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One of my favorite parts of traveling to California is the time change. I wake up ridiculously early on my first morning there, yet with my body still three hours ahead on Philadelphia time, I feel like I’ve slept in. I get a lot done before breakfast.

On my most recent trip to San Francisco, I managed to work for ninety minutes on some top priority projects and run five miles along the Embarcadero before needing to be somewhere around 9:30 a.m.

Needless to say, I don’t approach this level of productivity at home. I’m not a morning person; I’m amazed by people who are. The more I study successful people’s schedules, the more I’m convinced that people who can make the most of their mornings have a major advantage over everyone else. They can make time for priorities in their work and personal lives that the rest of us believe we’re too busy for.

Mornings are a great time for getting stuff done for three reasons.

First, it’s easier to build a routine in the morning than at other points of the day. Data from fitness trackers shows that people who exercise consistently are more likely to do so in the morning. This is because people tend to wake up at the same time and leave for work at the same time Monday through Friday. If you choose to build some high-value activity into your morning routine—such as exercise, working on your novel, reading devotionals, or having family breakfast—it will happen.

Evenings, however, are all over the map. People leave work at different times and go to bed at varying times. You could work on that novel for an hour before bed, but if you don’t know when bedtime is, you’ll be figuring this out anew every night. Energy spent deciding is energy not spent doing.

Second, morning hours are less likely to be taken away from you. A planned 5:30 p.m. workout can easily be derailed by a 4:30 p.m. meeting that will not stop. There are a lot fewer work emergencies at 5:30 a.m. When you get important stuff done first, then the rest of the day can just go as it goes. It’s akin to the financial advice to “pay yourself first.” If you wait until the end of the month to save what’s left over, there may not be much left over. Save first, and you’ll make it through somehow, building wealth at the same time. Likewise, if you wait until the end of the day to devote what time you have left to building that side business, you may not have time left. If it has to happen, it has to happen first.

Finally, many people are more disciplined in the morning. Diets aren’t broken with a spoon going straight into the Ben & Jerry’s at 7 a.m. That’s really more of a 10 p.m. sort of activity. You seldom hear about crimes of passion occurring at 5:30 a.m. Many of us have more willpower and focus when we’ve had that first cup of coffee and our brains haven’t been taxed by meetings and dealing with difficult people. That makes mornings a great time for nurturing your career, your relationships, or yourself—whatever matters to you that life can crowd out.

From my research analyzing people's use of time, I have found that mornings can be particularly critical for busy families. If you don’t control what time you leave work or your afternoons are packed with extracurricular activities, it can be hard to spend much time in the evening with kids who go to bed early. But most things that can be done in the evening can be done in the morning, too, and little kids often wake up at the crack of dawn. Breakfast-time stories are just as good as bedtime stories, as it turns out.

It’s true whether you’re a working mom looking for quality kid time or someone trying to move forward on that back-burner project: Making the most of mornings is about using what is often fallow time—the time before work—for something other than just getting ready for work. Choose that activity well, and you can get as much done before breakfast as many people do in a day.

Photo Credit: Luisa Brimble