What I’ve learned about mornings, structure, and emotional health


It is not news that structure and routine are essential for emotional health and well-being. I am glad that organisations have finally initiated the discourse about emotional well-being and its impact on productivity. We have wasted too much time glorifying lack of discipline and structure in the name of fuelling creativity.

I’m not saying I’m a fan of routines that are set in stone – office in time, rigid work hours and the likes. But too much fluidity between work, life, personal goals and interests has ensured that there is very little we do well and with complete concentration. I don’t know about you but this constant switching between screens and frames of mind doesn’t help my discipline and quality of work, which eventually affects my emotional well-being.

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Last night, I was watching an insightful TED Talk titled ‘Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy’ when the lack of “stopping cues” hit me. In the talk, marketing professor, psychologist and published author Adam Alter says, “A stopping cue is basically a signal that it's time to move on, to do something new, to do something different. Stopping cues were everywhere in the 20th century. They were baked into everything we did. And - think about newspapers; you eventually get to the end, you fold the newspaper and put it aside. There were stopping cues everywhere. But the way we consume media today is such that there are no stopping cues. The news feed just rolls on, and everything's bottomless: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messaging, the news. And by the time you do check all sorts of other sources, it becomes a never-ending exercise.” If that sounds as unhealthy to you as it does to me, we are probably on the same page on the topic of screens, productivity, social media and emotional health.

The first step in getting some structure in our lives with enough stopping cues is to design mornings of higher quality. I have found mornings to set the tone for my days. If I start my day on a screen, rapidly checking notifications and switching between mails and social media, I am already in an unstructured frame of mind. It often reflects on how the rest of my day unfolds – productively focused on each task on my to-do list or mindlessly switching between tabs, apps, documents and sometimes, even moods!

An ideal morning routine means different things to different people. But I have found that there are some common threads. Unsurprisingly, almost none of them advocate losing to the urge to look at a screen. It is not so much about what you do in your first few hours each morning but what you accomplish out of it. It could be a task or just some emotional brownie points. Whatever you are trying to accomplish, just beware of your bottomless screen getting in the way.

Here are some things that I have known to work, beyond the usual check mail Facebook Twitter WhatsApp-workout-gulp breakfast-out of the door routine. Try these or find out what makes a happy morning routine for you and stick to it relentlessly.

Use the peace and quiet for your personal projects

This is especially useful for those who wake up earlier than most others. What if you allocated that extra hour to do the things that you just can’t for the rest of the day? That gym hour you have been meaning to sign up for? Early mornings work very well for it. That trip you have been meaning to take but haven’t had the time to plan for? Do it at 6am. The pitch draft that is sitting in your personal folders, pining for your attention? Do it the first thing in the morning. A business idea that has been brimming in your head, exciting you on slow Tuesday afternoons at work? Get to it, already.

Self care and silence go hand in hand

Our days are full of clutter and noise. A client who calls incessantly, the traffic and commute of our cities – working professionals are surrounded by “important” things and people that demand their attention the entire day. To be able to cater to all of it with equanimity and even enthusiasm, self-care is essential. Use your mornings to focus on yourself. Introspect, plan, set goals, or just spend a breezy morning in the balcony over a cup of tea. I have found that those who cater to their own emotional and personal needs often find the ability to grudge less and give more. There are 1,440 minutes in a day, surely you can spend the first 20 on yourself?

Quality time with loved ones starts the day on a warm note

Whether you commute together, just chat, or get a cup of coffee in complete silence, starting the day on a warm note with people you are close to can set the tone for the day. Ask your flatmate how she is doing. Ask your partner how things are at work. Share a joke with your parents. Warm, content mornings can really boost your productivity.

What makes one person’s morning happy and productive may not have the same effect on others. The question to ask is whether your morning routine is designed to fulfil you. Does it help you find more contentment and/ or productivity or is it just a hazy hour of screens with no stopping cues? Mindfully design and structure a morning routine that serves your unique emotional, professional, and personal needs. It can go a very long way in making you not only more productive but also happier.