Experiments with Routines

My morning routine is a mess. I hit the snooze button so many times you'd wonder why I bother having an alarm at all. Deciding what to do when I first wake up seems to take up most of my thought space. I tell myself "it's early – maybe I should meditate or go for a walk, or stretch…" In the end I just decide to stay in bed mulling over the decision until time runs out and I have to rush out of bed. By the time I get to work I already feel tired and depleted.

I know that something needs to change. I have tried many, many things to make me 'wake up' earlier. Some of them have made it into my morning routine and improved it (e.g. I never leave the house without breakfast.) and others have been complete failures. Recently, I have been feeling at a loss as to what to do to fix this problem.

Then, the other day, inspiration hit. Another Functioning Minimalist podcast came to mind. The podcast was about 'Decision Fatigue'.

In the podcast, Sara discussed how decision fatigue impacts our self control and will power. The most interesting thing she brought up was an experiment conducted by Dr Jean Twenge on how little mundane decisions (e.g. what am I going to wear? What am I going to eat? What do I do next? etc…) can lead to decision fatigue and ultimately reduced self control. (I'm not going to describe the experiment here, if you want to know you can listen to the Functioning Minimalist podcast or type "Jean Twenge" and "Decision Fatigue" into google to get the peer reviewed journal article.)

Anyway, I wondered if I could apply these findings of hers to improving my morning routine so I decided to conduct an experiment. I do, after all, have a university degree in applied science 😀


How do I improve my morning routine so that I don't feel rushed and I get to work early?


Following a written list of pre-made decisions as soon as I wake up will make my morning run smoother, feel less stressful and allow me to get to work before or by 8.30am.

Things you need:

Phone with the a note taking app (I use Evernote),
Clock & train schedule
House & everything in it set up so it's easily accessible

What to do:

  1. Write down every single decision I need to make in the morning before I go to sleep.

    This is the sample of my list – I wrote down literally EVERY decision I could think of possibly making! I was surprised how long the list was!

  2. Wake up
  3. Follow the list
  4. Repeat every morning for the rest of the week (I wrote the list Monday night)
  5. Document results.





Added the following actions to list:

Make the bed
Check light before leaving bathroom
Open windows
Put on deodorant
Put on Perfume
Brush hair
Pack away breakfast dishes

Decided to use time waiting for tea to steep to pack away dishes on drying rack.

Arrived at work much earlier than expected that I didn't know what to do with myself for the first 30mins
?write down decisions for starting the work day



Up at 5.45 decided to write until alarm went off at 7… got bored so started routine 15mins early.

Added the following actions to list:

Take out cup from room to wash
Clarified order of meal prep as meal, snacks cold drink, hot drink
Packing away drying rack dishes

– snacks depleting – go shopping
– I need a hair cut
? I should choose my clothes at night




Note: I wake up early – todays wake up time was 6:45

Additions to list were to refine the morning routine (e.g. my towel headband was super useful at keeping my hair out of my face while washing)

I extended some of my decision making into the working day and also into the evening with preparing the clothes I was going to wear the next morning.

Also added some more practical stuff like what to do if something appears to be running out.




Catching the 8:15 train and arriving at work at 8:30am exactly is my new 'late'.


As I was writing down my morning routine on Monday night, I was surprised at the little tiny moments that make up a morning. When I began following the list the next morning, I was surprised by how much more  attention and mindfulness I gave to each simple task. I found I was not constantly worrying that I might forget to do something (like check to see if I locked the door, or turned off a light). I know I won't, because it's all written down and I follow and check it. I was in the present moment.

As the days wore on I found ways to make my morning flow better and more efficiently. My confidence in the list grew more and applying new ideas to improve my morning routine became easier.

I also noted that the advantages from having this routine extended further from just getting to work early/on time. I found my mind more alert when beginning the work day. In fact, I began to make a list of things to do as soon as I get to work so that I'm not floundering around. I also came up with a prepping system for picking clothes (something made so much easier because I don't have that many clothes to choose from) and a system where when I buy groceries I immediately pack them into my snack boxes to take to work.

This experiment was another worthy exercise that I can see can be applied to other parts of my daily routine. I'm excited to apply it and see what more I can discover about how to be my best self.


This post was inspired by Jenny Offill & Nancy Carpenter's awesome book "11 Experiments that Failed". A brilliant and hilarious book to introduce science concepts to young children and a reminder to adults that there is a scientist in all of us :).