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The Great Morning Routine Experiment: Fixing What’s Broken

November 29, 2017
AUTHOR: Emilie
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Imagine waking up day in and day out recognizing that something isn’t working but not really knowing how to fix it. Since I’ve gotten back from my trips to Brasil, Europe (France and Spain + Portugal) and Texas (for FinCon and MilBlogging), it has taken me this long to finally feel like I’m resettled (though, let’s not talk about all the laundry that I’m still behind on). Yes, I’m home. Things are mostly in their place and, barring the long Thanksgiving weekend that we spent with family in Ohio, I’m planting my feet in the ground and refusing to move.

Despite being home for nearly a month now, my morning routine isn’t working. This is hard for me to admit because I’ve been such an avid evangelist of the power of a successful morning routine.

I’ve written about it repeatedly right on this site.

Now, here I find myself, less than three months after the most recent time I’ve written about the subject, floundering. I have not been able to fall into a morning routine since getting home, and it’s because you can’t fall into a morning routine- they must be cultivated intentionally to suit your needs. I wanted to just fall back into the way things were. I also wanted to also do all these new things. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t all working and the answer was right in front of me: If I wanted a morning routine that was going to work for me, I was going to have to work at it.

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I started by identifying what was working:

  • Going to the gym, though I’d be okay with scaling back from 5 days/week
  • Going to my coworking space
  • Eating twice before working
  • Reading in the morning
  • Writing before work
  • Coding for learning for work
  • Listening to The Daily
  • My alarm clock

Then I identified what wasn’t working:

  • I’m confused about when to shower
  • When should I commute to my coworking space
  • Having no official “start time” for work
  • Not laying out my clothes the night before
  • If I don’t write before work, I don’t have the energy to write
  • Same for coding

And now I have a values framework!


Inspired in part by Cait and Matt, I’ve decided that I need to start more actively making changes in the areas in my life that I’m trying to improve. They’re not going to change themselves! If I want to see improvement, then I need to get out there and improve!

Followers of Money Lab can attest that it lives up to its tagline:

Real-Time Experiments in Making Money Online

Back in January, about her year of slow living experiments, Cait wrote:

Each month, I’m going to experiment with slowing down in one area of my life. For example, at some point I’ll experiment with slow food, where I will make more time to cook, eat slower and try to enjoy every last bite. Maybe I’ll even cross off that goal of finally trying some new recipes. I’ll share my intentions for the month here first, in case anyone wants to do it with me…. Some of the different things I plan to experiment with are: slow mornings, slow evenings, slow movement, slow technology and slow money. The only thing I won’t do is make a list of what I’m going to work on each month. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s to trust your gut. So the same way I’ve let my gut tell me it’s time to slow down, I’m also going to let it tell me what to work on and when.

I’ve too recognized that making changes, improving myself, and getting closer to the life and lifestyle that I want means that I can’t just sit and passively let things change. I need to actively implement strategies that will start to make a difference.

As a data person (#noshame), I’d also like to quantify these experiences. Inspired by PotHix’s stats, I’ll work to not only make what I think or feel are changes but also quantify those changes, through many of the tools I’m already using, such as Todoist, Toggl, Goodreads, and RescueTime. I’m not wholly sure what these things will look like but learning to experiment in this quantitative way will be an experiment in itself.

Experimenting With My Morning Routine

Heading into December, I’ll be working to re-establish my morning routine and quantifying how effective it is.

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem from Pexels

Some of the changes I’ll be making and tracking (i.e. quantifying) and why:

No Eating Snacks After Dinner

On the ChooseFI Podcast, I was intrigued by how they mentioned that you will get up much more quickly and more easily if you’re getting up on an empty stomach. Food is a pretty good motivator. I would luck to cut down on the sweets anyway, so this seems like a win-win effort for me. I will not eat snacks after dinner with the aim of getting out of bed more quickly (on the first alarm?), more enthusiastically, and ready for my first meal of the day.

No Spending

I want to track how many days I don’t spend money because I’m curious about how it’s affecting/setting the tone for the rest of the day. I intend to track this as a boolean- I spent some money or I spent no money.


Reading will not happen in the morning. This is getting intentionally nixed from my morning routine! I am comfortable enough in my habit of reading to know that I will read every day (or just about). I am going to prioritize some of the behaviors such as coding and writing in the mornings since, clearly, my morning time is a precious commodity. Nonetheless, it will be important to track that I still am reading, which will be tracking in two parts: first, did I read? second, how much reading progress did I make? I will track the first metric every day myself and use Goodreads to track the second metric.


This is the most important thing that I’m committing to happening in the month of December because I never have the energy to after a day of work. Also, because the course I’m taking cost a pretty penny, I want to make sure I’m getting everything I can out of it. That means prioritizing it. Committing to working on my coding skills every weekday morning is me prioritizing my learning. I will track this using Toggl to be able to see the total spent working on this particular course. I am aiming for 60 minutes every day- with a little wiggle room for “good stopping points”- and a total of 5 hours per week.

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Working Out

I’ve had mixed-feeling on the gym lately. The commitment I’m making to myself is 3 times per week. Five would be great but, right now, three is good enough. I’m only counting going to Crossfit, though if I do an assault bike workout at home (slow and steady cardio), I will count it as an “in-addition-to”, not an “instead-of”, workout.

RELATED: Gym Is Not Life


I generally do most of my writing in the evening. Unfortunately, that means that I get to my writing when I have (or make) time for it. By the end of the day, I’m tired. I never finish my to-do list, so I never “get” to the writing activities. I’d like to be able to write in the mornings to be able to really make progress on some of the written goals I have in my mind (and have not actually “set” because… well see the first three sentences of this paragraph). I would like to write for at 90 minutes three mornings per week. Ninety minutes is roughly my writing sweet spot. More than that and the words start to slog, but it takes me a bit to get into a flow, so less than that can seem like a waste. I will track this using Toggl to be able to see the total time spent writing. It’s worth mentioning here that I am only counting writing I’m doing, not writing that I’m getting paid for or is for a project other than one of mine.


I’m changing some habits:

  • No eating snacks after dinner.
  • No spending at any point in the day.
  • Reading will NOT happen in the mornings.
  • Coding WILL be the top priority for the mornings.
  • Working out will happen at my usual class times.
  • Writing will be a secondary morning priority during the weekdays but a big focus of weekend mornings.

And I’ll be tracking them:

Actual Morning Flow

Given now that I’ve identified the things that are important to keep or not keep in my morning routines and ways I’d like to optimize it, you may be curious about what the nitty gritty of what I think my morning routine will look like. I am toying with three variations of my morning with me attending the 530 AM class at the gym, the 8 AM class, or no class.

Going to the 530 AM:

  • 445: Alarm #1
  • 450: Alarm #2
  • 500: Alarm #3, Actually Get Up, Get Ready
  • 510: Leave House, Drive to Gym
  • 530-630: Class
  • 640: Leave Gym, Drive Home
  • 700: Shower, Get Ready
  • 730: Eat
  • 800: Code
  • 900: Start deep work for the day


  • 9 AM work start time
  • Coding ✅
  • Keeping C’s Schedule (early wake up time)


  • This doesn’t account for a commute to my coworking space, and if I did decide to go, I’d be starting work later than 9, which isn’t a problem, but isn’t ideal.
  • No writing in the mornings
  • The alarm goes off and I am out the door.

Going to the 8 AM:

  • 445: Alarm #1
  • 450: Alarm #2
  • 500: Alarm #3, Actually Get Up, Get Ready, Eat
  • 530: Code
  • 630: Write
  • 740: Leave House, Drive to Gym
  • 800: Gym
  • 910: Leave House, Drive to Gym
  • 930: Shower
  • 1000: Start deep work for the day


  • I get to code and write before starting my day!
  • Still keeping C’s early wake up time


  • If I have to do “stuff” (read: anything) before going to the gym, I might not make it. I will make excuses to not go.
  • Later start time means later work until time, and my productive energy dips with the clock of the day, not necessarily with the number of hours worked.
  • Still not incorporating when I’d get to my coworking space- that would mean and even later start time.

Not going to the gym

  • 445: Alarm #1
  • 450: Alarm #2
  • 500: Alarm #3, Actually Get Up, Get Ready, Eat
  • 530: Code
  • 630: Write
  • 800: Personal Administrative Tasks to transition mindsets
  • 830: Start deep work for the day


  • Earliest Work start time
  • Buffer space built-in!
  • Coding and writing


  • Not going to the gym (obvs)
  • Still no trip to the coworking space, though I could commute from 830-900 and be in deep work by 930.

The Final Experiment Proposal

After laying out all the values that were important to me and the variation on possible morning routines, what follows is what I think makes the most sense and is what I will be testing in December.


You right now- via GIPHY


I will be going to the 530 AM MWF, following that morning routine those days, and not going to the gym TR, following that morning routine those days. The specific days can fluctuate as needed but, as a rule, I should go to the gym at least 3 week days. As much as I would like to go to the 8 AM, it’s not worth the increased likeliness that I won’t go at all.

[UPDATE 12/4/17: I know myself well enough to know that I am an all or nothing person, so going to gym some days per week doesn’t work for me. I will actually be aiming to go to the gym EVERY weekday in December!]

I will use Toggle to see how closely I stick to the approximate morning routine I have laid out for myself and RescueTime to see how my productivity fluctuates throughout the day.

Two weeks through the month, I will consider the mental fatigue by trying to balance and alternate between two morning routines and may aim to simplify/unify my routines in some other way.

A couple of years ago, I read Ben Horowitz’s Hard Thing About Hard Things. In it, he writes:

Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes. They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness.

Becoming the best version of yourself is hard. There is no easy answer, no formula. What works now might not work in 2, 4, or 40 weeks. It is a constant battle to figure out the best thing, not just logically but also in practicality, not just for you but also for your family, not just for right today but also for these season of life. This December I’ll be doing something hard, the good ol’ experiment way.

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