On waking up, your bleary eyes note that your phone’s alarm presents two options: “Snooze” and “OK.” Both buttons are the same size, but somehow the word snooooooze seems not only longer but vastly more alluring than the resigned okay you muffle into your pillow, followed by a pleading Don’t make me do stuff to no one.
Getting out of bed and hauling yourself to work can be unfun. There’s good reason you insist on getting paid to do it, after all. Once you’re there though, it might not seem so terrible—particularly on days when you find your flow and get a lot done.
Establishing a way to do this consistently—devising a morning routine that’s high on accomplishment and low on dread—is worth making some adjustments for. Here are five tips to make your mornings more productive.
1. Wake up refreshed.
Surprise! The secret to not feeling drained from the moment you wake up actually starts the night before as you’re making your way toward bed. There’s a lot to be said on ways to get a decent night’s sleep, but here are a few highlights:
- Be mindful of how much caffeine you’ve had, especially later in the day.
- See also alcohol, which can undercut the quality of your sleep.
- Life’s too short to wonder why your upstairs neighbor rearranges his entire bedroom every night around 11:45. Tell him to cut it out, or invest in some earplugs or a white noise machine.
- Also look into getting a blackout curtain, for that one light across the alley that’s somehow angled to shine directly at your headboard.
It might also be wise to consider what kind of content you ingest as you’re winding down. Alas, Monday night might not be the best time to binge three straight episodes of Stranger Things, lest you trigger a febrile can’t-sleep-better-watch-more-addictive-programming feedback loop. It’s worth noting some folks swear by putting away anything with a screen an hour before bedtime to focus on reading actual paper books or magazines.
2. Give yourself something to look forward to.
You have to get out of bed. It helps to have an enticing reason besides needing a paycheck.
Maybe every morning you fry two eggs in your favorite cast-iron skillet, and this small ritual comprises 60 percent of your willingness to get moving. Or maybe the draw is a fancy coffee system.
Then again, maybe you prefer to skip breakfast. (It’s fine.) Maybe if you rise early enough, you’ll have time for a run before wrangling your kids. Whatever the case, it’s good to build something into your morning routine that helps you feel more like a person and less like an extremely grouchy cog.
Also, if the thing you’re looking forward to is pre-gaming for work with The Daily or some fresh trap beats in the car to get amped for that sales call, you already have a head start on the next item…
3. Make your commute matter.
For many people, commuting is the least enjoyable part of the day—the part where the implacable whimsies of traffic steal away crucial increments of everything else you’d rather be doing.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to mitigate some of your frustration by giving some folks a ride and enjoying the carpool lane—or use your time on mass transit to tackle emails, study up for a pitch meeting, or mentally rehearse that presentation you have to give.
If none of that is realistic though, you can still dedicate some commute time to thinking through Step 4—which applies even if you’re one of the lucky souls who regularly works from home.
4. Set goals for yourself. Make a list.
You probably have some idea of what you’ll try to achieve before you sit down to work, but listing it can be a clarifying exercise, and research suggests putting it in writing goes a long way toward making sure it gets done.
This process can also help you set priorities and organize your day. If useful insights or creative possibilities come to mind as you dash off everything you hope to accomplish, jot them down as well.
Where possible, it’s good to set benchmarks you can measure against, so you can hold yourself accountable. Budgeting time for each task is worthwhile, but be practical as you do so: offices are distracting places, coffee makers and printers are not always paragons of efficiency when you need them, and meetings scheduled to last fifteen minutes that are actually done that quickly are tiny, beautiful miracles.
In other words, make a list, use it to forge ahead, and go easy on yourself when you’re suddenly called upon to put out someone else’s fire. One of the advantages of writing down everything you mean to get done, after all, is that you’re less likely to lose track of it altogether.
5. Eliminate distractions where possible.
While you probably check your notifications on social media at the start of each day, if you’re not careful, the churning, time-sucking back-and-forth ha-haha-hahahah of comments and replies can sabotage your whole gameplan for the morning.
Consider logging off for a while if you can. If not, say, because monitoring social media is part of your job, then treat it like one and partition time for it so it doesn’t devour your productivity.
Another culprit in the case of You vs. Lost Time is email, and it can be a savage force. Psychologists have found if you’re constantly managing emails on top of whatever task you’re trying to focus on, you’re probably not doing either very effectively:
An unfortunate limitation of the human mind is that it cannot perform two demanding tasks simultaneously, so flipping back and forth between two different tasks saps cognitive resources. As a result, people can become less efficient in each of the tasks they need to accomplish. In addition to providing an unending source of new tasks for our to-do lists, email could also be making us less efficient at accomplishing those tasks.
The solution? Be deliberate about when you’ll spend time on your inbox.
Finding a morning groove that works with the demands of your career and your life takes time and experimentation. And while it may never be perfect, it’s worth practicing and continually tuning. Once you start to get it down, you’ll be able to see the difference in the form of results by lunchtime.