Productivity experts are wrong about your morning routine

Almost daily I come across a new article on the internet from someone claiming that their morning routine has been an essential piece to their success; they usually list a number of things they do every morning to set up a productive day or analyze the morning habits of established entrepreneurs.

Routines can be important, but it seems that we have begun to glorify them as a source of busyness and comfort. Instead of appreciating the moment, many people feel that they must always be fixated on something else looming in the future.

In reality, routines can actually lead us to be overworked and overwhelmed, leaving little time for creative freedom or legitimate gratitude.

I have woken up at 5:00 AM for nearly six straight years, and I can confidently tell you two things:

  1. A nighttime routine may be far more beneficial than a morning routine.
  2. Whether I wake up at 5:00 AM or 8:00 AM, my productivity levels and quality of day stay the same.

Celebrities have further ingrained this idea into the cultural fabric of society by revealing their own morning routines.

Take Tim Ferris, who commonly asks his podcast guests about their morning routines, and tries to incorporate some of their habits into his own day. These include making your bed, meditating, journaling, exercise, and breakfast.

I am a huge Tim Ferris fan having read several of his books and occasionally browsing through his blog for inspiration, however these very simple activities do not need to be categorized as “morning routines”. I actually do each one of the listed objectives throughout the day to break up my work schedule, and have found this strategy to work better for me. I build little pockets of time to drink tea or meditate instead of focusing on doing it all in the morning.

That’s the key- It doesn’t matter what time your routine occurs, just make one that fits your schedule. And in some cases, routine isn’t even the answer. I often find myself getting the most work done when time is sporadic and unstructured.

Strive to establish a daily rhythm instead of a daily routine.

The Problem With Routines In General

“As long as habit and routine dictate the pattern of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.”- Henry Van Dyke

A structured day is not meant for everyone. That is why digital nomads and remote workers have become so popular in recent years. I actually wish more companies offered flex scheduling options to meet the creative peaks of each individual.

Your approach to the day should be built around what suits you best, not what works best for anyone else. It is entirely possible to break your current habits and remain positive and engaged throughout the day without a strict schedule.

My mornings are always unique, varying based on several factors. If I set an alarm for 5 AM and wake up feeling energized, I’ll usually hit the gym before work. If I wake up drowsy and unmotivated, I simply push the workout to the evening and go back to sleep stress-free.

Writer Jocelyn K. Glei actually believes in building white space into your schedule for napping, meditation, walking, and downtime:

“We need white space in our daily lives just as much as we need it in our designs because the concept carries over: If our lives are over-cluttered and over-booked, we can’t focus properly on anything. What’s more, this way of working actually shrinks our ability to think creatively.”

I know people who are so strict about their routines that they actually end up stressed and anxious if everything doesn’t fit perfectly into place. It’s almost like a Jenga tower- take out the wrong piece and the structured momentum you’ve been building comes crashing down.

When you are constantly looking ahead to the future, and the next task, then happiness is always a step away.

My Peak Productivity Hours Are Between 7–11 PM

In college, I was stuck on a strict schedule because of rowing practice, jobs, and class. This was what I needed at the time as the extra organization in my life was essential to staying on top of a rigorous schedule. Once I graduated and stopped having the daily demands required by athletics and homework, my mindset shifted to a more relaxed state.

I was honestly burned out of routines and craved a chance to keep myself motivated and active. Now my only dedicated routine block is the 9 hours I spend in the office. My only daily staple is a protein-rich breakfast and some form of hydration, either water or green tea. Besides that, I thoroughly enjoy having some elasticity in my mornings.

Don’t get me wrong, I work incredibly hard during the day and in keeping my body and mind healthy. However, my creative juices often start flowing between the hours of 7–11 PM, not 5–8 AM.

This is when I do the majority of my writing, reading, planning, and fitness. In setting up for the following day the night before, I have adequate amounts of time to prep meals, lay out clothes, and ensure that my sleep schedule is on track. This prevents me from reversely having a stressful morning filled with pre-planned routines.

I feel that having less of a morning routine and instead utilizing the hours after my job creates flexibility with my schedule, positioning me to extract the most meaning from a single day.

In Conclusion

Some people simply thrive in the mornings and others don’t. It shouldn’t be viewed as a point of failure or laziness, you just need to accept that everyone has vastly different internal clocks- it’s part of what makes humans unique.

I believe that moderation is the best approach to a routine. Having some structure such as planned mealtimes or a workout schedule can be beneficial. But try not to get caught up in the advice of productivity gurus or in comparing yourself to the lifestyles of successful business owners.

We all excel under different conditions, just do you and take pride in what you choose to control. If you’re like me, sprinkling some ambiguity into the day is invigorating and fresh. Don’t be afraid to break your routine once in a while and give daily variety a try. You just might find that you enjoy it as I have.

This article first appeared on Medium.