3 Morning Habits that Create Productive Days
Benjamin Franklin once said, “The early morning has gold in its mouth.” Coming from a Founding Father known for rising early with purpose, the quote speaks to the importance of starting your day the right way. Unfortunately for high-powered business leaders, our days tend to evaporate quickly into puffs of emails, meetings and long to-do lists; the maintenance work of leadership has a pesky habit of devouring days and weeks, leaving little time left for “golden” opportunities.
However, in the information age, innovation happens in split-second intervals and the competition moves even faster. Those hours slipping through your fingers are precious. What’s more, recent research has indicated a connection between flow – a term created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for a state of total immersion in a job – and innovation. The catch? Flow’s main requirement is focused time.
In order to remain ahead of the pack, time for innovation and creativity is crucial, and starting your day off right is the first step to freeing up precious space for flow. Below are three proven techniques you can begin to create productive days.
Wake Early … Seriously
If you’ve ever perused (or consumed) productivity articles, you’ve likely been encouraged to start your day earlier. Assuredly, you’ve read story after story where successful people (individuals like Michelle Obama, Richard Branson and Howard Schultz) laud the early morning hours as critical parts of their day. If you’re like many Americans, you’ve probably vowed to start the habit, set your alarm for 5:30 a.m. … and hit “snooze” until 7:08.
Waking up before the sun is difficult, even for those who call themselves “morning people.” It takes discipline and commitment, but there’s a reason that a good chunk of the most successful people in business all possess this habit: Mornings are gifts. They’re normally quiet and often free from responsibilities; in other words, they’re the perfect time for flow.
Moreover, studies have shown a connection between individuals who wake up early and achieving high success. A Harvard Business Review article found that “people whose performance peaks in the morning are better positioned for career success, because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.”
Think back to any important event in your life — your wedding, a huge test, the birth of your child – for each of these moments: You prepared, often months in advance, making sure you had everything you needed to succeed. Why would you treat your workday any differently?
Waking up early gives you time to thoroughly plan out your day. It provides an uninterrupted stretch for strategizing, concentrating or meditating — you’re in the zone from the get-go.
Focus on a Daily Gratitude
When you sit at your desk first thing, you’re likely bombarded both with the day’s expectations and yesterday’s tasks. It’s easy to simply dive in without really considering which jobs are the most beneficial. Often we toggle between tasks, feeling productive at the onset, but producing unfocused work.
In order to get the most out of your day, it’s important to begin at the most productive place: a place of gratitude. Several happiness psychologists have shown a clear connection between gratitude, productivity and creative problem-solving.
In fact, a study found that participants who kept a weekly gratitude list were “more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”
Gratitude doesn’t have to be an ordeal; each morning, take one minute to think about one thing you’re grateful for. Focus intensely on that single blessing and actually allow yourself to feel the natural happiness that comes with the thought. This jolt of pleasure allows your brain to function better than when it’s stressed or even neutral. Then, reap the benefits for the rest of your day.
Find a Winning Ritual
Have you ever noticed how many famous athletes are superstitious?
Michael Jordan reportedly wore his University of North Carolina shorts under his uniform during every game he played for the Chicago Bulls. Tennis superstar Serena Williams has a specific way she ties her shoelaces, bounces the ball and carries her shower sandals onto the court.
These rituals may seem bizarre and unnecessary, but there is a reason so many high-performing athletes succumb to the power of superstitions: They often work. Or more accurately, athletes think that they work, so they work.
Studies have shown a link between routine superstitions and performance. An article published in the journal Psychological Science noted that superstition typically leads to increased self-efficacy, which in turn can lead to improved performance. There is real value in finding a motivational mantra or activity that you can control and practice every day. As a leader in your industry, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly spinning different plates — that at any moment, everything can crash at your feet. However, starting your day with a simple, small ritual you can control actually helps you address the things you can change and accept the things you cannot.
Before you grab that lucky rabbit’s foot, consider making the ritual unassuming and something you would be comfortable doing in public. Perhaps take four deep breaths before you open your email or pour in a specific “lucky” creamer for your coffee each morning; whatever the quirk, use it to build valuable confidence that propels you to where you want to be: in the winner’s circle.