For peak productivity, you need a morning ritual, not a morning routine

Effective rituals put our brains on autopilot so that we can use our brainpower to focus on what’s important in our lives. Tynan, the author of “Superhuman by Habit,” says habits are “action[s] that you take on a repeated basis with little or no required effort or thought.”

In his book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey writes about the habits, routines, and rituals of hundreds of artists. Even though their routines varied wildly, every one of them had actional daily rituals they followed to put them in an optimal state of mind.

Peak performers and successful people swear by rituals and routines. And many of them are early risers. Waking up early has immense value for millions of people — adding those extra hours to the day when no one else is awake allows you to get a head-start and work on your most important tasks.

Plenty of scientific evidence suggests that what happens in the first few hours of your day greatly impacts the rest of your day. “Numerous studies have found that morning people are more persistent, self-directed and agreeable. They set higher goals for themselves, plan for the future more and have a better sense of well-being,” writes Amanda Ruggeri of BBC Capital.

But being an effective early riser isn’t just about waking up before everyone else. It’s also about getting the right things done first thing in the morning that can set you up for a successful day.

The choices you make first thing in the morning are shaping your life for better or worst. Better morning routines can help you achieve more, think clearly, and improve your total well-being. In a recent study, the authors said, “morning-type individuals, or “larks,” report higher levels of positive affect compared with evening-type individuals, or “owls”. A carefully choreographed morning ritual can transform your entire day.

Start your day with productive trigger

What is the one most important thing you have to do every that makes everything fall into place? Or better still, what’s the one habit that helps you start your day right?

Human behaviours are often tied to one another. One good action in the morning can trigger another good habit. According to psychologists, action triggers are the best ways to create new habits — a trigger is an action that automatically sets off a reaction. A trigger tells your mind and body you are ready for work. To make every working day a success, structure your day to make sure this one action absolutely happens.

For many people, it might be waking up by 6 a.m. and exercising. Many of the most successful leaders including Tim Cook and Richard Branson exercise early to jump-start their day. Even a short burst of cardio in the morning (think 10 to 15 minutes) can be an effective leverage point if you can’t commit to long exercise sessions.

“The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instil a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I’m getting certain things done every morning … namely, my goals,” writes Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

Harvard-trained happiness researcher Shawn Achor, the best-selling author of The Happiness Advantage says a short burst of fun cardio activity (think 10 to 15 minutes with a hula hoop, dancing, or taking a brisk walk with the dog) can be as effective as taking an antidepressant.

You could also meditate a few minutes every morning if that works for you. You can try sitting on the side of your bed and spend a few minutes to connect your mind and body to appreciate your surroundings or think about the accomplishments from yesterday.

Meditation has been known to even make you smarter and improve your decision making, according to a recent UCLA study published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Other people prefer to write a journal entry every morning to start their day. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, keeping a journal can help you identify your stressors and work on resolving them.

The best morning ritual is the one that’s perfectly tailored to you

Your leverage point doesn’t have to be waking up at 5 am, exercise, meditation, or journaling. It can be anything you want that gets the ball rolling. Crafting a morning routine is a personal thing.

It can be a side project, or an interesting book you are enjoying, a motivational podcast, the act of making your bed, or even a cup of coffee or tea that puts you in a productive mood. Do something simple that directs your mind in a calming, and relaxing manner.

Whatever it is, identify it and place the utmost importance on completing it before you move on to anything. Make it a habit and it will become your trigger to start your day right. Use it as an anchor that tells your brain you are ready to tackle your most important tasks.

Completing your trigger habit not only moves it out of your way, but it gives you great energy because you get the feeling you’ve accomplished something worthwhile already.

Effective morning triggers act as quick wins. Starting your day with a better mood anchor builds up momentum, which can carry you throughout the day to work on other tasks.

And whatever you do, eliminate decision-making tasks in the morning. One way to avoid that is to get a head start on it the night before. “Many productivity experts and successful people spend their evenings preparing for the next day because it makes their mornings free to get an early start on important work (and breakfast),” writes Britt Joiner of Trello.

Your morning routine should evolve and change. If something isn’t working, change it. The trick is to experiment to find that leverage point or habit that can help you start your day faster.

A good day starts with a great morning ritual. Even if you are not a morning person, you can still make your mornings work for you. Creating a morning ritual is an excellent way to start building small wins into your day, which helps transform the rest of your day.

This article first appeared on Medium.