Happy People are More Productive

An Alternative View of Early Risers and Their Productivity.

I’m not a morning person. Anyone who has ever known me will tell you that. According to the internet, that also apparently means that I’m a complete slacker and will never be successful.

One such article came across my feeds recently and as I read it, I realized that the entire premise of the article was complete BS. So, I offer some snippets from said article, and my thoughts:

I’m an early riser, myself. To be productive, I need only five to six hours of sleep each night. Once I get up, I check my email and start communicating with my team what needs to get done that day (my team teases me because of the many messages awaiting them when they get up themselves).

I’m usually in the office around 7:30 or 8 a.m. I may need up to four espressos (lots of milk) or,sometimes, Red Bull, to get started (not the best thing, but it gets me ready for the day).

So you “only need 5-6 hours of sleep”, provided you can down 4 espressos or a Red Bull to start your day? Sure, that’s a healthy example to set for your team and/or family. No issues here, sounds like exactly the kind of life everyone should desire. You also sound like a great boss. They may “tease” you to your face, but they might also really, really hate you with the passion of a thousand white-hot suns. Don’t rule it out.

“I wake up about 6:30 a.m. and the first thing I do is walk my beagles. During this time, I usually think about what I want to accomplish during the day. I mentally play out any potentially important conversations, or transactions, that I know I need to have during the day. I try to anticipate what the other people are going to say or do and what questions they are going to ask; and then I come up with answers to those questions.

Early morning walk with my beloved dogs, where I focus all my attention on work. Again, sounds so enjoyable. So very well balanced. Not.

“Starting my day with a beneficial endorphin rush is the best way to charge into my day. A quick, high-intensity, 30-minute workout to rev up my engine for the day means that the second I walk through my office doors, I’m fired up for my first action.”

OK nothing wrong with a good workout. It helps relieve the stress of work, is great for your health, etc. But, I have to ask, are you only exercising because it makes you better at work? Granted, the focus of the article is about how productive people who get up early are, but I find it suspicious that this appears to be the reason to workout in the morning, as if a workout later in the day wouldn’t cut it, because you know, productivity. Why even bother later in the day?

“I guess I’m a dreamer, in more ways than one. That is, I often dream at night; and sometimes my dreams are quite literal and help me solve a problem. I dream of ways to approach business issues I’m dealing with, or ways a product might accomplish a particular function. I keep a pad of paper by my bed and usually wake up and write a note when I dream something that seems possibly helpful.

Good lord man, you even dream about work? Seek help. Seriously.

I will work from my home office and try to accomplish tasks that I need to get off my plate right away; this is typically from 5 to 9 a.m.

Later from the same person:

I may write down a small list, but typically I have been thinking about important tasks the night before so they are top of mind.”

When are you not working? When do you just enjoy life? Have you ever had a hobby? A friend? Just curious…

Finally, our author wraps up his very scientific research: (He interviewed 5 people, apparently)

Other things “early worms” have in common are productivity, self-discipline, more energy, a greater sense of satisfaction, a distraction-free environment, more family time and the ability to stay ahead.

Let’s tackle these one at a time with counter points:

Productivity – There is nothing in the article that would indicate this isn’t productivity for productivity’s sake. Yes, I get more done by starting my work day early, thus working longer than my team. But what does that mean? Are you being “productive” by emailing your team before they even get to work, and they in turn just ignore those emails? There’s no proof that all this extra time is producing anything of value.

Self-discipline – Meh. So what? Lots of things require self-discipline. Getting up early is one.

More energy – In the morning, sure. What good are you when there’s an emergency at 11PM? While you’re planning your next productive morning, are the night-owls on your team getting stuff done?

Greater Sense of Satisfaction – I set a goal to get up early, I got up early = sense of satisfaction. Self-fulfilling, not intrinsically valuable.

Distraction-free environment – I love this one. It shows up in Every.Single.One of these articles. You know what else is a distraction free environment? 1AM. The family is asleep, my pain in the ass CEO isn’t sending a slew of pointless emails, and I am free to focus on creative solutions to problems without the artificial deadline of the regular workday starting shortly. I’ve done some of my best work, both for my company and my own projects, late at night. Therefore, I am living proof that you’d all be better off staying up late instead. (See how an anecdote does not equal science?)

More family time – I find it interesting that there are 6 stories in this article and not one single mention of families. Apparently not one of these men, and they are all men – again, very scientific there – lives with other people. Not a single mention of seeing a spouse, kids, partner is to be found anywhere. Just the beagles. I’m not sure where all this extra family time comes in, since no one mentioned it at all in describing their morning routines. Yet the author felt it appropriate to list that as a “proven” benefit? I can assume, since these are all CEOs, that the extra family time comes in when they leave the office early? I mean, they start their work day at 5AM from home, surely they can take off at 3 to pick up the kids and then work from home again later. Great thing, that flexibility that the rest of their organization probably doesn’t have.

You see, the most interesting thing about these articles is that they almost always focus on CEOs and Founders. People who can work whenever, from wherever, they want, and who have made the decision that the job will absolutely be the biggest part of their lives. For everyone else, with lives outside of the company, getting up early might be a nice way to get some distraction free time, but so would staying up later. Working out in the morning would be good for us, but so is working out after work or at the lunch hour. Great solutions and ideas are not exclusively a morning thing. Plenty of brilliant work has been done in the middle of the night, or even, God help us, in the afternoon!

The real problem these guys seem to be solving for is that their office environment sucks. They have to get up early to do great things because their office, the place they run, designed, and oversee in every detail, kills all possibility of doing anything great. Maybe if they just got involved in fewer meetings and other random pointlessness, all these great things they do at 6AM could be handled at 10AM, or 2PM?

Solve that for everyone instead of telling us to just “get up earlier”. I’d be much more impressed, and all of us would be able to have a life that isn’t devoid of anything but work. I could get up early just for the pleasure of having breakfast with my wife, for instance. That’s what I get up in the morning for. My work day doesn’t start until I get to the office, because that’s the way I want it.

Guess that makes me poor CEO material. I’m fine with that.

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