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Making the Most of Morning Hours

When my children were much younger, I would probably have defined a successful morning experience as making it out the door no more than a few minutes late, with everyone in reasonably clean clothes and matching shoes. As anyone taking care of children or pets can attest, the much-touted habits of "successful people" who allegedly meditate and exercise mindfully in pristine environments before breakfast are at best a fantasy, if not a phony lie. A newly released commercial is probably a much more truthful depiction of reality.

The much-touted habits of "successful people" are at best a fantasy, if not a phony lie.

In spite of this reality check, it is a fact that our body's circadian rhythm makes morning hours the most productive time of the day and that getting up early is correlated with business success. Short of having a butler to deal with daily chaos, how can you benefit from your ability to focus and concentrate at the start of the day? Whether you work from home or commute to a different location, here are some thoughts about increasing the productivity level of your morning hours:

1. Guard

Because a well-rested brain is better able to focus during the first few hours of the day, your most challenging work is best handled in the morning. That specifically includes tasks you tend to kick down the road. Try to be as 'territorial' as you can to defend your morning hours against intrusion to avoid squandering your time on trivial matters. For example, it is preferable to postpone non-essential phone calls and open-ended meetings to a later time of day, while 9 a.m. is the perfect time for difficult conversations, strategic writing, or coming up with systematic solutions. For the same reason, it is helpful to schedule appointments that may involve waiting time for the afternoon. If your workplace involves a lot of interruptions, your time defense strategy could also include working in a quieter space or closing the door for at least half an hour.

2. Plan

"Unfortunately, most of us simply hope that we’ll have the willpower and motivation to make the right decisions each day," James Clear once wrote. Scheduling specific work packages in advance cuts out the phase of "hoping" – which can be fraught with considerable procrastination – and allows for a more direct route to getting started. That makes it feasible to work on several long-term projects in chunks of 15-20 minutes each during a 2-hour time window and still drink coffee.

Instead of plunging into the first chore you see (typically your e-mail inbox). spend a few minutes on a mental walk-through of your day and plan what you want to accomplish when. Timeboxing is particularly effective in the first hours of the day to do the "thing you think you cannot do," as Eleanor Roosevelt put it.

3. Stay in control

Despite the best defensive efforts and advance planning, unforeseen events can easily take up large chunks of morning time. When meetings run over, a phone call goes on for much longer than anticipated, or a coworker is less respectful of your time and space than you'd wish, do whatever you can to regain control of your work. Take a short break to reconsider your priorities, so you aren't tempted to give in to further distractions. Firm rules ("I always..." - I don't....") can help regain some focus. It is also highly effective to communicate (arbitrary) time limits: "I have a commitment at 11, so we will have to end this call at 10:50."

The best part of addressing difficult work early in the day is the resulting sense of accomplishment. With a dreaded problem behind you and solved, the rest of the day tends to be less stressful and it becomes easier to actually wrap up the workday on your terms. Turns out, you didn't need the butler after all.

How do protect your most productive time? What works well for you and what is problematic?
Share your best advice here!

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