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In Hong Kong, we’re lucky that our winter days aren’t as dramatically shortened as in Western countries, but mornings can still be challenging for most of us. There’s a lot of hype over crazy morning routines out there, including some pretty wacky celebrity practises. Mark Wahlberg wakes up at half two, does a full-on workout, then recovers by icing himself in a cryogenic chamber, for God’s sake.
We’re not endorsing any of this Hollywood insanity, but we’ve put together a few ways to hack your mornings and change your life that actually work. Subscribe to this 12-step programme and instead of unironically using a mug that says “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had two coffees”, and you’ll instead be one of those beautiful people swanning into the office alert, focused, and ready to handle that email thread with 20 annoying people copied in.
Okay, we know you’re already groaning in despair before even getting past the first point on the list. Consider this though: according to Business Insider, over 50 percent of six-figure earners wake up before six a.m. Richard Branson sleeps with his curtains open so he’s woken by the rising sun each morning. (Granted, he also dips into the ocean and swims around his private island every day, so waking up early is the only part us mere mortals can emulate.)
We’re not saying waking early will make you rich (we bloody wish too!), but the direct correlation is between waking early and having time to sort yourself out and enjoy some personal space before diving into a hectic day. Evenings are usually spent with loved ones, so even if they are relaxing, it’s not considered time for yourself.
If you think about it, our workdays are packed to the brim with “someone else’s problems”. Work responsibilities are simply that—responsibilities that have nothing to do with you as a person. So in this hour of uninterrupted time for yourself, don’t do anything work-related. If you’re the type to check your work emails the moment you wake up, break the habit.
Instead, use this time to go through your morning rituals, centre yourself, and do some introspective deep work before the chaos begins.
Pretty much all of us are guilty of it, but repeat after us now: “Don’t hit snooze!” When you get out of bed, you’re sending a message to yourself which says you are ready to work on yourself and your personal mission. When you hit snooze, the subconscious message becomes: “A few minutes of extra sleep is more important than my personal mission.” This just isn’t a good signal for motivation.
Scientifically speaking, those extra minutes you sneak in aren’t even good sleep. Good sleep means completing a full REM cycle, which is roughly 90 minutes long. Slipping back under for an extra 10 does nothing for your energy. Download a smart alarm app that can track your sleep through breathing patterns and movements through the night, and therefore can wake you up at the optimal point in your sleep cycle.
So give your motivation and energy levels a kick by staying strong and not snoozing! As with quitting all bad habits, the beginning is most difficult to get through, but persevere and you’ll soon find it’s easy enough to roll out of bed with your alarm.
You’re naturally dehydrated in the mornings because there’s been no water intake during the night, so the first thing you should do when you wake up is down a glass of water.
Rehydrating will wake your body, but you can also give your senses a healthy jolt by having fruit-infused water instead of plain ol’ H2O. There are plenty of infuser bottles on the market; fill one up with your favourite fruits and pop it on your nightstand for easy access in the mornings.
Aside from your physical ritual of washing up and getting dressed, establish a mental morning ritual as well. Clear your mind, breathe, and simply feel yourself coming awake. Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, says this will “[reduce] freneticism and allows you to start your morning without already being behind.”
If meditation works for you, put in a good 15 minutes doing so. You can also do a bit of bullet journalling, spend some time with a book, or listening to a podcast which inspires you or simply cheers you up.
A gratitude list is also an option: write down three things you are grateful for and three people you are grateful for. This sets a positive mood to start the day on. You even go further and send a gratitude text to the people you noted down, starting their day on a positive note too and maintaining your relationships.
According to Business Insider, almost half of the super-rich population (those earning more than US$175,000) map out their plan for the day. To ensure you stay on track for the rest of your day, make yourself a to-do list of the top three things to accomplish. Put the most difficult, most challenging, or most worrisome task at the top so it is prioritised.
If you put the most uncomfortable task at the end, you’ll subconsciously be hindering your progress on the first two, because you know at the back of your mind that there is something worse to come. Tackle the major hurdle first, and everything else will come easier.
Figure out what activity perks you up. It might be having a good sing in the shower for some, or playing with a pet for others. Whatever it is for you, find it so if you wake up in a groggy fog—and you most definitely will some days—you know what will stimulate you and give you a boost.
We know we can’t all be like Lord Alan Sugar; the business mogul reportedly bikes 50 miles through Essex every morning. Nobody’s saying you need to squeeze in a full-on 45-minute workout session, but do go out for a stroll so you can fill your lungs with fresh air and get your heart pumping a bit. Enjoy your local scenery, let your mind wander where it wants to, and get inspired, all while your digestive system and creativity is stimulated.
Some experts think that you should only process information related to your morning tasks and rituals when you wake up. “Something as ‘simple’ as listening to the news as you get ready creates a surprising amount of frazzle,” says Bregman. Instead of cluttering your mind first thing in the morning with headlines on Twitter and the latest from your friends on social media, have some music on or simply even silence as you keep yourself company.
There are plenty of morning playlists on Spotify, and if you have a dedicated one you’ll even be able to track your routine by how far into the playlist you are. Save the reading or listening to the news for your commute instead.
Ladies, we know you have a gazillion skincare and makeup products scattered around, but we also know that you have your favourites. If you find yourself reaching for a beauty product every day, plonk it into one pouch so you have a collection of essentials you know you can rely on, all in one place. This way, you will save precious minutes otherwise wasted on digging through your massive collection for that one eyeliner pencil you swear you just caught a glimpse of!
If you have a full house to look after or pack your own lunches to work, it’s likely you already have experience with batch cooking. Extend the same treatment to breakfasts so you’re not just grabbing toast on your way out the door, or popping into the cha chaan teng near your office for morning cheung fun all the time.
Some morning-friendly breakfast foods you can make in advance are breakfast bars, overnight oats in jars, muffins, frittatas, or even casseroles. Spending some time over the weekend to prepare these foods will save you precious time during your weekday mornings, not to mention give you a healthy dose of energy for the day ahead.
Dedicate a small area of your home for all the stuff you need to grab before stepping out the door. You could stick a console table in the hallway near the door, or have one particular chair act as a catchall for your bag, gym gear, packed lunch, wallet, keys, phone, and other essentials.
This way, a quick peek around your drop zone is all you need to ensure you have all you need, instead of frantically rooting everywhere for your Octopus card or keys at the last minute. Nobody needs that sort of exasperation in the morning.
Really, in order to maximise your mornings, a little effort should be put in the night before as well. We have all heard the obvious ones by now: a comfortable mattress with pillows that suit your sleeping style, no gawping at screens past a certain time, and turning in nice and early. But what if you’ve checked off all the above and still don’t feel rested?
Stever Robbins, host of the productivity podcast The Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More, suggests doing a brain dump right before you go to sleep. “Write down anything you’re worrying about that might keep you awake… Your brain will be able to let it go because it knows [those thoughts are] safely written down.”
You could take this hack a step further and jot down the top two things you need to get done or solve the next day instead. Your brain will latch on to these last thought before you drift off and ruminate on them instead of worries or fears, and you’ll hopefully even wake up with fresh perspectives or solutions.