Burning the Daylight Oil

“The early bird gets the worm.” — Traditional Western proverb.

“By getting up early in the morning, one also gets more time at his disposal for work as compared to late-risers. Scholar and thinkers get up early in the morning and contemplate.” — Rig Veda, Hindu sacred verses.

You’ve got to admire those night owls—the co-workers who stay well past quitting time to get their work done, displaying an impressive level of productivity in the process. But if you don’t fit that mold, there’s no reason to let them hog all the glory. You can hit the ground running as the sun comes up, and get a head start by burning the daylight equivalent of their midnight oil.

Your goal here is to get into the office before your co-workers do, so you’ll have that quiet, pristine time all to yourself before the world fills up with noise and distraction. Here’s how to do it.

Prior Preparation
One way to get a quick start on the day is to prepare for the next morning before you head out the door every evening. You’ll find that planning ahead makes life a lot easier (if less exciting) than making it up as you go along.

First, put away everything that doesn’t live on your desk. This limits distracting clutter, and makes it easier to find what you need later on. Then spend some time putting together your to-do list for the next day. Consider each task in detail, deciding where it fits on your list and assigning priority as you go. Remember to schedule the tougher, more important tasks for the time of day when your productive energy peaks. For most of us that’s early in the morning, but you may be an exception; in any case, just be sure you tackle those tough items when you’re feeling your best.

Next, gather the materials you need to jump right into your tasks. Have them ready and waiting so you can grab and go when you get to your desk in the morning. Don’t assume that something is where you left it last time; check, so you’re not unpleasantly surprised when you reach for it.

The Night Before
Before you hit the hay, get your mind right. You need to get a good night’s rest before you dive into the next day, so clear out the cerebral clutter first: identify what you know you’ve completed, so you can cross it off your mental list and it won’t bother you subconsciously. As for what’s on your plate for tomorrow, just be aware of what’s in store but don’t dwell on it. At most, touch on it lightly; you’ve already made your to-do list and done your hard thinking.

Speaking of sleep, do your best to get a good night’s worth. Avoid caffeinated drinks and heavy or sugary foods before you go to bed, and don’t stay up too late. You can’t hit the ground running if you’re groggy.

In the Morning
Needless to say, you’ll need to start getting up significantly earlier than you’re used to, assuming you want to arrive an hour or so before your fellow employees. Now, you don’t have to jump straight to rising an hour earlier; you can start with fifteen minutes or half an hour, and work your way up. It won’t take long to reset your personal clock.

However, realize that you’re probably going to want to get up more than an hour earlier, because there are other things you can try to get yourself moving—and some of them take time that you’ll have to make if you’re not doing them already.

For example: if praying or meditation isn’t already a part of your morning ritual, consider trying it, to get your day on track. It doesn’t hurt to think about the day’s schedule a bit as well. You may want to follow that up with some light exercise before you hit the shower.

Next, have a good breakfast. Even if you’re never particularly hungry in the morning, force yourself to eat. You’ve heard it a thousand times, but breakfast really is the day’s most important meal. It takes a serious amount of fuel to get you started and keep you running until lunchtime, especially if you’re going in earlier than usual.

Many of us lose time in the morning by driving ourselves to work; unfortunately, about all you can reasonably do during personal drive time is think. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but if you’re able to participate in a ride-share or public transportation, you can also get started on your to-do list while someone else takes care of the driving. You may not be able to tackle one of your big tasks in its entirety—that would depend on the length of your commute—but at least you’ll have a head start. And who knows? You may actually get to cross something off your list before you even arrive at the office.

In Early, Out Early
Studies have repeatedly shown that people who go in to work an hour or so early get more done in that time than they do in any other hour of the day. If you face the day head-on this way, you can go home when you’re supposed to—and you’ll get to enjoy the rest of your life, an advantage you’ll have over many of those poor, hardworking night owls.