Many top executives have long touted the benefits of an early morning start. Apple CEO Tim Cook famously wakes up at 3:45 am. PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi is up by 4:00 and in the office by 7:00. General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra is at her desk at 6:00. And, perhaps with the help of a grande latte, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz arrived to work by 6:00, too.
Although 6:00 may be a tad too early for most people, if your employer allows for flexible schedules, you can reap similar benefits by shifting yours to 7–3. By coming into the office before everyone else, you can fit in two uninterrupted hours of work, allowing you to set the agenda for the day, rather than letting distractions grab the reins. Plus, you beat the rush hour in both directions and get home with plenty of time to enjoy the rest of your life. Need a little more convincing to get out the door before dawn? Below are five of the key advantages of getting an earlier start to your day.
Skip rush hour traffic
Commuters spent around 6.9 billion hours stuck in rush hour traffic in 2014, according to the Urban Mobility Scorecard. In other words, each commuter lost a full week of work to sitting in traffic. All that time spent navigating clogged freeways, crowded buses, and sidewalks crammed with people jostling to get to work is doing some not-so-good things to our health. As reported in The Washington Post, “Longer commutes are linked with increased rates of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, back and neck pain, divorce, depression and death.”
By beating the morning—and evening—traffic congestion, you can avoid these hits to your well-being and reclaim your time. A recent study on commutes by Britain’s Healthiest Workplace found that employees who had the flexibility to avoid rush hour were less stressed and made healthier lifestyle choices. They also gained five more productive days each year compared to their colleagues who battled the roads in rush hour.
Start your workday with quiet focus
According to behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, the two hours after we wake up are potentially our most productive, and should be used on work that require high cognitive capacity, rather than social media or other mindless tasks. Getting into the office at 7:00 can help you take advantage of that early window and avoid distractions.
Since you’re working outside usual office hours, colleagues are less likely to be emailing, texting, or calling yet. You’ll have two hours of uninterrupted time to focus on your most important agenda items and map out your to-do list for the rest of the day. You’ll also have the chance to prepare for any morning meetings, allowing you to feel confident and prepared, rather than groggy or harried. Kicking things off with a period of concentrated productivity can help set the tone for your entire day. Rather than reacting to others’ requests and rushing to catch up, you’ll feel more proactive, confident, and less stressed.
Boost your creativity
CEOs aren’t the only early risers. While researching his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, author Mason Currey found that “a large number of novelists and poets… wake up early in the morning and try to get some words on the page before other obligations kick in.” Among those creative early risers are Frank Lloyd Wright, who sketched out his building designs between 4:00 and 7:00, pre-dawn riser Toni Morrison, and Haruki Murakami, who kicks off five to six hour writing sessions at 4:00 in the morning.
Although we’re not suggesting you arrive to work at 4:00 am, starting your workday a couple hours earlier can still lead to more creative mornings. You’re likely calmer and more open, and your mind is rested and refreshed. Just as you can only run so many miles before your legs get tuckered out, your mind has a limited supply of mental energy.
Impress your boss
Without making any other changes to your performance, you may be able to give your career a jump-start just by starting your day earlier. According to researchers at the University of Washington, managers tend to have an implicit bias toward early birds. Even after statistically controlling for total work hours, the researchers found that supervisors rated employees who began work earlier as more conscientious, and rewarded them with higher performance ratings.
The team also conducted a laboratory study where they asked participants to play the role of the supervisor and had them rate a fictional employee who worked 7–3 and one who worked from 11–7. Even though everything else about the fictional employees’ performance profiles were identical, participants gave the early birds higher conscientiousness and performance scores.
Enjoy a better work-life balance
And just as you skipped the tangle of traffic on the way in to the office, you’ll be able to beat the crowds on your way home as well. Along with a mellower commute, leaving at 3:00 opens up your afternoons and evenings to other pursuits. You can take that yoga class you’ve been meaning to try, go for a run while it’s still light out, or sneak in a matinee before dinner. If you have kids, you can easily pick them up from school, attend parent-teacher conferences without interrupting your workday, and enjoy more family time at home.
Given the substantial benefits of this small schedule change, it might be worth setting your alarm clock a couple hours earlier tonight. The adjustment might seem challenging when that buzzer first goes off in the morning. But after zipping along an open freeway or taking your pick of seats on the train, you’ll arrive to a peaceful office feeling calmer and better able to take on the day.