Mornings aren’t everybody’s forte—some press snooze until the last minute, around thirty-one million Americans skip breakfast, and “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed” is an all-too-common phrase—but there’s something to be said for crafting a more stable routine in the a.m. The beginning of the year is an especially good time to take stock of what habits you’d like to turn around.

When you look at some of the most successful people in the world, one thing they often have in common is that they start their days with purpose. Productivity expert, author, and speaker Ellen Goodwin gives her take on why having a morning ritual is so important and offers tangible tips for limiting distractions.


What does your weekday morning routine look like?

I get up and put on my workout clothes—absolutely no comfy yoga pants, which are productivity killers for me! I make the bed (always), I have a cup of tea with my husband, and then I work out. I walk with a friend, taking care to properly social distance. Still, the walk with her gives me accountability. It’s too easy for me, on my own, to decide not to walk. Then I come home, do kettlebell exercises, shower, and read business books for an hour. After that, I go into the office and do the first task on my to-do list that I’d put together the night before. I’m a big believer in alarms to keep me on schedule, so the first workday alarm goes off at 8:30 a.m., and one goes off every half hour until 4 p.m.


How do you limit distractions in the morning?

Are there helpful tactics you can implement at night? I have a list that I write out the night before, and I do everything I can to eliminate any morning moments of choice. I use the phrase “moments of choice” to describe the feeling of “What’s next?” You have this moment of finishing one task and deciding what you’re moving on to, and those options can lead to distractions, which can lead to procrastination. There are a number of things clamoring for your attention, and usually the option you give in to is the one that feels comfortable and easy. This means I don’t use my phone as an alarm clock. I have my exercise clothing available to put on when I get out of bed, or I have the clothes I need already laid out. I don’t lounge around in my pajamas. I have things scheduled with others for accountability, whether it’s a walk with a friend, a phone call, or an email with an accountability partner discussing what I am going to accomplish that day. Each of these things limits the opportunity for distractions. My biggest tip is to make sure you’ve planned your day the night before. This way, you know what your day looks like immediately, and you can jump in. With a list already prepared, you don’t waste time thinking about what you need to do.

How does someone who’s not a morning person turn into one?

There’s nothing inherently magical about being a morning person. Just because you get up early doesn’t mean you are necessarily a productive morning person. You have to use that time efficiently. A night owl can just as effectively use their time. The difference would be that fewer people see this happening (and it’s not as romanticized). You become a morning person when you use those early hours to do tasks that meet your definition of productive. It’s going to be like building any other habit. It will take work and time to make it happen.


It won’t necessarily be easy—especially if you are a night owl by nature—and it may not feel good. You can start by setting your alarm (not on your phone) for five minutes earlier than the time you would usually get up. You do this for five days. When the alarm goes off, you get up immediately, and you jump into your morning actions. After the fifth day, set the alarm back for another five minutes. Get up at this new time for five days. Then set the alarm back again. Continue working backward until you are getting up at a radically new time. Just be sure that as you’ve been getting up earlier, you’ve been adding in actions to make that time productive.

What are some overall productivity tips?

Use a kitchen timer to block out time for focus sessions, which can be as short as ten minutes each. During this time, work on one thing and one thing only. When the time is up, take a break, then set the timer again and do another focus session if you have time. Why a kitchen timer? Because the timer on your phone is dangerous. Each time you pick up your phone, you are presented with the choice to be distracted.

Know the obstacles that you might encounter in your day and set up if-then plans to work around them. This is a plan you put together ahead of time that tells you “If this happens, then I will respond like this.” For example, if you were having trouble making cold calls (and it was essential to your business) your plan might be “If I’m getting frustrated while making cold calls, then I will take a break and walk around the block, come back, and make five more calls.” More than anything, this eliminates options for giving in to unhealthy habits. If you encounter an obstacle, you don’t have the time to stop and figure out what to do next—you already know.


Do you think having a morning routine is essential to success?

I believe some sort of morning routine is essential because it eliminates the moments of choice that can lead to procrastination and destroy productivity. For example, I don’t have a set morning routine for the weekend, and it’s easy to see where things quickly go off track without one. One cup of tea becomes two, ten minutes of social media becomes twenty or thirty, and the early-morning power walk becomes the late-morning saunter to get a bagel. Having experienced how things don’t work without a routine, I know having one changes the average day for the better.

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