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Getting up earlier won’t (always) make you more productive

Some CEOs and wellness blogs swear that waking up early is the key to success. But is it just a way to squeeze more work out of us?

What it means: Sometimes, it can seem that the way to be a business millionaire is not so much about how smart your ideas are or how well you can run a company but about how early you set your alarm clock. People who think getting up in the wee hours of the morning makes them uber-productive includes everyone from Apple CEO Tim Cook (wealth: $625 million) to Former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi ($100 million) to Oprah Winfrey ($2.8 billion).  

Economists tend to be a fan of things that make us more productive, which they define as getting more outputs for your inputs. Outputs are whatever you want to achieve from your efforts - to complete a work report, to make as many cupcakes as possible, to discover the secret of eternal life, etc. Inputs are whatever you need to make those things happen - time, money, eggs, magical powers etc.

Getting up early could increase inputs (we’ve more hours to spend doing stuff rather than snoozing) which could increase outputs (you can bake more cupcakes in eight hours than four). But it only makes us more productive if we’re achieving proportionally more than we were (so we’re baking twenty cupcakes an hour rather than ten). There’s lots of ways that could happen - say if we’re more energised first thing in the morning, or if we use the time to do something that makes us faster or smarter for the rest of the day, like exercising or meditating. But if you’re just stumbling around like a zombie mucking up cupcake recipes because you’re so tired, you’ve ended up less productive than you would be if you’d spent a little longer in bed.   

However, it’s not just us as individuals who are interested in upping our productivity: businesses are too. And if waking up early means we do more work for them (output) without them having to pay us any extra wages (input) then their productivity goes up if everyone starts working earlier. Summit to think about.

Read our explainer on productivity.

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