There’s a reason the most successful people are up and at it bright and early: Most adults’ focus and alertness peak in the morning, says a body of research. While a 2:30 a.m. wake-up call might not do it for you (even if it does it for Mark Wahlberg), you’re probably still functional in the early hours. Or at least need to be. So now the real question: How do we use that time to our advantage? We need to figure out how to get focused in the morning. And that’s exactly what we’re going to tell you.
How to Get Focused Early in the Day For Maximum Productivity
For this post, we’ve put together five steps to help you break through that wall and turn the research on how to find focus into results. We hope these tips will help you craft a reliable routine for getting focused and getting things done in the morning. And all day long.
Step 1: Work with your unique sleep pattern
Your morning routine starts the night before. If you regularly feel like drowning in your coffee, it’s likely that you’re ignoring your own natural sleeping pattern. So to figure out how to get focused in the morning, you first have to figure out how to sleep better at night. You have three options:
- Play with your sleeping and waking times. If you have flexibility in your schedule, do some trial and error to figure out the sleep and wake hours that max out your daily energy. Luckily, there are some tools to make this experiment easier on you. You can either use a simple sleep diary or a sleep app that can record your data for you. Whether it’s 5:00 or 9:30, the goal is to pinpoint the wake-up time that makes you feel and work at your best.
- Block out the noise and light. Modern life doesn’t follow the rising and setting sun, so it’s on you to protect your own sleep environment. For your body to adjust to a consistent sleep pattern, light and noise are your worst enemies. Use a sleeping mask and ear plugs, set a reminder to shut off the lights at the same time every evening, or invest in a white-noise machine and blackout curtains.
- Go to bed earlier. Yeah, we know. It’s not easy, but if you really want to take advantage of your morning, this is the way to do it. Every morning that you feel drowsy, go to bed a half hour earlier the next night. Repeat until you feel like your fully-awake self the next morning. There’s simply no substitute for sleep when it comes to productivity. We’ll keep you posted if this changes though.
Step 2: Use the snooze button wisely
Most snooze buttons have a default length of nine minutes, begging you to hit them over and over until you don’t have enough time to shower before making the commute. The problem? Sleep scientists now say that the snoozing habit is pretty much a waste of time. In fact, your tendency to hit snooze 37 times might even make you feel drowsier due to sleep inertia.
If you’re not ready to give up your snooze entirely, try this. Change the length of your snooze cycle to fifteen or twenty minutes and—this is important—only press the button once. Fifteen to twenty minutes is the expert-recommended sweet spot for an energizing nap that is long enough to boost your cognitive performance and short enough to avoid grogginess.
After this new snoozing approach takes hold, the goal is to eliminate the need for the snooze button at all, though we know that’s not always possible. You’ll know you’ve established a solid sleep pattern when you start to naturally wake up before your alarm even goes off in the first place. Yes, that actually happens.
Step 3: Start the day with something you love
The best news? The research on how to get focused actually involves having some fun. (Science for the win.) In other words, you don’t need to become a working machine as soon as you pop out of bed. Instead, start each morning with something you enjoy to boost your energy and get a baseline of positive emotions to carry you through the day.
What you do is all about your personal preference. There’s just one rule—make sure it’s separate from the normal grind of your daily life. Here are some good options: Read the newspaper with a cup of coffee, meditate, work out, or listen to your favorite podcast.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, it’s essential to your morning routine. You’re not a robot, and you need a dose of positive experiences to get your mind energized for the day. It’s your best shot at building a morning routine that will continue to work for the long term.
Step 4: Dive straight into your most important work
Now it’s time to get it done. You’re rested and alert, and you have a baseline of positive emotions to draw from. Go to your workspace and get started on your most important task for the day. Even if the task seems difficult, remember that you will literally never be more alert and clear-headed than now, in these precious morning hours.
Even if you’ve done everything you need to prepare for this block of deep work, you’ll likely need to take a few extra steps to protect yourself from distraction. Here are some ideas:
- Turn on do-not-disturb modes on both your laptop and phone
- Shut the door if you have one
- Change your Slack status
- Put on your headphones or earplugs
- Don’t let anyone interrupt you unless there’s a genuinely urgent need
The exact amount of time for this block of focused work depends on your individual situation. In fact, don’t be afraid of spending a few hours in the zone, says Deep Work author, Cal Newport. Just know that you won’t be able to intensely concentrate that whole time without taking a few small breaks.
One thing to avoid at this point? Emails and notifications. Even one distracting notification can derail performance on your current task.
Over time, people will come to understand and respect your routine of uninterrupted work in the morning. They might even be asking you for your tips on how to get focused. (And that would just make us proud.)
Step 5: Now you can check your emails and notifications
You’ve just plowed through your toughest tasks, so it’s time to come out of your bunker and join the rest of the world. Here is a good spot to check your work emails and messages. The rest of your day will probably involve minor emergencies and unpredictable turns, just like yesterday and tomorrow. (Unfortunately, knowing how to get focused doesn’t protect us from that.)
However, you don’t have to hide from these daily demands because you’re at an advantage. Your daily routine of prioritizing important work puts you in a better position to handle these fires than someone who’s done busy-work all morning.
Step 6 and beyond: Repeat daily for maximum morning focus
The secret for how to get focused in the morning is all about a routine that prioritizes sleep and joy and protects against distraction. And don’t get us wrong, we know it’s hard. After all, we’re distractible and, well, human. The best we can do is consistently set ourselves up for a calm and focused block of work every day in the morning and keep at it until we find what works best for us.
Your turn: Do you have any good tips for how to get focused in the early hours? Share them in the comments!
Now that you’re focused and getting work done, here are some ways to stay happy on the job all day long.
Author: Scott Trimble
Scott researched human motivation at The University of Texas at Austin. He spends most of his time traveling, reading, teaching, and writing.