Morning Questions

Another Morning

In the post about my Evening Routine I shared the questions I ask myself as I wrap up the day and do some quick journaling.

Along the way the evening questions inspired the idea of questions for my Morning Routine journaling. Some of these questions I made up and the rest I took from Donald Miller’s Storyline Productivity Planner (highly recommended).

I try to answer to answer each of these, though I don’t always. Some mornings I don’t do any journaling, but instead use the “writing portion” of my morning to prepare blog posts. And then other days the early mornings slips away and no writing happens. I do find that writing, much like the reading portion of my morning routine is centering and clears my head.

Questions I Usually Answer

  • What would make today great?
    • Sometimes just writing it down makes it concrete and more possible
  • Today I would like to finish:
    • It’s easy to work on lots of stuff, put out fires, and read lots of email, but it feels really good to finish something–finishing things makes me feel good.
  • If I could live today over again I would:
    • This questions is from the Storyline Productivity Planner and is kind of a mind-bender.
    • The idea of this question is to pretend the day is over and you are looking back on it in satisfaction. What would be the things that would have made the day satisfying or fulfilling.
  • Things I get to enjoy today:
    • It’s easy to see the day ahead with dread or all the things must get done.
    • Acknowledge or plan some things into the day that will make it enjoyable.

Questions to Get Really Clear on What I Will and Won’t Do Today

I don’t always make it this far. It’s also a section I recently added that I’m playing with.

  • What things MUST get done today? Keep this list short (no more than three)?

  • What are nice-to-haves for today? If they get done it’s great. If they don’t it’s not the end of the world.

  • Things I commit to NOT doing today. This might mean staying off social media, checking email, reading the news, etc. Whatever your biggest time wasters are.

Over to You

Are there any questions you ask yourself or commit to as part of your morning routine?

Prototyping is Not Wasting Time


I hate wasting time and I often have the unrealistic expectation that processes should be efficient. It’s easy to think that prototyping is a waste of time and inefficient, but it’s not.

Here’s an interesting quote of a quote from page 71 of Die Empty.

Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO, described the benefits of the prototyping process in his book, The Art of Innovation. He writes, “Prototyping is a problem solving. It’s a culture and a language. You can prototype just about anything — a new product or service, or a special promotion. What counts is moving the ball forward, achieving some part of your goal. Not wasting time.” In other words, prototyping allows you to make progress before you even know what progress should look like. He continues, “Prototyping doesn’t just solve straightforward problems. Call it serendipity or even luck, but once you start drawing or making things, you open up new possibilities of discovery. It’s the same method that’s helped scientists unlock some of the greatest secrets of nature.”

One challenge I find with prototyping is that it’s not a natural inclination when I’m under pressure to finish or don’t have any time to spare. Sometimes a shortcut to prototyping is creating lists of ideas or solutions (no matter how wacky they might be) to a particular problem.

In Choose Yourself by James Altucher, Altucher is all about generating lists and strengthening the idea muscle in our brains. For $0.99, even if you don’t like Altucher’s writing style or believe some of his stories, there are tons of good take-aways and encouragement to be found in this 276 page book.

Could it be that if we are intentional with our time it is not possible to waste it? By intentional I mean, setting out intentionally in a particular direction versus scrolling twitter, news sites and daily bargains websites. And setting out in a particular direction is often a prototype.

Becoming a Better Version of Yourself

manI’m convinced that if we focus on finding and building the best version of ourselves it makes everything else better, including ourselves. Using others as a benchmark has a place, but more often it is a race to bottom.

We measure the number of hours we work, customers we bring in, website visits we generate, etc. compared to someone else. There’s really no end to things you can compare when it comes to yourself and another person. Even if you come up on top what’s the real benefit?

I’ve experienced team environments like this. They aren’t a lot of fun–often toxic.  When the team becomes suspicious of each other and there’s no trust, comparison becomes a key metric for measuring success.

In one of the last chapters of Start With Why, Sinek tells a moving story of a boy named Ben Comen who has cerebral palsy. Ben is not the fastest runner on the team or the slowest… technically he probably he is the slowest runner, but he never finishes last because after the team completes a race they always loop back to finish the race with him. Ben falls down a lot, often finishing the race bloodied and bruised.

The idea is that Ben is racing to improve and compete against himself, not beat the other runners. There is no way he could. Take this in.

Something amazing happens after about twenty-five minutes. When everybody else is done with their race, everyone comes back to run with Ben. Ben is the only runner who, when he falls, someone else will help pick him up. Ben is the only runner who, when he finishes, has a hundred people running behind him.

What Ben teach us is special. When you compete against everyone else, no one wants to help you. But when you compete against yourself, everyone wants to help you. Olympic athletes don’t help each other. They’re competitors. Ben starts every race with a clear sense of WHY he’s running. He’s not there to beat anyone but himself. Ben never loses sight of that. His sense of WHY he’s running gives him the strength to keep going. To keep pushing. To keep getting up. To keep going. And to do it again and again and again. And every day he runs, the only time Ben sets out to beat is his own.

Now think about how we do business. We’re always competing against someone else. We’re always trying to be better than someone else. Better quality. More features. Better service. We’re always comparing ourselves to others. And no one wants to help us. What if we showed up to work every day simply to be better than ourselves? What if the goal was to do better work this week than we did the week before? To make this month better than last month? For no other reason than because we want to leave the organization in a better state than we found it?

I get that businesses have to make money and all that. I think Sinek is onto something here. I love Sinek’s idea of becoming better versions of ourselves because that’s a reoccurring theme my buddy Gregg Monteith raises in our podcast–the idea that we are meant to be the best possible versions of ourselves.

Simple Time Tracking Matrix

John Poelstra's Simple Time Tracking Matrix PictureI’ve always loved the elegance and simplicity of this time tracking matrix. Ten or more years ago I discovered it in what looked like a dry book on time management.

I have no idea what the name of the book is, but for some strange reason I remember the aisle I was in and where the book was on the shelf of the Milford, Massachusetts public library. I’m pretty sure it was in the 650s section because I was reading a lot of business books at the time. Some of my best finds have come from browsing the stacks.

Drop me a comment or an email if you’d like a soft copy of it.

Does anyone know the origins of this matrix or have a format they like better?

Morning Routine


Thanks to The Morning Miracle I’ve landed in some pretty good routines for the past couple of months. Don’t get me wrong, every day is not a magical carpet ride, and that’s okay. In a given week, one or two mornings are really good and the others are about putting in the time and setting the rest of the day up for success. Over the long haul I’m seeing subtle ways this routine is giving me more discipline and greatly improving my life overall. That makes it all worth it!

5 a.m. Doesn’t Come So Early Any More

I picked 5 a.m. as a wakeup time because nobody is awake that early at my house. Originally 5:30 sounded like a good time, but 5 a.m. just felt right in the sense I knew it would give me a block of uninterrupted time.

Some mornings I wake up earlier, and if I have the fortitude I’ll get up and just start the day. One morning I was wide awake at 3:30 a.m. So I got up, did part of the routine and then went for a walk. It is so quiet and peaceful at 4 a.m. walking through my neighborhood it was amazing.

Other mornings the alarm goes off or I wake up just before the alarm goes off and I really don’t want to get up, and yet I remember the committment I read out loud the night before and the benefits I gave for following that committment (written affirmations). There’s also the thought of, “Nah, this would be a horrible day and a lame reason to break my streak of 50+ consecutive days.”

Regular Routines

My routine usually consists of a mixture of the following activities depending on the weather, energy level and mental state. They all come from Hal Elrod’s suggestions in The Morning Miracle.

Normal Day

Most often the order is:

  1. Wake, dress, brush teeth
  2. Drink 22 oz of water
  3. Meditation (10 to 15 min)
  4. Affirmation (1 min)
  5. Visualization (1 to 2 min)
  6. Reading (10 to 20 min)
  7. Coffee
  8. Journaling (15 min)

On days like this I’ll save exercise for some part of the day when I hit a slump–usualy in the early afternoon. There’s something about brushing teeth first thing in the day–even though I brushed them before going to bed. I also recommend putting actual clothes on–not on a bathrobe or sweats.

Need to Get the Blood Flowing

If I need exercise or the thinker is not working:

  1. Wake, dress, brush teeth
  2. Drink 22 oz of water
  3. 40 min brisk walk
  4. Meditation
  5. Affirmation
  6. Visualization
  7. Coffee
  8. Reading
  9. Journaling

Dead on Arrival

And there are just some mornings where I went to bed too late or didn’t sleep well. Then the routine is more likely to run in this order:

  1. Drink 22 oz of water
  2. Coffee
  3. Meditation
  4. Affirmation
  5. Visualization
  6. Reading
  7. Journaling

Don’t Give In

This is the full extent of my routine. I try not to check email or get online at all (and sometimes fail). The times I have, it’s pretty much ruined the rest of the time–even 5 minutes checking email. I’ve learned the hard way it’s just not worth it. I want to stay in the zone of tranquility and peace as long as I can. Email and the world’s problems make it vanish instantly.

How Long Does the Routine Take?

The amount of time this process takes varies between one and two hours. Some mornings, a good portion of this time includes pushing side projects forward. Some days an abbreviated version makes sense or is required. In my experiences with it so far, I have not been sick, traveled for work, or been on vacation. I expect all of those will derail it in some way. And when it does, the key will be restarting!

Two hours sounds like a lot of time, but what it means is that worst case it’s 7 a.m. at the end. This was the most amazing feeling when I first started this process… wondering how it could only be 7 a.m. and yet I felt like I had already done so much. It wasn’t always that I had accomplished a lot it was more that I’d had time to really think and not be rushed. It feels good to be grounded and ready for a day.

Some days I just don’t get to everything and that is okay. Success for me is that I got up at 5 a.m. and tried to run through this routine even if I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like it.

There have definitely been those mornings I thought had no chance of being turned around and yet right around 6 a.m. I started to feel clearer and more optimistic about what the day held–such a different experience than rushing through morning to meet the end goal of “getting to work” and feeling behind and frustrated the rest of the day.

If you aren’t used to drinking a lot of water when you wake up, try it and see if you don’t feel different. That was one of my 30 day trials/habits a few months back and it’s really stuck with me. On my list of 30 day trial/habit possibilities is eliminating coffee. Something tells me that isn’t going to happen until winter is over.

What’s your morning routine and how do you make sure it happens with regularity?