If you’re wondering why your workdays are so miserable, I have the answer. The problem is not what happens when you get into work. The problem is what happens when you get up in the morning.
Or, to be more specific, what doesn’t happen. If you’re the sort of person who drags themselves out of bed, praying that an injection of the magic elixir called caffeine will bring you to life, you are not using your mornings productively. I realize that this is a difficult concept to embrace — especially if you haven’t yet had your fifth cup of coffee – but, believe it or not, there is a group of people who utilize their morning hours to maximize their productivity all through the day. These people are called “successful.”
Or so is the stated belief of Laura Vanderkam, the author of “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.” As Vanderkam explained in a recent article on FastCompany.com, “Mornings are a great time for getting things done. … 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.”
Unless you’re like me and the goal of your strategic thinking is to develop strategies for avoiding exercise, Vanderkam has a point. There is a sense of renewal that comes from having a fresh, new day spread out before you. And though you will, no doubt, end the day with much more work and many more problems than when you started, spending those precious morning hours productively could make a positive difference in your work life.
But how do you change your wastrel ways in the morning? Vanderkam has a 5-step program. Pour yourself another cup of coffee, Clarence, and let’s get started.
Step 1 is to “track your time.” The time-tracking exercise is not just for mornings, but also for your entire day. This is because “The solution to morning dilemmas often lies at other times of the day.” For example, if you learn that your evenings are wasted, mostly because you are wasted, drinking with your low-rent work friends at the Kit Kat Klub, you can improve the situation by starting your drinking well before breakfast. Now that’s efficiency!
Step 2 is to “picture the perfect morning.” According to the author, these perfect hours could include training for a marathon, taking an online course, or reading articles that will help your career — like this one! Of course, if none of these ridiculous activities are of any interest to you, don’t feel intimidated. I’m sure many successful people picture the “perfect morning” as one in which they go right back to bed or never get up in the first place.
Step 3 asks you to “think through the logistics.” In other words, what do you need to change in order to be more productive in the mornings? Vanderkam wonders if “you need to set your easel next to your bed?” If you’re an artist, maybe so. For you, I have a much better idea. When you go to bed at night, put three cinnamon buns under the covers with you. During the night, your body heat will warm the buns to gooey perfection so when you’re ready for breakfast, you won’t have to waste time walking all the way to the kitchen. How logistic is that?
Step 4 is to “build the habit.” Once you have your perfect morning in mind, how do make it into a ritual? Vanderkam’s favorite technique is to use bribery, “like promising yourself concert tickets if you can keep moving forward.” I suggest a slight twist. Buy the tickets, but make the terms of the bribe slightly different. After all, nothing could get you out of bed faster than the thought of a Justin Bieber concert — the threat of going to one if you don’t get up. Vanderkam cautions against morning rituals that are “of the self-flagellation variety.” True that! If there’s any flagellation to be done, your boss will do it.
The final step — No. 5 — is to “tune up as necessary.” There could be changes in your work life, such as getting fired. This would mean you could move your morning activities to late afternoon, after Oprah.
“The hopeful hours before most people eat breakfast,” writes Vanderkam, “are too precious to be blown on semiconscious activities.” I agree 100 percent. Blow your semiconscious hours between nine and five, when you get paid for them.
Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at firstname.lastname@example.org.