How I Redesigned My Morning Routine & Got My Life Back

Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

The purpose of this post is to provide an outline of the journey I've gone through to redesign my morning routine and regain control of my life over the past five months.


Take a quick look at any website or social network and you might conclude that everyone's life is great, but sometimes… life is really hard. We all go through our peaks and troughs. Some are higher and lower than others.

About five months ago, I went through a pretty low patch which forced me to re-evaluate and redesign several core aspects of my life including my morning routine. The outcome of my design process has been life changing and invigorating, but before I share the process, I think it’s important to touch on ‘the low’. I want to be confidently vulnerable in sharing my shadows as well as my light.

The Low

My wife and I have been on one hell of a journey over the past six years since we met: From falling in love under the stars in Israel to starting a recycling initiative in Egypt. From getting Typhoid in India to becoming chronically ill as a result. From having to drop out of university due to illness to scrambling to find an answer to her illness—any answer. From regaining health slowly over three years to moving to a new country and knowing no one. From the joy of finally after all these months becoming pregnant to abruptly losing the baby. From the weight of watching other friends have children afterwards to the pain of losing baby number two.

The second time hit us pretty hard. Not because of the loss of a dream or the hope of a living thing—or at least not that alone, not because of watching the life blood of your loved one pour out of them so quickly that even the ICU doctors begin to panic—or at least not that alone, but because life can teeter on the brink only so many times before it leaves you feeling wasted. Destroyed.

You can only pick up the pieces of your life so many times before you have to wipe the surface clean and start anew. I remember lying there late at night after it happened with the peaceful assurance that she’d made it. Everything else was void, unknown.

The Call to Change

A few days later I knew something had to change. I couldn’t continue living in the void. The trajectory of our life had averted course once again and I needed a new anchor: Something to hold me in place and tell me where I was going—and why.

Since the miscarriage our sleep cycles had been torn apart and I'd lost any structure to my day. Ever since I learned the importance of a morning routine from a 50-some year-old Welsh stone mason named Alan in Israel, I’d been experimenting with the morning as a vehicle for daily growth. I decided I needed to regain my mornings...

I did a quick search and stumbled on The Morning Miracle by Hal Elrod. I read it in one sitting. From that book I had the impetus to do something sustainably different this time around. I made a conscious investment to anchor myself around my morning, but rather than take Elrod’s advice verbatim, I had to design the process with myself as the user—because, after all, what good is practicing user experience design if you can’t apply it on the most important things in your life?

My Human-Centered Morning Design Process

I applied a design thinking process to create a new morning routine and daily structure. Below is a process outline written as a method for anyone else who might want to give it a try.

1. Read The Morning Miracle

It’s a quick read, tells a good story and has a pretty straightforward approach to a morning routine. Check it out: The Miracle Morning | Changing the World One Morning at a Time. Read it.

2. Reflect & Define The Problem

As you read you’ll probably discover a few internal objections to his approach and his advice. I’d highly recommend taking some time to reflect and listen to your internal struggle about making such a drastic commitment to self-development every single day.

Define your problem in a paragraph or so. Print it out so you can see it staring at you in the face:

All my life I’ve struggled to achieve my dreams. I’ve never invested consistent effort into anything. My life has been but a whim—a passionate toss of all that I have into one focus and then another. I’ve suffered from a lack of structure and a lack of discipline. I need a vehicle of self-development that will help me invest in my self so that I can achieve my goals and become who God made me to be.

3. Research & Generate Ideas

You might want to take a look at other people’s morning routines for inspiration. The Morning Routine App has a list of famous people’s morning routines and provides an easy way to track your routine in step #6 below.

Based upon your experience of reading The Morning Miracle, you’ll probably have some ideas about what might work for you and what might not. Set a timer on your phone for three minutes and generate a divergent range of ideas that you should consider for your routine to help you solve the problem you defined above.

4. Converge on Best Aspects

Take a quick look at your divergent list of ideas and do some sense making. Group into patterns or themes. Jot down some thoughts. Pick the best aspects that you’d like to implement in your morning. Get excited. This is going to be awesome.

5. Design Routine. Make a Plan

Pick out your core activities and allocate your desired timing. Here’s what my routine looks like:

  • 6.45am — Wake
  • 6.50am — Brush Teeth
  • 7.00am — Yoga & Pilates
  • 7.30am — Mindfulness
  • 7.45am — Read The Bible
  • 8.00am — Write
  • 8.30am — Run
  • 9.00am — Breakfast

If you think you might need to ease into your routine and build upon a smaller set of activities over time, create a plan for how you’ll phase activities in.

6. Implement. Measure. Learn.

Now that you’ve got your morning routine and schedule printed out, put it by your bed side. Take a look at it before you go to sleep and think about how good its going to feel to start your day by investing in yourself and cultivating the skills that will help you achieve your dreams.

Use an app like Morning Routine or Way of Life to track your routine and measure your ability to execute upon the routine you’ve designed. This is really important. Measuring which activities you do and when over the next three weeks will help you build a permanent habit.

Once you’ve done the routine every day for three weeks, you probably won’t need to measure it so concretely anymore—you’ll just do it. But if you go on vacation or get lazy you may need to start measuring again.

Learn from your experiences and shift things around as needed. Allocate more or less time such that each activity receives just the amount of time it deserves.

What I Learned

In the first three weeks, I modified my morning routine a lot and its made a big difference. I started alternating between running and a seven-minute workout for my cardio exercise activity. I soon started to realize that I was thinly slicing my morning into a bunch of activities with little to no depth. I then began to focus on fewer activities for longer durations of time and to mix them up throughout my week.

Some morning I would read for an hour, others I would write. Allowing me to make slightly deeper dives has really helped me get through more books, journal entries and blog posts (like this one). I highly recommend being open and honest with yourself throughout this process. If something isn't working—change it!

Conclusion

Designing and implementing a morning routine has been by far the most stabilizing and life giving project I’ve ever undertaken. In the five months since I started this, I’ve:

  • Landed a dream contract as lead product designer for a Bay Area tech for good company called Peak Democracy
  • Bought and moved into a dream home with my wife and are starting to set the foundations for living the way we’ve always dreamt of living (more on that to come)
  • Learned how to play guitar properly (finally, after several times of trying to learn)
  • Started playing football (soccer) again and am loving it
  • Overcome my chronic back pain that has plagued me over the past five years (thanks to my morning routine and resulting self discipline)
  • Read almost a dozen books
  • Started writing a book that I've been dreaming about for ages

By no means can I attribute all of the above events to my morning routine, but I definitely can attribute some of them. When I wake up and smell the smooth perfume of cool morning air, I am so excited to start my day. I hope you'll have a chance to give it a try and see what you think.

If you have any questions or thoughts you want to share, feel free to send me an email (john@john-ellison.com) or reach out on twitter (@iamjohnellison). It’d be great to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.