I've long believed that if you want to get more done, the best way to make that happen is to get up early. I'm not the only one. Plenty of people far more successful than me swear that morning is their most productive time. There is even research that the early bird does, in fact, get the proverbial worm--or at least gets more done.
There are a few reasons I think this is true, and, believe it or not, it's not about having more time. Getting up early isn't about working more hours of the day. I still get the same amount of sleep as most people, but there's a tangible benefit to being up early in the morning.
In an interview with the Australian Financial Review, Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, said that his day starts at 4 a.m. every day. That's admittedly earlier than I get up, but I also don't run the most valuable company on earth. I do work from home and have four young children. As for why Cook starts his day that early, his explanation might be the best I've heard yet:
I do that because I can control the morning better than the evening and through the day. Things happen through the day that kind of blow you off course. The morning is yours. Or should I say, the early morning is yours.
Let's be honest, the main barrier to productivity is the countless number of things that "blow you off course" throughout the day. Even if you start your day with a plan and a well-organized to-do list, it doesn't take much to get sidetracked. That single sentence explains why most people aren't as productive as they'd like to be, and it unlocks the real reason morning people are more productive.
I imagine you know what I mean. It doesn't take much: a Slack message from your manager with an urgent request. A Zoom meeting that leads to five new items on your to-do list. Kids or family members that need your attention.
Often it can be hard to find time to think through what you need to accomplish, and even harder to find time to actually do those things. That's the advantage of being up early. There are almost no distractions, and you have far more control over your time if, for no other reason, than most of your colleagues aren't likely to be up.
What does Cook do during those early hours? There are two things that are worth mentioning. First, however, the more important fact is that Cook has a specific routine. He gets up early, but he gets up with a plan.
For Apple's CEO, that means his morning starts with reading customer emails. "I cannot read all of them," Cook said. "I'd not admit to doing that. But I read an extraordinary number of them. It keeps my hands on the pulse of what customers are feeling and thinking and doing."
Cook also said that working out is a part of his morning routine. "I go to the gym and work out for an hour because it keeps my stress at bay," he said.
Maybe more important, "I'm off-grid for that period," he said. "And I am religious about doing that regardless of what's going on at the time."
Both of those are great examples, but I think the important lesson is to use this time for whatever you won't be able to devote time to the rest of the day. If that's reading email, do that. If it's listening to a podcast while going for a walk, do that.
By the way, you don't have to be the CEO of a $2 trillion company to benefit from increased productivity in the morning. Are there productive people who don't get up early? Sure. There are always exceptions to every rule.
It's also possible that many of them have a lot more friction in their daily work because they have less control over their time. It'd argue getting up earlier could make their life easier.
You don't have to get up as early as Tim Cook, but you might be surprised how much more productive you are if you tried getting up even an hour or so earlier than you already do. I get up every morning around 5 a.m. because it gives me a few hours before everyone else in our house gets up. Considering that "everyone else" includes four children ages 7 to 13, I'll take every hour I can get to be more productive. The best part is, you can too.