How To Master Your Morning For Peak Productivity

Yes, it's possible to have a leisurely morning and get out the door in less time.

Forget the commute. One of the major upsides of working from home is not having to get yourself out the door—a daily task that consumes a surprising amount of time.

A recent YouGov poll found that the majority of people say it takes them less than half an hour to get ready. But when people generally think of this question, they think of personal care: showering, dressing, and so forth. If you intend to eat, this adds time, as does gathering your things, and—the real X factor—getting other household members out the door as well. According to the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America poll, the average wake-up time for Americans between ages 30 and 65 is right around 6 a.m.. But a Mozy survey found that the average person arrives at the office at 8:18 a.m. If the average commute is around 25 minutes, that puts the time gap between waking up and taking off at almost 2 hours.

Not everyone is spending an hour of this time working out.

So what are we doing with it? A fair amount of puttering, hitting the snooze button, and logistical matters. But there are ways to make all of this take less time.

1. Don’t spend time deciding.

Plenty of organizational experts will tell you to choose your outfit the night before, and there’s something to this. No one likes hunting around for missing pieces in the morning. But this doesn’t necessarily save time. It just moves the decision about what to wear to a different time. Worst case scenario? You spend more time deciding what to wear because you have more time. A better approach is to streamline your closet into limited options that all look good on you. If you don’t know how to do this, hire a stylist to do it for you. You can even organize a "Look Book" of photos of outfits—accessories included—to guide you in the morning. Mental energy spent deciding what to wear is energy you don’t have for other things—one reason President Obama allegedly limits himself to blue or gray suits.

2. Batch process.

People also tell you to pack lunches the night before, but this, too, is about time shifting—within what could be personal time—rather than time saving. A better idea is to designate a small weekend block of time to pack lunch items for the whole week. Many lunch items (yogurt, an apple, peanut butter crackers, trail mix) can sit in a brown bag in the fridge through to Friday. Packing a gym bag? Set out outfits for the whole week. If you don’t own enough clothes to do that, buy them. Doing laundry less frequently saves time, too.

3. Rethink kids' routines.

Are you making children’s lunches? Teach them to make their own, or send them with money (school lunch is getting a lot healthier these days). Children who learn to stick their own homework in their backpacks are learning a valuable life skill about following through. If your kids are too young to get themselves ready, designate tasks to each parent to optimize time or, if that’s not an option, think through your child-care arrangements to minimize morning headaches. One reason some families wind up going the nanny route rather than the day-care route after having a second child is that it means fewer people need to be ready to go at a certain time in the morning.

4. Give everything a home.

Time spent hunting for coats, shoes, bags, umbrellas, phones, keys, wallets, and the like is just wasted. Find a place for all these items right near where you exit your home each morning, and never put them anywhere else. Get a bag in a color that can go with everything—because switching bags is begging for important items to wind up in the wrong one.

5. Consider eating breakfast at work.

If you’ve got an option for family breakfast, take it. But if it’s just you—or your family members have their own early morning priorities—you might stash some pieces of fruit, nuts, or string cheese in your office kitchen. Breakfast need not be elaborate, and any of those items can be eaten in 5 minutes as you’re waiting for the people who are late to your first morning meeting. Sure, this is time shifting rather than time saving, but it’s shifting into what’s often wasted time.

6. Kick your own bad habits.

Sure, you’re turning on the TV in the morning just to check the weather, but your smart phone can tell you that, too—and you won’t get sucked into the heartwarming story about the rescued puppy, followed by the alarming discovery of what’s in your deli’s fruit salad. Of course, your smart phone can deliver your email too, which is its own rabbit hole, but you already know to never check email in the morning, right? You should check the traffic, though, because if you won’t be going anywhere, you may as well sit tight and enjoy a more leisurely morning routine.

[Image: Flickr user Angie Muldowney]

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  • Good ones - would result in saving lot of time and being very productive . But couple of points on the downside

    1) It builds a life with 'legs on skating shoes ' - kind of hurried life where we may choose to turn on the inertia of action always - gradually , it may tend to develop a kind of guilt of spending time in a leisured way .

    2) Other flip side - especially on food - once time efficiency is shown biases us towards that . For example when you see that having food at office ( breakfast) saves time , you may tend to move towards that . It all first calls for what is the priority we take in different speheres of life .

  • Dawn LeBaron

    Excellent article. I'm a single girl who often wonders why the rush when I am up 2 + hours before my day must begin. I will be trying several of these ideas. Thanks!

  • susanjohnston

    Great article, Laura, as always! Like you, I work from home as a writer but there's still the potential to waste time deciding on an outfit or breakfast, which is why I almost always eat wheat toast with almond butter and a piece of fruit on weekdays (it's quick, simplifies decision-making, and gives me the fuel I need for the morning).

    If you work in an office, though, I wonder if eating breakfast there could make you appear sloppy or late? If you beat your coworkers to your desk or have a private office, then you can pretty much do whatever you want without worrying about it as long as you clean up. But if you're chowing down on a bagel and cream cheese or a protein bar in front of cubemates who ate at home, does this potentially create the impression that you were running out the door without time for breakfast at home? (Perhaps a compromise would be something nutritious you can eat on the way to work like a smoothie made with a Magic Bullet.)

  • Dréa B

    Wow. I love this article! I can't tell you how many times I've lost 10 min. because I couldn't find my keys, or my favorite pair of socks!

  • Heather M Schiefer Design

    Since I'm one of the "lucky" ones that works from home now most of this doesn't really apply to me. My son is 17 and gets himself up and to school and my husband is pretty self sufficient as well. When my son was young though, he always preferred to buy lunch. I would pack it sometimes too. We usually set aside a monthly budget for school lunch. He would get so excited when that designated day of the week came along when he got to buy his lunch. And it gave us time that morning to go get hot cocoa and pancakes on our way to school.

  • we.dy johnson

    Hi What work do u do from home? I have 4 kids under 13 and have been trying to find work from home tor a ling time
    . Thanks. Looking forward yo chatting with you. Wendy J.

  • Heather M Schiefer Design

    I am a freelance graphic designer, photographer and web programmer.

  • genica

    Agree with everything except number 4. I don't think young kids should ever have to make their lunch or have to buy their lunch. Yea, food is a lot healthier in lunch rooms, but theyre still pretty unhealthy. I don't know, it seems like having them make their lunch is a like a cop out. Just spend the extra 10 minutes preparing their lunch and add a little note. I know I'd appreciate it and I know I'd feel a little more special.

    Good article though! I enjoyed reading it as I ate my breakfast (although now im in rush mode to get to work. hahah, probably not your agenda huh?)

  • Mark

    You sound like a great mother! My mom did this for me when I was young and I always appreciated it; 10 years later and we're still just as close.