Productivity: The 3pm Mystery and the Case for Mornings


“I am not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a mystery of conditioning and beliefs, but if I go to bed at 2am and get up at 9am I feel far less tired than if I go to bed at 11pm and got up at 6am–both are 7 hours of sleep but you wouldn’t be able to convince my body of that (on that point you probably wouldn’t be able to convince my body to fall asleep at 11pm without prescription sleep medicine).  My life as it is now allows my natural schedule, I typically go to bed around 12:30-1:30am and get up between 8:30-9:30am on weekdays. I am married to someone with the same sort of schedule, so we typically go to sleep and wake up around the same times.

One of my best friends is in a relationship with a teacher–these folks are notoriously early risers–they get up every morning around 5am (even though she doesn’t have to be to work until 9am). They even get up early on the weekends (granted they go to bed MUCH earlier than Mark and I do).  My mom is a nurse–another profession that gives you no choice but to get up before the sun–she gets up at 4am for her 12-hour shifts, and lies awake waiting for me to wake up when she comes to visit.

Getting up at 5am sounds like hell to me, but I am starting to realize the potentional in the mornings. On our honeymoon in Napa we took a Hot Air balloon ride (checked #12 off my life long goals list!). We had to get up at 4 am for our sunrise flight–it hard, but after the first tried half hour and cup of coffee I felt the same way I do at 10am. We had achomplished a life long dream, had a huge breakfast and were back at our hotel for a nap by 9am, then an hour later we had the whole day in front of us. That was the best day of the honeymoon–it went on forever, we got to do so many things.

Which is what I’ve realized about early risers–they get more day! Typically a normal weekday I see my husband off to work, eat, make the bed, do yoga, get dressed, etc. and by the time I sit down at my computer it’s 10:30am. Then before I know it, I’m hungry and I notice it’s 1pm. After lunch and email/blog/facebook checking it is suddenly 3pm–everyday it seems 3pm sneaks up like a mystery and I feel like I’ve accomplished nothing.  Then I tell myself, OK you are going to get a lot done, but suddenly it’s after 6pm and I’m calling it quits for the day and making dinner. Then it’s evening and we are going out, or watching TV or doing some sort of project (it had been wedding stuff for the past year), but the “work day” is done.

So after reading this article about how to be more productive my getting up earlier and making use of your mornings, I’ve decided to try this whole morning thing out. Well kind of. In small steps.

The article suggests that to build the habit, you start small and get up 15 mins earlier and pick one thing you want to do (i.e. not ‘start running AND write a blog post’). I think I might amend this to get up an hour earlier and let myself have the weekends and one weekday to still have my old habits.

After losing two full hours this morning to tying to find a new doctor, I’m going to give another stab at schedule making (I’ve done it before only to unsurprisingly discover that a million things interrupt it).  I’m hoping though that the quiet of the morning and the feeling like I have the whole day ahead of me will help me get more done before 3pm mysteriously appears.

Aside from daily and weekly schedule and to do-list making (both of which I am a champion at), here are a few other ideas for time management(in no particular order):

1) Tracking every hour (and half hour) of your day. Laura Vanderkam suggests a 168 hour time management spreadsheet, to “bill your time” like a lawyer and see where you spend most of your time and how you can change it.

2) Track Your Computer Time with Software. Related, there’s lots of free downloads that track how you spend you time on your computer (both online and in applications like Word, Photoshop, etc). I downloaded Rescue Time because I felt like I was checking Facebook too much, but then I never looked at my reports from the service, so it did me little good–it also doesn’t know what you are doing the sites and applications you are using, you could be spending 2 hours on gmail writing work-related  emails or 2 hours of chatting with your friends–it all looks the same.

3) Blocking Some  Sites Completely. Which is why I’ve often thought about blocking sites altogether (Lifehacker tells you how), but then there are times when I actually need to look something up on Facebook (really), so I haven’t tried that. There are various methods for this that can block a site during only certain hours or completely.

4) Working without a  WiFi net. This only works if you are working on a computer on a project that doesn’t require internet. Another writer friend of my says she went to a coffee shop that didn’t have WiFi everyday for a week and finished a short story that she was too distracted to write at home.

5) Kitchen Timer. This is the most useful one I’ve found (perhaps because I invented it). When I have to transcribe an interview or I’ve decided to write for one hour only, I bring the kitchen timer in the office and set it for an hour–I let myself, Mark, and the kitties know that I am doing this one thing and nothing else for that hour–no checking email, no getting up to get a snack. I am duty-bound to do that one task until I hear the buzzer. Its hard, but I always get the most done when I set the kitchen timer.

What about you? What keeps you on task? What time of day are you most productive? What distracts you the most?

this has come from this blog: http://katastrophicthoughts.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/productivity-the-3pm-mystery-and-the-case-for-mornings/

What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast

Mornings are a great time for getting things done. You’re less likely to be interrupted than you are later in the day. Your supply of willpower is fresh after a good night’s sleep. That makes it possible to turn personal priorities like exercise or strategic thinking into reality.

But if you’ve got big goals–and a chaotic a.m. schedule–how can you make over your mornings to make these goals happen?

Because I write about time management frequently, I’ve gotten to see hundreds of calendars and schedules over the years. From studying people’s morning habits, I’ve learned that getting the most out of this time is a five-part process. Follow these steps, though, and you’re on your way to building morning habits that stick.

1. Track Your Time

Part of spending your time better is knowing how you’re spending it now. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight, you know that nutritionists tell you to keep a food journal because it keeps you from eating mindlessly. It’s the same with time. Write down what you’re doing as often as you can. Use my spreadsheet, a Word document, or a pad and pen.

While measuring your mornings, try tracking your whole week. The reason? The solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day. You may be too tired because you’re staying up late. But if you look at how you’re spending your nights, you’ll notice that you’re not doing anything urgent. The Daily Show can be recorded and watched earlier–possibly while you’re on the treadmill at 6:30 a.m.

As for the mornings themselves, you can be organized but still not be spending them well. Question your assumptions. You may believe that “a man who wants to keep his job gets into the office before his boss” because that’s what your father did, but your boss may be disappointed that he doesn’t get the place to himself for an hour first! If you decide that something is a top priority, do it, but understand that we have to do few things in life.

2. Picture the Perfect Morning

After you know how you’re spending your time, ask yourself what a great morning would look like. For me, it would start with a run, followed by a hearty family breakfast. After getting people out the door, I’d focus on long-term projects like my books. Here are some other ideas for morning enrichment:

For personal growth:

  • Read through a religious text: Sacred texts can teach us about human nature and history, even if they’re not from a religion you subscribe to. If they are, pray or meditate and get to know your beliefs in a deeper way.
  • Train for something big: Aiming to complete a half-marathon, a triathlon, or a long bike ride will keep you inspired as you take your fitness to the next level.
  • Do art projects with your kids:. Mornings don’t have to be a death march out the door. Enjoy your time with your little ones at a time of day when you all have more patience.

For professional growth:

  • Strategize: In an age of constant connectivity, people complain of having no time to think. Use your mornings to picture what you want your career and organization to look like in the future.
  • Read articles in professional journals: Benefit from other people’s research and strategic thinking, and gain new insights into your field.
  • Take an online class: If a job or career change is in your future, a self-paced class can keep your skills sharp.

3. Think Through the Logistics

How could this vision mesh with the life you have? Don’t assume you have to add it on top of the hours you already spend getting ready or that you’ll have to get to work earlier. If you fill the morning hours with important activities you’ll crowd out things that are more time intensive than they need to be. Map out a morning schedule. What time would you have to get up and what time do you need to go to bed to get enough sleep? As for the mornings themselves, what would make your ritual easier? Do you need to set your easel next to your bed? Can you find a more cheerful alarm clock or one you can’t turn off so easily?

It’s easy to believe our own excuses, particularly if they’re good ones. Come up with a plan and assemble what you need, but whatever you do, don’t label this vision as impossible

4. Build the Habit

This is the most important step. Turning a desire into a ritual requires willpower. Use these fives steps to optimize your routine:

  • Start slowly: Go to bed and wake up fifteen minutes earlier for a few days until this new schedule seems doable.
  • Monitor your energy: Building a new habit takes effort, so take care of yourself while you’re trying. Eat right, eat enough, and surround yourself with supportive people who want to see you succeed.
  • Choose one new habit at a time to introduce: If you want to run, pray, and write in a journal, choose one of these and make it a habit before adding another.
  • Chart your progress: Habits take weeks to establish, so keep track of how you’re doing for at least thirty days. Once skipping a session feels like you forgot something–like forgetting to brush your teeth–you can take your ritual up a notch.
  • Feel free to use bribery: Eventually habits produce their own motivation, but until then, external motivations like promising yourself concert tickets can keep you moving forward. And keep in mind that your morning rituals shouldn’t be of the self-flagellation variety. Choose things you enjoy: your before-breakfast ritual has the potential to become your favorite part of the day.

5. Tune Up as Necessary

Life changes. Sometimes we have to regroup, but the goal is to replace any rituals that no longer work with new ones that make you feel like every day is full of possibility.

That is ultimately the amazing thing about mornings–they always feel like a new chance to do things right. A win scored then creates a cascade of success. The hopeful hours before most people eat breakfast are too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities. You can do a lot with those hours. Whenever I’m tempted to say I don’t have time for something, I remind myself that if I wanted to get up early, I could. These hours are available to all of us if we choose to use them.

So how would you like to use your mornings? This important question requires careful thinking. But once you decide, small rituals can accomplish great things. When you make over your mornings, you can make over your life. That is what the most successful people know.

Excerpted from What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast by Laura Vanderkam by arrangement with Portfolio Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2012 by Laura Vanderkam. Follow her on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Arvind Grover]”

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