momentum directly into the start of your day. To do that, you need to set up an intelligent morning routine.
By picking a few simple, productive habits to do right after waking up, you can start your day off on the right foot and build up the momentum you need to jump into your task list with true intensity.
Here’s a brief look at my current morning routine, which I start at 6 AM every weekday:
- Drink a half-liter of water
- Feed my cat
- Meditate for 5 minutes
- Exercise (I hit the gym three days a week and do outdoor cardio on the other two)
- Shower and dress
- Cook and eat breakfast
- Read for 30 minutes
This routine takes me about 2.5 hours to complete, which works for me since, as an entrepreneur, I can set my own schedule. However, even if you’re in school or working a job with a fixed schedule, you can still take advantage of this concept.
If you’d like to follow a similarly full morning routine like mine, you could always train yourself to wake up early – I have several online friends who actually start their day at 4:30 AM.
Alternatively, you could simply work with the time you have in the morning and choose habits that don’t take as long. The key is to just pick habits that build that all-important momentum. Experiment to find the ones that work best for you.
One thing that can really kill your motivation in the morning is a long task list that you know you can’t finish.
This is why I advocate using a productivity system that combines both a master task list and a daily task list; that way, you can keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed by only looking at your daily list on most days.
However, I know from experience that even a daily task list can become overwhelming; when I’m creating mine before bed each night, it’s really tempting to get overzealous and put a ton of tasks on it.
Here’s the problem: If you constantly create daily task lists that you never actually finish, then you’re constantly maintaining a gap between what you plan to do and what you actually do.
I call this the intention-achievement gap, and it’s a real motivation killer; after all, waking up every morning with the knowledge (based on past experience) that you won’t achieve what you set out to do can only hurt your drive. By contrast, having the confidence that you can carry out your plans will help you do so.
To start closing the intention-achievement gap, simply cut the amount of tasks on your daily list. If you need help, try following the Rule of 3, a concept explained in Chris Bailey’s book The Productivity Project. Here it is as Chris describes it:
- At beginning of day, fast-forward to the end of the day in your mind. Then ask yourself: “What three things will I want to have accomplished when the day is over?”
- Write those three things down.
- Do the same at the beginning of every week.
The idea here is to think deliberately about what you want to accomplish – and by limiting yourself to a small number of items, you challenge yourself to set manageable goals that are still substantial enough for you to be satisfied at the end of the day.
If you’d like to learn more about this concept, I discussed it at length in this podcast episode (starting at 18:00):
The last idea I’d like to share with you is inspired by this quote from Tony Robbins:
“There are 2 different kinds of motivation: Push requires willpower, and willpower never lasts. What will last is pull – having something so exciting, so attractive, something you desire so much that you have a hard time going to sleep at night, you get up so early in the morning and take it to the next level.”
This actually takes us back to the morning maniacs we talked about earlier, because while I believe that much of the reason for their choice of schedule is due to their personalities – i.e. they’re just wired that way – I think that their mission also plays a part. When Haruki Murakami is in novel-writing mode, for example, his desire to finish that novel pulls him to keep writing.
But what if you don’t have an all-encompassing mission at the moment?
Whether you’re working through a semester with classes that don’t particularly inspire you, or you’re putting in your dues at a job that’s not super-exciting, there are going to be times when you simply don’t have a mission that motivates you all that much.
During those times, however, I still believe you can take advantage of pull motivation by building at least one thing you love into your morning routine. For me, it’s listening to my favorite podcasts while I’m out biking or in the gym; the anticipation of listening to a new episode pulls me into my routine and makes me happy.
You can use something similarly small to provide some pull motivation of your own – it doesn’t have to be anything huge. Anything that you’re excited to do in the morning is going to contribute to your overall motivation to hop out of bed and start the day.
Everyone deals with a lack of motivation at times, but by intelligently applying these ideas, you’ll equip yourself with the tools to combat the problem and ensure that you wake up motivated more often.
Hope you found this article helpful! If you have ideas of your own that I didn’t include here, share them in the comments below.
If you’re unable to see the video above, you can view it on YouTube.
Looking for More Study Tips?
If you enjoyed this article, you’ll also enjoy my free 100+ page book called 10 Steps to Earning Awesome Grades (While Studying Less).
The book covers topics like:
- Defeating procrastination
- Getting more out of your classes
- Taking great notes
- Reading your textbooks more efficiently
…and several more. It also has a lot of recommendations for tools and other resources that can make your studying easier.
If you’d like a free copy of the book, let me know where I should send it:
I’ll also keep you updated about new posts and videos that come out on this blog (they’ll be just as good as this one or better) 🙂
If you’d like to improve even more, you might find these additional ideas to be helpful:
- 5 Tips for Optimizing Your Sleep – If you’re always waking up tired, improving your sleep is probably the #1 thing you can do to improve your motivation and energy levels.
- How to Stop Procrastinating with the Pomorodo Technique – my favorite method for beating procrastination.
- Find Your Most Productive Time of the Day by Tracking Your Body’s Energy Levels – an interesting method for tailoring your schedule based on your most productive time of day.
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