How to Start a Productive and Efficient Day

Having a productive and efficient day can sound too good to be true—but it really isn’t. Using  lessons from the book, What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings—and Life, written by time management expert Laura Vanderkam, we will realize that the key to a productive and efficient day is in how you start it.

Vanderkram said that mornings hold the key to taking control of our schedules—that used wisely, we can build habits that will allow us to lead happier, more productive lives.

How to Start a Productive and Efficient Day:

#1 Start with Tackling Tasks That Require Internal Motivation

The best morning rituals are activities that do not have to happen at a specific time. They require internal motivation wherein the payoff is not immediate nor is the action currently demanded (i.e., replying to an email). 

The general idea is that in the early hours, people have enough willpower and energy to tackle things that require internal motivation — activities which are not immediately demanded or rewarded by the outside world.

Roy Baumeister, at the Florida State University, spent his career studying self-discipline. Together with science journalist John Tierney, they wrote the book, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. They suggested that willpower is like a muscle that becomes fatigued from overuse. Baumeister said that there is only one energy source that is used for all kinds of acts of self-control. With that, it was mentioned how in the morning, after a good night’s sleep, the supply of willpower is fresh; and people are more inclined to be optimistic. 

As Tierney and Baumeister wrote down, self-control ultimately lets you relax because it removes stress and enables you to conserve willpower for the important challenges. They added that getting things down to routine and habits takes willpower at first but in the long run conserves willpower. He added that once things become habitual, they operate as automatic processes, which consume less willpower. 

Research has also evidenced this paradox between willpower and self-discipline. It was observed that people who score high on measures of self-discipline tend not to employ said discipline when they do regular activities that would typically require it. Decisions were no longer choices but formed habits. 

In the same way, successful people turn high-value tasks into morning rituals, conserving their energy for later battles. These slow but steady daily habits lay the foundation for happiness, health, and wealth.

#2 Have a Daily Victory Before Breakfast

While the common notion of a win involves physical movement, daily victories can be virtually anything that nurtures you. These can include spiritual practices such as praying, studying scriptures, devotions, and meditating. Reading a Bible verse before breakfast and a few minutes of reflections are some examples of daily victories.

Daily victories in your morning habits can mean an assortment of activities. Some examples include:

  • Sketching
  • Walking
  • Journaling
  • Reading news articles
  • Doing yoga
  • Listening to music
  • Gardening

Wendy Kay, whose work turned around several plasma collection centers, says that her morning ritual of spiritual connection and meditation has been the key to her professional success in her adult life. She further explained that while working in pharmaceuticals, she would wake up two hours before she had to leave the house, and use that time to talk with God — expressing her gratitude and asking for guidance. After that, she would write down ideas and arrive to work with clearer vision and plans of action. 

Learning to use mornings well is what separates achievement from distractions. Before the rest of the world is eating breakfast, the most successful people have already scored daily victories that are advancing them toward the lives they want.

As most self-help books imply, the brain can get positively addicted to successes or victories—that once the brain records a victory, it’s more likely to take the next steps. 

#3 Think About What Makes You Happy

In the book, The Happiness Advantage, written by Shawn Achor, he mentioned that he was a convert. He used to be a night owl until he trained himself to become a morning person by creating rituals that excited him to get out of bed. Achor explained that the reason people stay in bed in the morning is because our brains get fatigued by thinking about all the things we have to do for the day. Instead of thinking about things that are making us happy or will make us happy, we’re thinking about tasks. He believes that if we think about things that we look forward to, getting out of bed becomes easier. What our brains focus on becomes our reality.

Additionally, it helps to surround yourself with people who want to see you succeed—people who will support you as you build new habits and start living better days. The added dose of optimism and encouragement makes all the difference. In the same way, as much as you can help it, condition your internal dialogue to be positive. Don’t label plans for a productive and efficient day to be impossible. It’s easy to believe your own excuses, especially if they’re good ones.

#4 Make Your Environment Comfortable For You

Creating an optimum work environment can inspire productivity and efficiency. For some jobs, productivity means having to work in front of a computer screen for an extended period of time. This increases the likelihood of feeling fatigued quite easily. It can be recommended to replace your traditional desk with a sit-to-stand desk that will allow you to go from a sitting height to a standing height with an easy maneuver of a controller. Standing desks empower you to choose and customize your work experience with what is best for you.  Raising and lowering the desk is entirely under your control.

If one of your daily victories is working while standing up, it would be a good idea to have a standing desk anti-fatigue mat ready. Their supportive cushioning will help improve your blood flow and circulation while aiding in posture improvement and back pain relief. Although, if remaining seated is what you prefer, it is suggested that you invest in an ergonomic chair to mitigate the negative effects that sitting can have on your health. 

At the end of the day, the best morning rituals are activities that when practiced regularly, result in long-term benefits. Keep in mind to nurture your career, relationships, and yourself (hints for the latter two: (1) mornings are a good time to nurture your relationships with your family, friends, spouses, or partners (2) people who work out in the mornings are more likely to stick with it).

Starting your productive and efficient day is well at hand. Remember, if it has to happen, then it has to happen first. If you wait until the end of the day to do meaningful but not urgent things such as exercise, pray, read, or give your family time, it probably won’t happen.