Hack the morning routine: 4 tricks for nailing it before school

Katie Azevedo good habits, study skills, time management

Morning routine

Some people awake each morning like majestic, radiant, wing-flapping unicorns.

Others just fall out of bed like broken gargoyles.

Despite the fact that I fall get out of bed every morning before 6 am, I am most certainly the latter of the two types of people. So how do I (the impostor unicorn) do it? The answer is in the magic of the morning routine.

Humans are creatures of habit. We naturally tend to craft routines whenever possible; we gravitate towards what is familiar and repetitive. Although blah sounding, this is actually a good thing.

When we routine-ize a part of our day, we think less about it. And when we think less about it, we stress less about it. Instead of having to decide what time to wake up, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, what to pack for lunch, what to bring with you out the door every morning, you just do these things because you’ve already made decisions about them at an earlier point.

Morning Routines for Students

Many students have to be out the door before 7:30 and semi-awake for class that begins shortly thereafter. This Herculean feat is nearly impossible to pull off without a solid morning routine. If your mornings are often characterized by chaos, exhaustion, forgetfulness and panic, then you need to make a change. Like, now.

Here I outline 4 steps for creating and sticking to a morning routine. Whether you’re a middle school student or high school student, college graduate or working adult, these strategies will get you flapping your unicorn wings in no time.

1. Go cold turkey. Or not.

When it comes to creating a new habit, we are all unique. Some folks say that it takes 21 days for a habit to stick (the 21-day habit formation theory is said to have originated in 1960 from Maxwell Maltz’s Psycho-Cybermetics), while other studies contend that it takes much longer. My non-scientific analysis says that the numbers are arbitrary, as long as you understand that it takes some time to get accustomed to the change.

What that being said, you basically have two options when it comes to initiating your new morning routine:

  1. Start cold-turkey: Just get out of bed tomorrow and begin day 1 of your new life. Don’t skip a day. Follow your morning routine Monday through Friday.
  2. Ease into it gradually: Over the course of a week or so, slowly lean into your new life. Each day, add one item to your morning routine until the routine is complete.

2. Create a checklist

What you actually include in your morning routine is entirely up to you and will depend on your schedule, age, school start-time, etc. But your morning routine should include actions that are daily, repetitive and necessary. Items that you (a student) might have in your routine would likely include the areas of waking, showering, dressing, eating and packing for the day.

Whatever you envision your morning routine looking like (or needing to be like), write it down. Make a checklist of the events in the order that you should do them, and what time / how long you should do them for. Write or print out this checklist, keep it somewhere visible and USE it. Refer to it for as long as you need to for the routine to stick: 21 days, 100 days, whatever.

Here’s an example of a reasonable morning routine before school:

6:10 Wake up

6:15-6:30 Shower

6:35-6:50 Get dressed and ready

6:55-7:10 Eat breakfast

7:15 Leave for school

Now this is important: You can and should revise this checklist as you need to. If after a week of sticking to this schedule you realize that it always takes you 20 minutes to eat breakfast, which means you’re always 5 minutes late running out the door, then shorten your shower time or get up 5 minutes earlier. Adjust as you need to. Make it work. But once it does, stick to it.

Also, to figure out your ideal wake-up time, work backwards from the time you have to be out the door.

Evening Routines

Also, consider making a checklist for your evening routine. An evening routine that includes packing your lunch for the next day, picking out your clothes, preparing your backpack/bags and planning breakfast will ensure a more unicorn-like morning.

3. Be consistent

I’m the furthest thing from a rocket scientist when I tell you that the more you do something, the easier it gets. Of course this is true. And it’s especially true when trying to establish a morning routine.

The key is to stick to your school routine from Monday through Friday no matter what. Even if class starts later on Wednesdays, get up at the same time every morning. If you don’t do it every single day, it’s not a routine. And if it’s not a routine, then you’ll struggle with it. Without exception, be consistent and follow the same morning routine – especially your wake-up time! – every day.

4. Have accountability

We are all experts at talking ourselves into or out of doing something. Oh gosh, you should hear the voices in my head at 5:45am. They should win a Grammy for their persuasive performance of stay-in-bed manipulation. Although I resist their siren call to retreat back to my pillow, it’s a continuous struggle.

If this sounds like you, then you should engage someone to hold you accountable – at least until the voices in your head aren’t so loud. Tell your mom to make sure you’re awake at a certain time. Convince your roommate or sibling to join your morning routine. Arrange an “Are you awake?” text exchange with a friend where you hold each other accountable.

My coffee pot is my personal accountability partner. It’s a relationship that just, well, works.

Extra tips about morning routines

You might question if having a morning routine is really worth it. Maybe you feel that the way you’ve been doing things up until now is basically working for you. And if it is really, truly already working, then you might actually already have morning routine and just never saw it that way.

But if your school mornings are stressful and result in a broken gargoyle-like start to your day, then what’s the harm in trying something new? Start by creating a simple checklist (step 2) of actions that must be completed before leaving for school, and do these items for at least two straight weeks. At the end of the two weeks, reward yourself for sticking to the routine, and then set another goal, followed by another reward. Maybe your ultimate prize will be a new set of unicorn wings.