Rising before dawn may be one of the tricks that Richard Branson, Tim Cook and Michelle Obama credit with their success, but it’s not the only hack that can make a significant difference to your productivity. Here are five tried-and-tested ways to get more from your mornings.
1. Start the day right
Every time your alarm goes off, there are certain things you can do to ensure your day begins on the right trajectory. Moving your exercise regime to the morning might sound like you’re expending energy before the workday starts, but many highly successful business figures do just that, and the Harvard Medical School journal has found that working out causes your body to release brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a chemical that boosts brain function. Likewise, make sure your breakfast is protein-rich with a balance of high-fibre carbohydrates to keep your energy levels stable throughout the morning. Try Greek yogurt with blueberries, porridge, or an egg sandwich.
2. Avoid decision fatigue
Famously, Steve Jobs wore a work ‘uniform’, and Barak Obama and Mark Zuckerberg have also admitted to wearing the same thing most days. Why? Because when our jobs involve making important decisions on a daily basis, we can develop ‘decision fatigue’: a term coined by social psychologist Roy F Baumeister to explain the steady decline in decision-making quality. In other words, try and opt out of any unnecessary decision-making your morning might involve: invest in a capsule wardrobe so getting dressed is a no-brainer, or plan your week’s outfits at the weekend so that during the week you can simply get up and go.
3. Eat the frog
Mark Twain, the father of American literature who died in 1910, may not be the first person you’d expect to have delivered sage business advice for the modern world, but, perhaps unknowingly, he did just that. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning,” he wrote. “And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” In other words, tackle the most difficult or daunting task of the day first. Not only will you come to it with a clear mind, but afterwards you will have the satisfaction of knowing that the hardest thing you have to achieve is already done. You’ll also be handling it before the inevitable distractions of meetings, phone calls and emails have taken root.
4. Use your time wisely
While it might be tempting to look at your emails as soon as your alarm goes off, try and resist, and instead plan your morning logically. Can you go through your inbox during your commute instead? Or, if you have read your emails over breakfast, why not make time on your journey into work to listen to a podcast, or even to meditate on the move? Making sure even those small gaps of time are used productively or are providing nourishment for your brain – as opposed to scrolling mindlessly on social media – will mean you feel more focused and fresh when you get to your desk. They’re also a simple way to stay sharp and keep your cool should you experience a delay to your journey.
5. Prepare for tomorrow today
At the end of your working day, or before you go to sleep, write a list of task priorities for the next morning. Not only will this mean you are ready to start work as soon as you arrive in the office the next day, but it also means you can rest easy overnight in the knowledge that you’re not going to drop the ball or forget something important. Lastly, but significantly, make sure you get between seven and nine hours’ sleep each night. Decide what time you need to set your alarm, work backwards from that and be strict: according to research by Rand Europe, a consultancy firm, the impact of poor sleep costs the UK up to £50 billion a year and equates to 200,000 working days.
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