I'm not an early riser, but I no longer blame myself; it's my chronotype. But since I don't work at a bar or restaurant, and I'm not a nurse or shift-worker, I do still have to wake up and get going in the morning.

When I was a kid, my grandmother had me on a pretty regular schedule to get me out the door to school, a habit I've held on to ever since. I had to walk down a half-mile of dirt road (sometimes in the dark in midwinter) to wait for the bus, so I had to get out the door on time to navigate ice and snow, or muddy, rutted roads. (On the upside, waiting at the bus stop meant I'd have time to feed my neighbor's horses carrots from my hand — and that motivated me to get out the door!)

But even when I changed my life so I didn't need to wake up super-early, I found I still had a problem with mornings. Specifically, small things would happen in the morning that would freak me out for the remainder of the day — a funky email, an early call, or an upsetting video would make me sad or anxious for the rest of the day. I knew, objectively, that if I had read or viewed that same thing at 2 p.m. instead of 8:30 a.m., it would have been fine, so the issue was with me. So, this past year, I experimented with various morning routines, and I've hit upon one that really works for me.

What I've found is that I need mornings to be quiet, reflective and supportive to my health and well-being. I do this in very specific, concrete ways (and keep to a regular schedule with some flexibility): I wake at the same time, and get out of bed within five minutes of the alarm — which is music or a gentle gong, not a dramatic honk. "Shocking" myself awake gets my adrenaline zooming first thing, which is bad news for me. I then do bathroom stuff and head downstairs and put hot water on. I drink a large glass of water with lemon in it (a simple, easy way to keep your liver functioning optimally and a refreshing way to rehydrate); I stretch in front of a sun-lamp or in the sunshine outside for seven to 10 minutes, depending on the weather. I breathe deeply and do a moving meditation or a sitting one. I play with my cat, because she usually ends up in my lap when I meditate. I pour my tea. All of the above takes about 40 minutes — no rushing, and that's important. Now, if I really don't have time, I get dressed and get out the door next, but most days, I spend 10 minutes writing in my journal, and another 15 or 20 reading a novel, usually outside, while sipping my puer'h tea.

Then I'm ready to hit my desk. Total time? A little over an hour, and I'm not only awake, but also feeling great. This hour in the morning sets the tone for my day and includes everything that's important to me — doing things on my own time (no rushing); literature; centering and movement; and nature, each in small doses. I usually eat breakfast an hour later at my desk, because I don't like eating first thing in the morning.

Getting ideas from busy people

Here are some other great examples that I gathered from smart, busy people. These are all guidelines, ideas for what you might do if you'd like to improve your mornings — but the key is you shouldn't follow someone else's plan, but focus on what's best for you and borrow ideas that sound appealing. If you have kids, mornings can be a great (or a terrible) time to be with them. You might need to eat a good meal in the morning, so plan for, and honor that. Morning exercise is part of many people's AM routine. If you shower every day, think of how you make that morning shower experience a great one with great-smelling natural soaps, some of your favorite music via a waterproof music player. The idea is to do what you need to do to set yourself up for a happy, productive day. It's an investment that can absolutely change your life for the better.

You'll notice only one overarching theme in the examples below: each person makes time for themselves and what matters to them.

Kristen Nedopak, Los Angeles (founder, Geekie Awards; Producer; Host): "I wake up, get my coffee and shake in (I don't like heavy meals in the AM, I feel I have to detox yesterday's food out first!). I feed the cats, then sit in my sunny yard (filled with greenery). Meditation for 10-15 min. Then I read an inspiring article. THEN I let the world in, starting with replying to emails and Facebook. Around 10am, I'll shower and start new work for the day. The most valuable advice anyone has ever given me was to allow yourself time in the AM for you before you let the world in."

Michael d'Estries, rural upstate New York (MNN writer & publisher of Ecorazzi, Dad): "Wake up (generally via one of two children), put on robe, slippers, go downstairs, make coffee, sit with kids, wife, tell kids they need to do something independent of mommy and daddy 'cause it's "coffee time," catch up with wife while looking out at snowy vista in our window seat, bathroom, shower, dressed, grab something to eat to go, and then off to daycare, work, the world."

Amy Vernon, New York City (writer, Social media expert, Mom ): "Wake up at 5:30 a.m. to get the boys dressed for school while their dad makes breakfast. Get them toileted and dressed, go back to bed. Sleep until about 8 a.m. Bathroom, meds/vitamins, teeth brushing. Breakfast, even if it's just a little snack. The mornings when I hop on the computer before I do any of these things, I'm all discombobulated."

Susan Moretti, Sydney Australia (sales professional, Mom): "Always a slow start, even if I have to be somewhere and running a bit late! Half an hour before rising, drink a glass of water and then keep snoozing. Then coffee and stroll around with mug in hand, perhaps glance at Fb and email but generally stare out at the ocean, sky or walk around the garden and talk to the plants. If I don't have to be anywhere, would start small chores around the house, (nothing dramatic!). Always shower, even if I'm going to the gym, only exception is if I walk my walk which could be on the cards if it's not too late in the morning. If I have to be somewhere, then usually I have to hurry by this time because I always take my time like this!"

Shea Gunther, Portland Maine (MNN writer, graduate student, Dad): "On a school day, it's wake up at 7am before making breakfast for the kids (usually pancakes with fruit and whipped cream). After dropping the kids off at school, I drive home where I make coffee and settle into the day. I spend the first part of the day catching up on email and social media and then spend the rest of the day mixing in school-work, work-work, and watching videos of cats."

Tabitha St. Bernard, New York City (fashion designer and owner of Tabii Just): I actually changed my routine for 2014 and it's made a world of difference. Before, I got out of bed, put on contacts, brushed teeth, headed to computer, started working. Now, I wake up, brush teeth, put on contacts, make fresh juice, stand face to face with my partner while we say one thing we are grateful for, drink juice, do 15 mins of yoga, drink tea, read news, work. I was always scared [taking time in the morning] would suck all my time but it actually makes the day feel longer."

Beth Buczynski, Colorado (writer, author of "Sharing is Good"): "Bathroom/washup. COFFEE, chill with cat, cleanup a little. Then do some easy exercises like squats, pushups, situps to get the blood flowing (esp if it's cold!). Make sure curtains are open to let in sun, then usually put on some soothing music and climb up into my loft where the desk is."

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Your morning routine could change your life
I asked some busy folks what works for them in the morning; what they said might inspire you to change it up in the A.M.