How to Build Momentum Into Your Day


Have you ever had one of those days? You struggle to pull yourself out of bed. Every task you attempt feels like wading through molasses and even simple chores become painful. Maybe you’ve had one of these days recently.

I believe building momentum to be one of the critical factors for whether I have a successful day or not. Once you start procrastinating, it is hard not to stop. In the same way, I’ve found putting a burst of energy early on in the day can carry you forward even when you feel tired.

The difference can often be dramatic. By intentionally creating momentum early in my day I can often accomplish more by noon, than I would working late into the evening on other days. Although there is no perfect recipe for building momentum, here are some ideas I’ve found helpful to start my day with an extra kick:

1) Wake Up Early

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Recently I restarted the habit of waking up at 5:30 in the morning. I had been waking up early, but a few late nights were shifting my natural waking time to around 7:00, and I wanted to restart the habit. Almost immediately after starting the habit I began to notice the benefits on my productivity. Waking up early builds momentum.

I believe getting an early start to the day helps for two reasons:

  1. Rising early gives you a small accomplishment to build on. If you feel lazy sleeping in, then waking up early will make you feel more productive when you get out of bed.
  2. The early morning hours are usually quiet. I live in a University residence, so evenings and even late afternoons I can hear the bustle of all the other people who live on my floor. If you share a house with family members, waking early can afford you some quiet time while they snooze.

2) Exercise

Part of the problem with waking up early is that you often start off feeling groggy. How are you supposed to work, when it takes incredible effort just to keep your eyes open? My solution to that is to get a bit of exercise in immediately after you wake up. This can snap you out of your grogginess.

Since I usually go to the gym during the day, I don’t have a full workout in the morning. I’ve found just doing a few pushups to be enough to get myself moving.

3) Avoid Breaks

Taking frequent breaks in the morning is a sure way to kill any momentum you’ve built. I’ve found pushing through 1-2 hours of work shortly after breakfast is the best strategy to keep my motivation high. I try to wait until I’ve tackled at least one of my big to-do items for the day before breaking.

4) Make Use of Productive Cues

Pavlov discovered that if you condition a dog to expect food when a bell is rung, after awhile it will start salivating when you ring the bell. This was one of the most famous psychological experiments of the past century and it applies just as well to humans as it does to dogs.

The way you can make use of Pavlov’s discovery is to notice productive cues you have. These are things in your environment that correlate with how productive you are. Then, by implementing them early in your day, you can build momentum purely by association. A few examples of productive cues might be:

  1. Being well-dressed. Are you well-dressed and groomed on your most productive days? It’s surprising what a quick shave and nice clothes can do to temporarily boost your self-image and motivation.
  2. Abstaining from television. I find that the days I sneak a bit of television or recreational web-usage early into my morning tend to be low-productivity days. Making sure the television doesn’t go on until I’ve completed my to-do list improves my focus.
  3. Music/Motivational Tapes. If you’re eating breakfast by yourself (you might be if you are having it at 6 am!) you might want to consider what you listen to in the morning. I’ve found listening to motivational tapes to help build momentum.

5) Create a Daily Ritual

I started to implement these ideas by creating a daily ritual. My ritual currently is to wake up early (5:30), begin with 40-50 push ups to get myself moving and then read during the quiet for 1-2 hours. By creating a ritual, you can condition yourself to start several habits at once. I’m only a few days into the trial, but already I’ve found it to be successful in building momentum.

If you’re interested in trying out some of these ideas, my suggestion is to start a 30-Day Trial. Write down your ritual (don’t make it too complicated or inflexible) and commit to applying it when you wake up for a month. After that period of time the ritual should become automatic so it is easy to build momentum into your day.

  • Kali

    Well done.

  • Bart

    There’s one thing I’d like to flesh out. To build momentum is like pushing a snowball down a hill- it becomes more forceful the longer it rolls down.

    My impetus for getting up early is that the mornings are the most productive times of the day due to mental freshness and lack of disturbances. It’s easier to accomplish a task at this time than at others.

    I think you need more than just a ritual, you need a game plan. You can wake up and feel motivated (and pumped) but still not know where to start.

    The idea is to complete one thing and more on to the next with more force. To gather momentum you actually have to accomplish tasks, so you’d be wise to lay out a few for yourself before bedtime the previous night.

    I find that some of the above tips by Scott are solid and others are a bit “airy fairy”. If I want a powerhouse day, I get something serious done before most people get into the office. Some meaty or difficult task. Listening to motivation tapes may tend to get you lost in creative-avoidance Motivationville, instead of my destination, the town of Multiple Projects Getting Completed. Nothing helps getting stuff done more than getting stuff done.

    Moreover, instead of Pavlov, try looking into Donald Hebb (“Hebbian learning”). Scott, I’d love to hear the same ideas with a hebbian spin instead of the hackneyed Pavlov.

    BTW, for a planning method I’d suggest the list of six idea by Ivy Lee.

    What do you other readers do to get the ball rolling?

  • Diego

    I really like that you always emphasize exercise in your blog. Here is my problem; I had an exercise class that was easy to attend and at the right time for my schedule then the class time changed and there were no other exercise classes I could take that even interested me, so I tried exercising at home alone. I know there isn’t any real reason why exercising alone should be different but somehow in my head it is. Do you have any advice in current or previous posts for changing a group-exercise oriented mind to solo?