Reset (or Set) Your Morning Routine

Tips for jumpstarting your days when working from home
MAR 2020
Kathleen
L.
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Coronavirus has caused a work from home (WFH) phenomenon unlike anything seen before. It’s an experimental time for many and, given the circumstances, it can be stressful and isolating. Setting up a good routine can be a great way to create order in chaos.

A while ago, I read a book called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work” by Mason Currey. The book summarizes the daily routines of famous artists and writers. Many artists have complete flexibility in where and when they could work; yet, out of this space, they carve out rather set routines.

The freedom of routine described in the book rang somewhat similar to the graduate student experience (especially now that we are WFH), and I started to wonder how other researchers formulate their day. I sent out a survey (it’s still open, so feel free to fill it out!) to investigate the daily routines of researchers at MIT.

In this post, I focus on morning routines and include some of the common features I noticed across people’s routines. I hope reading these will spark some ideas of how to cultivate your routines while working at home in these unexpected times.

Across survey results, I noticed that most people woke up early and had a set wakeup time ranging from 4am to 7am. Others set their alarm clock for 8-9 hours after they got into bed.

For breakfast, many people preferred quick options such as yogurt, oatmeal with nuts, smoothies, or protein milkshakes. Others turned breakfast into a hobby, baking their own bread and making their own fruit preserves. If you are interested in working this into your routine, there are many great beginner bread-making recipes online to get you started.

Coffee (a personal favorite of mine and great complement to other activities...) was also popular. Whether it was the process of making the coffee (e.g. in a moka pot) or the activity that went along with coffee (e.g. watching Stephen Colbert on Youtube or reading in bed), coffee seemed to play a role in most morning routines. Those who weren’t coffee drinkers turned to tea or hot water to “figure out how to stay awake without drinking coffee”.

Many people worked physical activity into their morning routine. Some took long walks and used that time to meditate, to mindfully observe, or to listen to a podcast. Bike riding, lifting, and going to the gym were also popular. Others used yoga or singing to integrate both meditation and physical movement into their routine. One student, who sings every morning right after waking up, writes “I started learning singing as a hobby, as it has been an interest for a long time. In classical Indian singing, you are supposed to do riyaz (practice) early in the morning when you wake up. As I did this every day, it became my meditation practice and something that I look forward to every day.”

Lastly, many survey respondents had some sort of mind-activating routine to ease them into the work day. Some activities were productivity-related such as:

  1. Checking notion boards.
  2. Writing to-do lists for the day.
  3. Checking emails.
    1. Keeping inbox at 0 unread emails.
    2. Alternating 20 minutes of non-email work with 20 minutes of email.
  4. Checking daily arxiv emails with relevant papers in field that were posted the previous day.

Other activities were unrelated to work such as the New York Times crossword puzzles, praying, and checking social media messages.

While these are only a few examples of what could be included in your morning routine, I hope it gives you some new ideas to try during this WFH period. I think setting a routine to look forward to each morning is a great way to handle unprecedented times such as these. 

Stay tuned for more routines and be sure to follow the COVID-19 health and social distancing guidelines!