I know the exact moment when I realised I really had WAY too much on and something had to change. I was on a business trip and checking in late after a long day of meetings. The whole hotel was packed with people letting their hair down at pre-Christmas parties (remember when those were a thing?)
The receptionist looked a bit embarrassed as he double-checked my name before saying sadly: “I’m afraid your reservation was for yesterday.” Now it was my turn to be ashamed and slightly panicky. The hotel was full, it was late, and pre-Christmas, I knew my options were limited.
Fortunately, the hotel managed to rustle up a small single room. I had dinner as the only sober person not dressed in festive sparkle. As I ate, I wrote on the gold and silver napkin:
How can I keep juggling and not drop the balls?
I’m an executive coach who has been running my own business since 2008. There’s been a lot of juggling for a long time. Coaching, marketing, admin, professional development, family commitments. And somewhere, if I’m lucky, a bit of time for me; exercise, friends, fun.
There hadn’t been a lot of fun that messy Christmas, and one of the answers that I came up with on that napkin brainstorm was that a clear head was more than just going easy on the Prosecco.
A morning routine to start your workday
Google “morning routine”, and you’ll see that everyone from Barack Obama and Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, to Oprah Winfrey and the joyful tidier Marie Kondo, all swear by the importance of starting your day right.
The trick is finding a routine that works for you in complex, messy, complicated times. Because if you’re anything like me, habits are easy when things are going well; when things get tough, we tend to lose focus and discipline.
Start small and keep it simple
Our brains are hard-wired for the familiar, even if the familiar isn’t healthy. It’s one of the reasons why habit change is hard. As a coach who helps people with personal, business and professional change, big, grand goals and dramatic transformations are tempting. However, they are less likely to succeed than minor tweaks repeated consistently over time.
Start where you are
This is a coaching mantra; start where the client is. In other words, accept the reality of where you are right now. Not all of us can get up at 5.30 or spend two hours on ourselves every morning to start our workday. So, what is possible for you? What tweak could you make that would give you more time and space?
Wake up and really smell the coffee
I love my coffee, but frequently I found I was gulping it down between showering and dashing out the house. What if I could give myself an instant reward – time to savour the coffee – and build in a new habit? What could I do that would create calm, clarity and commitment?
Journaling is a powerful grounding and motivating tool
I had journaled a lot in the past – mainly while writing my master’s dissertation, and I understood its role in turbo-charging my insights and sharpening my focus. I had just never thought of using it as a way to start my day.
Instead of putting pressure on yourself to “have to” change, it can help to tell ourselves we are just trying something out. Our brains cannot be anxious and curious at the same time, so wrap a new habit change in the cloak of curiosity by asking yourself, “what will happen if…?
So I asked myself:
What would happen if I sat down with my coffee each morning and spent a maximum of ten minutes journaling?
How journaling can help to start your workday right
What I discovered is that endorphins and dopamine are released in the process of journaling. Calming our nervous system, reducing anxiety and pain while increasing our self-esteem and sense of wellbeing.
Instead of starting the day with cortisol and adrenaline – the fight hormones – we are beginning from a place of calm. There is a reason Julia Cameron has sold more than four million copies of The Artist’s Way, where she insists you write three pages every morning.
How journaling helps entrepreneurs and business owners
Running our own businesses, we wear a lot of hats and do a lot of juggling. Decision-making gets poorer the more stressed we are, so making decisions after the calm of journaling makes sense. And this is where I disagree with Julia Cameron, who encourages people NOT to read their morning pages.
Why? We have so much wisdom that we can tap into when we allow ourselves to read our writing back. I always encourage people to read back, looking for the present emotions – either overtly stated or hiding between and behind the lines.
You can start your workday feeling inspired and focused by embracing new simple habits.
Moyra Mackie is an expert in journaling for wellbeing and self-expression. Find out about her book on how to journal and her guided journaling community