Angie Henson - January 25, 2024

Leveraging The First Hour of the Workday to Boost Productivity

Setting the tone for a successful and satisfying day at the office.

A U.S. Army recruiting campaign in the 1980s featured the slogan: “We do more before 9 am than most people do all day.” While the obvious interpretation was to begin the day at 5 am (or earlier), these TV ads might have been pitching the benefits of an organized and proactive morning routine.

With habits established over years or decades, most of us pay little attention to the tasks we choose to pursue during the critical first hour of the workday, and how these choices shape the balance of the day as we establish effective work and lifestyle routines.

In this blog post, we explain how to leverage the first hour of the day to overcome procrastination, improve time management, and enhance productivity.

The significance of the first hour at work

Why is the first hour of the workday so important? Concentration and energy are usually at optimal levels during the morning hours. With fewer coworkers around and emails coming in, you are also likely to have fewer distractions. The first hour of the day can be an ideal time to get challenging activities off your plate or quietly plan for the balance of the day.

When you leverage your clear mind for maximum impact, you gain a sense of control and accomplishment that can last throughout the workday. On the other hand, many of the tasks you instinctively perform first, like reading emails, browsing social media, or attending meetings can derail your focus, dampen your mood, or send you down a reactive rabbit hole that saps precious time and energy.

Optimizing your first hour for maximum productivity

Breaking inefficient morning habits is the first step towards establishing a new paradigm that maximizes productivity. Unfortunately, creating an effective morning schedule is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, so you need to experiment to find the right balance. In general, an effective first hour routine should include some or all of the following:
● Review and prioritization of daily activities
● Completion of high-priority task(s)
● Meditation or other mindfulness practices
● Organizing your workspace or desktop
● Reading educational or industry articles
● Visualization of a successful day ahead
Mindfulness practices address several important morning objectives by relieving stress, minimizing distractions, and setting a positive tone. Those who claim they don’t have time for mindfulness practices like Tai Chi or meditation might be advised to weigh the productivity gains vs the relatively short time commitment.

Productivity hacks from successful professionals

While it can be difficult to establish an ideal morning routine, reviewing the morning rituals of notorious high achievers provides important clues. For example, Barack Obama begins each day with 45 minutes of exercise. Bill Gates avoids the computers and software that contributed to his fortune as he browses through conventional print newspapers.

A common morning activity for many successful individuals is the prioritization and delegation of critical tasks. Benjamin Franklin advised us to “contrive the day’s business and take the resolution of the day” in the early morning hours, and this sage advice is still relevant over 200 years later. The affirmations, planning, and organizational habits of highly successful individuals also highlight the importance of creating a positive mindset prior to tackling the challenges of the day.

Maintaining your productivity throughout the day

The best way to gauge the success of your first hour routine is by monitoring the impact of this important hour on the rest of the day. Momentum established in the early morning hours can easily carry through the entire workday when you incorporate:
Time-blocking techniques to ensure critical tasks are prioritized
● Scheduled breaks to refresh and recharge
● Nutritious meals and hydration
Unexpected changes and unplanned tasks have the potential to derail overbooked or overly prescriptive schedules. Workday routines should provide enough flexibility to address unplanned activities without creating a ripple effect that undermines your scheduling efforts. This can be accomplished using time management techniques that introduce buffer periods at regular intervals so you can adapt to office chaos with less stress and anxiety.

Tools and techniques to enhance your work efficiency

Most workers are open to new tools, techniques, and strategies that help them enhance productivity or shorten their workday. Many proven techniques for improving efficiency overall are especially relevant during the first hour of the day, including:
● Setting achievable goals
● Creating a positive and organized work environment
● Developing time-tracking practices
● Saying no to unreasonable requests
Software applications and gadgets are also available to enhance productivity. Standing desks, noise-canceling headphones, and productivity trackers improve efficiency and concentration while innovative new applications like RISE allow you to monitor circadian rhythms and energy levels in real time. Understanding when you are most energetic and creative helps you schedule workplace activities accordingly.

Journaling and self-reflection

Goal setting, positive affirmations, and expressions of gratitude are among the recommended first hour activities that set a positive tone for the day. Recording and tracking these activities in a journal can take their effectiveness to the next level. The journal allows you to chart progress and changes over time as you reflect on what is working and what needs adjusting.

In conclusion

Successful business leaders and other high achievers may not always “do more before 9 am” than the rest of us, but they recognize the value of the first hour of the day and use it to their advantage. Rather than dedicating this important time to emails or the simplest tasks to complete, a structured approach to first hour scheduling can incorporate the mindfulness, planning, and accomplishments that lead to more productive days, weeks, and years.

First hour of the day FAQs

How much time should I allocate to each task during the first hour of the day?

Time allocation can vary depending on the tasks you choose to undertake each morning. For example, a high-priority task might consume 30 minutes, which would allow you to spend 10 additional minutes each on meditation, collaboration, and planning activities.

Is it advisable to check my email during the first hour?

40% of office workers begin their workday by checking their email, but this common habit also puts workers in a reactive (and less productive) mindset. Checking morning email from a handheld device can short circuit this habit by making it more difficult to respond immediately.

What if my schedule during the first hour is out of my control?

Meetings and other inflexible commitments can create an impression that first hour activities are entirely beyond our control. It is important to remember that the workday can always begin earlier, allowing established morning routines to continue as planned.

Is taking a break during the first hour acceptable if needed?

Taking short, frequent breaks throughout the day is a great way to maintain your energy level without significantly disrupting the rhythm of the day. This includes the important first hour when breaks for meditation, stretching, or walking can be especially beneficial.

How can I maximize my productivity if I’m not a morning person?

The first hour of the day might be 5 am for some and 10 or 11 am for others. The specific time of day is less important than the habits and routines completed during the first hour to continually enhance concentration, productivity, and job satisfaction.


Tags: Business Growth Business Leadership

  1. About the Author:

  2. About the Author:

    As a Principal at Valesco, Angie Henson serves in key roles related to new investment origination, portfolio management, and investor relations. She directs the firm’s strategic acquisition planning and program management as acting head of research and business development operations since 2002. Angie holds a Bachelor of Science from Tarleton State University and a certificate in entrepreneurial studies from Southern Methodist University.

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