I could have gotten so much more accomplished today – if only I had used my time wisely!
So many of us end each day with that thought. In a world that is moving faster and faster, we fight a constant battle between our professional lives and our personal health. There are countless articles on how to be more productive throughout the day, with hundreds of tips that may or may not work for any given individual.
When I was in the military, my time was pressed like so many other professionals. The Army requires that soldiers wake up for physical training early in the morning, usually beginning at 6 a.m. This disciplined schedule required me to become a morning person so I could lead other soldiers in strenuous, goal-oriented exercise before starting our workday, which often lasted 12 hours.
When I left the military, I was extremely excited to be able to dictate the course of my own mornings and conduct some research on how morning productivity could benefit me. I have condensed the lessons I’ve learned thus far into some major themes that might help others set the conditions for morning productivity.
If you don’t actually want to be more productive in the morning, there isn’t a motivational article in the world that can convince you otherwise. Finding intrinsic motivation is absolutely fundamental to your ability to follow through. Take time to define why you want to be more productive. Your motivation can be anything from getting an edge on the competition to allowing you more time with your children at night.
If you don’t search your soul for the true reason behind your desires, you run the risk of another short-lived resolution. I would not even start the process of increasing morning productivity until you put this crucial piece in place.
Manage your mornings at night.
Few things help you get through the morning like preparing the night before. Setting the conditions for success ahead of time will eliminate your ability to make excuses for hitting the snooze button. When your outfit is already picked out, your bag is packed and your food is ready to grab, you can transition straight from bed to something productive without having to do those chores.
Just the prospect of doing anything I call a ‘chore’ has derailed my productivity during many mornings, so I’ve made a habit of preparing for my day the night before. This doesn’t require any great effort – I take care of it during commercial breaks while unwinding in front of the TV.
Match the intensity you want to see in the day.
The most fragile motivational moments of the day occur as soon as the alarm goes off. Few of us can muster up the gusto to hop right out of bed and immediately focus on the day’s tasks. By harnessing awareness of these weak moments, we can consciously turn them into shortcuts to a productive morning.
Most mornings, my plan is to be at the gym by 5:30 a.m. I have never heard the alarm at 5 a.m. and thought, “I’m so excited to leave my warm, comfortable bed and be up before the sun to punish my body!” I remain convinced that people who are capable of that are wonderful freaks of nature. I, like most people, need a little extra motivation. I match the intensity I have during the day by focusing on the task of working out and envisioning that I’m already in the gym achieving success. I’ll flex in bed for just a few seconds to get my blood flowing enough to motivate me to hop out of bed to chase after that feeling that follows a great workout.
If you want to get up early in the morning to write, keep a notepad by your bed and write a couple words in the morning. A tiny amount of momentum can nudge you towards having a productive day!
Staying stagnant is the largest threat to your productivity. Physically separating myself from my soft, warm bed is almost always the most difficult task of my day. Some people wake up and like to look at their devices, catching up on social media in bed. Those people also tend to spend way more time involved in social networks than they’d originally planned, making it easier to decide to just go back to bed and try again tomorrow.
Like ripping off the proverbial Band-Aid, I find it’s best to just get it over with quickly. In fact, I lowered my bed right onto the floor so that I can just roll off onto the carpet if I have to. I encourage you to find a way to ensure you actually move away from your bed each morning. If you find a way to motivate yourself to move, you’ll wake up and clear out the morning fog from your brain much more quickly.
Mark your progress.
I admit to being completely lethargic almost every single morning when I first wake up. My alarm is one of the most annoying sounds on the planet, and I hate waking up before the sun is up. But once I complete the above steps and my brain fog begins to lift, focusing on the progress I’ve made makes my mornings magical. Whether it’s weight I’ve lost or seconds I’ve shaved from my mile time, each little step of progress is incredibly rewarding.
I keep track of my progress through several apps (and by the fact that I can eat pizza without gaining weight!). Some people measure progress on their bathroom mirrors with a grease pencil, while others keep a diary. When times get tough and motivation is low, looking at where you started is usually enough motivational fuel to get you back on track. I encourage you to find a system that allows you to reflect on where you came from and how well you’re doing at achieving your goal.
Make your goals public.
Talk is cheap – unless you tell your friends your goals! Using your friends or family as accountability partners will make public what you want to achieve privately. This important distinction will not only alleviate your mental battles, but will also provide another avenue for motivation. I’d rather roll out of bed and put in work than fear the shame of admitting my shortcomings to those I’ve shared my goals with.
The next time you set that alarm for absurdly early hour, remember this: you are the only one in control of your destiny.
Choosing to apply these principles to your life is more difficult when it’s early and you’re warm in bed. Making the choice to change is yours alone, no matter the external pressures that buffet your life.
I hope these principles will help guide you towards a positive and lasting change.
By Matt Leitch (MBA ’18)