Structures aren’t built on their own — and neither are days that keep chaos to a minimum while maximizing physical and mental nourishment. Here are some tips for improving the architecture of your days.
Craft a morning ritual
Your morning can set the tone for the whole day, so why not create a satisfying morning ritual? Some elements to consider incorporating: meditation (even five minutes can reap big benefits when done daily), reflecting on or writing down what you’re grateful for, hugging someone (whether human or pet), or enjoying a cup of tea or coffee in a certain favorite mug.
Practice “digital nutrition”
Americans spend an average of four hours per day on their smartphones, and that often starts shortly after we open our eyes in the morning. One way to moderate our dependence on these palm-size computers is to break the habit of immediately reaching for your phone in the morning — maybe wait until you’ve completed your morning ritual.
Power up with protein
It’s important to get protein throughout the day to help prevent muscle breakdown (exercise is important for that, too) and to stay satisfied until your next planned meal or snack. Yet most people get little protein in the morning (or none, if they skip breakfast). A protein-rich breakfast can help keep energy levels up and reduce cravings, which makes it easier to make better food choices throughout the rest of the day.
Drink a glass of water — maybe
There are a number of health claims about the supposed benefits of drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning — claims that have no substance behind them. That said, many people find it challenging to drink enough water during the day, and if you are one of those people, drinking a glass in the morning gives you a head start. Try pairing a glass of water with a regular part of your morning routine, like pouring a cup of coffee or brushing your teeth.
Fit in some morning movement
If your schedule allows, getting some planned physical activity in the morning — a walk, some yoga, a gym session — can energize you and give you the satisfaction of having done something nice for yourself. While there’s no “best” time of the day to exercise, many people do find that if they postpone exercise to later in the day, it may get postponed indefinitely due to fatigue or competing life demands.
Getting 30 minutes of light exposure before noon can improve your mood, sharpen your mind and help you sleep better that night by regulating your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin. You can get your sunlight in doses, and on days when the sun is slow to appear — or is dimmed by clouds — full-spectrum light bulbs can offer a sunlight-mimicking indoor alternative. If you want to get fancy, some of the newer smart LED bulbs are “color-tunable,” which means you can use a companion smartphone app to “dial” them to a cooler, energizing light in the morning, then a warmer, relaxing light — that won’t interfere with sleep — after sundown. C by GE and Phillips Hue are two brands, but there are many others.
Pack a lunch (that you’re excited to eat)
Whether it’s a sandwich or leftovers, lunches from home often have more fiber and nutrients than purchased lunches. Plus, brown-bagging it can also reduce lunch-break decision fatigue. A turkey sandwich with veggies and mustard — or hummus for a creamy, delicious fiber boost — on whole-grain bread is quick, inexpensive and nourishing. If you pack a salad, include some tasty protein and healthy fat from avocado, nuts or seeds. Have leftover soup? Perhaps pair it with some fruit and a piece of cheese.
Enjoy movement snacks
Whether or not you have a longer bout of exercise scheduled into your day, fitting in short bursts of movement — or movement snacks — can help clear your head during a busy day, is good for you physically, and may help you sleep better. Go for a walk around the block, take the stairs, do a few stretches, do body-weight squats at your desk or during commercials, park farther away from the store, take the bus, walk, wander around your house while talking on the phone — these are all great ways to get a bit of exercise as you go about your day.
Enforce a caffeine deadline
Cut off caffeine at least six hours before bed — I say “at least” because I’ve had clients who say they have trouble sleeping due to a cup of green tea at lunch, and green tea is low in caffeine compared to coffee.
Set a standing, at-home dinner date
It takes less time to grill some chicken or fish, toss a green salad and set out some whole-grain bread than it does to pick up takeout or bake a frozen pizza. If possible, eat dinner at around the same time every evening — physically sitting down at the table to help you slow down and enjoy your meal more — and allow three hours before going to bed.
Plan for tomorrow
Set aside 15 minutes in the evening — maybe right after dinner — to get ready for the next day. Put things away, make a to-do list so fear of forgetting something doesn’t interfere with sleep and gather what you need for the morning: keys, water bottle, paperwork, food for lunch or snacks, gym bag.
Set a sleep alarm
Sleep is important for body and mind, which means it’s something worth nurturing. If you find it challenging to get to bed on time, try setting an alarm as a reminder to begin winding down and getting ready for bed; an hour before lights out is a good place to start. (If you use an alarm on your phone, use a soothing ringtone.) Turn off screens, dim the lights, turn down the thermostat to between 60 and 67 degrees — and get a head start on building a better tomorrow for yourself.