Building the King of Keystone Habits: Crafting the Ideal Morning Routine


in Productivity

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg presents the idea of Keystone Habits: habits that, once implemented, naturally improve the quality of life in a variety of other habits. The most common one is exercise: one someone builds the habit of daily exercise into life, they naturally begin to sleep better, eat better, create a better routine, etc.

Once a keystone habit is in place, the rest of the pieces seem to fall into place around it.

In attempting a year of drastic self-improvement, it’s often best to focus on “big wins.” If you can start building the proper keystone habits, you’ll save yourself a lot of work in small individual habits down the line.


Building Daily Routines

So I want to talk about the mother of keystone habits — building a daily routine. In particular, building a morning routine.

Here, you can see my old morning ritual (from about a year ago):

Redefining the Morning Ritual

The moments you wake up are the moments you can actually control. Once you get going, make it to your work or school, you suddenly are playing in someone else’s ballpark. So, I focus on building the morning ritual as the most important facet of my routine.

You might have seen in my last post: Jumpstarting the Habit Change Process. In it, I made a list of 7 habits I want to develop. I’ll paste that list below for reference.

1) Daily Meditation

2) Writing 750 Word Every Day

3) Daily Floss

4) Before sleeping, write 3-5 MiTs (Most Important Tasks) down. In the morning, start working on them BEFORE checking email.

5) Turn off computer every night by 11pm.

6) Keep a gratitude journal and write 3-5 things I’m grateful for every night before sleeping.

7) Add a ritual to my morning routine: Visualize my day ahead of time and how I’ll approach it, then watch inspirational videos.

These are all daily items — the types of habits I want to achieve every day. But, some take longer than others.

So, I sat down and wrote my ideal routine, for the whole day. And then I tried to see which habits fit the easiest into my daily plan.

IMG_20130904_111836.088 (1)


But, the act of codifying a perfect morning routine made it seem much more believable, likely. So, I tried throwing in flossing and the gratitude journal — so far, it’s stuck for four days, and we’ll see how long that lasts.

So, here’s the fact: creating a morning routine, writing it down, and making it visible so that you’re reminded of it daily is a very valuable action to take.

In the comments below, list out your current daily routine, and your dream routine. By writing it out, you’ll have a clearer understanding of what you need to do tomorrow.

So, try it out — build a morning routine, commit to it using the Bet Switch Mechanism for 5 days, and see how productive you become.


Namrata September 28, 2013 at 3:47 am

My morning starts with drinking water
-sitting at the window and gazing sun’s light…an awesome sight and very refreshing.
-opening my journal and counting my blessings(my family,friends and bloggers like you;))
-writing how i want my day should go..some boostups fr myself!!!!
-then watching some inspirational videos…..
-and starting with my work.with great entho…
i believe if ur morning is good the whole day ultimately goes good…..and meditation provides me the peace and calmnesss so that i could face all difficulties with great ease…
A great morning makes me a better person:):)


Utsav September 20, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Great article, but what I liked best is your handwritten note! My handwriting is quite similar, and it inspires confidence.
I’ve seen two close friends turn their life around this year, toward greater happiness, productivity and wealth. The one who I spoke to most recently said that he began by questioning and understanding everything that he did. Once he understood this, he began eliminating all the habits and behaviors that did not reflect his values or system.
I’m trying to develop my own system and stay true to it, but it is no easy task, especially when so many bad habits have crept up over the years.

Loving the bet idea, and will be trying it over the next 5 days for a boost in productivity.

Thanks for this.


Kevin Donlin September 14, 2013 at 5:58 pm


Because I work for myself, I’ve found these 3 keystone habits every morning helped grow my business:

1) Reading my monthly goal out loud for 1 minute every morning

2) Visualizing the “WHY” behind my goal for 3 minutes

3) Walking while saying affirmations for 10 minutes

Keystone habits may be small, but the changes they produce are BIG.

I wish you all the best!

Kevin Donlin


Ryan Riehl September 10, 2013 at 9:25 pm

My ideal morning is:
Make bed
Take a Cold Shower
Say Affirmations (still testing if I like these)
Workout (if I home workout, run, or etc)
Write (or some kind of creating)


Atanas September 9, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Hello everyone,
my morning routine is
1. wash my teeth,
2. cleaning my tongue with tongue cleaner and then my nose with a cane(new one)
3. most important to me – meditation.


Martin September 8, 2013 at 6:19 am

I go to sleep at 4am and wake up at 11. I start writing right away. No time wasted. I make some coffee in between.

I don’t eat because I’m a fan of intermittent fasting. I eventually stop writing and then hit the gym on an empty stomach.


Maneesh Sethi September 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm

Great routine! I just started intermittent fasting this week and am loving it.


Luke September 7, 2013 at 3:27 am

Having experimented with various morning routines I can say that waking up when I ‘Naturally’ wake up (which is around 7-8am) seems to work best for me, although sometimes for work I have to get up at 5.30am. Personally, as a Musician, sometimes I get in from shows at 4am, so waking up early is a pain. I start the morning drinking Tea and reading my personal ‘Winner’s Bible’ (see the book by Dr. Spackman) to focus my mind on my key goals for the day. Josh Kaufman’s book ‘The Personal MBA’ also has some excellent tips for developing good morning rituals.


Denny Chapin September 7, 2013 at 2:51 am

–Wake up 7:30 with a gorgeous woman in my bed (currently GF)
–Roll around in bed so to speak
–Make tea, talk, savor deliciousness
–Hot shower, cold finish
–Bulletproof Coffee (coffee+butter+mct_oil)
–Creative work until 12 noon
–Paleo low-carb meal
–Go to my office and run the show until 4/5pm
–Powerlifting workout (mon,wed,fri)
–Sauna and a book then a quick cold shower
–Eating out with a friend who inspires me or makes me laugh OR cooking with them at mine
–Wherever the night takes us: drinks, a great film, a music gig, an art gallery, a sports game
–Crash between 1130 and 3am

And repeat!

I find starting the morning off well is crucial. I have to create creative space for to run my company successfully. It often means wasted hours of other peoples work because they are too timid to problem solve (le sigh) but it is worth it in the revenue producing insights alone.

Sorta an atypical day but I cherish my leisure time and believe socializing is one of the most revitalizing and positive things we humans can do. Just as long as you kick it with good folks!

Cheers! Thanks again for writing regularly Maneesh


Maneesh Sethi September 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm

This is great! I love that you have it s detailed. Good luck and let me know how it goes.


Annika Stahlberg September 6, 2013 at 11:00 pm

My morning routine is pretty regular – I hate being rushed so I wake up at 5.30am. I used to try to do productive work straightaway but I find my mind is just not creative then. So I use the morning hours to clear my email, my Article Feed and my FB, then I cook breakfast and slowly get ready for the day. I’m out the door by 7.30am. Has anyone else tried waking up super-early to be productive? Was there an adaptation period for your mind to get used to being creative 1st thing, or did it just click?


Gray September 6, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I feel like I have a challenge in creating a daily morning routine because my schedule (and location) varies widely. Som e nights I’m up until 2-3am, which makes waking up early a challenge. Other times not so much. Sometimes I have morning appointments, sometimes not. Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes not. So how do we make a routine when your life is not predictable, even in terms of what city or bed you’re waking up in?


sortanormal September 6, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I go to bed around 9:30p and get up around 4a. (I use a Fitbit to check my sleep as well as my steps). I like to get in my morning 7-8000 steps early, and plan to be out by 4:30. Doesn’t happen because, when I check my sleep on my computer, I check email, I check FB. I respond, I do mindless surfing, so I waste much time before forcing myself out-the-door.

I like all your suggestions and hints, but the most important for me is to STAY AWAY from email, and actually stay away from the computer.

Paul, above, is on-target and productive because he makes his 3-task-list (your MITs) the night before, so his brain is accomplishing his goal in the background. Of course, you are too.

Time for me to get my ducks in a row. Thanks for the boost!


Christian September 6, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I just started as a student intern and with treating patients in the clinic for the first time I’ve modified my morning routine a bit.

1. Wake – Shower, Get Dressed
2. Eat Some SuperFood + Protein Breakfast
3. Read 9 Archangel Michael Decrees ( invoking spiritual light and protection for the day. I find this enhances my patient results and I don’t get tired treating ‘negative’ patients. It’s my shield. Gamechanger.
4. Review Patient Schedule and review any treatment techniques or new research pertinent to their case.

Boom. Simple. Effective.


Paul September 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Ideal morning routine involves a COLD shower immediately after waking up, followed by 10-15 minutes of meditation, followed by gratitude journal, followed by writing a blog post for 30 minutes. Once completed, I start in on my daily activities. As of late, I’ve been attempting to improve my violin skills, so 1-1.5 hours of violin practice follow my morning routine. Then, I’m set for the day, and begin to tackle my to-do list, which is ideally written the night before.


AdrianCahill September 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Great! Checkout Brian Tracy too. He is great for productive habits. Since listening to him I do a ToDo list every day. Its cause guys like us that travel the world, living the dream, well we need guidance too!


John Peden September 6, 2013 at 3:08 pm

On my most productive days, I’ve planned my day the night before. I’ll plan my tomorrow before finishing work today. I use Remember the Milk to keep track of tasks and then Google Calendar to schedule them. This lets me assign more intellectual tasks earlier in the day (when I can think) and less-intellectual tasks later in the day (when I’m running low on decision-making ability). As a contracting, my typical day can vary quite a lot depending on whether in working in Manchester, from home or in London so I’m pretty flexible but as I train quite regularly I am religious about getting plenty of protein and water early in the day. More recently, I take the dog out for at least a 30 minute walk to clear my head and listen to an audiobook (currently Mastery by Robert Greene).

The biggest challenge for me is being realistic with myself. If I go to bed late and get 6 hours of sleep, I’m more likely to sleep in. Better to admit you’ll get out of bed fresh at 8am than schedule tasks from 6am and then feel guilty about sleeping in. Equally, I try to under-schedule slightly as over-scheduling invariably leads to feeling like your making no progress and abandoning the schedule altogether.


Leave a Comment


  • Previous post:

    Next post: