Just over a month ago, I decided to embark on an experiment to follow the routines and schedules of successful people.
I wanted to see what it would do to my productivity, happiness levels, and wellbeing.
In the case of Huffington and Franklin, I also followed what they did before they went to bed.
After five weeks of experimenting, I ended up designing a morning routine that was ideal for me.
In the process, I also learned many lessons — both from following routines perfectly, and from failing to miserably.
1. Exercising in the morning always made my day more productive
There was one common element in the morning routines I tried — exercise.
Aside from the days when I didn’t sleep enough the night before, this habit proved to be hugely beneficial for my productivity.
Starting my day with a dose of endorphins made it easier to kick my brain into focus and helped me to start my day feeling happy. I noticed that on days I didn’t exercise, I was more prone to irritability.
2. Meditating made a surprising difference in my productivity
Prior to the experiment, I had tried to incorporate meditation into my morning routine, but I struggled to make it a habit.
Usually, if I woke up later than planned and anticipated a big day ahead, I would tell myself that I didn’t have 10 minutes to sit still and breathe.
Like morning exercise, this was a habit I wanted to maintain. I didn’t realize how much of a difference it made in my productivity until I stopped doing it for a week.
3. The hardest time to do the experiment was in the middle of the week
Whenever I started a new experiment, I almost always followed the routines perfectly on Monday.
But mentally, I found that the hardest time to continue was the middle of the week, when the excitement had worn off, but I still had a day or two to go.
4. Getting the right amount of sleep made a huge difference in my mornings
I found Arianna Huffington’s bedtime ritual to be the best for feeling good the next day, because it ensured that I was getting eight hours of sleep every night.
It was easier for me to wake up and do my routine when I had gotten sufficient sleep. I was more likely to wake up excited about what I was supposed to do that morning, as opposed to looking at my alarm clock and workout gear with dread.
5. Having a bedtime routine was pivotal to getting good quality sleep
Previously, my bedtime routine involved trying to stop myself from reading one more article online or mindlessly scrolling through Instagram, occasionally drinking caffeinated tea.
No wonder I used to take at least an hour to get to sleep — I was doing all the things that would keep me awake. Now I stay off screens, have a hot shower or bath, and drink herbal tea before tucking into bed.
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6. It’s important to quit habits that are not working for you
I started Indra Nooyi’s morning routine because I wanted to see if I could wake up at 4 a.m., but after three days I realized that I wasn’t getting any benefits I wouldn’t get if I woke up an hour later.
I also found that the early wake-up time was restrictive, as I was taking an hour away from time I could have spent the night before Skyping with family, spending time with my husband, meeting friends, reading a book, or doing errands. Considering that the people I surround myself with don’t get up at 4 a.m., it became more difficult than it was worth to arrange my life around this schedule.
When I learned this, I decided to end my experiment early. There was no point continuing with a habit that was giving me more hassle than rewards.
7. Tracking how I spent my time forced me to come to terms with how I could do it better
I wrote down how many hours a day I took to do each activity, and some of my records surprised me.
For example, I learned how much time I spent waiting in line at Trader Joe’s to pick up a few items we’d run out of, only to do it again the next day when we ran out of something else. As a result, I began stocking up on things when I anticipated they were going to run out.
Additionally, I observed when I was the most and least productive each day. Doing this allowed me to tweak my sleep schedule, morning routine, or even the time I would drink coffee accordingly.
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8. Having morning and bedtime routines helped me make decisions based on what I truly wanted
My experiments changed the way I viewed invitations, whether to happy hour, a group fitness class, or hiking on a Saturday. Because I valued my morning and bedtime routines, I ended up only saying yes to things because I wanted to do them, not out of guilt or perceived obligations and expectations.
9. I began to realize what activities, tasks, and goals were truly important to me
It’s easy to get caught up in thinking what you “should” do, as opposed to what you truly want to do. By saying yes to things that were important to me and no to things that weren’t, I clarified what my priorities are.
I no longer feel guilty for skipping things that don’t really interest me, since it would be at the expense of doing something I love or getting a good night’s rest. This has created more room in my life to focus on things that are personally fulfilling.
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10. The experiment was a great test to see what would work for me and what wouldn’t
Getting up at 5 a.m. might work best for Jack Dorsey and Benjamin Franklin, but President Obama doesn’t rise until 7 a.m. Arianna Huffington may need seven to eight hours of sleep to be effective, but Indra Nooyi is fine with four.
Because I tracked how my habits affected me each day, I was able to discern what worked for me and what didn’t.