Focus on your morning routine?
Why timing matters more than we think
Since the 2015 Stanley Cup run of the Chicago Blackhawks I can be safely filed under “early morning bird”. That’s when I discovered the magic of undisturbed mornings, a fresh mind and full focus until rest of the world awakes.
The only way to follow each game live from Europe (e.g., games usually would start at 2–3am every second day) forced me to get creative.
Split-sleeping was killing me: I tried to sleep from around 11pm to 2am for 3 hours and then right after the game had ended (mind you — all those overtime nights!) another 3. This cycle was doing horrifying things to my body and brains.
I was totally cracked and people started to worry.
Then I made it more simple. My goal was to get up at 2am every day (or night?). I wanted about 6–7 hours of sleep. A minus B equals… well… 8pm.
Somewhere in late April I started to go to bed at 8pm. Until the Blackhawks secured the Stanley Cup in Game 6.
Those 2 play-off months changed my life and my view on early mornings, indefenitely!
Whatever the topic is that comes to my mind and sparks my interest, I always try to figure out what others are saying — and especially what science is thinking.
Sure, we quite often hear and read about very successful people getting up at the crack of dawn. Many attribute at least parts of their success to their membership in the 5am club. There is even a quite popular book of the same name by Robin Sharma.
While I find it — let’s say emotionally very tough to read (it’s a bit over-spiritually written) the key message is clear: Get up and you will do miracles.
Or something like that.
But, did you ever really ask yourself why?
I mean come on, “unfocused” work? That can be done also at 2pm.
Well, or maybe not so much — says science!
How our body and brain work
The first thing I learned when digging into this whole topic — there is something called “chronobiology”. Which basically means the science of “good timing”, it refers to “the day-night cycle that affects the human organism when the earth rotates“.
Are we really at our best in the morning? In that case, could we just scrap the rest of the day? Why do so many people claim, “I am just not a morning person”? Or is maybe all of this just big hocus pocus and all big marketing?
You see, questions over questions, and I found some quite interesting things.
Look, I used to be a real night owl in my teenage years. Somehow naturally that changed, latest when I got my first real job at a bank.
But during spring 2015, not only became the Blackhawks Stanley Cup Champion — but I turned into a real lark.
Generally, one in five people is a night owl, while roughly 60% to 80% of us do our best in the mornings. Clearly, things like age have an effect on this behaviour (we’ve all been there, right?). There’s a reason why science tells us it’s not in the best interest for our kids (at least of a certain age) to start school at 07:00’ish.
In a Twitter-study Macy and Golder found (published in the eminent journal Science) a remarkably consistent pattern across people’s waking hours. Positive affect generally rose in the morning, plummeted in the afternoon, and climbed back up again in the early evening.
This graph from the book “When — The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” takes the hourly ratings for happiness and subtracts the ratings for frustration.
PS: You might want to read the book “When. The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” by Daniel H. Pink, which brilliantly cover the timing aspect of your day (and life, for that matter).
In many tests the outcome is: We do our best mostly in the earlier hours of the day. I am not talking about 5 or 6am, though — take this example here by Simon Folklard, as early as 1975:
„Subjects performed two tests of logical reasoning at each of six different times of day. In terms of speed, performance on both tests was found to improve markedly from 08.00 to 14.00 and then to fall off fairly rapidly. […] It is suggested that the larger the short-term memory component of a task the earlier in the day performance peaks “
Creative writing might be at its best just after waking up as this is the time of day when the prefrontal cortex is most active. A scientific study of brain circuits confirmed that this creative activity is highest during and immediately after sleep, while the analytical parts of the brain (the editing and proofreading parts) become more active as the day goes on.
It does make sense. You’re rested (I mean, if you got a good night’s sleep), at that point you have not been confronted with the stupidity of the world (that’s why you should avoid emails and social media as long as possible in the morning) and “your mind is more vigilant”, says Daniel Pink in his book “When”.
All clear? Well, not quite. There come our friends Mareike Wieth and Rose Zacks in the game.
Timing is the key
Suddenly they come and publish a paper called “Time of day effects on problem solving: When the non-optimal is optimal”, which basically says we might be most creative at non-optimal times. Meaning, that imaginative insights are most likely to come to us when we’re groggy and unfocused. The mental processes that inhibit distracting or irrelevant thoughts are at their weakest in these moments, allowing unexpected and sometimes inspired connections to be made.
As Professor Sian Beilock puts it: “Sometimes people’s ability to think about information in new and unusual ways can actually be hampered when they wield too much brainpower.”
So I had to do more digging and dived into “When”, the book about perfect timing by Daniel Pink.
He basically concludes that we all have a clear peak, a through followed by a rebound throughout the day.
Generally, there is clear evidence that alertness and energy levels, which climb in the morning and reach their apex around noon, tend to plummet during the afternoons, say a study by Robert Matchock and Toby Mordkoff (“Chronotype and time-of-Da Influences on the Alerting, Orienting, and Executive Components of Attention”, 2009)
For the sake of simplicity, I will focus on the majority of the folks — mean larks and third birds. However, the concept of course also applies to night owls, it’s just the timing that is different.
Pink states that all of us experience the day in three stages:
· A peak, a trough, and a rebound à and about three-quarters of us (larks and third birds) experience it in that order.
· But about one in four people, those whose genes or age make them night owls, experience the day in something closer to the reverse order — recovery, trough, peak.
He as well states, not all brainwork is the same and should be packed into the morning. Remember Wieth and Zacks? Yes, the “inspiration paradox” — the idea that “innovation and creativity are greatest when we are not at our best, at least with respect to our circadian rhythms.
Hence, it is more about the understanding that a certain type of work is most suitable to be done in the morning — and others maybe later in the day. This is quite an important aspect.
This variances the right timing can cause 20 percent of the variance in human performance on cognitive undertakings! That is certainly a lot!
This book and its concept can not only be applied to the daily life but also to projects and hell, to our entire life.
You must not only think about how to do certain things — but also when.
What type are you?
So, now that we have sorted that out — how do we find out what type we are and what we should do in the morning?
Well, first of all — I believe mostly you will know to which group you rather belong, right?
If not, here is an online test that can give you a result within a few minutes:
Test yourself here!
I took the test and was actually surprised! I barely “made it” to a “definite morning person”! Well, nevermind.
The more important thing is — what are now the types of work you should do?
Daniel Pink has also an answer to that and matches to what you have read before:
Successful people and their morning routines
Back to our successful and famous friends!
Can you learn anything from their morning routines?
They are successful — right?
Here are some examples of people known to own their mornings (note that someone is actually really having a late morning!):
It is really important for you to understand:
Having a morning routines will not make you super-successful. This requires a lot of other things, too! But it can be a great and important part of your story!
We often try to mimic successful people — but focus only on one single thing. Sure go ahead and to what Tony does in the morning.
You’re not going to become him or anything like him. But it may improve your morning routine.
A lot of the things you hear and read about their morning routines is tactical and out of the big picture. I stopped researching those guys and focused on the science, which is much more helpful when you try to understand the mechanics behind.
However, all those people sure serve as a great part of inspiration and you sure can learn one or the other thing!
Nothing more, nothing less!
What type are you, really?
You probably do know anyway quite well to which group you belong.
If you do not know — then follow the test (actually, take it either way)!
What tasks and activities are the right ones you should and want to focus in the mornings? These do not have to be only work-centric! Focus on yourself first!
You want to drink a juice? Do so! You want to skip or delay breakfast after the first things have been completed — fine!
Make sure the type of work matches your performance capabilities of yourself in the early hours… and distribute other work to more suitable times of the day!