The sheer number of articles written on morning routines speaks to their vital importance—what you do within the first 15 minutes of being awake sets the tone of your entire day. And while we can look to the uniquely productive a.m. rituals of CEOs, celebrities, and politicians, scientific studies contain arguably more insight as to how you should spend your mornings.
When it comes to setting the stage for productivity, researchers from the University of Nottingham analyzed 83 different studies, finding that your energy levels and self-control are inextricably linked. What's more, they are finite, daily resources that "tire much like a muscle," explains Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0. "This exhaustion of self-control kills your productivity, and it makes the morning hours, when self-control is highest, the most important hours of the day."
In other words, you shouldn't necessarily spend your morning cramming in as many productive tasks as possible; you should select a.m. activities that will preserve and prolong your energy for the rest of the day. Contrary to many of the aspirational a.m. routines cited above, forcing yourself to go to the gym, work for an hour, whip up a gourmet breakfast, and write in your journal all before 8 a.m. won't necessarily make you more productive—but doing what recharges your personal batteries for the day ahead will.
Those activities can be as simple as sipping some warm water with lemon while catching up on email and watching Good Morning America. "Even though we don’t always realize it, as the day goes on, we have increased difficulty exerting self-control and focusing on our work," adds Bradberry. What you do in the morning shouldn't jumpstart that degradation.