The secret of willpower and why we have more of it in the morning.

By Jeanie Hendrie

Here at SW+A we’re thinking a little differently about employee engagement. We call our approach “Spirit of 32” and this blog series will chronicle our journey. We’ll share what we’re learning along with resources you can leverage. We’ll be your test bed so if you have ideas, please let us know.

In an attempt to curb my daily battle with the snooze button, I recently read Laura Vanderkam’s book ‘What the Most Successful Do Before Breakfast’. Her tiny account took just shy of 3 hours to read but was filled with enough wisdom to turn even the sleepiest of morning zombies into high functioning energizer bunnies.

The secret to transforming one’s morning routine begins with understanding why mornings are so important in the first place. As it turns out, not all parts of the day are created equal and some tasks are simply easier to do while the day is young. In general, we humans (even the morning zombie humans) can focus for up to 90 minutes on one task in the early hours compared to an average focus time of 15 minutes later in the day.

Vanderkam references the work of Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of Psychology at Florida State University, whose life’s work has focused on a little something called “willpower”. Willpower, says Baumeister, is a finite resource; which, much like a muscle, becomes fatigued from overuse. Every day we call upon this one resource to regulate thousands of decisions from food to emotion to logic. It’s no wonder that after a long day at the office, many of us are happy to ditch the evening workout in favour of an episode of Duck Dynasty and slice of pizza.

So what’s a morning zombie to do? Vanderkam puts forward the hypothesis that tasks requiring self-discipline are best shifted forward in your daily schedule before distractions have a chance to take hold. She suggests taking time each morning to nurture one of three foundational areas: your career, your relationships or yourself.

All told, a routine is not easily changed overnight. And though my affair with the snooze button has not completely dissolved, I’m a sharper, happier person when I kick the day off with a jog around the block. When it comes to the pursuit of productivity, early bird catches the worm.