The morning is an interesting piece of time. I would guess that it has the widest range of productivity across the general population.
Some people get a lot done in the morning – they go to the gym, read a couple pages of a book, and make a good breakfast. They have trained themselves to utilize this free time like any other block of time – in a targeted and efficient manner.
Some people don’t get a lot done in the morning. They roll out bed, pour a bowl of cereal, and turn on the television. This kind of mentality carries through till around 10:00 when the work actually starts.
For the purpose of this blog post, I will outline the major pieces of the morning, and give some suggestions on how you can optimally use the time. Also, I am assuming most people who read this are younger (I believe my top demographic is somewhere between the ages of 20-30) – as they have less commitments in the morning than others, and are thus better positioned to take full advantage of it (I get that having kid’s and other commitments makes the period of the day a little more hectic!)
For this example, let’s say you wake up at 7:00am, leave for work at 8:15 and get there for 9:00.
Waking Up – 7:00 am
The first step in your morning routine is waking up – it can also be the hardest. Many people (myself included) find themselves falling victim to the snooze button. I have known people who openly admit that they set their alarm 30 minutes (or more) earlier because they know they will hit the snooze button at least 3 times.
The problem with the sleep resulting from a snooze button break (usually around 9-10 minutes) is that it holds really no value – it’s largely useless sleep. Studies have shown that your most effective sleep is during REM cycles, which usually last around an hour and a half. Even a nap requires 20 minutes to be effective, so in essence you are just putting your body through mild sleep deprivation torture – waking yourself up every 9 minutes.
If you are one of those people who like to hit snooze, let’s run some quick math. Let’s say you are generally ‘awake’ for 17 hours a day (7 hours for sleep). Your snoozing eats up 20 minutes of that day – which you do around 250 days a year (work days). At 17 hours a day, you are awake for about 6,205 hours per year (365 days). If you hit snooze for 20 minutes each of those days you work (250), it equates to about 83 hours. As a proportion, that equates to you spending about 1.35% of your next year hitting the snooze button. Think of all the things you could do with the extra 83 hours; you could learn a new instrument, a new language, read a bunch of books, go on a weekend vacation, or complete two extra work weeks.
By now I hope you are seeing how these things add up. Let’s move on!
Breakfast – 7:30 am
The unfortunate thing is that most people skip this step. As they are rushed and frantic (perhaps from hitting the sleep button one too many times?) they figure that cutting out breakfast is a smart way to make up the time. Again, numerous studies have shown that skipping breakfast affects your mind, body and soul. It will make you agitated and grumpy; it limits your mental performance and makes brain activity slower and more difficult (so for those of you reading this who skipped it this morning, the math above might have seemed near impossible – but stick in there!)
So, rather than skipping breakfast, figure out something quick you can have. Grab some toast with peanut butter and a banana; get yogurt and cereal and make a parfait – it doesn’t have to be gourmet. Then, we encounter the second area of differentiation – what you do while you eat.
It is very tempting to grab your bowl of food, plop yourself down on the couch and turn on the TV -it’s also very easy. Instead, push yourself to use that time before you leave.
For simplicities sake, let’s say you were up at 7:30 (due to hitting snooze) and are out of the shower and ready to eat by 7:55 (having made breakfast by this point). This gives you 20 minutes to eat. How you use that time is equally important though.
Instead of turning on the TV, grab the newspaper, a book, or something else that will add value to your day, like your planner. Go over the day ahead, read about current events, or work on completing an overdue book. Again, these 20 minutes every working day (250 a year) represent ANOTHER 1.35% of your waking year – so make use of it!
Commute – 8:15 am
The commute is another great place to take advantage. For a lot of people, it involves sitting down in either a car or on a train. Obviously the options open to you are much wider if you are on a train/subway (unless you want to try reading while driving a car – which I suggest you avoid!).
A good rule to follow is to take advantage of some of this time. If its 45 minutes, use 30 minutes productively and give yourself 15 minutes to do whatever you want – listen to music, watch a TV show on your phone, etc.
I’d love to tell you all to spend every minute on the commute being productive, but knowing human nature (and myself) this probably won’t happen – so do the best you can! Ease yourself in to it too. Start with just 15 minutes being productive, and 30 being entertaining, then slowly start to change the balance.
In case you need ideas on what to do in the productive time, here are some.
- Audio program (audio book, seminar, etc.)
- News (usually loops after 10 minutes, so no point beyond that)
- Silence – organize your thoughts and map out the day ahead
- Audio program (audio book, seminar, etc.)
- Physical book (perhaps the one you were reading earlier this morning?)
- Industry magazine
- Work emails/content
- Daily planner – organize your day, week and month ahead.
I strongly doubt that anyone needs advice on areas to focus on during their free time – so I will leave that section up to you.
Arriving at work – 9:00 am
Let’s say it’s a normal day at work – no meetings or presentations – and you arrive on time. The biggest temptation among most people is to come in, drop off their stuff, go get a coffee and shoot the breeze with co-workers. The problem with that is it ends up using up a lot of time. By the time you get back to your desk, its 10:00 am and you haven’t even started the day.
When you arrive in the morning, give yourself a target of 1 hour of productive time before you get up to meander. This is a great goal for three reasons.
Firstly, it will give you a great feeling. Coming in and getting some work done right off the bat leaves you feeling like you have accomplished something material by 10:00 am – a great start to the morning.
Secondly, the optimal period of productivity before you need a break is about an hour. So by getting an hour of work done, you end up taking a break at the most efficient time – one hour in.
Thirdly, it’s a great brand builder at work. As corporate as it sounds, people see everything. If you are the person who comes in at 9:10 and chit chats until 9:45, people will notice. If you are the person who comes in at 9:00 and hits the ground running until 10:00, people will notice. All you have to ask yourself is what you would rather people notice you doing.
If you made it this far, I applaud you! For one more mathematical example, I want to show the sum effect of using a bit of time more effectively in the mornings. If you took 20 minutes from not hitting snooze, 20 from doing something productive while you eat, and 30 from your commute, you arrive at a grand total of 70 minutes.
Taken in an entire year (assuming you work 250 days a year), that adds up to 4.4% of your total time spent awake – still think it’s small change?
Hey – if you have nothing else to do at 9:00 am, you can come in and start blogging – I hear it’s quite the hoot!