How to Have a Great Morning Workflow

Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject
Marseille, 2015 #cindyproject

We all generally tend to have a ‘workflow’ in life — how we handle our tasks, processes, in as an efficient and smooth manner possible.

Morning “workflow”

Here is a general “workflow” of my morning:

  • Wake up
  • Rub my eyes, feel exhausted
  • Wonder whether I should wake up or not
  • If still tired, try to sleep more
  • If still tired, yet cannot go back to sleep, roll over to my side, get out of bed, turn on the hot water kettle
  • Wait for water to boil, take out coffee from shelf, make a Vietnamese-style coffee (currently writing this in Hanoi)
  • Take a shower, put on some wax for my hair, get out of the bathroom, then put on some clothes.
  • Drink a ton of (cold) water, then grab my coffee
  • Go to living room, sit at desk, drink water and coffee, and start to arrange thoughts
  • Look through blog ideas I’ve jotted down in Evernote, and think about what I want to write for the day.
  • Choose a subject I want to write about, open “IA Writer” (word processing app), make it into full-screen (for fewer distractions), turn off my wifi, turn on “focus mode” in IA Writer (so I focus on each line at a time), drink more coffee, and start writing.
  • Continue to write until I need (another) coffee, or I feel exhausted (can be anywhere from 1-3 hours).

This is a general idea of my “morning routine.” Of course, I don’t always stick to this plan — especially when I’m traveling. When I’m traveling, teaching a workshop, or doing something else— I let spontaneity drive me. I don’t write everyday.

But when I am stationed in one place for a while, my workflow is pretty consistent in the morning.

The biggest principles I try to follow is the following:

1. Remove friction

In my morning routine and workflow, I try to remove friction. To remove any unnecessary steps, or something that will interrupt my flow.

For example, I tried experimenting between making a coffee before taking a shower, and after taking a shower. The benefit of making a coffee before showering is that by the time I was done with my shower, my coffee was ready for me. When I showered before drinking a coffee, I was annoyed by the friction of having to wait for my coffee to slowly drip into my cup, before starting to go write.

Try to make your morning routine as friction-less as possible. If you want to exercise first thing in the morning, don’t go to the gym. Just go into your living room, and do some pushups, body-weight squats, or some yoga.

If you want to get writing done in the morning, remove friction. Have your laptop already ready for you to write, and always stick to the same default writing application. This means fewer decisions to make in the morning, which means more focus for your writing. And also the biggest thing about focus — turn off any distractions (your smartphone, wifi, etc).

2. Morning trigger

Everyone needs to have a reason to wake up.

Some people drink coffee to wake up. I wake up to drink coffee.

I’m an addict— I admit. But at least looking forward to having my morning coffee gets my ass out of bed.

That morning trigger can be anything for you. A cup of ice-cold water. A tea. Your morning exercise or meditation. A morning writing session. Whatever. You need to have that morning trigger to start your day off on the right foot.

For me, I find caffeinated beverages a double benefit— the caffeine to wake you up, but also to satisfy your addiction.

3. Meaningful work

I also feel that we all need a reason to wake up. A sense of purpose— to devote your life’s energy to a meaningful end.

For me, I see blogging as the most meaningful work that I do — to create ideas, to share ideas, that hopefully empower and help others. I know that as long as I am able to blog, teach, write, or share something important in the day — I have done my job as a human being.

On the days that I feel I haven’t been able to get any meaningful work done — I feel dissatisfied. I feel frustrated. I feel like I wasted a day.

Personally, I have the most energy in the morning, and the fewest distractions. As the day goes on, there are always logistics to take care of, bills to pay, emails to answer, etc. But keep your mornings sacred to your most meaningful work — whatever that may be to you.

4. Get enough sleep

I’ve read all these books and productivity blogs about waking up early. I say don’t wake up early — just wake up when you’ve got enough sleep. The best tip— you know you’ve got enough sleep when you can wake up without an alarm clock, and don’t feel the need to sleep more.

I’ve tried experimenting waking up at ungodly hours — like 4am to write. But honestly, when I do so, I am sleep deprived, and I feel like shit. I might do some writing or creative work in the morning (like 30 minutes to 1 hour, after massive amounts of coffee), and then I feel like shit for the rest of the day. I’d rather sleep enough, wake up way later (let’s say 9-10am), get more sleep, and then have more energy for the day to do creative work.

Without enough sleep, your brain cannot work. And you cannot think deep thoughts. So get enough sleep.

5. Subtract

The biggest principle of having a “life” workflow is to subtract the superfluous. Get rid of things that are unnecessary in your day. Don’t have a “to-do” list— have a not to do list.

In modern society, we are always trying to do more. But I think it is better for us to do less — but do better.

Everyday I try to remove one distraction, or superfluous action. I’ve found that after subtracting a lot of social media, websites, blogs, and distractions from my diet— I’ve been able to be 10x more productive blogging and writing. To me focus isn’t sitting down, and forcing yourself to focus at the task at hand. Focus is simply subtracting your distractions.

Nobody knows how to “focus”. But most of us know what our distractions are.

I’ve been brutal with my distractions. I’ve installed tons of plugins that prevent me from getting distracted (Facebook news feed eradicator, Facebook notification eradicator, distracting website blocker, and even a wifi blocker). I needed to use these plugins for days, weeks, sometimes even months— before I could cultivate a habit of not getting distracted.

And trust me, the world is going to try to distract you when you’re trying to focus. Your phone will buzz, your emails will make notifications on your laptop, and people will ask for you to do stuff for them.

But remember, prioritize your creative task and work above everything else. There will always be more busy work to do — but not enough time for your creative work.

Ruthlessly eliminate distractions. Try to remove at least one distraction a day, uninstall one superfluous app from your phone a day, visit 1 fewer blog a day, and use one less social media app — until you are left with what is truly important to you.

Conclusion: Never stop refining

Lastly, when it comes to your life workflow — you will never have a “perfect” workflow. Rather, you should always keep working towards refining your workflow — while also realizing that “perfection” is never going to be achieved.

Once again, refining is nothing more than to file-down, to subtract, or carve away the superfluous. Continue to distill your workflow so you can create the most impact, with the least amount of work or effort. Figure out how you can create “massive value” in your life— and how you can create 10x the amount of value for others (by removing distractions).

Figure out what is your #1 calling in life, and focus on that (by not getting pulled in other directions).

If you are a creative, what is the one art that really speaks to you? If you are a photographer, what is the one style of photography or the one photography project which is the most meaningful to you? If you’re a writer, what is the one topic, or book that you want to write?

Life is short. Make every day and minute count. If you don’t take control of your life workflow, someone else will. And do you want someone to steer the direction of your life, or do you want to take control of the wheel?

Be strong,

Learn more: Life Lessons >