I spent the bulk of my years in Austin working as a professor, with odd hours and mornings that were pretty relaxed compared to the average person. Now that I’ve gone back into industry, that luxury is gone, and it’s been an adjustment to figure out how to still cultivate a sense of ease and calm to set myself up for a good day.
The fact that I struggle with sleep-maintenance insomnia doesn’t help. Some nights, when my alarm goes off, I cannot bring myself to get out of bed. While I believe it’s important to take some time for yourself before heading into the office, there are days when what I need to do is get an extra hour of sleep, and wake up 20 minutes before leaving the house.
Over the past six months, I’ve developed strategies to help me have a better morning, whether I wake up energized and ready to work out, or whether I need to sleep as late as possible. Either way, the structure I’ve set for my morning accommodates each option.
Of course, a few things make my mornings easier by default. I don’t have any childcare or eldercare responsibilities, for example. So what works for me isn’t always going to work for you. But I hope the list below inspires you to think about what adjustments you can make to fit your particular situation.
Give myself a work uniform
One of the things I noticed about my habits during the pandemic was that I would pretty much wear the same five outfits over and over. Even when things began to open up, I would wear the same things. So much of the clothing in my closet went unused. I also noticed that when I didn’t have to think about what to wear in the morning, I was less stressed. When I transitioned back to office life this summer, I decided to give myself a work uniform.
I have a warm weather uniform and a cold weather uniform. The warm weather wardrobe consists of five button-down shirts and five skorts. The cold weather uniform consists of five sweaters and five pairs of pants. For transitional periods, I usually pear the button down shirts with the pants. Everything is in a neutral color, so I don’t even have to think about matching. I just check the temperature forecast for the day and dress accordingly. Not having to think about what I’m wearing to work cuts out a source of anxiety for me, and has made a huge difference in my mornings.
Meal prep breakfast and lunch (and eat both at the office)
Fun fact: I absolutely hate doing meal prep. I despise doing all the work of chopping, cooking, and packing up without the immediate reward of getting to eat anything. I also hate packing my breakfast, taking it to work, and eating it in the break room. Yet doing these two things I dislike nonetheless leads to better mornings.
First, if I didn’t do any meal prep, I would either have to get up even earlier than I already do on a good day in order to have time to make my food for the day. Since I’ve learned the hard way that my good-day wake-up time is the best I can possibly do, getting up 30 minutes earlier to make food is not going to happen. So the other alternative to not meal prepping is going out to lunch 4 days a week, which is not ideal for my budget. So in the long run, to maximize sleep and be in line with my financial goals, meal prep sets me up for good mornings.
Second, taking the time to eat breakfast at home again means waking up at least 30 minutes earlier (obviously not going to happen), and it also means making myself eat before I’m actually hungry. I know there is a lot of advice about when you should or should not eat breakfast, and I’ll just say that making myself eat breakfast before my body is actually hungry does not make me feel good. If I get up at 6:00 a.m., I don’t even begin to want food until at least 8:00 a.m. I experimented with making myself eat earlier at home, but that was not setting me up to feel good the rest of the day. Eating breakfast in the break room stinks, but sometimes, self-care just means choosing the less-frustrating of two choices. And it’s less frustrating to wait until I actually feel hungry to eat. (Your mileage may vary; pick the eating schedule that works best for you.)
Pack my bag the night before
Before going to bed, I make sure my bag is ready to go for the next day. Most days of the week, I go straight from the office to either training Pilates clients, or working with my own trainer. That means I pack my wallet, workout clothes, planner, and anything else I might need into my backpack. I sleep better and am less anxious in the morning knowing that my bag is ready for me to just grab and go!
Set out things that don’t get packed
I fill my water bottle and travel tea mug fresh every morning, so those don’t get packed up. Instead, I have them sitting right by the sink and ready to be filled. Not having to search for what I need brings a sense of ease to my morning. I also lay out my clothing, including socks and underwear. (Because let’s face it, who really wants to dig through the clean laundry basket for matching socks?) I make it easy to know where everything is, which saves me the frustration of having to hunt around and waste time that could be spent walking my dog, working out, or sleeping in.
Keep my routine as simple as possible
At one point, I was trying to cram as much as possible into my morning so I could feel accomplished before I had to go in and give 8 hours to my employer. (9-10 if you factor in my commute.) But starting my day with a sense of cluttered urgency wasn’t doing my mental health any favors.
On the days I get up on time, my one definite task is a dog walk. After that, I do a quick dumbbell/kettlebell workout, or if it’s a rest day, I do about 20 minutes of work on a creative project. Then I’m out the door.
I also am able to keep my routine simple because of some personal preferences that may or may not work for you. I have always preferred to shower at night; it helps me wind down for sleep. Not having to shower in the morning saves me a ton of time. I also prefer not to wear makeup on a regular day; that’s for special occasions. Since makeup isn’t a priority for me, cutting it out saves me time. Again, though, those are some preferences that I know most people don’t share. However, you can look at your routine and figure out what is not truly necessary, and then eliminate it.
I hope this list has given you some ideas for how you can create a greater sense of ease in your own mornings. Already got your own specific strategies? Let me know in the comments!