We all know the saying, “The early bird gets the worm.” While it can be tempting to hit the snooze button in the morning, it turns out there are some benefits to being the first one in the office.
A typical day at the office is filled with nonstop interruptions and distractions. The workday is often used for “urgent work” and meetings. All these interruptions take away from our focus on the “important work,” or work that requires heavy concentration. “It takes employees 15 minutes to refocus once they’ve been interrupted,” says Eileen Adler, chief human resources officer at PeopleFluent.
Adler argues that those who come to the office between 7 and 9 a.m. are often more productive and motivated, since they use this time to focus on what’s important. “[It’s a time] when employees can prioritize, review, plan, and work on projects that require an employee’s ‘full brain’ without interruptions,” says Adler, an early bird herself, who says she often feels less productive on the days she doesn’t arrive early to the office and simply jumps into meetings. “An employee who starts their day with a fresh, clear mind is more conducive to sound judgment and creative problem solving,” she says.
Using the early-morning hours for personal nourishment can help improve productivity later in the day. “The brain releases cortisol early in the morning, which needs to be processed by waking up, getting out of bed, and moving your body,” says Zan Hogan, a personal development coach. Hogan has worked with high-performing senior leaders from Fortune 1000 companies and says the most successful business leaders wake up between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m. to do vigorous exercise such as jogging or swimming.
“Aerobic exercise pumps blood to your brain and powers it with glucose and oxygen, allowing you to get more done, and quickly,” he says. Only a half hour of exercise is required for the brain to function at its optimal capacity, allowing you to reap the rewards of focus, memory, and creativity in those early hours.
Jacqueline Rosales, COO of SoapBoxSample, starts her workday at 7 a.m. At this time, she clears her inbox, allowing her to start each day with a strong handle on where her team stands and how to prioritize the day. She replies to emails and sends team assignments. “I know that my team is better prepared to hit the road running when they get to the office if I have spent my morning responding and sending priorities. This ensures no loss of critical time needed to complete projects,” she says.
“If I wait to start my day at 9 a.m. or later, it’s highly likely that a number of people may not hear from me until late morning or early afternoon as I juggle the inevitable curve balls that come every day,” she says. Seven to 9 a.m. means time without meetings and is, for Rosales, the most productive time of the day. “My phone is not ringing off the hook, a crisis has not happened, and most of my team is on their way to work. By focusing my efforts before many are working, it frees me up to be a resource and support of my team and clients throughout the day,” she says.
According to researchers Mareike Wietha and Rose Zacks in an article published in the journal Thinking & Reasoning, working early in the morning, when you’re still groggy, promotes greater insight, problem solving capabilities, and creativity when compared to starting the day after 9 a.m., when you’re feeling more alert and awake. Gregory Kimball, VP of marketing & PR for Caskers, says he finds himself most creative during the early-morning hours. Kimball wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and works for about 90 minutes at home before going to the office. “I am the most creative during the early hours of the day, so for the first 90 minutes working from home, I allow myself to work on whatever interests me most that day,” he says.
In our increasingly globally connected economy, working early in the morning is often required in order to connect with employees working in different time zones. Caroline de Baere, VP of footwear at PLAE, starts her morning bus ride at 7:15 a.m. answering emails from the VP in Taiwan, whose day is just ending as hers is beginning, and connects with team members in other time zones in the U.S. PLAE’s Midwest and East Coast sales teams have been working for a couple of hours by the time she starts work, so she wants to be able to promptly answer any questions they might have.