In this day and age, when technology allows many of us to work from anywhere at any time of the day, you might wonder if it really matters when you get your work done. Does it make that much of a difference if you stay up late on a project versus getting up early to work on it?
Conventional wisdom has touted the merits of working in the early hours for centuries. Aristotle wrote, “It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.” Benjamin Franklin agrees, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” (We’ll take the liberty of applying that to women, too.)
Laura Vanderkam, Verily columnist and author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, says mornings are the best time of day to build a “high-value” activity into your routine because it’s less likely there will be distractions. The early hours are an ideal time to set aside for self-care or to tackle a long-term project that you've been putting off.
Research shows starting your workday on the earlier side has its benefits, too (beyond beating commuter traffic). You didn’t think you were the only one who gets burnt out by midday, did you? Here’s how taking advantage of the first chunk of your day can make the whole of it more productive.
01. Set the tone with a small act of success.
In a multiyear study, Harvard Professor Teresa M. Amabile and researcher Steven J. Krame found progress to be the top motivator of performance in a range of settings—more so than incentive or recognition. “On days when workers have the sense they’re making headway in their jobs . . . their emotions are most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak,” write Amabile and Krame. On the other hand, “when they feel they are spinning their wheels or encountering roadblocks to meaningful accomplishment, their moods and motivation are lowest.”
Just as making your bed every morning can set you on a path to productivity, starting your day with a small success can continue to motivate you until it’s time to punch out. And what better way to feel successful than by getting up after the first alarm goes off rather than succumbing a few more (unproductive) minutes in bed.
02. Make more positive decisions.
If you’re getting in early, we hope that means you’ve already had a good breakfast. “Hangry” is a biological reality, and it’s in your productivity’s best interest that you’re well fed. A Princeton study analyzing judges’ rulings before and after they’d eaten found that rulings made more immediately after breakfast tended to be more favorable. Fruits, vegetables, and even dark chocolate can boost your mood. Incorporate these into a solid protein-rich breakfast. Prep the night before to get your morning off to a productive start that will have a positive domino effect on the rest of your day.
03. Send engaging and effective emails.
A Yesware analysis of 500,000 emails found that those sent between 6 and 7 a.m. were more likely to get a reply than those sent between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., no matter the day of the week. Fewer emails are sent in this hour, which means less competition for your recipient’s attention. Not ready to fire emails this early quite yet? Outlook and Gmail both offer ways to schedule when your emails are sent—Mixmax, a Google Chrome plugin, is a Verily editorial team favorite for doing just that.
04. Give your best impression.
A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at supervisors’ evaluations of their employees’ performance in conjunction with the employees’ start times. Researchers found that, “Even when accounting for total work hours, objective job performance, and employees’ self-ratings of conscientiousness . . . a later start time leads supervisors to perceive employees as less conscientious,” and thus as lower performers. Like it or not, timeworn aphorisms about making the most of the morning have created a subconscious partiality to those who get to their desks earlier. Since performance evaluation is directly impacted by how diligent and dedicated you are perceived to be, it's worth it to get in even just ten minutes earlier than everyone else. A promotion could depend on it.
With more and more people working remotely (hand raised!), it’s worthwhile to optimize the hours we balance between work and home life. We all want to work smarter, not harder. So keep in mind that even though times—and technologies—have changed, there is still something powerful and productive about being driven at daybreak.
Photo Credit: Breather