The Most Creative and Productive Morning Routine of Your Life

OVERVIEW: A comprehensive, science-backed guide on how to establish a morning routine to catapult productivity, increase creativity, and create great work with consistency.

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Have you had those mornings where your work seems to flow naturally?

Where you’re on fire with creative ideas?

Where you gain a sense of accomplishment when you’re done?

If you want to experience productive mornings like this consistently, read on.

Creativity Flourishes Under Certain Conditions

Psychologists who study creative people—from Abraham Maslow to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi—illuminate inner and outer conditions for creative work.

The internal factors include the individual’s mindset, capabilities, and attitude.

The external factors include the person’s environment and psychological safety.

Creativity requires mental energy so you can focus without distraction.

It flows best when your overall mood is light and playful; it is impeded when you are serious, angry, depressed, or overwhelmed.

Your creativeness ignites when an impulse to express and contribute something arises within yourself.

Creativity flourishes under these conditions.

So how do you have an ultra-creative morning on a fairly regular basis?

You set up the conditions for productive creativity as best you can.

Here’s how …

Creativity Requires Mental Energy

Have you noticed how difficult it is to work when you’re tired?

Creating great work—whether in business, writing, design, or anything else—takes focus and resilience, both of which requires mental energy.

Psychologist Roy Baumeister’s research indicates we possess a finite amount of mental energy or willpower.

This willpower is highest in the morning, and it declines throughout the day. Baumeister calls this ego depletion.

The science of self-control tells us what many already know: we have the most energy reserves in the morning.

While some creatives perceive themselves as “night owls,” the extra energy factor in the morning offers an advantage.

Now, there are many strategies for cultivating energy to improve focus and creativity, but what’s great about developing a morning routine for creative work is that you rarely need these methods.

Assuming you’ve slept well (which could be a big assumption), there is sufficient fuel to create.

And, research shows that how you start your morning influences your mood and productivity throughout the day.

So it makes sense to focus on developing a solid morning routine first.

Routines Help Preserve Energy

Every decision you make expends mental energy and therefore reduces willpower. Herein lies the power of planning and having a set morning routine.

Many productive and creative individuals follow morning routines.

The benefit of a morning routine is that you don’t expend cognitive energy thinking about what you want or need to do. You just do it.

For example, you probably don’t think about brushing your teeth before you go to bed.

This became a conditioned behavior in childhood. Now you do it without deciding.

Psychologists call this automaticity. It’s the ability to do a task without occupying the mind with the details it requires.

Walking, riding a bike, driving, and speaking are all examples of automaticity.

It’s the result of learning through repetition and practice.

Starting a new routine takes cognitive energy. You need to think throughout the process.

Through consistent repetition, however, automaticity kicks in.

You’ve probably heard it takes a certain number of days to establish a new habit, something like 21 or 30 days.

Actual research suggests that the real number is closer to 66 days.

A Creative Morning Routine Starts The Evening Before

Because every decision we make expends energy, there’s good reason to start your day with a plan.

So before you define a morning routine, it’s important to establish an evening process.

The purpose of the evening routine is to set yourself up for a productive morning.

The main idea is to define your goal for the morning. You want to wake up with a clear vision for what you will invest your time on and the outcome you’re looking to produce.

Studies show that the more specific you are about the goal you’re trying to achieve, the more likely you are to achieve it.

morning routine

Ask the Right Questions to Set Your Agenda

Before going to bed ask:

What is my main outcome I want to achieve tomorrow morning? What will I create?

Not sure what to focus on? No problem.

First, capture everything you need and want to do tomorrow—big and small. This is a therapeutic exercise.

All of these to-dos, concerns, and ideas are floating around in your head already. Writing them down helps clear your mind.

Second, scan your list and see what jumps out at you. What’s most important?

Don’t just focus on what’s urgent; focus on what’s most important to you.

Ask real estate entrepreneur Gary Keller’s big question:

What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

So write what you will create in the morning. Perhaps you will write an important letter to someone; complete a book chapter, article, or blog post; score a new piece of music; outline a new project.

Whatever it is, write it down.

Now, visualize it. See yourself creating it, getting it done, and enjoying the process.

Finally, commit to completing or making progress on this project in the morning.

Evoke the Subconscious Mind for Creative Answers

Being productive is one thing; being creative is something else.

Let’s say you’re working on a project. You already know what you will focus on in the morning.

But there’s a problem. Something isn’t clear. Maybe it’s a plot issue in a novel you’re writing. Or a marketing message that isn’t hitting home with your customers.

Your conscious mind is stuck. But your subconscious mind has the answer.

To receive this answer, ask your subconscious mind before you go to sleep.

You’ve written what you want to accomplish. Now, ask thoughtful questions. Thomas Edison called this making “requests” to your subconscious.

Dreams are bridges from your conscious mind to your subconscious.

When you ask these questions right before you go to sleep, you present these requests to the subconscious.

morning routine

Set Up Your Creative Space

Finally, before you go through the above questions, straighten up your workspace so there are no additional distractions in the morning.

If your workspace isn’t in your home, get in the habit of straightening things up at the end of the day. In most cases, it takes only a minute or two.

In most cases, it takes only a minute or two.

A cluttered workspace evokes a distracted mind.

Okay, so the night before:

  1. Straighten up and organize your workspace.
  2. Establish your goals for the coming morning.
  3. Make requests to your subconscious mind.

Finally, make sure you sleep well. The quality of your sleep greatly affects your ability to think and create.

The earlier you go to sleep, the earlier you arise. The earlier you rise, the fewer distractions you have.

Capture Your Ideas in the Morning

Good morning! It’s a new day!

Research suggests the prefrontal cortex is more active and readily creativity when we wake up.

New connections form as the brain processes the information from the prior day.

If you pose questions to your subconscious before bed, you’re ready to receive the answers.

Take out your journal and begin automatic writing.

Recall the questions and write whatever ideas come to mind. Don’t judge or evaluate these ideas.

For now, just capture them.

Next, go have a glass of water. Sleep dehydrates your body. If you hydrate first thing in the morning, you’ll possess greater energy reserves while you work.

Add some lemon to the water. It helps detoxify your body and boosts your energy. Plus, it’s loaded with vitamin C.

Now, how do you feel?

If you’re fresh, awake, and enthusiastic about your creative project, go jump right in. You’ve got it from here.

If you unenthused, scattered, or grumpy, pause. If you try to work in this state, you’ll likely produce crappy work.

14 Ways to Elevate Your Mental and Emotional State

What can you do to change your state of mind quickly?

There are lots of methods. The key is to find whatever works for you.

You might already know what that is for you. If not experiment with these:

  1. Practice meditation. Watch your thoughts for a few minutes. It can give you space from your mental drama.
  2. Try morning pages. This is an effective exercise from the author of The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron. You essentially write down everything that’s on your mind.
  3. Take a cold shower. Not only does a cold shower increase immunity and reduce inflammation, it’s invigorating. It also helps alleviate depression and elevate your mood.
  4. Breathe consciously. Three or four deep breaths done with your full awareness can transform your state in under a minute.
  5. Listen to uplifting, energizing music.
  6. Practice Zhan Zhuang. This standing meditation gets you rooted in your body, which invariably shifts your mental state.
  7. Do pushups or any form of strength training. Get those endorphins pumping.
  8. Pray. Connect with something greater than your limited ego.
  9. Say affirmations. If you believe in them and you say them with emotion, they can affect your mood.
  10. Shake your body vigorously. This is a fast way of changing your state. Shake like you mean it.
  11. Stretch. Elliott Hulse offers numerous stretches and exercises in this 8-minute video. (Shaking it one of them.)
  12. Feel grateful. What are you grateful for right now? What could you be grateful for? How does it make you feel?
  13. Make funny and scary faces at yourself in the mirror. Try it. It works.
  14. Smile for a minute—even if you don’t feel like it. Research shows it will still elevate your mood.

Managing your mental and emotional state is a critical element of an effective morning routine.

By now, you’re in an elevated state. But don’t bliss out too much, you have creative work to do…

creative morning routine

Set the Conditions for Your Morning Routine

Here are three important elements to help ensure a productive morning routine.

Use 90-Minute Creative Time Blocks

Humans aren’t machines. We can’t sprint endlessly.

Instead, as CEO of The Energy Project Tony Schwartz points out, we’re designed to pulse—to spend energy and then renew energy.

How long should you focus on your creative work?

Based on the ultradian rhythm, Schwartz suggests only 90 minutes.

This is consistent with performance researcher Anders Ericsson’s 1993 famous study of young violinists.

He found top violinists practice in the morning in increments of 90 minutes or less with breaks in between.

So try to block off at least 90 minutes for your morning session. These creative time blocks are gold if you’re committed to accomplishing great work.

Honor this time as if it was a meeting with someone you perceive as important.

Eliminate the Usual Distractions

A shocking 80 percent of smartphone users check their phones within the first 15 minutes of waking up.

If you want to be highly productive and creative in the morning, avoid touching your phone as long as possible.

Email is probably the single biggest killer of productivity and creativity.

Smartphone notifications, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are all a close second.

Reading email puts you in a reactive state. According to this study reported in the New York Times, people who use email less experience lower stress and higher productivity.

Creative work requires focus. Distraction is the enemy of focus.

In a productive state, you are absorbed in your work. It takes time to enter this state of absorption or flow.

Based on this study of 414 programmers from 10,000 programming sessions, it takes a programmer between 10-15 minutes to start editing code after resuming work from an interruption.

So consider what happens when you’re getting disrupted by emails, texts, and other notifications as you work.

If you receive a notification once every 10 minutes, you’ll never have the opportunity to become absorbed in your work.

Despite the common myth, productive people don’t multitask when they create.

So avoid opening email until after you finish working. Also, put your phone on airport mode and remove all automatic notifications on your computer.

Leverage the “Zeigarnik Effect”

Did I say you don’t want to be interrupted?

Well, there’s one time where that’s not the case: at the end of your creative time block before you finish your work.

Why? Your unconscious mind seeks closure. It’s why popular television series often use cliffhangers to keep us hooked.

Psychologists call this the Zeigarnik effect.

In Pre-Suasion, Robert Cialdini points out how you can use the Zeigarnik effect to prevent procrastination and improve productivity.

Whenever possible, leave your project unfinished. Resist the temptation to push yourself to completion.

This strategy works well for me. It creates a natural gravitational pull to sit down and work on the project again.

When you look forward to doing creative work, there’s less resistance to contend with.

Establish a Professional Rhythm

Creative professionals often believe creativity comes only when the Muse speaks to them.

But professionals, like best-selling author Steven Pressfield, don’t wait for the Muse to come.

What separates a professional from everyone else is that professionals do the work consistently.

They establish habits, routines, and rituals that support the creative process. And they stick to them.

Experiment with the process highlighted above. It will work wonders once you make it your own.

Summary of Your Creative Morning Routine

Here’s a recap:

  • Straighten up your workspace in the evening.
  • Decide what want to accomplish in the morning.
  • Make a request to your subconscious mind before bed.
  • Block off time in the morning for your creative project.
  • Get a good night’s rest. At least 6 hours.
  • Get up as early as you can.
  • Drink a glass of water with lemon.
  • Elevate your mental and emotional state.
  • Keep email closed. Close all notifications.
  • Don’t touch your phone until you’re done. Keep it on airport mode.
  • Focus on what you’re creating for around 90 minutes.
  • Allow time to renew your energy when you’re finished.

Finally, please don’t try to do the above every day. There are parts of us who benefit from routines and other parts who revolt against them.

To create harmony within yourself, use morning routines with consistency while having days without them.

I know that sounds like two opposing ideas. And they are.

But after all, we are ambiguous creatures. Maybe that’s part of the fun.

Now, go create something awesome.

Read More Personal Development Guides:

How to Center Yourself: The Most Important Skill Most People Never Learn
How to Adopt a Beginner’s Mind for Increased Creativity

Zhan Zhuang: How to Cultivate Energy by Standing Still
How to Harness the Creative Process with Archetypes