Hello, my name is Elaine, and I am not a morning person.
Yet despite this, I appear to be a fully functioning, highly productive employee and creative freelancer. How so?
The rich, powerful, and hugely successful routinely report and advocate for an early morning start as the best way to set yourself up for success. From Apple CEO Tim Cook (3:45 a.m.) and Richard Branson (5:45 a.m.), to prolific writer Stephen King (5 a.m.) and Oprah Winfrey (6 a.m.), it seems an early morning is the daily habit you must cultivate to maximize productivity.
If, like me, the idea of waking before the crack of dawn makes you feel slightly nauseous, it’s easy to think that optimal success and productivity will always be just outside your reach.
But there may be hope for us yet!
Madeleine Dore, creator of Extraordinary Routines, has interviewed dozens of creative freelancers about their lives, what makes them successful, and how they overcome challenges. The key thing she’s found? There is no significant predictor for success:
“I’ve come to understand that being an early riser does not necessarily determine success in a given field. It’s a mistake to place too much emphasis on what time you start the day, instead of what you are doing to kick start your morning. Waking up at 5 in the morning may work for some, but for others, it simply interferes with their creativity, energy, or natural biorhythms.”
We often fixate on quick fixes. We want to be told how to be better, and one of the most prolific ways we do this is by focusing on the habits of successful individuals. We want to copy them, emulate them, and find success just the way they have.
But by having an external focus on what others are doing, we forget that the real key for optimal productivity and success is learning what works best for our own mind and body.
So, what are some productivity strategies that DON’T involve a pre-dawn rise?
1. Switch to single-tasking
David Strayer, a Professor of Psychology, researched how people well master multi-tasking. They found that in reality, only 2% of the population can effectively juggle multiple tasks. Further research carried out by the American Psychological Association found that multi-tasking actually reduced productivity by up to 40%.
Switching to single-tasking could make you far more productive—no matter what time of the day you do it!
2. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro technique is a nifty little time management method. The technique breaks the day into manageable chunks of time, with a task assigned to each chunk and a little “well done!” break in between tasks. You get to decide how long your “chunks” are—25 minutes is heralded by the technique, but it’s entirely up to you and your alarm clock.
It takes some planning and preparation, but if you have multiple tasks, creative pursuits, and life admin to get done, this technique is a great way of dividing up your time to boost your productivity.
3. Eat the frog
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you for the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
The message here is that by tackling your toughest task at the start of your day, it frees you up to get on with all the other things you’d much rather be doing. By facing up to the dreaded task first, your mind is fresh and focused. It can also help us feel more energized, because we know that we’ve already had a big win for our productivity.
4. Learn to say “no (thank you)”
When I started out freelancing as a writer, I would send pitches left, right and center. It worked—I got offered a range of different projects. The problem? I said yes to all of them.
It’s one thing to secure work, but sometimes we need to take a step back and weigh up if the work is something we really want to be doing, or if we’re wrapped up in the buzz of someone offering us work.
Saying no is a very powerful productivity tool. Knowing when you should say yes to a project that allows you produce something of value is extremely important. As a creative freelancer, it’s important to know where to put your time and energy.
5. Embrace your bed-loving self
Winston Churchill was a reported late riser, enjoying a lay-in to read his mail, read the newspaper, and eat breakfast before getting up to dress at 11 a.m. Similarly, Anna Ross, Kester Black founder and 2016 Telstra Business Women Award winner, enjoys a slower morning routine:
“The first thing I do is I grab my phone and check the Sleep Cycle app. Then I’ll reach down for my laptop and start to check all my emails and pretty much do all of my accounting and invoicing in bed. . . it makes everything as easy as possible for when I finally get to work.“
For me, my bed is my hive of creative output. It’s where I read, write, and wake up and scribble barely legible details of the dream I had at 3 a.m. It’s where ideas randomly pop into my head. It’s where I feel relaxed and calm, and where I make plans for the day. Utilizing this in the morning to handle emails, invoices, meeting requests, and agendas helps me feel in control and ready to tackle whatever’s next.
I have no shame in admitting that on days I don’t have to be in the office, 11 a.m. is the time I like to rise and go in search of coffee, confident that I’ve spent a good couple of hours setting myself up for a productive day. All from the comfort of the place I love most: my bed.
Don’t force the productivity habits of others if they leave you miserable. Work with what works for you. No matter how many times you have to hit that snooze button.