AMR: Start The Morning Right

(This is the next installment of the “Build The System” series. Please read the following posts first so you’re familiar with the concepts and terms used in this post:

As covered previously, the P.M. Routine (PMR) helps you reset your environment and shut your brain down for a good night’s rest.  The A.M. Routine (AMR) helps you head into the day feeling accomplished, energized, and ready to conquer what lies before you.

Starting your day on a high note is done by a strategic use of habit stacking keystone habits and secondary habits to build a morning routine that works best for you.  Open a new Google Sheet and use the same setup that’s detailed in Building The Framework but instead of titling PMR title it AMR.  Let’s dive in.

The Basics

  1. Start with the things you’re already doing. This list will probably contain items like taking a piss, getting a drink of water, and (hopefully) brushing and flossing your teeth.  Make sure you write them down in the same order that they’re done.
  2. Add only the highest ROI secondary habits.  Make a list of the top 5 habits that you think would add a lot of value to your morning routine.  This could be making your bed, weighing yourself, putting on work/workout clothes, or anything else that doesn’t currently get done that you wish would get done. Pick the top one or two and add them to your AMR.
  3. Add your flow activity. This will be the keystone habit that anchors the AMR.  Generally speaking your flow activity will be one of, if not the, last items on the AMR list. 
  4. Keep it simple. It’s worth repeating, just stick with the one or two high ROI secondary habits.  Feel free to change up the order of the AMR to ensure the progression makes sense but don’t add to it until you’ve drilled the first iteration for a while. You’ll probably increase or decrease the time spent on your flow activity and you don’t want to be messing with any other variables until you’ve got that piece ironed out (more on this below).

Here’s an example AMR using the habits from the below section:

Embrace The Adjustment Period

From “Rally Time” (linked at the top).

“The right morning routines leave us feeling strong and ready to go out to conquer the day.  One of my favorites looked like this:

Wake up

Immediately go and relieve myself

Weigh myself

Drink some water

Put clothes on

Brush teeth


Make Bed

Get coffee (set the night before)

*Personal Task* (As dictated by GTD)

Read for ~two hours

Boom!  That was it.  That general routine went on for close to 6 – 8 months.  The above is the final version, it took some trial and error to get there.  At first, the priority was to read for 30 minutes before starting the day.   It was immediately apparent the first day that 30 minutes wasn’t going to cut it.  Quickly I bumped it up to an hour.  After some time at an hour, I decided to try out an hour and a half and finally settled in at two hours.  That may sound like a pretty easy progression to anyone who hasn’t tried adhering to a strict morning schedule, but the reality is that a shit ton of thought and effort went into each adjustment.  Initially, I tried to tweaking and hyper optimizing the brief period of time between the end of reading and starting work but every time it quickly became clear that it was a lot easier to just go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.  Each one of those adjustments caused a short period of relative chaos in the evenings during the adjustment period.”

That’s still, for me, just about the gold standard AMR (if I had to redo it today I’d remove the coffee (I don’t drink it anymore) and the personal task).  It kept the secondary habits low (the personal task was almost always capped at 10 minutes), and kept the focus on the flow activity.  

It took time and effort to carve out those two hours.  Here are some pointers:

  1. Don’t try to hyper optimize.  Acknowledge that things are what they are.  Trying to stuff 10 pounds of shit into a 2 pound bag is a recipe for frustration and failure.
  2. Proactively pick what you’re going to do less of.  As stated at the end of “The Psychology of Optimal Experience” post, decide up front what you’re going to do less of.  Adding in time for your flow activity is the perfect opportunity to eliminate a bad, time wasting habit.
  3. Go to sleep sooner.  This is more often than not going to be the best answer.  Even if you’re not working a 9-5 with the more stable scheduling that comes with it going to sleep sooner will generally be the right answer.
  4. Don’t be afraid to scale back.  There is a point of diminishing returns, and this will be different for everyone.  Scaling back isn’t a problem when it’s a personal preference, but if it’s due to circumstance (work, personal obligations, etc.) then it can be a problem.  This goes back to acknowledging that things are what they are.  If you only have 30 minutes for woodworking, journaling, or lifting weights then you only have 30 minutes.  If you overshoot then scale back to the amount of time you have available and look to the long term to improve upon the situation when the opportunity presents itself.

Go Forth And Conquer

“Following a flow experience, the organization of the self is more complex than it had been before. It is by becoming increasingly complex that the self might be said to grow. Complexity is the result of two broad psychological processes: differentiation and integration. Differentiation implies a movement toward uniqueness, toward separating oneself from others. Integration refers to its opposite: a union with other people, with ideas and entities beyond the self. A complex self is one that succeeds in combining these opposite tendencies.

The self becomes more differentiated as a result of flow because overcoming a challenge inevitably leaves a person feeling more capable, more skilled. As the rock climber said, “You look back in awe at the self, at what you’ve done, it just blows your mind.” After each episode of flow a person becomes more of a unique individual, less predictable, possessed of rarer skills.”

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Each time you finish the AMR you’re coming out stronger than you went in. Even if you’re eating a shit sandwich the rest of the day, do so with a smile knowing you’ve already made an investment in yourself.  Control what you can control, laugh at what you can’t, and play the long game, keeping your eyes on the horizon is the best way to keep them off the shit sandwich in your hands.See y’all next Monday,


2 thoughts on “AMR: Start The Morning Right”

  1. I’ve tried at various times to become a morning workout guy, but it just isn’t in the cards for me. I need to have some coffee, ideally read for a bit, and wake myself up before venturing out for a workout. So maybe that’s a little too unattainable for me, but making sure to read and spending time away from screens is crucial (difficult on the West Coast because I always feel like I’m behind, or wake up to messages!).

    • Hey!

      I’ve worked out in both the AM and PM over the years and the morning can definitely be a struggle. If that’s not in the cards then reading is a great way (better even?) to start the day! It is calming and is kind of gets you mentally charged to take on the day.

      Thanks for commenting! I checked out your blog a little bit earlier and it looks great, I’ll have to dive into some posts this weekend!


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