time management

Win the Morning, Win the Day. How to Design Your Next Level Morning Routine

March 9, 2020

Reading Time: 17 minutes

Win the Morning, Win the Day: How to Design Your Next Level Morning Routine

How we spend our first few hours sets the tone for the rest of them, so it seems like nailing this whole morning routine thing should be a top priority. But what if we go beyond the bare minimum and take our mornings to the next level?



They say – if you win the morning, you win the day. And anyone who’s ever overslept, wrestled with their kids to just put on your shoes already, spilled their coffee, and stepped in a giant puddle – all before 8AM knows exactly what I mean.

How we spend our first few hours sets the tone for the rest of them, so it seems like nailing this whole morning routine thing would be a pretty solid pursuit. But – what if we not only nailed the necessary parts of our morning routines, like showering and putting on clothes – but took our morning routines to the next level – like so many of the world’s most successful people.

That’s why Episode 19 is dedicated to sharing examples and ideas for how you can take your morning routine to the next level

  • We’ll cover why designing a next level morning can help you get promoted at work, lose weight, get smarter and be happier – seriously

  • For my snooze-button addicts, I’m sharing 5-Steps to snooze-proof your morning

  • Plus I’ll give you two types of next level morning routines that you can take, run with, and make your own.

One of the most common things I hear as a time management coach is, “I just need better a better morning routine. That would solve all of my problems.” 

And a lot of times, it’s true – our morning sets the tone for the rest of our day.

A frazzled morning almost always gives way to a frazzled day.

The Secret to Smooth Mornings

Fortunately, the secret to smooth mornings – and smooth days is simple. But like most things in life that are worth it – it’s not easy.

If it were easy – we’d all have perfect, leisurely mornings.

We’d wake up without an alarm, pop on our gym clothes, head out for a 3 mile run and get back home in time to savor a steaming hot cup a coffee, read a few pages in a devotional or professional development book, meditate for 30 minutes, and get take our time getting dressed for the day – all before the kids wake up.  We’d never be late for anything, and life would be beautiful and perfect all the time.

I can’t promise you’ll never be late for work again, but I can give you the inspiration you need to design a morning routine that not only gets you out the door, but also makes you calmer, smarter, more in shape and ready to rock your day. No joke – with the right morning routine, you accomplish all of those things, and more.

But first – if you listened to Episode 17, which was all about the 5 Essential Routines you need in your life – like now…morning routine included –  then you might remember this part. I think it’s important to do a quick recap on the difference between habits and routines because they’re similar in a lot of ways.

>> Listen Now: Episode 17: The Five Must-Have Routines You Need in Your Life Right Now <<

Habits v. Routines

A habit is an action we do often in a regular or repeated way. Back in episode 11, I dedicated a whole episode to starting habits that stick and kicking the bad ones. So if you’re looking for more on habits, specifically – make sure you check out episode 11.

A routine – on the other hand – is a regular way of doing things in a particular order. Routines are often created with intention, and can become habit with practice and repetition. And once a routine becomes habit, your busy brain requires less energy to process the information it needs to move through each step in your routine. This frees up brain space to focus on more important decisions.

Design a Next Level Morning Routine

So – what exactly is this whole next level morning thing I keep mentioning, and how do we create such mind-blowing results with it? In a nutshell, a next level morning is your typical morning routine accentuated with intentional personal development.

Many effective leaders and super successful business owners – people like Oprah, Sara Blakely, Brene Brown and tons more – carve out time in the morning hours for reading personal development books, spiritual devotions, meditation, prayer, affirmations, visualization and exercise.

They’ve found that putting these “important, but not urgent” items at the top of their schedule ensures that they’re tackled before the unpredictability of our days sets in. Taking time for yourself, before the demands and distractions of the world barge in enables you to get uninterrupted focused time, exactly how you want to spend it.

I use the phrase personal  development because it can take so many forms. And – it goes without saying that personal development is going to look different for all of us.

Sure – there are some common themes, like exercise, prayer or meditation – but for you – maybe your version of personal development is spending 30 minutes practicing the guitar or pursuing a creative passion like scrapbooking or painting. Maybe your version of a next level morning involves putting the previous day’s expenses into a spreadsheet or uploading the 87 photos you took of your 1 year old in the bathtub to an external hard drive. And if none of these sound right for you – I’ve got some ideas and suggestions coming up.

Basically – if there’s something in your life that you wish you spent more time on – and you’ve said to yourself – If only I had an extra hour in the day I would read more, or I would get to the gym, or I would train for that 5K. Getting up an hour earlier than your normal wake up time is where that extra hour lives.

And – to be clear. A next level morning is not about waking up early for the sake of waking up early. If you start waking up at 5AM but spend 5am to 6am cycling through facebook, instagram and your bank account – you’re missing the point. It’s about using that extra hour on those things that will help you get to the next level in whatever is important to you.

You might be thinking right now – But Anna – I’m not a morning person. This is not going to work for me. 

Actually, chances are, you’re more of a morning person than you realize.

In fact, only about 20-25% of people are true “night owls,” experiencing their energy peak in the late afternoon to evening. Most people are morning, to mid-morning people. In his book When, author Daniel Pink calls those two groups, larks (the morning people) and third-birds. Third birds being the folks who fall somewhere in the middle. Oh, and most people are third-birds, if you’re curious. And now I’m making a note to do a full episode on larks, owls and third birds and how to find your peak energy time during the day. Get excited. 

>> Listen Now: Episode 55 – Rise and Shine: How to Become a Better Morning Person <<

But anyway – the point I’m trying to make here is that you might be more of a morning person than you realize – if you allow yourself the opportunity to settled in at an appropriate hour and get a full 8 hours of sleep.

I know… I know I know how easy it can be to get sucked into that bedtime Instagram scroll – and the next thing you know, your eyes are glazed over and it’s 11:30. The only time you get to yourself right now after the kids are in bed and the laundry is folded might begin at 10:00. But what if you started the day with that time for yourself and create a ripple effect leading to a huge impact on the rest of your day, and your life as a whole.

Quick Tips for Prepping for a Good Night’s Sleep

I completely understand that winding down in the evenings to prep for a solid night’s sleep could be it’s own episode as well – but some quick tips for prepping yourself for sleep:

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

  • Don’t work out within 2 hours of your planned bed time. Once you get your blood pumping with a workout, it can be tough to bring yourself back down to get some zzz’s.

  • Create a bedtime ritual, going through the same steps every time – signaling to your brain that it’s time to shut it down.

  • Put your screens away – iPads, SmartPhones, whatever at least 2 hours before bedtime and even earlier if you’re able. You probably know by now that your screens emit blue light. And blue light at night is bad for you. Taking in blue light in the evening hours suppresses melatonin production, which affects circadian rhythms and affects your sleep.

  • If you have to look at a screen for whatever reason – consider blue light glasses. They don’t block out all of the blue light, but they’re helpful.

  • I know that the iPhone has night shift mode, which is supposed to decrease the amount of Blue light it emits, and it does. But only slightly. A 2018 study by The Lighting Research Center has shown that using Night Shift mode doesn’t really help. So – consider that.

  • You could also consider melatonin gummies, or CBD gummies. I take melatonin gummies every night and notice when I forget to take them. I haven’t used CBD, but have a friend who swears by her CBD gummies.

  • Pick up some blackout curtains – we have some from Pottery Barn Kids and some equally effective blackout curtains from Target. Grab a sound machine like the Marpac Dohm for white noise and blocking out distracting sounds. If you have a bedmate that likes to stay up and read in bed, grab a sleep mask. They’re not just for Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Just ask my husband, who has a bedmate that likes to stay up and read before lights out.

Ok – so far we’ve talked about

  • What a next level morning is

  • Why mornings are the best time for personal development

  • How to prep for a good night’s sleep so you can wake up refreshed

Now – where my snooze button addicts at?

Hal Elrod’s 5-Step Snooze-Proof Strategy

If you’re a chronic snooze button pusher, like I used to be – you’re going to love Hal Elrod’s 5-Step Snooze-proof strategy.

In his book, The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod shares what he calls the not-so-obvious secret guaranteed to transform your life before 8AM.

Spoiler alert – the secret guaranteed to transform your life is dedicating time in your morning to personal development – before you get caught up in the urgency of other people’s priorities.


Hal designed this 5-step snooze proof strategy with 5 small steps that build on one another to gradually increase what he calls your Wake up Motivation Level baby step, by baby step. I can vouch – this work.

  • First – Set your intentions before bed. He says – and you might agree, that your first thought in the morning is usually the last thought you had before you went to bed. So if your last thought before bed is “UGH – I can’t believe I have to get up in six hours to go to my stupid job,” you’re probably going to wake up thinking, “UGH, now I have to wake up to go to my stupid job!”

So – by thinking happy thoughts about the morning before bed, you’re setting yourself up for waking up in a better mood.

  • Second – And you guys know this one is a no-brainer. Move your alarm across the room. Show of hands if you’re using your smartphone as your alarm clock and you’re keeping it right by your bed. First – this is your permission to buy a real alarm clock. Second – even if you’re using your smartphone – plug it in across the room. It will be fine.

  • Third – Brush your teeth. Ok yes – that sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s actually pretty strategic. You’re giving yourself a few mindless, activities to do as your brain and body are waking up for the day.

  • Fourth – Before you head straight for the coffee, drink a FULL glass of water. I actually put a big yeti full of ice water on my nightstand before I go to bed, so it’s right there waiting for me in the morning. Seriously – anything you can do to make your mornings as easy as possible, do it.

And here’s the why behind the water: you’ve been asleep for 6 to hopefully 8 hours. Your body is dehydrated – and being dehydrated makes you feel tired even when it’s not early in the morning. (Pro tip – next time you’re at work, nodding off and considering a 4th cup of coffee – consider a big glass of water instead, you might be surprised at just how energizing it can be.)

  • And finally – the very important Fifth step – is to get out of your PJs and into your workout clothes.

    Put ‘em on before your body is too awake to realize what’s happening. And once you’re in your workout clothes, you’re going to be more likely to stick to a morning workout or to go for that run. Putting on workout clothes is also a signal to yourself that you’re about to engage in some activity. You’ve heard me make the Mister Rogers example before – when he walks in the door and changes out of his jacket and into his cardigan, and his outside shoes to his inside shoes – he’s doing something physical to signal a change in mindset. And putting on your workout clothes first thing has the same exact effect.

So – to recap – Hal Elrod’s 5-Step Snooze Proof Wake Up Strategy is:

  1. Set your intentions the night before. Keep it positive. Tell yourself you’re going to have a great day tomorrow.

  2. Keep your alarm clock across the room.

  3. Brush your teeth!

  4. Drink a full glass of water and

  5. Put on your workout clothes.

3 Ways to Make Getting Out of Bed Easier

In addition to those 5 steps, here are three ways to make getting out of bed easier – because remember – we want to make things as easy as possible for ourselves:

  • Tip 1. Set a timer for your bedroom lights so they come on as your alarm goes off. – This one sounds pretty high tech, but with all of the tech that’s available these days between Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant – there’s a way to make this happen.

  • Tip 2: Another option is to buy an alarm clock with this feature. This is what I have. Not only does it gradually light the room – like a sunrise, but I love it even more at night when I set it to gradually dim to darkness. Going from bright light to pitch black is kind of jarring for me, and I love easing into it. Scott gave me this clock as a gift years ago, but here’s a link to the newest version of the same clock.

  • And Tip 3 – Set a timer for your bedroom heater. This is something I’ve done before and it’s life changing. A few apartments ago, my bathroom was always freezing, so I purchased an oscillating tower heater that had a timer feature. It wasn’t anything super fancy, I probably got it at Target. But setting it to start warming up the bathroom about 5 minutes before my alarm buzzed was pure heaven.

Two Methods to Structure Your Morning Routine

So let me tell you about two popular methods for structuring your morning routine: Hal Elrod’s Life SAVERS method and Claire Diaz-Ortiz’s PRESENT method.

Hal Elrod’s Life SAVERS Method

So back to Hal Elrod, Author of the Miracle Morning. I won’t completely ruin the book for you if you choose to read it, but after overcome some very serious, life altering obstacles, Hal discovered the power of mornings. He designed what he calls the “Miracle Morning” for himself as he was working his way out of a very difficult point in life.

The 6 parts of Hal’s Miracle Morning spell SAVERS. S A V E R S – like Life SAVERS – because together, these activities were lifesaving for him.

Let’s look at each piece of Life SAVERS

  • First – S for Silence.

  • A for Affirmations

  • V for visualizations

  • E is for Exercise

  • R is for Reading

  • And the last S is for Scribing

So to unpack of each of these

S for Silence looks like meditation and or prayer. Calming your mind. Practicing your focus. Flexing your attention muscle and beginning your day by focusing on a higher power. The benefits of meditation are plenty, from helping to deal with stress to managing negative emotion, reducing levels of depression and anxiety and increasing pain tolerance.

The A is for Affirmations. I had never really heard of Affirmations before reading the Miracle Morning, and honestly – I thought it sounded kind of weird. So wait – like I just say positive things to myself? But – people like Suze Orman, Will Smith, and Oprah have been super vocal about their use of affirmations on their journey to success – so why not give it a shot. What could it hurt? This could look like writing down a few positive statements on a card and reading them every morning or it could be saying positive things to yourself out loud in the mirror. I am an exceptional wife and mom. I am in the top 10% for sales in my company. I have a successful business. This could also look like writing down your goals, as if you’ve already achieved them and reading or saying those. I ran a half marathon. I am booked solid. I work in the corner office.

The V is for Visualization – another thing I thought was pretty weird until I created a vision board for the first time and was completely hooked. Visualization is like a mental rehearsal. You might have heard before that Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps had an incredibly intense, meticulously detailed routine that he switches on before any race. Not only does he have this routine and use it in real life, but he also mentally walked through each and every step of this routine prior to a race in order to get into the exact mindset he needed to win. Tiger Woods is known for visualizing the perfect shot before stepping up to the tee box. Picturing success, and putting yourself in the moment can help you make the right micro decisions each day that add up to achieving it.

The E is for Exercise. Which is a no brainer. We need to move our bodies. So whether you head to a body pump class, head out the front door for a jog, or do some push ups in your living room – move your body.

The R is for Reading. This could look like a professional development, a self-improvement book, an industry magazine or the newspaper to stay on top of current events, or a spiritual devotional. Really anything that helps you learn and grow in some way.

Finally the second S is for Scribing. Basically writing, journaling, morning pages – just some form of writing in the mornings. This could obviously take a lot of different forms too. My friend Jen Menard shared in her Instagram Story recently that she starts her morning by getting everything out of her head, onto paper and giving it to God to handle. She calls it Casting her Cares, and that it makes a huge difference in how she starts her day. Tim Ferris, author of The 4 Hour Work Week, 4 Hour Body, Tools of Titans, etc etc alternates between morning pages and what he calls the 5 Minute Journal. He uses his morning pages practice to get unstuck or problem solve, and he uses the 5Minute Journal for prioritizing and gratitude.

To recap the LifeSAVERS, Miracle Morning that’s – 

  • S for Silence.

  • A for Affirmations

  • V for visualizations

  • E is for Exercise

  • R is for Reading

  • And the last S is for Scribing

And no – you don’t have to do them in that order.


Claire Diaz-Ortiz’s PRESENT Method

One more popular method for structuring your Next Level Morning is by Claire Diaz-Ortiz and is mentioned in her book Design Your Day – which might have been the first time management focused book I ever read. Claire designed the PRESENT method.

  • That’s P for Prayer

  • R for Read – Claire usually chooses something scriptural or devotional

  • E for Express aka writing or journaling

  • S for Schedule – choosing your top 3 priorities and mapping out our day

  • E for Exercise – because moving your body is a good thing

  • N for Nourish – which could mean eating breakfast, or just doing something to feed your soul

  • And T for Track – as in tracking how well you did at following your routine. You could also use Track to track expenses or anything else that needs to be noted.

And of course – there’s no requirement that you do this in that exact order. You can design whatever next level morning works for you.

So – in Hal Elrod’s Life SAVERS method, and Claire Diaz-Ortiz’s PRESENT method, you’ve got two really great jumping off points for designing a next level morning.

Just like designing a regular morning routine (which I covered in Episode 17) – the key to success here is actually writing down each step of your routine and how long you want to spend on it. Consider using a timer (and not the one on your phone) to keep you on track. I have a little cube timer that is a key part of my next level morning routine. Waking up with a plan and a little itinerary for your next level morning will cut back on any tough decision making like “what do I do now?” that your brain typically isn’t quite ready for yet.

>> Tune In: Episode 17: The Five Must-Have Routines You Need in Your Life Right Now <<

What If?

I do want to address a few “what if’s” real quick that might be on your mind.

  • First – What if I’m a nurse or server or college student or something similar, and don’t have a consistent day to day schedule? I gotcha – you can totally still make this work for you. If you’re getting up super early for a 12 hour shift that starts at 5AM like many nurses I know, getting up at 3AM doesn’t really sound super fun. My best advice here is to really take advantage of your days off. There’s no rule that you have to have a next level morning every day. If this is something that piques your interest, try it out on your next off day, and stick to it on your off days – or the days that you’re heading into work at a somewhat normal time.

  • Second – What if I work nights? Yikes – working nights is tough. My husband Scott occasionally works projects that require him to turn his life upside down and work nights. When your time is flipped due to the night shift, your next level morning becomes your next level afternoon. Get your sleep, and try waking up 30-45 minutes earlier to work your way through your professional development routine.

  • Last one – What if I just had a baby or adopted a puppy, and I’m not exactly getting a full night of luxurious sleep right now in order to wake up early and make this happen? All I can say is – hey – I feel you. Camilla still wakes us up during the night a few times a week and I’m sure that will happen off and on for the next 18 years until she leaves for college.

Do what you can. And you know what – maybe right now isn’t the best time for a next level morning, because you’re just trying to make it through the level you’re in right now. There’s absolutely zero wrong with that. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it doesn’t mean you can’t still grow as a person. I wrestled with myself this after Camilla was born.

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

Photo Credit: Sarah Becker Photography

My Pre-Camilla Next Level Morning Routine

Before Camilla Jane joined the party, I had this awesome, next level morning routine that looked like this:

5:00 – wake up, brush teeth, make coffee, put on workout clothes

5:10 – pray

5:15 – read – typically a spiritual book like Jen Wilkin’s Women of the Word

5:30 – journal

5:40 – meditate

5:45 – Affirmations – I had a list of positive statements on a notecard that I would read – silently. I did this for about a minute or two. Then Visualization, but instead of picturing something in my head – I’d look at my vision board for the year – scanning it to reinforce what I was aiming for, and check in with my progress on each piece.

Then – for the last 10 minutes, I looked at my calendar, set my top 3 priorities for the day and then headed out the door to the gym at 6, was home by 7 and at my desk by 8:30.

Major points to note – I didn’t do every single piece, every single day. But I typically did the whole routine 3 days a week, and parts of it on other days.

I’ll be honest – part of my goal in writing this episode is to design my new next level morning. And I don’t expect that it will look the same as it did before, and I definitely know that’s likely to change at some point. But I’m going to design something that works for me, and supports my goals in this season of life.



Wow! NicoleL504 – that is high praise, and I am so thankful not only to have you as a listener, but also for taking time out of your busy day to leave such a kind and thoughtful 5 star review.


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