While I'm not exactly a "morning person," I definitely consider the early pre-working hours to be among the most important in my day. It's my time to start thinking about the goals and challenges that lie ahead (without anyone or anything else requiring my attention!).

Doing a little planning for my mornings--and, yes, getting up earlier a couple of days a week (see No. 1 below)--has transformed how I feel when I arrive at my office, and how much I can actually get done every day.

Making a few small changes to your own a.m. approach can help you feel a lot more energized and productive before the day's calls, projects, and meetings take over.

Here are four things to try to get more out of every morning.

1. Become a Part-Time Early Bird

We've all heard it before: The most successful people wake up with the sun and tackle their goals before everyone else opens their eyes. That oft-repeated wisdom has actually been proved by research: Morning people are more likely to set and achieve goals

As a confirmed night owl, I used to tell myself that there was no way I could or would rise before dawn to get the day started (after all, isn't lack of sleep bad for productivity?). But after starting both my business and my family within the same 12 months, I quickly realized that for me, those early morning hours are absolutely precious--for highly focused work, working out, and getting some uninterrupted time to focus on whatever is important to me right now.

With that said, there's no need to wake up at 5 a.m. every single day. Follow my lead, and set your clock at least one hour earlier than usual just twice a week--and make sure to have a solid plan for what you'll be doing with that time. Once you're up, I predict you'll be extremely motivated to get things done!

2. Maximize Your Commute 

Start by investing in a high-quality pair of headphones--and put them to good use. 

You might not want to take an important business call while commuting in on the train, but you can use that time to catch up with a family member, an out-of-town friend, or stream a favorite podcast (I schedule calls with my parents first thing Tuesday mornings, and save the rest of the time to watch pre-downloaded photography classes via LinkedIn Learning). 

Driving to work? Most smartphones offer functionality for voice to text, so you can dictate some messages, and most cars will connect easily to your phone to allow you to tackle calls. A drive is also a great time to squeeze in some personal development via a podcast or audiobook.

3. Prepare Yourself the Evening Before

Whether you're the only person you need to get up and out the door, or you're taking care of pets and kids, too, every minute in the morning is crucial. Do what you can at night: Preset the coffeemaker, lay out clothes, decide what's for breakfast and lunch, and have a mental game plan. The more prepared you are, the easier it'll be to get up when the alarm buzzes. 

I also recommend reworking your to-do list (my favorite free one is Todoist) at the end of every day--rather than when you first get to work--so that your mind is clear for sleep, and you have a solid plan when you first sit down at your desk each morning. You can always adjust a bit as needed.

4. Carve Out Time for What You Love

I used to check social media first thing in the morning--until I realized I really wasn't getting much out of that experience. Cutting that habit saved me at least 10 minutes in the morning, which I now use for other things that make me smile. 

A New York Times journalist interviewed 300 high achievers to find out how they master their mornings, and many of them set the tone with something that makes them happy.

Even if it's only for a few minutes, give yourself the space for a mood-boosting activity: enjoy a hot breakfast, do a few yoga stretches, or snuggle with your dog or nearby loved one. It'll put you in a good mood--and could take your day in a truly positive direction.

Published on: May 28, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.