Better Working Tip: Reclaim the Morning


A while ago, I set out to try singletasking in an attempt to clear the static from my current workflow and restore a little sanity to what had become a frantic and scattered way of getting things done. I can’t say that I’ve fully adopted the singletasking approach, since I find that my attention span just isn’t capable of focusing on one task at a time, but I did learn some simplification habits that have helped me to work better.

The first priority, I’ve found, is the first part of the day. Not only does it set the general tone for the rest of the day, and by extension for the entire week, but it also directly affects my productivity levels. And it isn’t about getting more done in the morning, it’s about doing less.

The Bedside Table

I find that as someone who works at home, I can’t help but pay keen attention to my surroundings. That extends beyond my home office area and into the bedroom. Specifically, the bedside table, which usually contains both the last thing I look at before I go to bed, and the first thing I check when I get up.

Before recently, I’d be referring to my cellphone. Specifically, in my case, my iPhone (s aapl). Saying it’s become a constant companion would be grossly understating things. Being without it for any length of time tends to make me feel like I’m being both personally and professionally negligent. It got to the point where I would wake up well before the alarm to the buzz of a silent email arrival notification and spend the first hours of the day doing inbox management from bed.

No more. The iPhone is now banned from the bedroom. I don’t want to go to sleep thinking about what I just read on Twitter, only to wake up to jump right back into the stream, creating the impression of an almost unbroken link. As I’ve had to do with textbooks and television in the past, I’ve outlawed computers of any kind in my sleeping space to keep resting and waking untouched by the rigors of the day.


Before doing anything else (including checking my iPhone/email/Twitter), I also now have a breakfast that I actually prepare, even if it’s something as simple as instant oatmeal and some fresh fruit. Generally speaking, breakfast will be accompanied by tea and orange juice, too. But it isn’t a ritual that’s completely devoid of work.

Breakfast is a great time for unplugged preparation work. That could mean reading the newspaper (on my Kindle, I admit, so it’s not a completely gadget-free affair), or if I’ve got a particularly full schedule ahead, preparing an old-fashioned pen-and-paper to-do list. I still find it’s important not to brave the inbox yet at this point, or I could get lost before the day even starts (my approach is similar to Jared Goralnick’s in this respect).

Begin the Day in Earnest

Generally speaking, about an hour into the day, after I’ve done my breakfast routine, it’s time to actually start work. I find that I’m much more ready and willing to tackle work like inbox clearing, administrative work, and challenging, complicated tasks that I might’ve jumped into immediately upon waking before.

Tasks that used to inspire serious procrastination and take long hours to complete now get done quicker and without nearly as much hesitation. I have more energy, less stress and greater professional satisfaction.

It may not be possible to dedicate the first part of your day to relaxation and preparation, but consider getting up early to allow time for a good start. You may be surprised to find that the extra time provides more energy and drive than an additional hour of sleep might. The sleep you do get could be of much better quality, especially if you resist that urge to check Twitter just one more time before bed.

How do you prepare for work in the morning?



A very sensible and survivable method to start the days work. A information technology computer & television free bedroom is a must as is the very important breaking of the nights’ fasting. This results in a fresh body and mind.

Emily H

Test. When I hit submit on my comment earlier the page refreshed to read ‘discarded’. Comment hasn’t shown up. I’m confused.

Emily H

I think it was because my comment was too long! It would be good if you could include a character count (or state allowed length) here so that I know how much room I have, and also if there is a way of getting an informative error message back when you go over the limit, instead of this blank screen with ‘discarded’ written on it!

Simon Mackie (which hosts WWD) has no character limit, Emily, as far as I am aware (if it does it must be huge). Occasionally comments get stuck in our spam filters, but I don’t think that’s the case here (I don’t see a comment from you in the spam comments list, anway) — must just have been a technical hiccup as the comment was posted.

Guido tum Suden

After getting up I need a shower to wake up, then comes breakfast. Even if there’s no time for anything else I won’t go without breakfast. I take the rest of the coffee with me to my computer to read emails, rss-feeds and tweets. After that I usually try to find my iPhone and then go to work.
Although this routine is very important for me I try to get up as late as possible! My body likes to get up at about ten. As a teacher I have to get up earlier. The earlier that is the more tired I’m throughout the day.
I often read about getting up early to safe time but I think you can only make it if you’re an early starter anyway. Otherwise your body won’t listen to you. And what good is it, if you get up early and then get nothing done because you are too tired to concentrate.

Emily H

I don’t think of myself as a morning person, and on the whole I don’t get up that early (and am jealous of all those who do). BUT I don’t think you are either hard wired to do mornings or you’re not. I just think it depends on what else is going on and how much sleep you’ve had etc.

Every now and then I decide I want to try the early morning thing, set my alarm for 7am and find myself waking up before it! Although you might be a bit more tired than usual, the positive feeling that ‘owning’ a couple hours of the day before you sit down at your desk gives you easily balances this out.

Dave Lawrence

Along the lines of having your attention grabbed by things around you – I find that working at home my surroundings grab my attention in different from day to different day.
So I like to switch it up and have a day or two working somewhere else. Those out of the office days aren’t always as productive as my comfortable surroundings, but returning to my home office the next day makes me appreciate it more and stay focused.

Emily H

I love the point you make about working from somewhere else every now and then, because you address the concern that I had about not getting as much work done on those days. The initial inspiration for doing this was so that I’d be more focused when I was back in the office, but I was letting the worry about productivity on the away day cancel out the benefits.

André J.C. Bor

Thanks for this interesting post. I have banned my bed alarm-BlackBerry to the hall. I wake up from it’s ring (4:30 in the morning), and to shut it up I have to get outof bed en outof the bedroom. :-) Works good for me.

After that I first wash and dress myself up, and make a good cup of coffee. Then the day can begin with a task I decided to do the night before.


Jen Stewart

Ohhhh…. are you talking about me? Yeah, my iPhone has been dubbed “my boyfriend by my husband ;-) Great ideas, mind if I ReTweet them and spread the word to my network?

Simon Mackie

I also need to ban computers and iphone from my bedroom — I find it much harder to get to sleep if I’ve just been staring at a screen prior to trying to drift off.

Brandon Setter

Darrell, I too check my iPhone before bed and when I wake but I find that the alarm of my iPhone is far less annoying than anything else on the market especially ones that play music or the radio… but I can completely relate with “getting up early”!

I’ve recently discovered quite a significant boost to my day when I get up early. I grew up watching my father do that but mostly just though he was crazy for it. I’m now discovering how much more productive and stress-free my day is because of it. Usually I’m the first in the office as well, giving me time to get started without anyone else bringing projects to my plate.

I don’t think I can unplug yet or even ever, but my wife and I have promised each other to never read or watch TV in the bedroom. Keeping that space reserved for sleep has definitely improved the quality of sleep and the time needed to fall asleep.

Great post thanks for sharing!

Emily H

You haven’t banned reading (fiction) BOOKS in the bedroom have you?! This is the best thing you can do before going to bed, at least it is for me. It takes my mind off everything else that’s happened in the day and let’s me drift off to sleep in no time.

Deana Goldasich

Wow. I have this very affliction with my iPhone. It actually IS my alarm clock (I use the alarm feature) and my primary phone for home, as well. I’ve considered the ban, as well. Indeed, I sometimes watch a tv show on it before going to sleep. There are other nights where I also check email and Twitter. Your post has inspired me to unplug! Thanks for the great content!


I’m like you, and use the iPhone as an alarm. What I’ve done that’s helped a ton in this regard: I turn my phone to Airplane Mode (Settings > Airplane Mode “on”) as the last thing I do before I go to bed. I get no phone calls and no emails until I come back “online” in the morning, but I can still wake to the iPhone alarm (including my own playlists, rather than the radio with all of its morning “buzz”).

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