Monday Mornings with Madison

Controlling your First and Last Hour of the Day to Amp Up Productivity

Word Count: 1,750
Estimated Read Time: 7 min.

Some of the most prolific workaholics in the U.S. – people famous for it like Jeff Bezos, Mark Cuban, Elon Musk, and Oprah Winfrey — work an average of 12-14 hours a day which comes to a max of about 3,750 hours a year (12 hours a day, six days a week, every single week of the year).  According to an article in Professional Athletes Foundation this year, “Musk infamously blocks his day in five-minute increments, which also includes inhaling lunch. His 85- to 100-hour work weeks are split between Mondays and Fridays at SpaceX in Los Angeles and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at Tesla in the Bay Area. It’s unclear when he makes time for his other projects, including The Boring Company and OpenAI.  Musk doesn’t take phone calls, instead only responding to email.”[1]

According to another article by Max Nisen in Business Insider, “AOL CEO Tim Armstrong wakes up at about 5am, and is out of the house and working from his car by 7 a.m.  He used to start sending emails immediately after waking up, but now restrains himself until 7 a.m.  He works until 7 p.m.  Weekends are family time.  However, he goes back to work again after 7 p.m. on Sundays.”[2]

The point of these articles – and many others that look at the issue of work time — isn’t about encouraging people to work longer hours.  Rather, the focus is on managing time better.  According to the PAF article, “While not all billionaires have crazy schedules, most do. You don’t get to be that successful if you aren’t putting time into building a schedule to organize your time.”  So not only does working hard matter, but using time wisely and being able to be more efficient and effective with time really matters.

Hours Spent Working on the Decline

So how many productive hours do you work each year?  Before you start doing the math in your head, it is interesting to note what the data says.  According to Economic Research conducted by the University of Groningen and published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, people in the U.S. worked an average of 1,765 hours a year in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available at the moment.[3] That is about 35.3 hours a week with two weeks off for vacation.  But that number declined about 10% in the U.S. and 15% in Canada in the last 65 years.

How does this compare to countries that might be thought of as ‘more industrious’ such as Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and India?  In countries like Germany and Japan, workers had a reputation for working ridiculously long hours.  In fact, in Japan, the term “Karoshi” which translates to “overwork death” was created to describe a rise in occupational sudden mortality.  The major medical causes of karoshi deaths were heart attacks and stroke due to stress and starvation diets from working 12 or more hours a day, 6–7 days a week, year after year.  Since then, German and Japanese employees have come a long way, not working nearly that many hours a year now.

Here’s a chart that shows the average hours worked by people in a few developed and emerging nations.  It shows either the earliest year in which reliable data was available or when work hours peaked.  It also shows the most recent year for the same data.

Country Avg Hours Worked in 1950 Avg Hours Worked in 2014
Israel 1,944 (1981) 1,880
United States 2,024 1,765
Finland 2,053 1,642
Canada 2,076 1,687
Japan 2,282 (1961) 1,729
India 2,191 (1970) 2,162 (2006)
Malaysia 2,217 (1981) 2,267
Singapore 2,273 (1960) 2,262
France 2,293 1,473
Germany 2,427 1,371
Vietnam 2,452 (1994) 2,339
Taiwan 2,460 2,122
South Korea 2,486 2,123


In all but one country, the average number of hours worked annually declined and in seven out of the 13 countries listed, the average number of hours worked dropped below 2,000 hours a year per person.  Only in Malaysia did the average number of hours worked per person increase, but only ever so slightly.  So the direction of average hours worked has consistently been falling in both developed and emerging nations as a whole.  This makes sense as technology has made getting work done easier and as people have come to understand and appreciate the value of time and that work-life balance is important.

Top Tips for Better Managing Time and Increasing Productivity

As the average number of hours worked decreases, efficient, effective and wise use of time increases.  The better time is managed, the more a person can get done in the same time or even less time.  So, what if how you spent the first and last hour of each day — not working hours… just the first hour after waking and before sleeping (625 hours a year) — could increase your productivity substantially without having to increase the number of hours you work a day?  There is a growing consensus that how you use the first and last hour each day can really make a big difference in how productive and effective you are all day.  Let’s start with how to spend the last hour of the day.

Last Hour Tips

The last hour of the day — when your brain is tired and your eyes are bleary — seems like wind-down, relaxation time.  But, if instead it is used wisely, it can help make the next day more productive.   Use the time to set things up for the next day.

  1. Lay out attire. Don’t waste your decision-making battery on what to wear first thing in the morning.  Instead, make those decisions at the end of the day (for the next day) when your brain is already tired.   (Those decisions are not really all that important, unless you are in the fashion industry.  In fact, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs are both famous for wearing the same thing to work every day in order to eliminate the need to make any decision at all.)  Grab everything you will need in the morning and put it in one spot, so you can wake up and are ready to go. If you have to iron, do it that night.  If you make your own lunch, have it ready in the fridge. Do as much prep work as you can to eliminate anything that can make the morning routine frenzied.
  2. Wake early. There is nothing more frustrating that waking up late and then having to rush to get to work.  If the early bird catches the worm, the early worker deals with less traffic.
  3. Get to bed early so you get enough sleep. Don’t stay up late engaging on social media, or even reading a good book.  It is much easier to get up early if your body is not overly tired.  Most people need anywhere from seven to eight hours of sleep a night.  Those who make do with far less than that on a regular basis are likely not as sharp, focused, creative or able to move memory from short term to long term as efficiently.

First Hour Tips

  1. Give thanks. According to motivational speaker and life coach Tony Robbins, that first hour is called the Hour of Power.  He recommends spending 10 minutes of your first hour of the day giving thanks.  Be grateful for the positive things in your life.  Gratitude will generate a lot of positive endorphins so you get up on the “right side of the bed”.   A positive attitude will help the whole day go more smoothly.  And then visualize everything positive you want in your life as if you already have it.  That will give you energy and focus.
  2. Drink a tall glass of water. The body requires water to combat the dehydration from not drinking any water throughout the night.  It is also linked with reducing the chance of a heart attack which is always higher in the early morning hours.
  3. Exercise. Spend 30 minutes doing light exercise.  Energy breeds energy.   And people who exercise first thing in the morning are more likely to stick to a consistent exercise routine than those who prefer to exercise after work.
  4. Eat a good breakfast. Most people don’t do this, but it is the most important meal of the day.  As the saying goes, “Eat like a king for breakfast, a queen for lunch and a pauper for dinner.”
  5. Set a goal. Decide on “one challenging / important thing” you want to get done that day.  Write it down.  Focus on it.  Make that the first thing you do when you get to the office.
  6. Avoid email. Don’t check email first thing in the morning at all.  Unless your job requires you to interface with staff in a time zone that is 7-8 hours ahead and you must review work before the team leaves for the day, avoid looking at email until mid-morning, when you are at work.
  7. Avoid shopping online. No matter how big the bargain, avoid going on any retail sites first thing in the morning.  Your whole day will lose focus.
  8. Do NOT go on social media. Social media posts can completely undo the positive effects of a positive morning routine.  And it is a notorious waste of time for many people.  The hours spent reading silly or superficial posts and watching funny videos on YouTube can never be recovered.

Carl Sandburg once wrote “Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”  And how much of that coin you have you won’t know until the moment you spend the last of it.  It cannot be replenished, replaced, bought, sold, or manufactured.  And no matter how much we try to “manage use of that coin”, there are still just 24 hours in each day.  That does not change.  What we can manage is what we do with the time we have.  When you start out the day rested, organized and calm and you nourish your body and mind, you are much more likely to have a clear mindset that is able to spend that coin wisely… creatively, proactively, efficiently and effectively.  And that will make every work hour that much more productive.  After all, the better you use your time, the less of it you will need to spend working.


Quote of the Week

“Time is the single most important resource that we have. Every single minute we lose is never coming back.” Tarun Sharma

[1] January 9, 2019, The Daily Schedules of 10 Famous Business Billionaires, Professional Athletes Foundation, Entrepreneur section,

[2] April 4, 2013, Nisan, Max, Top CEOs Work Crazy Hours Even on Normal Days, Business Insider,

[3] August 14, 2013, International Penn World Table, University of Groningen, Economic Research, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis,


© 2019, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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