A productivity expert says there's one huge myth about how to get more stuff done during the day

Sleep Habits of Most Productive People
Sleep Habits of Most Productive People

If you want to get more stuff done during the day, you may look at the habits of super-successful people and try to emulate them.

For example, you might start setting your alarm for 4:30 a.m., a la Michelle Obama, who uses the wee hours to work out.

Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that your new morning routine will help you become the FLOTUS, the POTUS, or any more successful than you are right now.

That's according to Chris Bailey, the 26-year-old author of "The Productivity Project," in which he describes his year of experimentation with different productivity strategies, from meditating for 35 hours a week to living in isolation for 10 days.

Along the way, he learned that the biggest myth around productivity is that waking up early will make you more productive.

Bailey discovered this idea firsthand, during what he calls the most challenging of his experiments: waking up at 5:30 a.m. every day (except weekends and holidays).

After some struggling, he managed to maintain the habit for a few weeks — until he realized that a) he hated it, and b) it wasn't making him any more productive.

When I spoke with Bailey, he told me people often have a "fantasy of being an early riser who wakes up early to go to the gym and meditate. But in practice the idea of that change is so much sexier than what we have to do to actually make that happen."

As Bailey writes in "The Productivity Project," when he started waking up at 5:30 a.m., he also tried to go to sleep by 9:30 p.m.

But since Bailey's a self-proclaimed night owl, that meant he often had to stop and get ready for bed right when he had the most energy, focus, and creativity.

"I couldn't stand quitting work when I was 'in the zone' late at night," he writes. "And I discovered I much preferred to meditate, work out, read, and plan out my day later on in the day, when I had more energy and attention to bring to the task."

Ultimately, Bailey realized he wrote fewer words on average per day and had less energy and focus when he woke up at 5:30 a.m.

On his blog, "A Life of Productivity," he cites a TED Talk by circadian neuroscientist Russell Foster, in which Foster says there's no known difference in socioeconomic status between early birds and night owls. In other words, waking up early is not associated with being more successful.

Recent research also supports Bailey's suggestion that certain people are simply not wired to wake up early. A study of nearly 90,000 people who had their genomes sequenced by 23andMe found that your DNA may help determine whether you're a morning or an evening person.

Bottom line: If you've tried waking up insanely early and it's not helping you, it may be time to ditch the habit.

As Bailey told me, you shouldn't listen to "blanket productivity advice" because what works for one person may not work for you.

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