The 3-2-1 Morning Routine For Better Productivity

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3-2-1 Morning Routine for Better Productivity
Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Recently, I adjusted my mornings to something I am calling the 3-2-1 routine. And when I say adjusted, I mean totally changed everything. Normally, I don’t like to make such radical changes. I feel like the bigger the change, the more difficult it will be to stick with it.

But, this switch has been…dare I say… life-changing! Really!

Since I started the 3-2-1 morning routine, I have found myself happier, more productive, and more focused throughout the day.

My Old Routine

This was my normal routine:

Wake up at 5…or 5:30…or 6:00…or 6:15

Check email, social media, news on the phone while still lying in bed. Sometimes this lasted 3 minutes, other times 15.

Sometimes I would make it downstairs for a workout on the treadmill. I didn’t really keep track, but I would guess that I probably worked out about half the days on average. Not bad, but not where I wanted to be.

By 6:15 or 6:30, it was time to get ready. I’d jump in the shower, shave, and get dressed.

Then I would head into the kitchen and quickly throw together something for lunch, make coffee, and make snacks and lunch for the kids on the days they had school.

Simultaneously, Ashley and I would be trying to get the kids up out of bed and working on their morning routines.

Then, I’d run out the door at 7:00 and head to work.

To be honest, this wasn’t a horrible morning routine. There was a bit of consistency to it. I sometimes woke up early enough to get a workout in which was good. Plus, I was never so late so that I was forced to buy lunch or anything. In other words, this routine worked adequately. Little did I know, however, how much better it could be.

Coming Up with a Plan

My original inspiration for the idea came from Leo Babauta’s routine. I read up on what he has done for years in the mornings, and I started to really think about my own mornings and what I truly wanted to get out of them. How could I be more productive without feeling overwhelmed or stressed? How could I make more time for me without taking away other things that are important in my life?

Over the past few months, I have adopted what I’m calling the 3-2-1 Morning Routine. I combined a few different ideas to create this method.

And, let me tell you, it has been life-changing.

No, I’m not exaggerating.

I developed this new morning routine to become more productive, but it has had so many other benefits. At first, I simply wanted to feel like I was on top of my work instead of just hoping to be ahead. Then, I was hoping to exercise more often and more seriously. As I continued planning out my morning routine and actually following through with it, I realized that it offered me so much more than those two benefits.

A Few Rules

Before I explain the three main parts of the 3-2-1 Morning Routine, I wanted to explain a few additional rules that I have followed. I think these are important to really make this routine effective. Without these two rules, the whole routine does not work properly.

1. Get Up

Each morning, after the alarm goes off, I get up. That sounds so simple and obvious, but it’s not.

I’m not hitting snooze.

I’m not giving myself the chance to think of an excuse to not get out of bed.

The alarm went off, I’m up and out of bed, right away.

Getting right out of bed has become a habit and the cue is the alarm clock. Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit, has a great TED Talk that covers how habits are formed and maintained over time. At the time of this writing, I have been getting right out of bed for a little over a month, and the habit seems to be formed. I don’t even question or beg with myself about lying in bed anymore. It has become pretty easy, surprisingly.

2. No Technology

I got this great idea from Courtney Carver of Be More with Less, one of my favorite minimalist bloggers. It’s pretty simple — stay off your phone, tablet, computer, or whatever else you have when you first wake up. It’s YOUR morning, keep it that way.

When you feel tempted first thing in the morning to check your email, glance at Facebook, or “check-in” to various digital portals, remember with that seemingly harmless glance or check, you’ve given the world permission to invade your brain, thoughts, moods, and actions.

Courtney Carver

I love the above quote from Courtney. Stay off of technology for a bit of your morning so that your feelings and ideas are your own.

Instead of checking email or social media while I am lying in bed (and contemplating whether I should get up or roll back over), I just get myself out of bed right away.

Eventually, I do check email and go onto my computer, but not until I am at least an hour into my day, usually more.

The 3-2-1 Morning Routine

3 – Set 3 Goals Each Day

After going to the bathroom and getting dressed, I’m ready for the day to begin.

I start by writing down 3 goals for each day. This is not a “to-do” list, but rather a way for me to focus on what’s really important to me for that particular day. I’m not really into resolutions or hopeful long-term changes, but I do think short-term goals are really important.

Split up your goals however you see fit. For me, I always have a relationship goal and a personal goal. The third goal is usually a work-related goal, but it varies.

For example, here were my goals for yesterday:

1.Reach out to my uncle to see how he is doing. (relationship)

2. Read for at least 30 minutes. (personal)

3. Email every student who has had perfect attendance so far this year to congratulate and thank them for their effort so far. (work)

Other days I have made personal goals to write a post for this blog or go on a hike for at least 3 miles. My relationship goals have ranged from something as simple as playing a game of cards with my kids to texting five of my friends to catch up with them.

At first glance, some of these might seem like to-do list items, but they’re not. A to-do item is something that you have to do for one reason or another whereas these goals are the things that I want to do. Accomplishing these goals will add value to my life.

2 – Wake Up 2 Hours Early

Well, we have now reached the point in the blog where I will lose most of you…


I mean, maybe, but hear me out.

Think about the latest you could wake up during the week and still make it to work comfortably. Whatever that time, try waking up two hours before then.

For example, if you usually leave the house at 8:30 AM, I would assume you need 45 minutes to get yourself ready. That puts you at 7:45 AM for the latest you could wake up and make it out of the house without being late. Take 2 hours off that making your wake-up time 5:45 AM.

As I stated earlier, my latest wake-up time would be 6:30 AM so I have a half-hour to get ready and get out of the house by 7:00. So you math whizzes out there have already figured it out. I wake up at 4:30 AM every morning now.

Maybe some of you do this already and it doesn’t sound bad. Others might have thrown up a bit in their mouth at the thought of waking up that early. Yes, I am a morning person, but when I first came up with the idea of waking up this early, I was pretty hesitant. I was also a little skeptical that I would be able to maintain getting up so early.

Well, as it turns out, I’m really not that tired. Getting up at 4:30 is rough, but getting up at 6:00 felt just as rough most days. Think about it, if you’re waking up with an alarm, doesn’t the wakeup usually feel the same regardless of the time? For me, it definitely did.

So what do I do with this extra time now that I’m up two hours early?

I’m glad you asked!

1 – Make Time For 1 Thing for You

Even though this one comes last, it might be the most important change that I have made with my morning routine. Our lives are so consumed by everything else — our families, our jobs, technology.

Where is the time for us?

Well, here it is.

Make time for one thing that is just for you. This is something that you want to do because it benefits you, not because it will help someone else.

For me, this has meant that I can work out each and every morning. It’s also meant that I have had some additional time to do whatever I want. I’ve spent time reading books, reading some of my favorite personal finance and minimalism blogs, and trying to create some fun lesson plans.

What is your one thing that you’d like to do for yourself?

Yoga? Meditation? Writing? Knitting? Journaling? The possibilities are endless. The important thing is that you do one thing specifically for you and no one else.

Oftentimes, this one thing matches up with one of my three goals for the day.

Summing Up the 3-2-1 Morning Routine

So here is my morning routine:

4:30 – Wake up and immediately get out of bed and get dressed. No snooze button and no lying in bed. And definitely no cell phone.

4:40 – Write down 3 goals for the day

4:45 – Work out (usually running on the treadmill)

5:20 – Shower, shave, and get dressed for work

5:45 – Make coffee, lunches, and snacks for the family

6:00 – “Me Time” – Reading, writing, etc.

6:45 – Wake up kids, finish lunches

7:00 – Off to work

As I stated earlier, the 3-2-1 morning routine has significantly improved my life. I’m more focused and productive, and I’m thrilled by the feeling of accomplishment I get each morning as I start to complete my goals. Additionally, I love the fact that I’m consistently working out while also setting aside time for myself.

What does your morning look like? What are some aspects of your morning routine that you’d like to improve?

If you end up trying the 3-2-1 morning routine, I’d love to hear about how it worked out for you!

12 thoughts on “The 3-2-1 Morning Routine For Better Productivity”

  1. I like it!

    I don’t write any goals down in the morning, but I’ve been waking up around 5am every morning for 5+ years now and agree it’s been a life changer.

    For me it was Benjamin Franklin who inspired me to do it, haha… I found his “scheme” aka schedule 5 years ago and tried to copy it for a whole week 🙂 I didn’t fare too well with half of it, but the 5am wake up call stuck and totally transformed my lifestyle…

    Here were my thoughts on the initial experiment if you’re interested in checking out:

    1. minimalismandmoney

      That’s so interesting! I’m a history teacher and Ben Franklin is one of my very favorites to learn more about and teach. I have to go check out your post, I don’t know how I missed it when you first published it.

  2. Sounds like a good homework assignment to me! 😉

    “Class – over the weekend see how closely you can follow B. Franklin’s scheme… The person that gets the closest gets extra credit” lol…

  3. I’ve been pretty much following your 3,2,1 thing for over thirty years, started when my kids were small and I was a single parent working full time. That extra two hours in the morning was a cherished time. My kids are all grown and gone and I still do it today 😊

    1. minimalismandmoney

      That’s pretty incredible. I don’t know how you did it! I just started doing this and it’s been so great for me, but I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much when my kids were toddlers and infants. I remember cherishing every minute of sleep I could possibly get.

  4. You know what.. I may actually try the 3 part of the rule. I don’t think my body has the capability of waking up two hours early 😉 But writing down 3 goals that you want to achieve for the day sounds like something I want to try.

    I just dislike how work is so inconsistent where one week I have time to accomplish the 3 goals but another week I am working till 7pm so I am more tired than usual and don’t want to try as much.

    3 goals a day is ~1,000 goals completed over a year, imagine what we can accomplish with that!

    1. minimalismandmoney

      I never thought of it over the long term, but you’re totally right. 1,000 goals completed over a year would be a pretty special thing!

  5. I like the concept! But I have a question about #2: you aren’t theoretically changing the number of hours of sleep you get, you’re just purposely making time for yourself in the morning before everything gets busy? I wake up usually around 5:30a to get breakfast and lunch for the day, drive 30 minutes to campus and hit the gym until 8:30a. How would you recommend I incorporate this into my life? Thanks! I will try it out tomorrow.

    1. minimalismandmoney

      Hey Cole! It sounds like you’re already doing step 2 if you’re waking up at 5:30 and your responsibilities don’t start until at least 8:30. I would just stick to what you’re doing if you feel like it is working for you. Maybe come up with your 3 goals for the day during your drive to campus? Let me know how it all goes!

  6. Hmmm. What about the restorative power of sleep? The most minimalist, healthful, vital and free thing we can do is ensure we get plenty of sleep each night. Lack of sleep is cumulative and has a terrible effect on our health and wellbeing. You’d need to be snoozing by 8.30pm to get a good 8 hours. Highly unlikely. Less that 8 hours can work for some, but that’s rare. Prioritise your wellbeing, and sleep!

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