How to Use Your First 2 Morning Hours to Boost Productivity

Filed in Productivity and Time Management by on April 24, 2017 • views: 2282

Morning ProductivityMost writers spend only about an hour or two a day actually writing. But how the day begins can have a big effect on that one-to-two hours.

Take the other day, for instance. I was knee deep in my usual morning routine when I got an email from a panicked friend. She had an important paper due that day—an assignment that could make or break the next step in her college education. She needed my edits on it, and immediately, as it was due that afternoon, and we had a two-hour time difference working against us.

Yes, my friend could have better prepared for her deadlines, but she’s a single mom going for her degree while raising her daughter, and let’s face it—it’s not always easy to manage it all in that situation. I was happy to help, but in the course of jumping on her project, mine were delayed. I ended up being behind the entire day, and couldn’t fit my writing in that night.

This friend hardly ever asks for favors, so it wasn’t a big deal, but the occasion illustrated an important point: just one simple thing early on can disrupt your routine to the point that it kills your productivity for the rest of the day.

If you’re struggling to keep your writing commitments to yourself, it may be because of how you’re starting your day. To stay more consistent, try these tips for priming your brain for optimal productivity within the first two hours of waking up.

Happy Dance1. Do something that makes you happy.

Researchers reported in 2011 that start-of-workday mood had an important affect on job performance. Employees who started the day in a good mood continued to enjoy a good mood throughout the day, and felt even better by quitting time. Those who started the day in a bad mood, on the other hand, continued to feel worse as they went along, and were never really able to reverse the situation.

Even more interesting was how these moods affected the workers’ performance levels. Those who were in a positive mood provided higher quality services than those who were in a bad mood, and were 10 percent more productive overall.

Make a point to start your day off right. Listen to some enjoyable music, fix yourself a perfect pot of coffee, give yourself 10 minutes to read a good book, or take a longer commute to work that allows you time to listen to a new audiobook.

If something goes wrong, focus on how you can turn your mood around before too much time passes. Give yourself a pep talk, or plan a special outing for your lunch hour to help you feel better before the rest of your day is ruined.

clock-time2. Erase the words “I don’t have time” from your vocabulary.

In our Western culture, it’s common to go on about how we don’t have time. The problem is that the more we say it, the more we create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Try instead turning it around. Imagine that time comes from you. You create your time, including how slowly or how quickly it passes. Tell yourself you have plenty of time, and you will have. It’s magical how it works.

I’ve tried this a couple times when I feared I would be late for an appointment. “I have plenty of time,” I’ll tell myself, “and time is passing nice and slowly.” This statement helps me to relax and focus on getting to my appointment, and nine times out of ten, I’ll get there perfectly on time, and enjoy a relaxing drive on the way.

Remind yourself first thing in the morning that you are in control of your time, and you have plenty enough to get things done. A relaxed state of mind is much more productive than a frazzled one.

time-obsession3. Drop the obsession.

Many of us are obsessed with the clock. We have from this time to that time to get this done, and that time to that time to get the next thing done. We check the clock every 10 minutes or so, and panic when we get behind.

This obsession gets in the way of one very important thing you need for optimal productivity: focus. To get a job done, you need to be able to focus on it completely without distractions. That means you need to turn your smartphone off (or at least set it out of reach), but it also means that you may want to hide all the clocks.

A project takes as long as it takes, and you’ll get it done a lot faster if you’re not obsessed with how much time has passed. If you have to be somewhere at a certain time, set an alarm, and then forget about the clock and focus.

Optimistic Woman4. Be optimistic.

Positive emotions increase productivity, and negative thinking closes your mind and causes you to focus only on the problem rather than the solution.

That means if you start your day concerned that you won’t have the time you need to get everything done, or believing that the day is going to be lousy for some reason, your productivity will suffer.

Your best approach is to stay positive about what you can accomplish and to believe that things will go well for you. This can help boost your confidence, which will inspire you to attack your projects with more energy and increase your odds of staying on top of all your tasks.

To help stoke your own optimism first thing in the morning, notice everything that’s going right. Start simple. Maybe you woke up without any aches and pains, or feeling comfortable and warm in your bed. You probably had your choice of what to eat for breakfast, and you may have been greeted by a loving family member or pet.

Count every green light as a blessing, and notice the beauty in the sites around you. Remind yourself of your skills and strengths, and imagine how good you will feel when you get everything done on time so that you can write when you planned to.

poached-eggs-on-toast5. Practice morning self-care.

If you rush through your morning without any thought toward self-care, your productivity is likely to suffer the rest of the day. Start your day out with a healthy meal at the very least, and if you can squeeze it in, a little exercise as well. Even a 10-minute walk or series of yoga poses can help loosen up your muscles, get you breathing more deeply, and increase circulation to your brain, which helps calm and focus your mind.

What you don’t want to do is press the snooze button a few times, then leap out of bed late, scramble through a shower and dress, charge out to the car, and blast down the road. This sort of routine totally neglects your physical, mental, and emotional needs, and will leave you feeling groggy, drained, and miserable at work—a feeling that will likely carry over into your writing time.

If you need more time in the morning, set your alarm back 10 minutes so you have what you need to give yourself a little TLC. It’s the best way to start your day out right so that when it’s time to write, you’re in a relaxed mood that allows you to quickly concentrate on your story, rather than feeling wiped out and sapped of your creativity.

cell-phone-apple6. Delay looking at your phone.

It’s hard to resist checking your phone first thing, but if you can wait until after breakfast, you’ll likely notice a significant increase in mood and a jump in your productivity throughout the day.

I’ve tried it both ways, and it definitely works better to avoid the phone at least for the first 30 minutes of your morning. This allows you to focus on your priorities and your self-care, which will help you to better manage your time throughout the day. If you dive right into checking emails and Facebook posts, you immediately program your brain to respond to the needs of others, and your needs go out the window.

Exposing yourself immediately to technology also tends to rob you of the calm you may otherwise feel. When you review emails and Facebook posts, you naturally feel the urge to respond right away, which can leave you feeling like you are behind before you even get started. If the emails are about issues at work, that means you’re starting to work before you even get breakfast—a surefire way to destroy your focused state of mind and throw you into panic mode.

Try to stash the phone out of site somewhere so that you’re not tempted, and then make it a rule to wait until after breakfast (and your short walk or yoga or meditation routine) before diving into all those messages.

Painted Glass7. Do something creative.

If you really want to set yourself up to experience a productive writing session, do one of two things:

  1. Write first thing in the morning, before you do anything else.
  2. Do something else creative first thing in the morning.

Many writers are sold on writing first thing because it makes it so easy. When your brain is still in that foggy morning mode, it’s natural to drop into the fantasy world of your characters, as the editor’s brain isn’t quite awake enough to try to stop you yet. Morning writing also helps you make progress on your project before you tackle anything else, which gives you a sense of accomplishment that carries through the rest of the day.

If your schedule or temperament doesn’t allow for morning writing, try to do something else creative instead. This helps get your brain into the creative mode, which is not only fun (and a good way to improve your mood), but opens your thinking to help you solve problems and experience more productivity throughout the rest of your day.

Some examples of how you may start your morning creatively:

  • Think up headlines for 5 new blog posts.
  • Take ten minutes to doodle a drawing of one of your characters.
  • Brainstorm a few ideas for a new business card you might create.
  • Imagine your dream house and write down everything it would include.
  • Think up five creative uses for a standard Dixie cup.
  • Tell your family a story over the breakfast table, impromptu. Gauge your success by how well you hold their interest.
  • Think up a new flavor of fruit smoothie you’d like to try.
  • Freewrite on any topic you like for five minutes. (Set a timer so you don’t go over.)

You get the idea. Any activity that requires you to tap into your imagination can get your cognitive wheels rolling in the right direction, and may even get you thinking about your work in progress. You may find that this practice helps you think up new writing ideas even before you start your workday. If so, jot them down somewhere so you can refer to them when it comes time to write.

How to you start your day?

Nancy P. Rothbard and Steffanie L. Wilk, “Waking Up on the Right or Wrong Side of the Bed: Start-of-Workday Mood, Work Events, Employee Affect, and Performance,” Academy of Management Journal, October 1, 2011; 54(5):959-980,

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Comments (10)

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  1. Don Hawks says:

    Really useful information. I hear you’re writing a fiction and a nonfiction, pretty cool. I will be anxiously waiting for them to come out.

  2. You’ve been reading my mail, Colleen! Numbers one and two, well, I’ve really been focused on. I tend to not wake up very well, so the last year I’ve been waking up to happy music. It really helps!
    And time. Just time. Something I’ve struggled with for a while. But I can vouch for the fact that when I do turn that around, funny enough, I literally have enough time to get everything done!

  3. Love it Colleen! Rrright on. 😉 <3

  4. JP McLean says:

    I love the notion that “time comes from you”. It feels like taking back control from the time merchants. Thanks for yet another insightful post.

  5. Kathy says:

    I think these ideas on how to start our day makes good sense. I do try to get my self-care with stretching exercises, a glass of lemon water and then feeding our cats. After I dress and get breakfast I normally go to my e-mail to try to contain the growing number that challenges me to see what to keep or delete. Your suggestion to write first may be the best one as I get overwhelmed with email and leave my writing to do at a later time. Thanks for giving me the push to do my writing first before I get distracted by the volume of emails.

    • Colleen says:

      Emails first thing–they can sure set your day on the wrong track. Doing something else first that fits with your priorities gives your day that early boost–hope it works for you Kathy!