Brian Tracy and Dan Ariely have developed a method to manage productivity, called the “Golden Hour.” In their theory, your peak productivity is reached within a specific time window after waking up.
You work as hard as you can during the day, but when you are home in the evening, you don’t have the power to go to the gym or do something active with one of the kids. Does that sound familiar? Behavioral psychologist Dan Ariely says you are using your Golden Hour the wrong way.
The Golden Hour refers to the first productive hour of your day. It sets the tone for the rest of the day, and it is the time to get inspired. Your head is still empty, but your senses are sharp as they can be.
Time-management expert Brian Tracy was the first to use the term “Golden Hour” in this context — a concept referred to in many time-management theories. Tracy refers to a one-hour period, but Dan Ariely refers to a period of two hours in which productivity peaks.
They both agree that you are at your most productive at the beginning of your day, after you have woken up naturally. Your brain and energy level come together in a synchronized peak. This is when you should get things done —a moment you should use to the fullest. This hour of your day can make a difference between a productive day and a chaotic, energy-draining one.
One of the most common time-management mistakes people make is to use their most productive time of the day for things that require zero to no cognitive skills —things like brushing your teeth, check your phone, bringing the kids to school, getting a coffee to go.
What you do in your Golden Hour sets the tone for the rest of the day. The thoughts that fill up your head in the morning have a strong influence on how you feel, act, and think during the rest of the day.
Experts say you can improve your productivity by better utilizing the first hours of your day. Dan Ariely says that this is because your head is still empty, but all your systems are sharp as a tack.
What you shouldn’t do, but probably do anyway
We often start off the day wrong — for example, by checking our phone. This leads to an exhausting, annoying, and stressful day. This is what happens:
- You check Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. And all these social channels require almost no cognitive power — a waste of your peak brainpower.
- You read an e-mail from a colleague and get annoyed. This alters the neutral “Zen” state of your brain when you woke up.
- You see in your calendar that you must give a presentation later that day, but first need to go to two consecutive meetings, and you feel your energy level drain.
These activities fill up your most precious hours of the day with non-productive and useless tasks. They provide no cognitive challenge, making it harder to stay sharp during the day. If you start the day with feelings of irritation or stress, chances are you’ll get stuck there.
The chances are quite high that you recognize yourself in some of this. Research has shown that 80% of people ages 18 to 45 check their smartphone in the first 15 minutes of their day.
What you should do
The most important thing to do in your Golden Hour(s) is to take time for yourself. Take some time to wake up and get out of bed, without any distractions. The first thirty minutes are for yourself — not for social updates from friends, work e-mails, or triggers from your to-do list.
Phase 1: 30 minutes “me time”
The first 30 minutes is the time you build up rest and calmness, preparing you for all the business of the day. It gives a solid foundation for a Zen state of mind that’s ready to take on challenges. It creates “crumple zone” like cars have, to take on the first impact when something comes crashing in.
Some find that meditation helps them retain that calm state, but you can also get there by simply listening to some music or reading the newspaper.
Phase 2: 10 minutes of thinking time
You’re not tapping into your peak brain time yet — let your brain warm up first. Think about the day that lies ahead. For example:
- Plan what you want to achieve today; decide on your most important tasks.
- Take a first look at your to-do list, or upcoming appointments.
- Use your cognitive warm-up time for more fun stuff, like talking to family members or reading a few pages from a book.
Phase 3: 20 to 60 minutes working time
Now it’s time to utilize your Golden Hours with some actual work. This can save you stress in the long run and can even prevent you from working too hard. Your brain is ready for cognitive hard labor. You are prepared, you have your tasks lined out — it’s time to get to work.
Use your peak cognitive time to start off with the most difficult and challenging task of the day. You have prepared your brain to face it head-on and get it out of the way. By getting the hard things done, we fully utilize our brain’s capacity, and the rest of the day will likely go by in a far more relaxed state.