5 Easy Ways to Start a Productive Day

Productive SunriseIn the quest for ultimate productivity it’s important to think about how you get started in the morning.

As easy as it is to skimp on your routine, rush breakfast, and then try to dive right into work — that’s not usually the best way to go.

Without starting your morning properly you may never hit your full efficiency, or worse, you could doom the rest of your day to failure.

On the positive side, a good morning routine can make it a whole lot easier to be productive for the rest of the day.

With that in mind, here are 5 ways to start a very productive day:

1. Get a good night’s sleep

Your morning begins as soon as that alarm wakes you up. If it happens to wake you up 4 hours after you went to sleep, then you’ll probably have a very difficult time being productive for the rest of the day. If you get a full 8 hours, on the other hand, things will look much rosier.

Sleep deprivation has been shown to severely reduce productivity, dramatically shorten your attention span, contribute to obesity and other health problems, and even slow your reaction time as much as alcohol.

If you need some help shutting down and falling asleep earlier, I recommend checking out Pzizz.com’s sleep tracks — they work wonders for an over-active mind. I also highly recommend Dave Navarro’s Becoming an Early Riser Program — he has a ton of great advice for getting awesome sleep and waking up with lots of energy.

2. Spend 20 minutes being disciplined

Get in the habit of doing something every morning that requires a lot of discipline. Find something that is very good for you, something that you feel great about doing (usually after the fact), and make sure you do it every morning.

Personally, I like to go for a 20 minute run. Okay, I actually hate running, but I feel great afterward — and every morning that I go running I have this great accomplishment to look back on for the rest of the day. It’s like a pace-setter reminding me that even if I don’t want to work hard, I’ve done it before, and I’ll feel great when things get completed.

3. Eat Breakfast

There really isn’t much to say about this, except that its importance has been studied and proven as much as the importance of sleep. So eat your breakfast, and eat it good.

4. Clarify EXACTLY what tasks are productive

Don’t just write a task list every morning — we all know that it’s possible to work hard all day long and not really accomplish anything.

Spend 10 minutes and think about the following:

  1. What you have to do today
  2. What you’ve been putting off doing
  3. What you’d like to do today

Once you’ve thought about that, put yourself in your shoes at the end of the day. Imagine you’re looking back at all of the things you did during the day and evaluating yourself. Now — which things really matter? Which things make the biggest difference?

It’s those tasks that need to be on your list, and it’s those things that you need focus on to make your day productive.

5. Get into work mode

Once you’ve completed your morning routine, had breakfast, clarified your daily goals, etc… it’s time to get into work mode. Shower (or don’t), shave (or don’t), get dressed (or don’t), drive to the office (or not), and basically do whatever you need to do to get ready for work.

The goal is to remove yourself from distractions and prepare to focus on doing work. Whether you’re working at home or in an office, it helps to create a routine that clearly signifies this change. Once you have those mental blinders in place, you can step away from all things not related to work and get down to business.

These points have helped me sharpen my productivity, but each person is different. Do you have any tips that you use to help kick-start a productive day?

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Comments

  1. Abe says

    That was a very good read. Short sweet and it touches on those things that I always realize at the end of the day and wish I could think of first thing in the morning..

    I have been sleeping earlier and eating better. Now it is time for the work out and the life direction clarification..

    Thank you,
    Abe

  2. says

    Mason,

    Good post. One other thing I’d add is that I’ve found it’s really helpful to, at the end of each work day, plan what I want to tackle tomorrow – especially the first thing I want to deal with. Thanks!

    Kevin

  3. says

    Number 4, clarifying priorities, is a big one for me. Without that I tend to drift off and do things that really aren’t that important.

    I’ve actually been getting less sleep recently and finding my productivity to be up. I think everyone is different here and in general it’s good to get more sleep, but I’m learning that I can function quite well on less sleep than I ever thought. However, I do have days once every week or two where I wish I had slept more.

  4. says

    @Max — I’m the same way. If I get even an hour or two less sleep than usual I start to lose focus and wander unproductively.

    @Abe — The clarification part has really helped me out. It’s hard to feel productive when you aren’t sure what to do :-)

    @Kevin — I am constantly debating this with some of my friends. Is it better to plan your day in the morning or at the end of the previous day? My preference is to plan it out the morning of, but I know a lot of people who do well the other way around. Do you have any specific reason you prefer planning it the afternoon before?

    @Steven — I’m typically good with about 8hrs, though I know people who can do really well with 6-7. If you’ve been getting less than that though…

    Thanks for the awesome comments everyone!

  5. shiido says

    hi guys nice post,

    In the afternoon or at night, i do a revision of what i did and what i didn´t and what i have to do , a mind revision, and in the morning, i wake up, and i know exactly what i have to do, and with a little luck my dreams help my inspiration too!
    but when i do a todo paper, is always in the morning, so i can prepare myself for the day…

    best,
    Shiido
    freelancer graphic designer (home edition ^-^)

  6. says

    Great ideas. Maybe I’ll exercise before work instead of after. I also need to set the kids up with something to do, quietly, so I can get some work done. I wish people would stop calling me during the day when I’m trying to work, that would help too. (I work from home)

  7. says

    @Shiido — Splitting it up like that is a good way to go. It can help get things out of your head at night so sleeping is easier, and it also reduces the likelihood of forgetting anything.

    To everyone who mentioned the exercise — It is tough when you get started (takes a lot of discipline) but once you get in the habit it’s really a great way to start a productive day. Leaves you awake, in a good mood, and full of energy.

  8. Rob says

    I sleep in a room with a non-curtained window which faces east. I wake up with the sun, and no longer use an alarm clock. My wake up is natural and not artificial, and that is one of the best ways to start your day. Nothing worse then being awoken in the middle of REM sleep. I also do a 30-60 minute jog mid-day which is an excellent way to keep up energy in general, and to not hit the slow down which seems to occur in the afternoon.

  9. shiido says

    Because of this post, i did some run this morning, 6h30am and i was running, it feels very good! and its relaxing, you can see birds party on the electric wires, feel that morning smell, and your city is much more relaxing when almost everyone is a sleep and all the shops are closed.
    (now i have to quit smoking!)

    @Rob, i do that too!! i only use the alarm clock when i have an important interview or something like that….

  10. says

    I love waking up via sunlight, but unfortunately there are other members of the household who need to be up before dawn. So, alarm clock it is.

    @Shiido — Awesome job on the running! It is amazing how different everything is early in the morning, I agree that it’s very refreshing. That is, of course, once you manage to get out of bed :-)

  11. says

    I’ve recently resolved to start my day with a “commute.” Since I’ve worked from home, there have been too many days I’ve never gotten outside before dark, and then find myself feeling restless and discontent. Now, I make sure to get outside in the morning before starting work. Ideally, for a bike ride or semi-strenuous exercise, but sometimes it’s just a leisurely stroll to get coffee, or to the lake to watch the birds. With my new commute, I have something to look forward to when I get out of bed, and I come home refreshed and ready to work. I find myself more alert and focused when I do this, and I recommend it to everyone!
    I’ve also started waking up naturally instead of with an alarm clock, and it’s far more enjoyable.

  12. says

    I am the ultimate procrastinator which leads me to to be ultimately unproductive but am going to try your common sense approach above and will let you know!

  13. says

    Great tip in number 4 – too many peoples lives are controlled by what they think they have to do in the day (usually unimportant stuff) rather than what they would like to do.

  14. says

    I like to make my to-do list the day before. That way I go home feeling like I can relax and stop thinking about work. It also helps me sleep at night. Instead of lying awake worrying about what I need to make sure I remember to do the next day, I know that it’s already lined up for me. It also helps wrap up the day at work for me. The last fifteen minutes of the workday are always unproductive for me work-wise, to be honest, so if I create the to-do list in that time, at least I get something useful done.

    I really like the suggestions of making sure that the items on the to-do list are actually the ones that need to be there. I’ve been known to write the same thing down day after day, and still put off doing it each day!

  15. says

    Normaly I do 1hr or + yoga (including 5 min relaxation and 10 meditation)
    ~6 mornings a week.

    But when I urge for more energy, I get up earlier,
    and ride my bike to a random location (wood, swamp, hill, quiet and interesting)
    to watch the sun rise, this is adding up so much purposefulness to my morning routine and
    I like to sneak out silently while every ones sleep.

    Btw yoga can effectively replace a couple hours of sleep if you done well.with coffee of course!

  16. says

    Yes, this is the right order.

    Exercise, then eat a healthy meal, then go to work. Many people go straight to work, and a couple of years later they find themselves burnt out. You have to make your body strong first, and you’ll find the work gets much easier to do.

  17. says

    Good tips Max. Here is another one that I highly recommend.

    Spend 30 minutes in the morning reading a relevant book to your industry or job. I find that it helps jump start your brain in the morning getting it focused on business and you work. In addition, depending on the book it can be a source of motivation.

    I started trying this a few months back and it has done wonders.

  18. says

    I’d actually recommend doing the list part of #4 the night before, and limiting how much you can do to four hours of work, instead of eight hours of work (inspired by http://thinksimplenow.com/productivity/the-4-hour-workday/ )

    Doing it the night before means you can start immediately when you are done with the other 4 items on this list. You know what you need to do, and you don’t have to come back up to speed with everything on your list to determine what needs to be done today.

    Limiting to four hours means you need to be focused, which also leads nicely into #5.

  19. says

    I really didn’t think 20 minutes would make a difference but now that I think about it, on days which I have done that, it really helps.

    From tomorrow on, I’ll be doing this!!

  20. says

    This was a great reminder that I need to work on the sleep thing, and the breakfast thing lol. I Have started working out again and I have to say it has made a tremendous difference in how I feel, definitely gotta stay healthy to be productive!

  21. Bas says

    On my internship (which was very boring actually), I used to get up 15 minuten before I needed to have my trainride, rushing everything like hell, and then race to the trainstation on my bike. Then at work I collapsed.

  22. says

    Nice to see some good, and if we’re honest obvious things to remember and put in place.

    Being that they are obvious means that they are over looked. At least personally.

    Interesting idea with the 20mins of discipline related activity every morning.

    Will put that one in effect I reckon.

    m.

  23. says

    Great post Mason
    I find that sometimes I start work by checking emails and I could continue doing that for half an hour or longer. If I can start the day with something solid, then I feel that I have already accomplished something, making me feel motivated.

    Nic at CrossLingo

  24. says

    Some good stuff, I have just recently got into a similar mode.

    I was a night owl and found that getting up early was definitely more productive. I have been getting up around 6 and eating a small bowl of cereal, then shooting over to a local coffee shop for some coffee and 2-4 to figure out my day.

    In the first hour I normally check my mail and social networks, write up my to-do list and then hit up some sites like ffffound.com or welovetypography for some inspiration or I’ll do a little reading from some blogs (normally both are on my rss). Normally able to get that done in the first hour. (and unless my email box is overflowing, I try to limit it to an hour)

    Then get 1-3 hours of solid work done, (whatever #1 is on my list) and can normally knock it out in 1-3 hours.

    so by 10 am you’ve gotten everything done and your ready for the day. Already feeling like you’ve accomplished quite a bit.

    I normally go home for 2nd breakfast and eat some good eggs and bacon on toast and am ready to take on the day.

    The only thing I regret is my running.
    I was running in the morning 20 minutes to jump start my day, and then at night about a 30 minute jog and then a 30 minute walk to unwind my day and help me reflect on everything that happened durring the day and help me organize my thoughts and priorities. And when I got home, I’d make dinner and then over dinner write up a list of todo’s before a movie.

    Those two things I need to work back into my day.

    But hitting up a coffee shop and working for a bit has made all the difference in my productivity.

  25. says

    Great post! I’m identifing with all the five points…
    It’s incredible as the best things are in the simples ones….

    Mason thank you for sharing them….

  26. says

    Wow..I have this wrong connotation that working round the clock makes me more productive.. i have been on a worst 21 hour straight work just recently.. thanks a lot for sharing.. i should be and will start to practice sleeping on time..

  27. Katy says

    Great blog post and comments. Like others here I’m a runner, and I go for a run almost every morning after putting my 3rd grader on the school bus. It clears my head, gives me an energy boost and allows me to get my exercise out of the way so I can focus on projects.

    I really liked Amy’s idea about a “commute” when you work from home, because it is important to separate home life from work life even though you’re in the same physical space. It seems like it provides a nice transition in the morning and a kick start to the workday – I’m going to try that one.

  28. says

    I just saw this article, and it’s really good. Productive days are so very different from nonproductive days, and it usually does start right away early in the morning. Thanks and thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments and sharing of ideas.

  29. says

    Really great post, I’ve been having troubles sleeping past year and ofc, felt like shit every day ( no creativity, productivity, willingness to live, etc. ).

    Now that I got myself to old habbits of running every morning and getting up early ( except for sundays ofc ), I feel alive again. Man, what a good feeling :)

  30. Gregor Colnik says

    old, but good post.
    I occasionally just work, the first thing in the morning, straight out of bed, start programming or designing or whatever needs to be done.
    After an hour or two i take a break and do the necessary stuf (breakfast, shower,…), and during this break i can’t wait to get back to computer to work some more.

    This way i outrun my laziness before it even wakes up :D

  31. says

    The one thing i really like about my new freelancing lifestyle is that I can go to gym in the morning before starting work at 10am.

    It really wakes me up and helps me face the day with high spirits and a lot more energy.

    Knowing what you have to achieve tomorrow before hitting that hay is also a great idea.

  32. says

    The one single habit that has boosted my productivity is is deciding the day before what my priority tasks are for the next morning, writing them on a sticky note and sticking them on my mouse. Then, while the computer is booting up, I gather anything else I need to get to work and knock off one or two of those tasks before I do anything else.

  33. says

    Yet another good article about what I should be doing. I tend to get stuck on the what I would like to do rather than need to do. I’m trying. Thanks for the reminder.

  34. says

    Thanks dude! Good one. I got some problems with eating breakfast every morning but… gonna try again! I used to make my 2do lists every morning, got no time for running but push-ups are also good!

  35. says

    This was a great read and I couldn’t agree more that getting a good nights sleep is a major importance for productivity, having a hearty breakfast makes the difference to energy levels aswell in my opinion.

  36. says

    Hey Mason

    I liked the point number 4 about going directly to the future and looking to the past. I have a similar pleasure every morning- I revise my dream, my life in five years time. how I look like, who is close to me, how my company looks like and the world around us. My subconscious does the rest. nearly all.

    enjoy your day
    Martyna

  37. says

    I find doing reactive tasks in the morning such as minor website updates and simple emails a good starter. Nothing worse than having boring crap hanging over me. This leaves me free in the afternoon to do the pro-active stuff when I’m at my most creative.

    My Tip:
    Don’t overdo the sleep thing. More is not necessarily better. When I was a new dad, I used to be ok on fewer hours – we have twins so feeding (bottle) was not exactly constant but did take a while. Anyway, quite a few studies have shown that within limits less sleep means better quality, more sleep can mean poorer quality and ultimately counter productive, ie you feel more tired so go to bed earlier and feel more tired etc.

    7 hours should be enough for almost everyone, but also hours before midnight are better than hours after. If you’re used to something else, changing your pattern will take a while do it a little at a time.

    Night-night!

  38. says

    Great post! I agree with the morning routine and exercise. Exercise is a great way to get your mind into a smooth thinking mode rather than an “overwhelmed with everything I have to do” mentality. You’ll be able to tackle the day much easier and with more clarity. Thanks for the great tips!

  39. says

    Very useful article – thank you.

    It’s worth pointing out though, that for point 1, the opposite works for a lot of people. It’s an accepted mantra that more sleep = good, but some people thrive on ‘too little’ sleep.

  40. says

    My best days are when I stick to the routine.
    Get up on time. Get myself situated and dressed for work even though I could just as easily go to work in my PJs.

    I’m terrible at sticking to my own routine. But it’s always for the best when I do.

  41. says

    Great article, thanks! I’m going to make a point of starting my day tomorrow by doing those things – I’m so bad at putting off the running but I always feel better afterwards!

    Jennifer

  42. says

    Mornings have always been the hardest for me, I find my brain takes too long to power up

    One practice I have which is so useful is when I am finishing for the day, I will write a little 3 point to-do list for the next morning. Then when I get up I know exactly what I am meant to be doing, stops all the procrastinating too.

  43. Felipe says

    Every moment is a new moment. If you put your alarm at 6 o clock, but you mistakenly wake up at 8 o clock, it doesn’t matter. Forgive yourself. Be your own (loving) mother. Allow yourself to do 80% instead of 100%, because 80% is a lot better than 0% only because your morning routine didn’t go well.

    Sometimes, if I don’t do a productive morning routine, I think that my whole day messed up, but that’s not true, I still have the rest of the day… and you can still accomplish a lot even if your morning routine was messed up for any reason (usually because i overslept)

  44. Lisa Pater says

    I agree that the best solution for “sleeping issue” is to get to bed earlier, rather than sleep long in the morning.
    Especially that I have read sometime that the best hours for sleeping (you rest most then) are the hours before midnight. Worth considering a plan where you go to bed early.
    And for me personally, it’s better to work in the morning – I’m fresh and I have plenty of new ides.

  45. says

    breakfast is the most important meal of the day., but before doing anything you have listed in the above pages, you should first do a serious prayer that will surely help you have a productive day…

  46. says

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  47. says

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  48. says

    It’s easy to get stuck ‘in a rut’ when you’re working a job that you don’t particularly like etc. Some good tips here though! I’ll give them a try.

  49. says

    This was really cool and I mean it. Every night I go to sleep at, like, 4 in the morning, and get up at 8 and try to make a dash to the office before 9.30. The one thing that kept me surviving in the highly stressful work (about which I am not supposed to tell you anything), is the 10 minute prep thing. I simply do not start anything without planning anything for 10-15 min, with my trusty 40 LKR notepad, and that has saved me more than millions.

    Gist: I have done one, and it has proven to be goddamn right; I’m trying all five. From today. Period.

  50. Tiffany says

    Thanks for this. It’s been said so many times by so many people that a morning routine is essential to success. My only trouble is sticking with one! Well it takes time to form new habits. Exercise in the morning helps to energize me a LOT. I also like to meditate, eat a good breakfast, and get all washed up and dressed, even though I work from home. I think something in me resists this process as somewhat frivolous since I’m not leaving the house. But I really do work better when I do stick with my morning routine.

  51. says

    Breakfast is very important to any productive morning and I love a glass of water the night before :)

    The reading a book idea to jump-start your brain is a good idea! I’ll be giving it a try xx

  52. says

    One way I used to start my day was with the priority list that I prepare for every day. With these lists, I can complete the most important tasks easily as I believe the first half of the work day is most effective.

  53. narendra says

    my thought about before start morning have a full fill energy with good sleep(past day we should be involved full hard work ,without hard work we can,t fell good sleep after that have to us a good bed & cloth .then we can start our sweet morning.

  54. says

    Given distractions like online entertainment, office snacking habits and ill-designed time management, we’re only churning out high-quality work a portion of each day. Thank you for the pointers.

    • Ryan Domm-Thomas says

      Tracy,

      I completely agree with you. The distractions can vary depending on what your work environment is. Staying focused by utilizing these few tips can really help us throughout the day to be and stay more productive! Do you do anything specific to avoid the distractions you mentioned?

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