Look, you don’t need someone telling you to start a morning routine. There are about 243,380,756 blog posts about starting one.
So why would I add another?
Because few posts talk about the concept with the correct frame. Morning routines, like all habits, can be a means to a useful end. Thanks to my morning routine, I was able to quit my job, create a six-figure income as a writer, and live out my dream.
Being married with a young child while I was pursuing my writing career, there was simply no other time to work on my side projects.
If you have with either an idea for a side project or are beginning to pursue one, a morning routine might be your best shot at pulling it off.
Still, you have to come into the process for the right reasons, or else you’ll never stay consistent.
Good and Bad Reasons for Starting a Morning Routine
Let’s start by knocking out all the bad reasons to start a morning routine:
- You read it in a blog post
- You think it will magically turn you into a billionaire
- It’s the cool thing to do
Honestly, if I didn’t need to have a morning routine back then, I wouldn’t have had one. But, I had a compelling reason to wake up each morning — writing.
In your case, you want to focus on putting that time to a worthwhile end. And what better end can you find than a side project with the potential to change your life?
Now, just because you read a blog post about morning routines, e.g., Elon Musks Secret Morning Hacks, doesn’t mean you’re going to become rich from waking up early.
But there is something to be said about the fact that many people who do earn good incomes and seem to be successful like to wake up early.
When you’re on your path, time is of the essence. In your case, you’re going to have other obligations in your life aside from your side project, so the morning will be prime time for you because it’s hard to find uninterrupted time elsewhere.
All you have to do to build a successful morning routine is create a compelling reason that goes above and beyond “I should wake up early.”
In addition to working on your side project, a morning routine can be beneficial for many reasons that can also support your ability to earn:
- You have a health goal you want to accomplish
- You want to express yourself creatively
- You need time to sort through your thoughts
A morning routine gives you the opportunity to pursue something you’ve been putting off. Unless you work the graveyard shift, you can’t say you don’t have enough hours in the day. You could wake up early.
And, I know, after going to work and taking care of your kids and running errands and this and that, you have a right to sleep. It’s fair to say all your reasons for not wanting to wake up early are good ones.
But then what? I’ve found that moving forward in spite of a long list of perfectly justifiable excuses separates those who get what they want and those that don’t. In other words, tough shit.
How to Build a “Why” for Your Routine
I could paint a pretty generalized answer to why you’d want to wake up early and focus on your side project.
Obviously, you want to make more money. You’re probably tired of or less than enthused with your day job. You want freedom. Blah, blah, blah.
Those cliche sorts of reasons often aren’t compelling enough. For me, I wanted the income and freedom, yes. But I love to write. More than anything, the ability to have maximum time to express myself creatively and master my craft meant everything. Now, thanks to my morning routine, I have that. I wake up and write every day.
Imagine you get to wake up and have your perfect day. You get to go to the job you love or the business you own, or you could stay at home and explore other activities because you don’t need to work that day.
Maybe you go for a morning run, have breakfast with your kids, head to your personal library to read, and spend the day in the city.
Maybe you go to your workshop and paint, sculpt, or handcraft necklaces.
Don’t imagine yourself hopping on your private jet or boarding a yacht, be real. You have certain unmet goals and dreams — if you take the time to consider them they’re not hard to discover — and you probably have a good idea of what you really want from life.
Some quick items to consider are:
- Values — I value freedom, creativity, and my well-being.
- Interests — What were you interested in as an adolescent? What section of the bookstore would you read every book in? Who makes you jealous because of their awesome profession? For me, writing fit the bill for all the aforementioned questions.
- Needs — I need space to settle my mind and deal with the daily grind of life. If you find yourself with unmet needs, your morning might provide space to meet them.
What’s going to be different for you moving into 2020? Think about the real potential you have to change your life in a span of the year. Think about what your life would look like with a dedicated effort toward a side project that mattered to you on a personal and professional level.
Use that as motivation. And then create your routine.
My Morning Routine
With my “why” as a background, you’ll see how my morning routine acts as a tool to improve my unique set of circumstances and move me closer to my goals.
This is important, because the next time you read a morning routine article about someone like Mark Zuckerberg, you’ll realize his routine is aligned to the needs of a billionaire running one of the most successful companies in the world. You might be able to adopt some of his habits, but you’ll adopt them for entirely different reasons.
Routines and habits can have universal value. Understanding this while removing the idea of a causal relationship between those habits and success itself gives you the perspective you need to use your routine as a means to an end instead of the end itself.
Clear My Headspace
I meditate for 20 minutes every morning. Without meditation, my writing isn’t as crisp, the ideas don’t flow as well, and it’s harder for me to stay focused — especially in the morning.
If you’re anything like me, your mind zig-zags at high speeds all day long. You have a little bully living in your head trying to sabotage everything you do.
I’m only able to meditate — completely go blank and focus on my breathing — for seconds at a time. Once I hit the zone, I think to myself “I’m meditating!” which means I’m no longer in the zone. That’s okay.
Meditation shows you how ridiculous your thoughts are. It’s a way of observing your own thinking in a detached way.
From time to time I’m able to remind myself that my mind is a filthy liar, what I dread probably won’t happen, and my actions can take precedent over my doubts.
See how the efforts from meditation either directly or indirectly affect my ability to earn with my side project. Think about structuring your routine that way. All of your habits should help you have an edge with the project you’re working on.
Meditation gives me a creative edge.
My best creative work comes from a state of concentrated, deliberate, and focused practice. Meditation puts me in the zone to focus for long periods of time.
Grab a Pen and Pad
I stole this idea from James Altucher and take no credit for it, but it’s one of the most useful exercises I’ve ever done.
According to James, if you don’t exercise your idea muscle, it will atrophy.
To flex his creative muscles, he created a daily practice of writing down 10 ideas per day. The ideas can be about anything.
If you’re working on a side project, you’re going to need ideas to support you — writing ideas, marketing ideas, product ideas, networking ideas, etc.
Working on your idea muscle helps you become more opportunistic and see opportunities everywhere.
Here’s a picture of some of my “idea journals” and other note-taking devices:
Half of a percent of 3650 is 18. If you can come up with 18 rock star ideas per year and execute just one of them, you can transform your life.
This exercise has helped me write books and successful articles. It’s solved problems in my personal life. It’s made me healthier.
The gap between idea and execution will always exist, but cultivating the habit of coming up with new ideas creates a motivation to follow through with them.
Pursue My Purpose
You have your morning routine habits that support your purpose and then you have the most important part — the actual work.
Building up a side project from the ground up to the point where it can become your full-time gig isn’t hard. It’s time-consuming. It simply takes a consistent effort on a near-daily basis for a sustained period of time. Morning routines are great for side projects because it’s usually time you can count on since nobody else is going to be awake to distract you.
Life demands a lot from all of us. I understand you can’t dilly dally around all day chasing dreams when you have responsibilities to take care of, which is why morning routines can be so great.
After you’re done with your morning routine for the day, you’re better able to tackle the challenges and B.S. that comes with the everyday struggle. And you’re able to deal with the struggle because you see a path out.
When your job frustrates you, you’re motivated to get after it the next morning. When you’re frustrated at how little time you have to work on your purpose, those hours or even minutes become more precious.
Over time, you’ll get better at your craft and better at your business. If you practice the habit of building a morning routine long enough, you will develop the ability to wake up early and work on auto-pilot. Once you’re there, reaching your long-term goals is an inevitability. You just have to keep working,
If you find a purpose worth working toward, a morning routine gives you the opportunity to pursue it uninterrupted every day.
Remember — my results don’t guarantee yours. But it’s good to see what fruits this process can bear.
Thanks to my morning routine I've published three books, my most recent at the beginning of this year. I quit my full-time job a year ago. With all of my time I’ve available to me, I’ve turned my little writing side gig into a legitimate business.
My meditation practice has made me much more level-headed than I used to be. I’m no zen master, but I’m able to pause to reflect on my thoughts and even change them from time to time.
I’ve come up with thousands of ideas and my idea muscle is strong. So much so I almost feel the fear of missing out because I can’t try them all at once. The practice has made me a better employee, writer, husband, father, you name it.
The caveat here? These are my results. I developed a morning routine, but I didn’t become a billionaire now did I?
Too often, people look to techniques and tricks to fix who they are. Habits and rituals give you skills and techniques to enhance who you are. The process of discovery it takes to uncover the real you is an entire process in and of itself.
If you take anything away from this post I hope it’s this — creating a practice isn’t just about results.
Try to hold this thought in your mind. You’re forever flawed and your practice will likely be a failure in the short run, but you’ll become much better for doing it in the long run.
Without knowing you, I can guess you have a dream you want to pursue — you either know it consciously or subconsciously.
If there’s one surefire way of removing your excuses to pursue it, it’s waking up early as hell.
Build profitable skills with this free checklist — The Ultimate Guide to Discovering Your Natural Talents and Strengths. Learn how to become a top Medium writer with my free 5-day course.