Over the past few months, I've practiced six 'micro' habits (habits that require minimal time and effort) as part of my morning routine.
Despite their simplicity, these six habits provide a huge return on investment when it comes to your health, energy levels, and daily productivity.
Turns out that even the smallest of habits can set you up for a high-performing day.
Dr. Andrew Huberman, neuroscientist and professor at Stanford University, recommends getting between 2–10 minutes of natural light exposure within the first 30 minutes of waking up.
Natural light exposure in the morning helps regulate our internal body clock (or circadian rhythm) and optimizes hormone production. This ensures we feel energized at the right time (daytime) and naturally get tired at the right time (in the evening).
As studies have shown, this improves sleep quality (as the production of melatonin - an essential sleep hormone - is better regulated), enhances mental alertness, improves mood, and boosts cognitive performance throughout the day.
In other words, going outside and getting 2–10 minutes of early morning exposure to natural light is a simple life hack to boost your health and productivity.
Although direct sunlight exposure is most effective, it's definitely worth going outside on a cloudy day (I live in the Netherlands, so most days are cloudy). Even on a cloudy day, natural light is bright enough to kickstart the body's internal clock and optimize hormonal production.
One of the productivity habits I find most useful is to start each day by identifying my top three priorities. This practice takes about five minutes, but the payoff in extra productivity is enormous.
When you know what's most important, you can adjust your schedule accordingly and protect your time and energy for these priorities.
Usually, my three daily priorities look something like this:
It's my personal rule that my three daily priorities need to be accomplished no matter what. Even if nothing else is accomplished aside from these three tasks, I still consider it a successful day.
This might surprise a lot of people, as we've been conditioned to believe that you're only productive if you're busy, busy, busy. But this couldn't be further from the truth.
Being busy means you're doing many things, whereas being productive means you're doing the right things.
Doing the right things will get you results. Doing many things will get you distracted. This is why it's such a powerful habit to identify your top three priorities daily. It helps you be truly effective instead of simply being busy.
Time-blocking is the practice of scheduling the tasks or goals you want to achieve into your calendar. In other words, time-blocking helps turn intentions (e.g., I want to go to the gym today) into a specific action plan (I will go to the gym from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm).
Time-blocking has been well-researched in the field of psychology. A study by Peter M Gollwitzer, professor of psychology at New York University, found that people who scheduled their intentions were 94% more likely to accomplish them than their non-planning counterparts.
Not only does time-blocking make you more likely to follow through on your intentions, but it also helps to structure your day, create more space for your priorities, and reduce time wasted on distractions and multitasking.
As Cal Newport, a computer science professor and author of Deep Work, wrote, "A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure."
Although time-blocking might seem like common sense, experience shows that common sense isn't always common action. That's why I recommend spending a few minutes each morning to time-block the day ahead.
As a general time-blocking rule, schedule your most important (and most cognitively demanding) tasks for the morning hours, as cognitive performance tends to peak during this time.
As author and nutritionist Rania Batayneh wrote in her book The 1:1:1 Diet, "Start your day with 16 ounces of water to rev up your metabolism and help your body perform at its best."
Drinking about 16 ounces (0.5 liters) of water first thing in the morning has some profound benefits:
If you want, you can squeeze a lemon into your water as it contains essential minerals - like sodium, calcium, and potassium - that are vital to many key functions in the body.
Studies show that people who engage in morning movement have more energy and better cognitive performance throughout the day than those who started the day inactive.
You don't have to go for a full, intensive workout to reap the benefits. Moderate forms of exercise (such as walking, light yoga, stretching, some push-ups, etc.) will already stimulate blood flow and elevate your heart rate, making you feel more awake and energized.
Not only does early morning movement provide a good energy boost, but it also helps our brain perform better.
A 2019 study by the University of Bristol found that "Exercising in the morning can improve attention, executive function, and working memory later in the day."
Furthermore, exercise is a natural antidepressant as it releases endorphins, a powerful feel-good chemical that reduces feelings of stress and anxiety.
As a study by the University of Vermont reported, "Morning exercise appears to be especially beneficial for improving mood and reducing stress. It sets a positive tone for the rest of the day and can help mitigate the negative effects of daily stressors."
A study from IDC Research showed that about 80% of smartphone users check their mobile devices within 15 minutes of waking up every morning-which is a problem if you care about your productivity.
Starting the day in reactive mode sets the tone for a distracted, unproductive day.
Instead of focusing on your own goals and priorities, your attention instantly gets hijacked by other people's messages, disrupting emails, or negative news items.
As Dr. Nikole Benders-Hadi, psychiatrist and medical director at Doctor On Demand, says, "The information overload that hits [you] before you're fully awake interferes with your ability to prioritize tasks."
Besides, checking your smartphone right after waking up can trigger more stress. "Immediately turning to your phone when you wake up can start your day off in a way that is more likely to increase stress and leave you feeling overwhelmed," continues Dr. Benders-Hadi.
Think about it, you wouldn't let dozens of people into your bedroom, blasting their requests and opinions at you (especially early in the morning). So why let them into your mind through your smartphone?
If you want to stop checking your smartphone in the morning hours, I recommend the following:
At a minimum, I start the first 60 minutes of the day without checking my smartphone, social media, email, or instant messaging.
This is enough time to wake up, prepare for the day, and get in tune with my own goals and priorities before getting bombarded with other people's messages.
Founder Personal Growth Lab
At PGL, we share science-based tools and routines to optimize your health, cognitive performance, and productivity.