in: Character, Featured, Habits

• Last updated: July 5, 2023

Bookend Your Day: The Power of Morning and Evening Routines

Vintage man waking and putting out lamp for bed.

You’re a college student.

It’s midnight. You’re brushing your teeth and reviewing how the day went. And you’re disappointed.

You had planned to work out, study for an upcoming history exam, clean up your apartment, and find time to meditate.

But none of those things happened.

You woke up late. As soon as you sat down to study in the afternoon you saw some friends who invited you out to eat. And that night you got sucked into aimlessly surfing the internet while the dirty dishes sat for another day in the sink.

You spit out your toothpaste and vow to do better tomorrow–tomorrow you’re going to turn it all around. But the next day brings more of the same.

Does this sound familiar? Do you feel like you’re stuck in a cycle of good intentions but disappointing follow-through?

There are several things you can do to get unstuck from this rut and start progressing as a man again. Today we’re going to talk about one of the very best: “bookending” your day with a morning and evening routine.

Bookend Your Day: Why a Man Needs a Morning and Evening Routine

Darren Hardy, editor-in-chief of Success Magazine and author of The Compound Effect argues that a person’s morning and evening routines are the “bookends” of a successful life. Why is this?

Imagine a string with a series of beads on it. The beads represent your goals, relationships, and priorities. Tip the string this way or that way, and the beads easily slide off and onto the floor. But tie a knot on each end of the string, and the beads stay put. Those knots are your morning and evening routines. They keep the priorities of your life from falling apart and thus help you progress and become a better man.

Having an evening and morning routine:

Ensures the really important things get done.  While we generally can’t control what goes on in the middle of a day, we usually can control how we begin and end the day. Take advantage of this fact by incorporating your most important tasks, actions, and behaviors into your morning and evening routines. For example, I know many businessmen who refuse to check email first thing in the morning. Instead, their morning routine consists of waking up, getting dressed, and spending an hour working on their most important task of the day, even before they go into the office. This ensures they accomplish their task before the chaos and interruptions of the workday get in the way.

For me, if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, I won’t exercise that day. I just don’t have time for it. So, daily exercise is part of my morning routine. Journal writing is another important thing for me. If I don’t have a specific time set aside for journaling, it doesn’t get done. Thus, journal writing is part of my evening routine.

Gives you time to moonlight. I get a lot of emails from men along the lines of, “I’m unhappy in my career and really dream of doing _______ instead. What should I do?” My answer is almost always the same. Don’t quit your job yet–moonlight (or sunlight!) and hustle in your spare time until your dream job becomes a truly viable option. The best time to do that is in the mornings and evenings before and after your current job.

Reduces decision fatigue. The New York Times recently highlighted psychologist Roy Baumeister’s work on decision fatigue. According to Baumeister, we all have a finite amount of willpower that we can expend during the day, mental energy that is depleted by every decision–big or small–we have to make. In our crazy, hectic, modern life, we’re inundated with choices. Should I check email or work on this memo? Do I surf Art of Manliness or The Economist? Should I lift weights or run today? Should I have Sonic or Arby’s for lunch? If I go to Sonic, should I get a coney or a burger? You get the idea.

By the end of the day, our willpower reserve is running on empty which results in us being irritable boors, making poor decisions, and taking the path of least resistance. When given a choice between going to the gym or playing video games, we’ll choose video games. Write 500 words for our important work memo or surf the web? Mindless surfing here we come!

While it’s possible to increase the amount of willpower we have at our disposal, Baumeister suggests an additional tactic in the fight against decision fatigue is to manage our mental energy more efficiently throughout the day. One way we can do this is by making positive behaviors or important tasks routine parts of our day. When something becomes routine, we no longer have to think about it–it’s set on autopilot. Instead of having to use willpower to decide whether or not you’ll work out that day, you simply work out because that’s part of your morning routine. The less you have to think about doing something, the more likely you’ll actually do it. That’s the power of routines.

Keeps you grounded. For me the biggest benefit of morning and evening routines is that they keep me grounded and sane. It doesn’t matter how crazy things get during the day, it’s comforting to know exactly what will happen at the day’s beginning and end. My routines give me a sense of control over my life and help me re-calibrate my psyche so I can be a more effective man.

How to Create Your Morning and Evening Routines

Review your life plan. Remember that life plan we crafted a few months ago? Dust it off. We’re going to use it to help craft our morning and evening routines. (If you haven’t created your manly life plan, take some time this week to do so.) Look at your most important goals. Are there any habits or behaviors you need to instill in yourself to achieve those goals? Make those behaviors or habits part of your morning and evening routines.

Maybe your goal is to write a novel this year. Make writing for 30 minutes uninterrupted the first thing you do every morning. If your goal is to learn Spanish, make studying a Spanish grammar book part of your evening routine. Perhaps your goal is to read the entire library of the Great Books of the Western World. Set aside an hour to read before bed. If dropping 30 pounds is your goal, make exercise the first thing you do in the morning.

While the tasks you decide to include in your morning and evening routines will vary depending on your goals, may I suggest a habit to include in yours? Every evening, review the day’s work and plan your day for tomorrow. In the morning, review your schedule and your long and short term goals. I promise that if you do these two things, you’ll find yourself more focused and will accomplish more during the day.

Make your routine firm. Evening and morning routines lose all their power if they are kept vague. You cannot say, “I’ll get up whenever and do such and such a thing for awhile or so, and go to bed when I start feeling tired and read for a bit.” These indefinite bookends are loose knots that are bound to come undone. Your routine must be firmly set in place. Wake up at the same time every day. If you’ve been getting up at a time that only allows you to shower and get dressed before heading out the door, then start waking up earlier. Set a fixed time that your evening routine will begin, and go to bed at the same time each night during the week. Know exactly what activities you’re going to do during your routines, what order you will do them, and how much time you will spend on each thing.

Adapt your routine as your life changes. While your current routines must be firm, they will probably change as you pass through different seasons of your life. For example, my morning and evening routines today are much different from my routines when I was in law school. And they’re different now that I have a baby, and they will change as Gus gets older. By the way, when you have a kid, your evening and morning routines will become even more vital.

While reading a book before bed remained a constant, the morning routines of Theodore Roosevelt changed through the different seasons of his life. When he was overworked and stressed as a state legislator, he hired a prizefighter to come to his room in the morning for a half hour of sparring to make sure he got in a bout of exercise each day and to blow off some steam. While serving as governor of New York, he also tackled the task of writing a biography of Oliver Cromwell, and the first thing he did each morning was to carry a stack of notes into his study and dictate the book for an hour or more to a stenographer.

When it comes to your morning and evening routines, be flexible and adapt, but try to keep a steady routine going in your life like TR did. Remember, morning and evening routines lay the groundwork for your success as a man.

Get inspired by the morning and evening routines of great men. When I read the biographies of great men, I’m always on the lookout for insights into their morning and evening routines. I figure if they’ve done something repeatedly every morning and night, it might be worth incorporating that behavior into my personal routines.

William Blake had this to say about morning and evening routines: “Think in the morning, act in the noon, read in the evening, and sleep at night.” It’s not bad advice. When I was in law school, I actually set aside time in the morning just to think about a legal issue I was trying to untangle for my law review article. My mind seemed more nimble first thing in the morning.

As secretary of state and president, John Quincy Adams skinny dipped in the Potomac River in the morning, always trying to see how long he could swim without touching the bottom (he got up to 80 minutes before his wife told him to stop). After putting his kids to bed, President Obama goes over briefing papers and does paperwork, and then reads a book for pleasure for a half hour before turning in.

As you read the biographies of famous men, take note of their morning and evening routines, and if you like something they did, incorporate their behaviors into your own routines. One place you can find the routines of some famous men–particularly famous artists and writers–is the blog Daily Routines.

My Current Morning and Evening Routines

Here’s what my morning and evening routines look like right now. Maybe it will be useful to some of you. Maybe not.

Morning Routine

5:30 AM: Arise
Put on gym clothes, contacts, and stumble to kitchen
Drink a glass of ice cold water and protein shake
5:40 AM: Out the door for workout (Monday/Wednesday/Friday: Weights; Tuesday/Thursday: Interval Cardio; Saturday/Sunday: Walk)
6:40 AM: Return home and shower, brush teeth, etc.
6:55 AM: 20 minutes of meditation, prayer, and scripture study
7:15-ish AM: Review my goals and day’s schedule

Evening Routine

My goal is to have lights out at 11PM. With that as my deadline, here’s what I like to get done before then:

9:30 PM: Review day’s work, review goals (long term and short term), plan tomorrow’s schedule
10:00 PM: Get ready for bed; take vitamins.
10:15 PM: Write in journal
10:30 PM: Read a book
11:00 PM: Lights out.

Be sure to listen to our podcast on creating the perfect morning routine: 

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