Your brain is at its freshest before the distractions of the day begin. Behavioral scientist Dan Ariely asserts that the first two hours after we wake up are the most valuable: “One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity.” Laura Vanderkam, author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, also found through her research that high achievers spend their mornings doing their most important tasks.
Now, not everyone is a morning person. Your body’s natural tendency to be more productive in the morning or evening depends on your chronotype, your genetic propensity to sleep at certain hours. Most people are categorized as “eveningness” or “morningness” chronotypes, what we commonly call night owls or early birds. Research by biologist Christoph Randler found that 50 percent of our chronotype is genetic, which means it’s not impossible to train ourselves to start our day on a more productive foot.
Whether you wake up groggy or perky, a few simple tweaks to your morning routine can help you avoid wasting your most productive hours on Instagram or hitting snooze.
01. Getting Out of Bed
According to one survey, one-third of us hit snooze three times each morning. This is one habit to lose—repeat snoozing can make your day less productive. Sleep medicine specialist Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg explains, "First, you’re fragmenting what little extra sleep you’re getting, so it is of poor quality. Second, you’re starting to put yourself through a new sleep cycle that you aren’t giving yourself enough time to finish. This can result in persistent grogginess throughout the day."
This dazed state is due to sleep inertia, the disorientation that results from prematurely waking up from a deep sleep. Are you setting your alarm for 7 a.m. but actually getting up at 8 a.m.? Don’t be too ambitious. It’s better to have uninterrupted sleep until you must get up than to doze on and off. Set your alarm for the latest possible minute that still gives you enough time to get ready. The urgency of needing to rise will help you toss off those sheets for good.
02. Deciding What to Wear
If you’re like many women, it’s not unusual to go through two or three outfits before choosing the one that suits your mood. A survey of two thousand women conducted by clothing manufacturer Simon Jersey found that we spend almost five months of our working life just choosing our outfits. Women reported spending more than twelve minutes every morning on outfit selection. Fashion indecision also made one in four women late for work.
Plan your outfit the night before to avoid the morning-of rush. You may end up changing your mind, but at least you’ll have a head start on fine-tuning your look. Forty-nine percent of the women surveyed lie awake planning their outfit in their head. Stop any sartorial churning by selecting something before drifting off.
03. Checking Email and Social Media
A report by IDC Research found that four out of five smartphone users check their phones within fifteen minutes of waking up, and 80 percent say it’s the first thing they do in the morning. As a general rule, avoid checking email late at night or early in the morning if you know you won’t be able to take action on it until later. Otherwise, the looming thought of your pending response or subsequent task will plague you, ruining a peaceful morning. Enjoy your last few minutes of calm before the flurry of the workday. Wait until you get to the office to dive into your inbox, and save social media for brainless breaks.
04. Prioritizing Your To-Do List
Your to-do list, like your outfit choice, should be another night-before activity. As you wrap up your work for the day, set your goals for the next. From rollover projects to new initiatives, decide what you must get done tomorrow. Kenneth Chenault, CEO of American Express, follows this productivity hack: Before leaving the office, he writes down the top three things he wants to accomplish the next day. Robert C. Pozen, Harvard Business School lecturer and author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, also suggests creating your to-do list the night before to avoid wasting valuable time in the morning figuring out what to do first. You’ll know right where to begin and are less likely to succumb to distractions.
05. Making and Eating Your Breakfast
High-powered women know to eat breakfast—Audrey Hepburn opted for protein shakes, and Jennifer Aniston is a fan of eggs and toast. It’s not a meal to miss, but you can speed up the time you spend making and eating it. Prepare your breakfast in advance—the night before or over the weekend—or opt for a simple on-the-go breakfast that will fill you up with little effort.
The next time you’re wondering how it’s already noon and you’ve barely accomplished anything, consider how you’re spending the first two hours of your day. Adjust your habits however you can to spend more time doing the things that matter most while you’re at your best.
Photo Credit: Lauren Miller