Many of us probably don’t think much about our early morning activity. We just get up and do what we have always done. But if we’ve never thought about it in great detail, we can’t be sure that our morning routines are optimized to enable our peak productivity during the workday. We may have picked up some bad habits that actively inhibit our performance during the day, or we may just be missing out on some basic positive practices that can give us an edge over our competitors and enable us to collaborate more effectively.
In fact, a small but elite straw poll of 20 executives by Laura Vanderkam – which included the CEOs of PepsiCo, Disney, and Square, among others — revealed that some of the most effective performers all have very deliberately planned morning routines designed to enable them to meet their day-to-day goals.
If you aren’t doing so already, you may want to consider emulating greatness and developing a morning routine designed to enable peak productivity. To that end, here are five career-boosting things to do before breakfast.
1. Get Between 7.5 and 9 Hours of Sleep
Even the best morning routine in the world can’t bring you back from extreme sleep debt. To function at our best, we need between 7.5 and 9 hours of sleep every night. People who improve their sleep practices have experienced increases in productivity up to 20 percent.
2. Crack the 10-Hour Sleep Barrier
This might not be to everyone’s liking or requirement, but research on elite college basketball players found that those who get more than 10 hours of sleep at night run faster 282-foot sprints, increased their shooting accuracy by 9 percent, had lower fatigue levels, and played better during practice and games.
I realize that we are not all elite basketball players, but if you want to be in peak physical shape, try to get in a 10-hour sleep as often as possible. You might want to implement this sleep regiment especially during a particularly intense or demanding period.
According to Vanderkam’s findings, many top leaders build exercise into their early morning routines. Moreover, researchers in the U.K. found that people who exercise in the morning before work reported improvements in time management, workload management, and mental and interpersonal performance. Can you fit in a swim, run, or other workout before heading to the office? Perhaps you could kill two birds with one stone and run to work?
4. Positive Visualization
If you have an especially challenging day ahead, consider engaging in a bout of dawn visualization. Positive visualization is an advancement on positive thinking. When visualizing, you imagine yourself again and again succeeding to meet a challenging objective, be that a sales pitch or company presentation.
Imagine the moments of truth — e.g. the opening pitch, the audience reaction, the closing wrap-up, etc. — and imagine yourself being skilled, confident, and successful.
5. Carve Out Time to Exploit Your Most Productive Hours
According to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, humans have about 2-2.5 hours of peak productivity each day during which they are 30 percent more effective than normal. These peak hours usually occur in the first few hours of the morning, starting about an hour after one wakes.
The first 2-4 hours after you wake are your magic hours, and you should be very protective of them. Make sure you are doing your most important and brain-taxing work during this time; do not spend it, gossiping in corridors or sitting in tedious conference calls or meetings.
You’ll need to plan out your day each morning to make sure you carve out time to do your high-concentration work first thing. Schedule the light-touch, low-concentration stuff for later.
Try to make your strategic plan before arriving at work; attempting to schedule your morning at the office can be a recipe for disaster. If you are a busy executive, for example, you will no doubt get hooked into a conversation at the water cooler, and before you know, it you’ll be embroiled in some distracting issue and your focus will be gone.
Make sure you plan out time each morning before you leave for work to make decisions, concentrate, and think hard during the first two hours of the workday. This will ensure you get the biggest return on your schedule investment, so to speak.