Instant Productivity: Five Ways to Be Immediately Productive in the Morning

Instant Productivity: Just Add Coffee. – Humorous sign, author unknown

Short of caffeine, there’s no magic elixir you can take to make you productive, or we would all surely be addicted to it. But there are plenty of things you can do to ensure you start making money for the business in minutes after sitting down at your computer, rather than slowly getting up to speed. They range from the imminently practical to the slightly New Ageish, from background preparation to immediate action, but they all work—if you’re willing to put them into action. And to borrow from Shakespeare: “Aye, there’s the rub.”

1. Take care of your health. This one may seem so obvious that it’s not even useful. So why, then, do most of us fail so miserably at it? We know we feel better when we take care of ourselves. This is especially important for white collar work, where “middle age spread” is a pervasive condition given the sedentary nature of our jobs. First and foremost, get enough sleep. You can’t function well when you can’t think. Exercise at least three times a week for about 30 minutes at a time, eat a balanced diet, and keep yourself hydrated. If you drink lots of coffee, match it with equal amounts of water.

2. Prepare your day the evening before. Take 10 minutes toward the end of the workday to create your to-do list for the next day. Ideally, your list should consist of less than 10 items, with the high-priority items at the top (I use Outlook Tasks and simply drag them up and down in order by completion). To paraphrase Twain, if you eat a live frog every morning, nothing else you do that day will be as difficult. So put your big projects, your frogs, at the top of the list and attack them when your energy level is highest. For many people, this is first thing in the morning. For me, it’s around 11:00, which is when I do my writing and deep thinking work.

3. Forget your messages momentarily. Put a sticky note on your monitor for the single most important thing to do that day, and achieve 30 minutes of success before checking email. Complete a significant task before letting yourself get caught up in the inbox drama, and you’ll feel the good vibrations all day long. If something is really that important, they can call you (or hunt you down).

4. Visualize what you want to accomplish. This method is as old as Benjamin Franklin, who scheduled time each morning and evening to first “think about the good” he wanted to do on a workday, and in the evening to “think about the good I have done to-day.” Every night, think about or write about what you’re most grateful about. Then, the next morning, close your eyes think for a few minutes about all good you want to do, before you open your eyes and get at it.

5. Get up earlier. Most successful people get up with the chickens, or even earlier. Frank Lloyd Wright rose at 4 AM; former British PM Margaret Thatcher at 5 AM, and ditto for Franklin. This gets you moving long before most of the rest of the world, providing you with quiet time that lets you sink quickly into a productive trance before the teeming masses show up with their distractions. If you normally get up and 7 and want to start getting up at 5:30, don’t try to make the jump all at once. Just set your clock to wake you 15 minutes earlier each day, and you’ll soon get there.

Take care of yourself, visualize, hold the email, and get up early enough to find the quiet time. You may not want to do these things, but they will help—and remember, as always, these tips just scratch the paint on what’s possible. And don’t forget the coffee.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Laura Stack’s session with a group of our seasoned operations managers was eye-opening. We all learned new ways to be more productive with the tools we already have. I’ve never seen each of our seasoned, experienced operations managers so engaged in a session. Many of our senior and mid-level leaders were wowed by what they learned and have already begun using the new techniques with their teams.”
—Mary Pawlowski, Learning Design, Piedmont Natural Gas

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland



  1. Maureen Small says:

    I have observed that I am better off to check email and phone messages BEFORE diving into a project. There’s nothing like spending the first two hours of the day completing a project, only to check email or messages afterwards and finding out that something has been changed. The first thing I do when I come in the office – and it’s what I’ve trained my executives to do also – is at least skim email and check phone messages, because that may affect what you do. I once worked for an executive who was notorious for barging into the office first thing in the morning barking orders that we must write a letter to this person or call that person because they hadn’t done what they were supposed to do, only to find out that the person had indeed left a message or sent an email, and my executive simply hadn’t checked before reacting.

  2. This can be a valuable practice in some roles! I find that between the time I sign off in the evening and wake up in the morning, if there’s really anything that’s a higher priority, that person should call me instead of emailing! I like to get something difficult knocked out before diving into email and getting sidetracked. But you’ve discovered a technique that works for you! Being purposeful is half the battle.