4:00 A.M. - The Most Productive Time of Day

21 February 2018

I recently re-read a Wall Street Journal article on tackling tasks, either personal or professional, before daybreak, and finding focus away from the distractions of normal work-day hours.

The article was particularly interesting to me, because I do start my days before sunrise.  It seems I’m in pretty good company – Apple CEO Tim Cook rises at 3:45 a.m. daily. Sallie Krawcheck, currently CEO of Ellevest (formerly CEO of Citigroup’s wealth management business) says she’s “never more productive than at 4 a.m.” 

So, it appears that the benefits of being a super-early riser are not limited to farmers, flight attendants, and currency traders.  A growing number of people are finding they can make their days more productive by getting a jump start on important projects, putting together a plan for the day, and / or “clearing the decks” of tasks such as answering emails (you can schedule these to go out at a less startling hour).

These early hours provide solitude and quiet, and, therefore, are relatively free of distractions.  Psychologist Josh Davis, director of research at the NeuroLeadership Institute, notes that:

“One of the most common challenges to productivity is that people booby trap their offices with distractions: desk clutter, email pop-ups, cell phone, Facebook, news feeds.  By waking up at 4 a.m., they’ve essentially wiped a lot of those distractions off their plate . . . You’ve removed the internal temptation and the external temptation.”

My own days begin at 4:20 a.m., mostly because I have found I feel at my best when I do so.  By 6:30 a.m., I’ve had 45 minutes of reading and prayer, I’ve had a workout or a run, and I’ve got my endorphins going.  I am energized and enthusiastic, mentally organized, and ready to get a jump start on the first priorities of the day. I have recently found that I am most productive when I focus on just three major items or projects each day, which are within my unique ability.  I try to delegate other tasks to members of my team for whom they are a better fit.

It is true that rising this early has tradeoffs.  One of these is an earlier bedtime, for some as early as 8:30 p.m.  I think, however, that as long as you are making sure to spend time reading or on hobbies, and maintaining important relationships outside of work, going to bed early is a tradeoff that can – and apparently does – work well for a good number of people.  Give it a try – you might find that you like it!