Why don’t I feel productive in the morning?

It is likely because you’ve conditioned yourself to be a night owl. It’s a habit like any other! Your brain is accustomed to working 10-5, and then probably sleeping 6 hours or so. That means you wake up around noon. You probably feel sluggish and don’t have much energy, so that’s why you check social media and as you say, do things that are “not important.”

You could, instead, jumpstart your day with a new habit.

BUT!

FIRST.

Before you get into new habits, you should know what is important to you and why. Why should you switch from being productive at nighttime to doing deep work during the day? The reasons should be relevant to where you are in your life right now, and why you feel something needs to change.

  • Are you working towards achieving a personal or professional goal?
  • Do you want to improve your fitness level and your health?
  • Do you feel you are wasting a big chunk of the day that you’d like to use differently?
  • Is there an important deadline coming up, for example,will you soon graduate from college and start looking for a full time job, which may need an adjustment in being productive at different times of day?

If the reasons you come up with are valid and, even better, if you have a deadline by which you need to make the change, you are on the right track. Be as honest with yourself as possible, and when you are sure you want to make the change, move on the the next step.

SECOND.

You want to switch something about your lifestyle so that you feel more productive in the morning. That means you will need to be awake early, or definitely earlier than midday. How do you get yourself to that point where it is sustainable?

Here’s how I started switching to being more productive earlier in the day. I heard a podcast that completely changed the way I look at mornings. It’s called Achieve Your Goals and it’s hosted by Hal Elrod, the author of a book called The Miracle Morning. I liked everything I heard: it was an in depth guide to structuring your mornings so that you can be more productive early in the day.  It seemed like the perfect strategy. Since following the podcast and reading the book, I have become a real fan, so much so that I started writing about my experiences with cultivating a morning routine (here is one post that describes it in more detail).

Here are some things I started doing to get into the habit of becoming a better morning person:

I keep a gratitude journal. For five minutes each morning, I write 3 things I am grateful for today: it can be something as simple as a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a warm bed, running water; a positive relationship with people I love the most – my family; an opportunity to take more steps that will get me closer to a personal or professional goal. Practicing gratitude about what we have going for us can restructure our brain to focus on positive things, which sets the tone for the rest of the day, and that directly impacts our productivity.

I always have breakfast. It’s usually super simple and doesn’t require any cooking; it takes me 5-10 minutes at most to put together. A breakfast gives me energy and it’s fuel for my brain. A great example is a combination of protein, fruits, and healthy fats (such as nuts): it can be oatmeal or yogurt with granola, fresh fruit, walnuts (an excellent brain booster) and almonds.

I meditate. I found that meditating early in the day, even for 10 minutes, helps to “clean” my brain of any cluttered thoughts and prepare it for the day ahead. I thought at first that it would be difficult to sit still and focus, but it’s not difficult at all. There’s an awesome app called Headspace you can try, it is a guided meditation and once you complete 10 sessions you can move on to the next levels, at 15 and 20 minutes each, or you can stay with 10 minutes if that’s all the time you have in the morning.

I move my body. This part of my morning really wakes me up! I am pretty flexible with what I choose to do, and it can be any type of physical activity that can take 10-30 minutes, depending on my schedule for that day: a morning yoga routine for 15 minutes, a set of hindu pushups, a 20-minute power walk or a brisk run before I hit the shower. My goal is to be consistent, so smaller chunks of activity give me energy, and I can always supplement them later in the day with another 30 minutes of walking during my lunch break or a workout later in the afternoon.

I set aside time to do deep work EARLY, i.e. work that requires a lot of my concentration. Some scientists call this the brain’s peak performance time, and it’s roughly  2-4 hours after we wake up. So, for example, if you wake up at 6, your peak times are between 8 and 10  a.m. I like to block this time off for my analytical brain to perform the most complex tasks that require a lot of focus.

I dedicate my evening work for strategic thinking. This is typically the time of day when the brain slows down, doesn’t go at top speed to adhere to deadlines, so it has space for more creative thinking. If I am thinking of setting goals, strategizing where I want to be in 6 months’ time or a year with my personal development or career, this is when I write things down, plan them, and contemplate the big picture.

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