You start the workday with great intentions. You plan to work on big projects—the important but not urgent things you know you need to do to advance your career. You want to build the career capital that will help you at this job and your next few jobs.
Then the first emails show up, and it’s go-go-go through a 10-hour firefight. By the time your last meeting has run 45 minutes late, you barely have the energy to walk to the subway, let alone plot world domination.
When are you supposed to find time to think?
Here’s what successful people know: You do have time. But you might have to get up earlier to make it happen.
The most productive time of your day
I’ve interviewed hundreds of people about their schedules over the years for my books on time management, and over time, I started to notice a pattern. Folks who’d moved beyond the tyranny of the urgent often woke up at times that most people prefer not to see.
It turns out that the early morning hours are great for getting stuff done.
First, you’re unlikely to be interrupted by an urgent meeting request or phone call at 6:00 a.m.
Second, research into the science of willpower finds that we’re best able to focus on difficult tasks while the day is young. Willpower is like a muscle, and over a long day of concentrating in boring meetings, dealing with difficult people or battling traffic, it’s simply used up.
In the morning, though, it’s fresh. So that makes the morning hours prime time for strategic thinking and work that you want to do, not have to do. Get up at 6:00 a.m. instead of 7:00 a.m., and you’ve got five hours of found time each week to bring your best self to the question of your professional development.
What would you do during that time?
Maybe you’d read the industry publications you never find time to concentrate on. Maybe you’d start contributing articles to those industry publications. Maybe you’d make lists of people in your organization or industry you’d like to meet.
You’d peruse alumni lists from your school and send emails to people you want to know. You’d brainstorm what you want your career to look like in a year or five years. You’d make a list of projects you’d like to pursue and practice asking your boss to give you a shot. You’d practice asking for your next raise until saying the number no longer makes you flinch.
If you wait until the rest of your work is done to do these things, there will never be enough time. But paying into your career capital account turns out to be much like paying into a retirement account. If you wait until the end of the month to save what’s left over, there will be nothing left over. Pay yourself first, and your wealth will grow.
Invest in your career first and everything else will fall into place. That’s worth skipping the snooze button for.
Laura Vanderkam is the author of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, Aug 27, 2013). She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.