By Stephanie Vozza
Four science-backed reasons why you do your best work in the morning.
From having fewer bad habits to being proactive and procrastinating less often, the advantages of being a morning person have been well covered. You could chalk it up to circadian rhythm, but it could be because morning people leverage the unique characteristics of the morning that help us all be at our best, says Josh Davis, author of Two Awesome Hours: Science-Based Strategies to Harness Your Best Time and Get Your Most Important Work Done.
“People who get up early in the morning are hitting it out of the park, doing things we struggle with at other times of the day,” he says. “If we can be amazing at certain times of the day there must be associated psychological conditions. Morning offers several benefits that can’t be found at other times of the day.”
Shifting your schedule might take some adjustment, but it’s worth it. Here are four productivity-related advantages that naturally occur in the morning:
1. YOU HAVE MORE ENERGY
Doing your best work means managing your mental energy, and you automatically have more mental energy in the morning when you wake up, says Davis.
“Even if you didn’t sleep great but enough, you probably have much more mental energy to willfully refocus and let things go that don’t matter,” he says. “You can think creatively and have more capacity to use your prefrontal cortex instead of being on autopilot.”
This makes a huge difference for using your time productively as you can choose what you want to work on, and stay on track and follow through, says Davis.
2. YOU HAVE FEWER DECISIONS TO MAKE
Working during the early morning offers the bonus that it’s before regular business hours. “There is an unwritten agreement that you’re not responsible for being reactive until nine a.m. or even 10 a.m.,” says Davis. “You don’t have to do the things that drain mental energy, like making a lot of small decisions.”
Small decisions use up our self-control regulator abilities. “It’s not a finite resource that runs out, but it gets harder to do as you go along,” says Davis. “You go from thinking fast to thinking slow. You get hungrier. Nobody knows exactly why we seem to run out of motivation, but work becomes more effortful.”
When you’re being reactive, you’re constantly deciding. “Should I address this email now? Should I include this person? Could what I’m saying be taken as offensive?” asks Davis. “In the morning, we’re free from that.”
Mornings allow you the time and space to work on things that are important. “There are fewer urgent things piling up,” says Davis. “It’s much easier to step back and reconnect with what’s important—something you can do that would make you feel like you did something that matters.”
3. YOU CAN STOP FIGHTING DISTRACTIONS
Our minds are designed to pick up on what’s changing around us, and sheer willpower isn’t enough to stay focused, says Davis. “When your mind starts drifting, typically we approach it with, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” he says, adding that this is the time that we often succumb to unproductive distractions, such as Facebook, email or talking with a coworker.
But there’s a better way to take care of that urge to break focus: Let yourself daydream. “Our brain is set up with two systems, one for focusing on goals and the other for social processing,” says Davis. “These two are anti-correlated; we tend to be doing one or the other. One of the very few times they’re integrated is when we are daydreaming.”
The integration of the two is very valuable because it aids in creativity and autobiographical planning. “Your brain is trying to do something great if you let it drift in those moments,” says Davis. “The great thing is that it has a built-in end point. It gets boring, and our minds then drift back. You’ll be back to work quicker if you let you mind wander.”
You have more freedom to let your mind wander in the morning. “During the day we’re under a lot of pressure to not let our minds wander,” says Davis. “There’s a strong stigma against it. In the morning you have a safer space to daydream with less time and social pressures.”
4. YOU CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE CALM
From clutter to noise, a typical workplace is booby-trapped with mental distractors, says Davis. “Our desks often hold the things we need to do for ourselves or for someone else,” he says. “They grab your attention and are mentally taxing to think about because of their importance to us. This sabotages your ability to focus.”
It can be easier to find a spot free from those distractors in the morning. “It also tends to be quieter,” adds Davis. “Noise makes it harder to do the deep cognitive work most knowledge workers need to do. In the morning you’re free to work from anywhere, and you can find a quiet, beautiful spot. A quiet workspace helps you be more productive because it’s like working with tailwinds.”
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