A couple of weeks ago I did a podcast episode on the elements of a good morning routine. And I thought it would be helpful to write a follow-up to that episode with a bit more of a step-by-step roadmap for creating a morning routine for yourself—and not just one that makes you more productive, but a morning routine designed to honor Christ.
The morning routine is the foundation for the rest of the day. If a builder tries to construct a house on top of a crooked foundation, his building will not come out level. It’s the same with our days. We can set ourselves up for a successful day by establishing and performing a morning routine that puts us in the right frame to meet the day’s demands and meet them in a way that glorifies God. A good morning routine helps you get your heart right, your mind organized and sets your day on a trajectory toward God-honoring productivity.
So, here’s how to create a morning routine in four steps. You might want to grab a piece of paper or open a text document for this (maybe start a new page in Notion).
Step 1: Determine the Duration
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to figure out the math. But don’t worry, this is fun math! This is math that leads to you having a more productive day. Don’t skip this step. It may same obvious, but most people’s morning routines fail because they didn’t count the cost before jumping in with both feet.
To figure out what activities we can put in our routine, we first need to get some base-line numbers. Go ahead and jot these down.
- Start Time (ST): What time do I need to go to work/start the day? ___
- Sleep Hours (SH): How many hours of sleep do I need each night (be honest)? ___
- Morning Routine Duration (MRD): How much time do I want to dedicate to my morning routine? ___
Example: So, let’s say Brian needs to leave the house at 7 am, and he’s learned from experience that he’s only at his best when he gets 8 hours of sleep at night. And Brian really wants to carve out a 2-hour morning routine for himself. So Brian’s numbers are:
- Start Time (ST): 7 am
- Sleep Hours (SH): 8 hours
- Morning Routine Duration (MRD): 2 hours
Now that we have Brian’s numbers, we need to calculate wakeup time and sleep time.
Wake Up Time = MRD – ST.
So, to calculate Brian’s wakeup time I need to subtract two hours from 7 am. That means in order to have a 2 hour morning routine he’ll need to wake up at 5 am.
Wake Up Time Calculator
Now, if Brian wants to have a sustainable morning routine, he’ll need to get enough sleep. So, let’s subtract the hours of sleep he needs each night (SH) from his 5 am wakeup time. Brian needs 8 hours of sleep, so counting backward 8 hours from 5 am puts his bedtime at 9 pm the night before.
So, to summarize, if Brian wants to get 8 hours of sleep a night and have a 2 hour morning routine before leaving for work at 7 am, he’ll need to go to bed at 9 pm and wake up at 5 am.
Now, face the facts honestly: That’s an early bedtime and an early morning. This is why this step is so important. You’ve got to determine if your morning routine is sustainable and if it’s worth it to you.
After calculating your own wake-up and bedtime, you may want to tweak your numbers to find something you think will be more realistic. If they seem too early, start with a shorter routine, or see if you can train yourself to need 30 minutes less sleep. But I would strongly caution you against hastily giving up hours of sleep. Sacrificing sleep is a game you can’t win in the long-term. It’s one of our Lord’s daily reminders to us of our creatureliness.
Okay! You’ve got the time carved out, now let’s fill it.
Step 2: Choose the Elements
Now that we know how long we want our morning routine to be, and how we are going to ensure that time is carved out for it each day, let’s choose what we want to do in our morning routine.
“Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”
A good morning routine helps you get your heart right and your mind organized; it sets your day on a trajectory toward productivity that honors Christ. And, as I noted on the podcast, every morning routine will look a little different. But as a general guideline, a Christian’s morning routine should follow this pattern: Orient, organize, obey.
By orient, I mean orient your mind and heart. You need to orient your heart toward God through time in His Word and prayer, and you need to orient your mind toward the day through being ready for what the day has to offer.
This begins by waking up. I’ve written before about how to train yourself to wake up earlier, so I won’t go into a ton of detail about that here. But I believe the first thing Christians should do when they wake up is to orient their hearts toward God.
Sadly, most of us are likely among the 80% of smartphone users who check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up (source). That’s orienting your heart toward the things of the world. You’re about to spend the whole day in the world, you really need to begin by seeking the things which are above. This happens through Bible study and prayer.
I don’t care how harried your morning is, or if you do your “daily devotions” in the evening. Even if it’s short and sweet, start the day with a passage from the Word of God or a good devotional, and pray! Because when you set your mind on Christ first thing, the rest of the day falls into place around that. Literally putting your first priority first, sets a powerful precedent for the rest of the day.
Depending on how long your morning routine is you might consider implementing some of these other activities during the orient phase of your routine. These help you orient not just your heart, but your mind and body as well.
- Exercise (This is not something Christians should dismiss lightly)
- Journaling (check out my article on the 10 spiritual benefits of journaling)
- Other Reading
So, let’s draw out our morning by half-hours and plug these activities into our morning routine, beginning with the orient activities.
Now, let’s move on to the second phase of a morning routine that honors Christ.
Organize means looking ahead at the tasks you need to accomplish, the people you need to meet with, and generally just considering what your plan for the day is. This includes activities like reviewing your calendar, planner, and to-do list.
But organize begins with first organizing yourself—by which I mean getting ready. Eat your breakfast, shower, brush your teeth, do your make-up. Just get ready to go out the door.
Now that you’re in “go mode,” it’s time to take a look at what the day ahead looks like. For me, that means checking my work calendar for meetings and looking over outstanding tasks I have in OmniFocus or Notion. I take this time to decide the three most important tasks of the day, get the important information into my brain, and basically come up with a plan for the day.
At this point, I’ll usually say a brief prayer over my plans in the spirit of Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.”
That’s the gist of the morning routine. All that remains now is to obey.
By obey, I mean just get going. You’re heart and mind are oriented, you have organized a plan for the day, now go serve the Lord with vigor. Whatever the day brings, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10).
Try and execute on that plan you made, remembering to do it all with a Godward orientation and a desire to serve others. Be ready for the unexpected that might blow up your plans, but remember that the goal is not to keep perfect plans but to glorify God in our work, relationships, and lives.
Now, let me give you just a couple of other brief steps to make sure this plan lasts for the long-haul.
Step 3: Consider the Night Before
If you want to increase your chances of success, try to set yourself up the night before. For me, this means setting out my Bible, journal, and exercise clothes before I go to sleep. When I take the time to do this the night before my chances of having a successful morning routine seem to skyrocket 🚀
Step 4: Refine It
Remember, just because you’ve written it down doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way. I am constantly tweaking my morning routine as the demands of life and my priorities change. If you find that what you’ve planned is too much to get done in a morning, then eliminate something. You can make it shorter or longer. The routine is there to serve you, not the other way around.
The key to a productive day is a productive morning routine that honors Christ. So if you just remember to orient, organize, and obey you’ll be well on your way to a day designed to glorify God and love your neighbor.