Let me paint a picture for you.
Your phone alarm startles you out of a sleep so deep that you’re sure it’s still the middle of the night. Nope, it’s 6:00 am. After hitting the snooze button once or twice, you feel energetic enough to keep your eyes open.
You roll back over and silence your alarms. Your phone’s home screen is littered with new push notifications, red circles everywhere indicating that you’re late, you missed something.
You tap on the email button. 47 unread messages. 3 of them are from your boss, who apparently doesn’t sleep. Another 2 are from unruly clients that need the project expedited or they’ll take their business elsewhere. It’s going to be a long day at the office. Lovely.
For some relief from this madness, you head over to the News app. What’s going on in the world? According to CNN, Trump is on the verge of starting another World War, there were 7 burglaries in your city last night and oh, by the way, there’s an 18% chance that the toast you eat each morning will cause early Alzheimer’s. Looks like you’re skipping breakfast today. Great.
How about something lighthearted over on Instagram? The first few posts seem innocent enough but then you get caught up again. That girl you lived next to in college just got engaged. Really, she found someone before me? I mean, I’m so happy for you! Ugh.
We’ve already revved up our stress to astronomical levels before our feet hit the ground for the first time today. Before we even get to ask ourselves how we’re doing today. What a way to start the day. Is it too late to take today off?
Well, the good news is that there’s a simple antidote to this madness, a way to start each day with a fresh mind.
Control your phone, don’t let your phone control you.
That description above used to be me. Every. Single. Day.
But as I met more productive people, I asked about their morning routines and, funny enough, they looked nothing like mine. It wasn’t filled with mindless scrolling and self-loathing. It was filled with mindfulness, exercise and productivity.
The best part? It was a choice. A choice we can all make in 4 easy steps.
Step 1 – Turn Off Notifications
Although we’ve evolved quite a bit as humans, we’re still working with the same brain that our ancestors had 900 million years ago. However, we live much different lives and endure different types of stress than cavemen. In the early days, we had to be on high alert of any predators that could end our life. Simple as that.
Things are rarely as life and death in today’s age, but our stress reactions haven’t changed. So instead of a wild animal chasing us, we see that negative email from our boss and go ballistic internally. Our brain tells us it’s mission-critical information.
When we stack these types of notifications nearly nonstop for 12 hours a day, you can see why so many people are burned out, distracted and stressed out.
So we’re going to ignore those. In fact, disable those notifications. Head over to the settings in your phone, find notifications and hit “off”. The only ones I have up now are for phone calls and texts.
There’s beauty in not knowing everything exactly as it’s happening. With email, text, Slack, and WhatsApp, one could realistically spend an entire toggling between these different feeds messaging people and never actually do anything.
These apps have a time and place. Your first waking moments are not the time.
Step 2 – Airplane Mode
If you want to make it more likely to pick up (or break) a habit, make it easy on yourself. If you want to eat healthier, don’t buy cookies and store them in your kitchen cabinet. If you want to go for a run in the morning, lay out your clothes the night before. The same holds true with digital distractions.
About 30 minutes before bedtime, put your phone on airplane mode. This is great for two reasons. First, it allows your brain to relax before bed and you’ll sleep better. Second, you won’t have any distractions bothering you the second you wake up in the morning.
It is much more likely for you to ignore your phone if it’s in Airplane mode than it is to use sheer willpower alone.
Step 3 – Go For It
When making a making change, I find it helpful to think big and start small. Sure, think about how this can have a major impact on your life and change your morning routine and make you a better person. But let’s start with baby steps.
The first week, try going for 5 minutes in the morning on airplane mode. The next week, 10 minutes. And so on. If you have a relapse moment, that’s OK. That’s natural. Just pick it back up the next day. The goal is to get to 60 distraction-free minutes to begin your day.
Step 4 – Reward
One way I’ve been able to remain disciplined in building habits is by linking a habit with a reward.
For example, I’m developing a habit to journal each morning. I’m not always motivated to do it first thing in the morning. But, like a workout, I always feel good after the fact and it’s a great mental start to my day. I also love a good cup of coffee in the morning. So my new rule is that I can enjoy that steaming cup of joy – as soon as I finish my journaling.
The key is to pick a task easy enough and a reward I enjoy enough that you’ll never want to miss a day.
So, you’ve followed the four-step plan. You’ve turned off notifications. You put the phone in airplane mode. You stick to it and reward yourself. You’ve grown from 5 minutes to an hour.
Now what? What the hell do I do with that time?
Whatever you want!
I find that the morning is the best time for your biggest project. Whatever you’re working on as a long-term goal. If you’re working on your health, it’s a great time to get a run or workout or yoga session in. If you’re starting a side business, it’s a great time to work on finding new clients. If, like me, you’re interested in writing, it’s a great time to start typing.
In Aubrey Marcus’ bestselling book, “Own The Day, Own Your Life”, Marcus helps the reader to live their perfect day. Because life is really just a series of days stacked on top of each other. If you win each day, you can have a great life. And the best way to win the day is to win the morning.
Take back your life. Use your technology, don’t let it use you.