5 Things That Happened When I Brainstormed First Thing Every Morning For A Month

Doing ‘morning pages,’ a daily brain dump, unlocked my creativity.

July 17, 2017
writing in journal

What do you do as soon as you wake up in the morning?

I usually check my phone. But for a month I broke this habit to try ‘morning pages’ – a tool that made a huge difference in my life.

‘Morning pages’ is a tool that was developed by Julia Cameron, the author of The Artists’ Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. The concept is simple: every morning, you wake up and fill three pages with words. You write, stream-of-consciousness style, about whatever pops into your head. This could include the tasks ahead of you for the day, your immediate thoughts, random ramblings, reflections on past events, and more. The idea is to ‘dump’ all your ramblings into one spot so that you can clear your mind and make sense of it all.

Ideally, you should do morning pages before doing anything else, including checking your phone. Personally, I wrote my pages out while sitting in bed, just before I make my morning coffee. The things I wrote weren’t beautiful pieces of writingas Cameron herself explains, they don’t have to be high art.

I became interested in morning pages after seeing them being used more and more in the bullet journal community—online followers of the trend that combines day planners and daily journaling. (Here’s everything you need to know to start a bullet journal.)

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While I was skeptical about the hype around it, morning pages really did change my life and boost my productivity. Here’s how. 

hitting the alarm clock
Dougal Waters/getty
It gave me the routine I needed

I’m lucky enough to work from home. This has a lot of perks: I don’t have to commute, I have a flexible schedule, and I can sleep in later than I could if I worked a regular 9-5 job.

But the downside of my super-flexible schedule is that I don’t really have a routine. I could shower in the morning or halfway through the day; it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to get dressed. I could work for nine hours, or I could work for two hours. I didn’t have meal times and instead ate whenever I liked, often eating things that weren’t necessarily nutritious enough to sustain me.

Related: 7 Scents That Boost Productivity And Help You Focus—Even When You're Exhausted

By committing to do morning pages each day, this changed. Morning pages have to be done first thing in the morning, which means it can’t be shuffled around or rescheduled like a meal can. This meant I had some kind of ritual I stuck to each day.

After doing morning pages, I planned on exercising, showering, getting dressed and eating breakfast: a simple series of tasks that meant that I was nourished and alert enough to get stuck into work. I didn’t manage to exercise every morning, but I followed through with my routine more often than not. As a result, I was a lot more productive and energetic.

Related: 5 Simple Steps To Starting A Daily Exercise Routine You Can Stick To

to do list
Jamie Grill/getty
It helped me manage my to-do lists

Of course, it was inevitable that I’d write whatever I knew I had to do that day. As I wrote these tasks down in longhand, I found myself remembering other things that I needed to do. This included work tasks, household chores, contacting friends, and shopping for household goods. My morning journal ended up forming the basis for the to-do list that I’d write up later that day. As a result, I was able to plan my week more efficiently.

Related: 5 Ways To Be More Productive In Just 2 Seconds

looking at phone at night
Adam Hester/getty
It helped me set some boundaries

Remember when I mentioned that you should do morning pages before checking your phone?

That turned out to be the hardest rule for me. I practically check my emails in my sleep, and my first instinct when I wake up is to grab my phone. As soon as I check my notifications, I’d be inundated with requests and questions from friends, family, and clients, and I’d be overwhelmed with an ever-increasing to-do list.

Doing morning pages means that this didn’t happen. If I checked my phone before I got into my morning pages, I’d get distracted by the outside world, and I’d want to carry on scrolling through Instagram before focusing on myself. Instead, I took time to reflect on myself, how I felt, and what I needed. (Here are more ways to wean yourself off of your phone.)

This helped me become more self-aware. When I was aware of the mood I was in, I was better able to address it. If I was feeling sad or angry, I could use the journal entry to work through those feelings and figure out what was causing it instead of carrying that negativity around all day. If I was feeling happy, I wrote about why that is. Overall, it helped me notice and regulate my emotions.

Related: 21 Ways To Be A Happier Person Every Day Of Your Life

being productive
Flavia Morlachetti/getty
It made me more productive

I’ve never really been a morning person. I prefer to wake up around 10am and slowly ease into the day. The problem with this is that, before I knew it, it would be two in the afternoon and I’d still feel sleepy and unproductive. As a result, I tend to work late into the evening, which means I’m even sleepier the next day. 

Writing morning pages isn’t ‘work’, but it does force your brain to be active first thing in the morning. When I replaced a fairly passive activity (scrolling through social media) with an active activity (writing out my thoughts), my brain felt alert and ready to get to work. As a result, I was way more productive.

Related: 7 Foods That Wake You Up Better Than Coffee

thinking creatively
Matthieu Spohn/getty
It Helped Me Be More Creative

Morning journaling sessions are all about finding and unlocking your creativity. As a freelance writer, my ideas are my livelihood–I have to come up with, and sell, story ideas all the time. Creativity is therefore an essential part of my job.

For the first few paragraphs, my journal entries were usually quite boring. I couldn’t think of anything to write–which is something I usually wrote in these entries–and I wanted to give up and stop at one page or even a half a page.

But I persisted. I dug deeper. I forced myself to think of things and listen to issues at the back of my brain. As I tried to fill pages up, I found myself writing the strange questions I had asked myself the day before. What is the history of the air conditioner? Does flossing really help your teeth? Do cats have any vestigial organs? I wrote down ideas–even those that seemed stupid–simply because I wanted to fill up pages. I wrote down my anxieties, including my fears that my ideas aren’t good enough.

Related: 5 Meaningful Things That Happened When I Forced Myself To Read For 30 Minutes Every Day

And you know what? When I wrote down my ideas, I realized they weren’t so silly after all. I used the journal entries as sounding boards to figure out what would make a good story. I wrote down every little thing that popped into my head. Surely enough, somewhere in every journal entry, was a story idea I came up with.

When you write your ideas down, even if it’s just in a private diary, it feels like you’re legitimizing it. You’re telling your brain that your thoughts are worth scribbling down. When you do that, you learn to recognize good ideas instead of dismissing them.

Morning pages isn’t necessarily for everyone. I can imagine that if you have young children or if you have to wake up especially early for work, for example, it might be tough to do.

But if you’re able to spare ten to fifteen minutes every morning, and if you’re looking to increase your productivity and creativity, it’s definitely worth trying.