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Improve Your Morning Routine

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Mixed race mother handing lunch box to daughter
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Does your morning routine consist of frantically searching for lost items while screaming at your kids to get dressed and eat breakfast? If so, you might want to rethink your priorities. Inspired in part by author Laura Vanderkam's e-book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, here are some suggestions for making over your morning routine and starting your day right. Something as simple as going to bed no later than 10 p.m. can make you less grumpy in the morning, and the whole family happier.

Plan Your Mornings

Did you know that we're more likely to feel optimistic and have more willpower in the morning, according to research cited by Vanderkam? So mornings are a good time to plan activities such as exercise, meditation, long-term career planning or nurturing your family.

Instead of letting the precious morning time slip through your fingers, plan your mornings to be measured and purposeful. Invariably, this involves getting up earlier than the children and using your morning-hour discipline to stick to the plan, rather than hitting the snooze button multiple times.

The best morning routines involve activities that are high value but not urgent. So, rather than answering email -- which truly can fit into any nook or cranny of the day -- you should use morning time for focused writing, analysis or creative work. In interviews with high-achieving people, Vanderkam found that they use the time before breakfast for nurturing their careers, their relationships or themselves. After all, anyone can stop into the pharmacy to pick up toothpaste, but only you are best suited to do these three activities.

Pick a New Habit to Start

Looking at the three options gives a nice framework for deciding what new habit you'd like to start in the morning. If the daily press of work at the office makes it hard to plan stretch projects that will burnish your resume, perhaps you could wake 45 minutes early to work on that ambitious project. The worlds of academia, science and literature abound with stories of successful people who made their mark in 45 or 60 minute chunks -- like Albert Einsten developing the theory of relativity while working full-time as a patent clerk.

Or perhaps you work late and find the evening time with your children too rushed to include special bonding moments. If your kids rise early, get up with them and have a relaxed breakfast, or perhaps special one-on-one time with each child before they head off to child care and school. Or get up before your children so that when they do wake, you have gotten yourself dressed and ready, and are able to sit and focus on conversation or cuddling over breakfast.

Finally, the mornings can be a wonderful time to nurture yourself. Maybe that means finding time to exercise without interruption or enjoying yoga. Or even reading quietly from inspirational or religious texts. You may find that a 15-minute morning walk helps center yourself and puts a fresh spin on the entire day.

Implement Your New Morning Routine

Now that you've picked a habit, how do you implement it? Vanderkam suggests tracking your time to see where you can carve out 45 or 90 minutes for your priorities. She offers free downloadable spreadsheets, or you can create your own notation method. (Frankly, I don't have the patience to closely track time, calories or money -- relying instead on mental tracking -- but many people find this a useful method.) She also recommends visualizing and thinking through the logistics, with some helpful examples of schedule shifts that work.

But the most important step is to build your new habit in a disciplined way. Don't just try it for a few days. For more information, see her e-book or Web site.

For me, the mornings improved dramatically when I let go of the self-imposed pressure to be at my desk at 8:30 a.m. sharp. Some days I'm early, some late, and the world keeps on turning. I shifted my waking time a half hour earlier and set my kids' alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. We also have a timer that goes off 15 minutes before we have to walk out the door. The extra cushion of time -- and my new, relaxed attitude -- make for much more pleasant and family-bonding mornings in my household. (Of course, I had to get used to an earlier bedtime as well.)

How would you like to restructure your morning routine?

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