Ah, mornings. If your 8 a.m. ritual involves hitting the snooze button, scrolling through emails and catching snippets of the day’s headlines, you’re doing it wrong.
While the early hours are frequently maligned, they can actually be the most valuable part of your day. It’s a time to chart your course, conquer projects and set yourself up for all-day success.
Here are four tips for creating a morning routine that maximizes productivity:
1. Fend off procrastination
The morning might seem like an ideal time to check email and deal with other less-than-critical tasks, but it’s easy to use minutiae as an excuse for procrastinating on work that needs to get done.
Don’t let your mornings become a black hole of procrastination. By the time 3 p.m. rolls around, you’ll wonder where your entire day went.
Follow Mark Twain’s advice: Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day. In other words, do the unpleasant tasks first, whether that’s a report you’ve been dreading or a phone call you never seem to have time to make.
2. Take advantage of uninterrupted time blocks
A paper co-authored by researchers from Bellevue University and University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Organization Management Journal examined best practices for academics juggling research productivity, doctoral advising and teaching.
Many of the scholars interviewed cited the importance of blocking out set periods of time for specific tasks, from paper revisions to course planning.
Mornings are often the least hectic time of day, before the tedium of successive afternoon meetings and the social obligations of the evening. Make good use of the early hours and dedicate them to projects that require uninterrupted concentration.
3. Worst things first
Humans have a finite level of self-control, so your ability to make critical decisions declines over the course of the day, according to a meta-analysis of 83 studies by researchers at the University of Nottingham and the National Institute of Education in Singapore.
This phenomenon, known as ego depletion, means that big projects shouldn’t be saved for the end of the day, when your judgment may be at its worst, blood glucose levels are on the decline and fatigue has started to set in. Instead, address important work concerns early in the morning, when your judgment and self-control have peaked.
4. Set the tone for the rest of your day
Workplace wellness programs are on the rise, thanks to plentiful research on the effect of wellness on productivity.
Exercise can actually prevent a slowdown in brain cell generation during the aging process, in addition to stimulating the production of mitochondria, which produce ATP, a chemical used for energy.
Also, a 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal reported that 10-40 minute bursts of exercise increased mental functioning and focus in children and young adults (18-35 years of age) immediately afterwards.
People who work from home shouldn’t forget the importance of healthful living—even if they don’t have an employer offering wellness incentives or lunchtime yoga classes.
Make time for yourself first thing in the morning by fitting in 10 minutes of meditation or a sweat session. Even a quick neighborhood walk can provide health benefits while giving you the focus you need for a productive day ahead.