5 Tips to Supercharge Your Midlife Morning Routine

By Tracee Herbaugh
April 22, 2024

Marie Kondo’s joy-sparking empire may very well have started because she begins her day by opening her windows to let in the fresh air. Media giant Arianna Huffington is another devotee of the morning routine—hers includes a daily meditation and a good round of exercise.

Turns out, many highly impressive people credit their success to a meaningful morning schedule. But these rituals are not just for trendsetters, influencers, and CEOs.

“In general, people tend to be at their best in the mornings,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done and a strong advocate of effective morning routines. “It's important to match the right activities with the right time. So, in general, I tell people that if it has to happen, it has to happen first.”

This is where a morning routine comes in. It can be as simple as choosing two things you love and two things you need to get done (say, exercise and a creative project) and scheduling those as your first orders of business. This way, you start the day with a partially completed checklist. “Exercising first thing in the morning means it's done,” says Vanderkam. For busy people whose lives are centered around career or children or caring for a loved one (or, maybe even all three) a morning routine will help facilitate productivity and grounding throughout the day, she says.

With that in mind, here are five simple ways to build a winning morning routine.

1. Do the ‘Worst’ Thing First

“I don't have a strict time that I have to go to bed or I have to wake up by, but I follow the same steps for going to bed and getting up every day,” says Sara Odell, a 41-year-old stay-at-home mom of two young girls. Sara, who lives in Longmont, Colorado, works as a life coach and maintains an Etsy store in addition to being crafty and helping the girls with school projects.

“I used to think that I had to set the alarm for a particular time, and if I snoozed the alarm even once, then the whole thing would be ruined and I wouldn't do it. I wasn't very successful in implementing any routine until I understood this about myself.”

Bottom line: “Start the day with a sense of what needs to get done versus what you want to do,” Vanderkam says.

2. Feed Your Creativity

Mornings can also be a good time to devote to your side hustle or a hobby that makes you happy.

Lisa Fogarty, a 43-year-old mom and editor, will often devote an hour or so to freelance writing projects or work on a podcast she co-hosts.

Forgarty designates mornings, from 5:30 a.m. until 7 a.m., for her side hustle.

“My two children, who are 10 and 7, know that this is mom’s work time,” Fogarty says. “If they wake up before 7 a.m., they have to read, amuse themselves, or try and go back to sleep—that last part never, ever happens. Having this ‘me work time’ only became possible when they got a little older, so I wouldn’t recommend anyone try this with a 4-year-old.”

Bottom line: “Make time for activities that will ‘fill your tank,’” Vanderkam says. If neglecting your creative projects and side hustle will make you feel badly about your day job or future prospects, then make sure you are using your morning for what matters in the bigger picture.

3. Write It Out

Physician, professor, and mom Suzy Sarfaty, 56, writes down her priorities every morning.

“I like the idea of checklists and notebooks. I have a notebook for child things. One for patient needs. Some for home stuff too. Bills. I’ll write down everything that I have to come back to,” she says.

Whether you have a bullet journal or a to-do list, some of our best writing and planning happens in the wee hours; and also, more obviously, writing it down sets a plan in motion that shapes the entire day.

Bottom line: The positive effects of journaling and writing are shown time and again. In one study, young adults with depression were helped as much by journaling as through therapy. Be sure to write by hand, too. A research article published by The Association for Psychological Science found that students who took notes longhand consistently outperformed students who took notes on a laptop. Do not underestimate the power of a handwritten to-do list!

4. The First Minutes of the Day Set the Tone

Houston-based author, editor, and speaker Julie Cantrell starts the day with 15 minutes of prayer and meditation.

“First, I count my blessings,” says 47-year-old Cantrell. “I list, in my mind, all the reasons I’m grateful. If a negative thought surfaces, I simply replace it with a countering positive thought. I find the good and express gratitude, even during seasons when life is feeling particularly difficult.”

There are days, however, when these minutes of mindfulness can happen on a walk, while swimming laps in the pool, or when gardening.

“Other times, I just lie in bed a little longer and give myself that 15 minutes to transition gently to the day,” she says.

Bottom line: A few mindful minutes can set the tone for the whole day. Studies suggest that a gratitude practice is a key component of living with more happiness.

5. Hydrate and/or Caffeinate

While a cup of morning coffee tops the list for many people, tea is another favorite. Others may prefer juices, smoothies, or any other beverage that gets them moving.

Heather Jones, a 44-year-old physician from Winchester, Massachusetts, keeps it simple with her morning glass of water.

“I have to drink my glass of cold water. I didn't do this while on vacation last week, and I realized that I felt dehydrated and lethargic,” Jones says.

Likewise, Heather Burkhardt, a 911 dispatcher and EMT in Lamar, Colorado, wakes before 5 a.m. every day. After a shower and getting dressed for work, she grabs her breakfast and “coffee,” or Mountain Dew.

“I must have my Mountain Dew and sit down alone for about 10 minutes,” Burkhardt says. “If I don't, I am very grumpy.”

Bottom line: Whatever it takes! Tea. Coffee. Chocolate milk. Water. These rituals make us feel good and feeling good early can never be a bad thing.

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