Design Your Ideal Morning

Apr 7, 2024

This week’s theme is… designing your ideal morning!

Don’t consider yourself a designer? No problem. We’re going to use a strategy called “Design Thinking”, which is the practice of creating and testing new ways to solve problems or improve upon a process.

Anyone can do it! You don’t have to be artistic, you just have to learn a few basic strategies, which we’ll cover in this post.

The idea behind Design Thinking is to continually test and try out what works for us, to think big but start small. It can be a helpful framework for any type of work you’re starting so you can achieve goals more effectively.

This week, we’re going to use it as a lens to redesign our mornings and set ourselves up for success each day.

First: Pick a problem

The first thing we need to do is get clarity on what we might want to solve for — whether it’s feeling cranky in the mornings, or that your coffee isn’t tasting as good as the one from your local coffee shop, or maybe you just don’t feel ready to conquer your day by the time the emails start pouring in… 

So before you move on, take a moment to think: what's one part of your morning routine that you wish were a bit better?

Got it? Okay! On to the next step 🫡

Step 1: Empathize

IDEO, the design agency that popularized the concept of Design Thinking, encourages us to build up our “creative confidence” and begin to see ourselves as designers in our own lives. Creativity is a way of understanding the world, not necessarily a particular form of art.

With that in mind, the first step to Design Thinking is understanding and empathizing. We'll begin the process by taking stock of our problems, and gathering context.

You might be tempted to criticize yourself for not handling your mornings perfectly, but that won’t get you very far. We usually try to empathize with others, but for this step I’d like you to begin by empathizing with yourself — when you think about a problem you are facing in the morning, start by truly listening to yourself about why you might be experiencing this challenge. For example, I have trouble making time to eat breakfast in the morning, because I feel like it is more important to get right to work. Well, the first step to fixing my issue is to admit I have one!

To empathize with yourself and understand what’s going on in your mornings, try to braindump every feeling, thought, or activity that happens in the first hour after you wake up. We want to have as much information out there on this first step of Design Thinking. Once you’ve got everything down, star the ones that may be a pain point for you. 

Here are 3 ways to empathize with yourself:

🧠 Reframe a judgment into a problem — Maybe you’re judging yourself a bit for how things go in the morning. Think about it from a neutral place and formulate a non-judgemental statement about what’s going on. Observe and ask “why?” over judging immediately. Get the facts first.

✍️ Write a story about your morning from the third person — Pretend you’re a friend observing your morning and write about it as a story in detail, using your first name instead of “I” to describe what goes on each morning. Again, this is a judgment-free, empathetic approach to better understand your morning routine in its current state.

❤️ Appreciate what is working — Think of what’s going well about your mornings! Ask yourself why that’s working and give yourself some kudos. There is probably also something to learn from what's going well.

Step 2: Define

Let’s talk a little bit more about the Define phase of Design Thinking,  aka “laying it out”!

This step is all about identifying one problem we can tackle within what we already understand about our morning routine. We can’t solve every problem at once so this step helps focus us on one. Sometimes, if we define and solve that problem, we actually solve a number of problems!

An example of this is with accessibility — for example, when we added captions to TV shows and movies for people who are hard of hearing, many others benefitted from being able to read captions and use this as their watching default today!

Back to defining, there’s a couple ways we can converge on and state one single problem.

Here are 3 strategies to help us clearly define a problem:

Ask yourself “5 Why’s” — start with one problem and explore why it’s occurring by asking why and cascading each question with a new resulting “Why” question. This can help us find a specific problem we want to focus on. And it turns out, once you ask yourself “Why” 5 times in a row… you usually get to the real root of the issue.

👯 Talk to a friend or post on the focused community space — Share the context and ask for a second opinion on what your exact problem to focus on might be. 

🔮 Work backwards — Reframe the problem into the desired outcome and then see if a new problem statement appears. A problem statement is a clearly defined and concise phrasing of the challenge you’re ready to tackle. 

Step 3: Ideate

Let’s talk about Ideation, a fancy word for getting creative and coming up with new ideas to explore

This is a very fun phase of the Design Thinking process where we get to "diverge" and come up with as many ideas as possible. On the previous step from yesterday, we converged on a single problem — to ideate effectively, we want to remain focused on a single problem but stay open to creating many ways of solving it. It's a delicate balance, but we can do it!

The ideation phase is all about quantity over quality of ideas because we’ll refine ideas in the next phase. To come up with a ton of ideas, you’ll want to defer judgment, encourage wild ideas, build on previous ideas, and get visual.

You can sketch out your ideas or write them on different color sticky notes. It can be hard for adults to defer self-judgment, so try to keep a “child’s mind” of possibility if you can! 🤹🏼

One piece of advice I have to offer when it comes to redesigning your mornings: think of how to add delight via a new ritual. Rituals differ from routines in that they offer a meaningful moment behind our actions. Routines are something we are maybe obligated to do — but a ritual adds sparkle or intention to whatever it is that we have to do

Here are 4 strategies to help you come up with ideas:

Ask “How might I solve [specific problem] as though I were [someone else]?” — and then insert Disneyworld, a millionaire, a 5 year old, an 85 year old, a robot, or someone from your life that you admire — this will help inspire ideas from different perspectives.

🎨 Yes, and — start with one idea and “yes, and…” it to come up with what else you can build on top of your initial idea. Instead of saying no right away, try adding to your idea instead.

🔍 Think of "analogous inspiration" — what are similar experiences or activities that you can get ideas from to apply to your own morning routine? 

⏱️ Time yourself to come up with 5 ideas in 50 seconds — this will help you take out any second-guessing and give yourself a time constraint to come up with as many ideas as you can at once. 

Step 4: Prototype

If you’re going to change something drastically, it’s always good to test the waters with a smaller investment or a slight shift from the norm. That’s where prototyping comes in! It’s not just a word for engineers, but something we can all use in our lives.

Prototyping can look like a sketched version of an actual change, or something closer to a “minimum viable product” (that’s a term from the software field, describing something that provides enough value — without all the bells and whistles you’d eventually add on later). It’s just gotta be good enough to learn something from.

Maybe you want to be reminded to drink a glass of water in the morning — a prototype could just be putting a sticky note on your head that says “drink water” and when you wake up, taking off the sticky and grabbing that glass of water from your kitchen. That's a prototype of a reminder system! 😅

Here are 3 ways to prototype an improvement to your morning routine:

✏️ Sketch out what your idea looks like — try drawing a comic strip version of you and your environment!

☀️ Use the materials you have at your disposal — instead of buying something new, find something around the house that could achieve a similar effect. (Here's one example: Want to wake up to a sunrise alarm clock? Try leaving your shades open first!)

🦷 Start "quick and dirty"! — want to start flossing every morning? Before buying an electronic water flosser, start with floss picks! Same thing can apply for any other idea — start cheap and easy over fancier or heavy duty.  

Step 5: Test

We are closing out this week’s theme with the fifth step of Design Thinking: Test!

This is not necessarily the final stage as the Design Thinking process is all about iterating. It’s a cycle! Part of what makes Design Thinking work is the "rinsing & repeating" we can do to achieve the best outcomes. We make things better as we go ,and learn more each step of the way.

The Test phase is where we take a look at the first version of what we came up with to redesign our morning routine — whether it’s a new ritual like starting to use floss picks so you actually floss, or waking up at a new time — and then see what’s working or not working. At this phase, it's really important to be honest with ourselves. Just because your first version didn't work, it's not a failure! It just means you learned something for Version 2 😎

Here are 3 strategies you can use for your test:

👀 Observe any challenges, successes, or areas for improvement as you go through your new routine.

🔢 Try to quantify the impact of the change or addition you’ve made to your morning routine by coming up with criteria for pre- and post-test. Are you tracking or measuring anything that would help you see or feel a change?

🧪 Keep testing new ideas for changing up your routine! Track what works for you and build on your small wins.

My Final Thoughts

You made it!

So far we discussed empathizing with ourselves, defining our problem, coming up with ideas for a solution, making a "prototype", and then testing it — phew, I'm tired! 😅

We now need to ask: did our initial idea lead to solving the original problem? What did we learn from testing it? What might we do with our next iteration?

You may not have had time to make a prototype or test your idea yet, but we encourage you to do so and share it with us when you do! You can bookmark this post to refer back to. We always love to hear new things the community is trying out so we can learn from one other.

I hope this theme resonated with you, and I'm looking forward to seeing you around some of the sessions!

— Bec