Wake Up Early to Maximize Productivity

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

This quick-start guide to Getting Things Done and Inbox Zero also includes two shortcuts for those who want the benefits of GTD without having to learn the system.

I arrived at my office at 7:00 this morning, and by 10:00 a.m. I had half my work for the day completed, and I was happier throughout the process. This is not a fluke—people are more productive in the mornings, and if you want to maximize and take advantage of that productivity, you should get to work early as well.

It is understandably more difficult to go to work early if you are a solo and set your own hours. The temptation is always there to sleep in and take it easy. More sleep means you’ll be better rested and more productive, right? Not necessarily.

Humans Are Wired To Work Best In The Morning

Much like the rest of nature, humans’ circadian rhythms are primarily tuned to daylight. That means that we get tired when it gets dark and wake up when it gets light.

Some of our hormones are also keyed to circadian rhythms. Testosterone, which can function in both men and women to stimulate focus, energy, attention, and motivation, is at its highest level in the morning, and steadily decreases throughout the day, making it harder to pay attention in the afternoon and evening. Our brains are meant to be most attentive early in the day.

Our Morning Intake Keeps Us Alert

In addition to our bodies working on their own to make us focused in the morning, we are supposed to have our largest meal of the day in the morning. Even if you don’t have a large breakfast, morning is the only time where our brain chemistry and a burst of calories combine to produce high energy and focus. Many of us tend to juice that with caffeine, which also serves to keep us awake and attentive.

Early to Bed, Early to Rise…

Rest helps us focus and function as well, and for most of us morning is when we are coming off our longest period of rest. Allowing our brains to rest and refresh and dump out all their garbage through those crazy dreams means that we are most ready to take in and process new information in the morning.

Everyone has had the experience of becoming tired and unfocused after lunch; an afternoon cup of coffee is not uncommon. By that point in the day, though, you have spent most of your best energy, your brain is tiring, and your hormones are waning. And as the light recedes it becomes progressively harder to focus because your body wants to sleep.

In my experience afternoons just aren’t as productive, so my solution is to make my mornings longer. That means going to bed earlier, and it may mean eating lunch earlier, but being able to get in 5 or 6 solidly productive hours of work before noon, and being happier and friendlier is worth it.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toolstop/4546017269/)

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  • Great minds…Garrison Keillor gave very similar advice to a young writer when he was interviewed by Gary Eichten on MPR during Gary’s last week of mid-morning shows.

  • Great points, all. It is certainly a goal of mine to manage my hours better. The 8/9-5/6 does not lend itself to a great deal of efficiency, in my experience. I would probably do better working a “double shift” of 7-11 and 2-6.

  • Graham Martin

    @LawHacker316: I find that I am terribly unproductive in the early afternoon as well, and sometimes think that your proposal of a double shift would be a good way to be more productive during my up times.

  • This becomes complicated when you factor in family and kids (good past articles on here about that) including coaching my daughter’s CYO Basketball! I have two grade school age children and mornings are great for getting work accomplished. But, I drive my kids to school- it’s time we spend together that hate to give up because I otherwise work so much. So, getting up real early (before the kids get up) and doing some work at home helps for me. Also, even though you may be a morning person or most productive in the am, I find that for me, there are times when I am wide await at nite, after the kids are asleep and I get some good work done.
    Key is to be flexible and manage family vs work time.
    Thanks for the article Graham.

    • Graham Martin

      Kids are definitely an issue I did not address because I don’t have any yet. That would throw a monkey wrench into any schedule, and I could see how waking up early may not work very well in that situation—especially when the kids are expected to start school at 7:30 or earlier, as was the case when I was in high school.

  • As lawyers it is important that we remember to take care of our own needs as well as the clients. Thank you for this timely article. Helping attorneys recognize their own personal bio-rhythms is just one more way we can help both our clients and ourselves.

  • Of course, the hard part of all of this is not the figuring out it is good to get up early but the actually doing it part!