You’ve probably read your fair share of articles with titles such as “Here’s What Productive People Do in the Morning” or “Why the Top CEOs Wake Up at Four A.M.” Judging by these pieces, it would seem that the most productive members of society are always up and rolling before dawn. But are mornings really the most productive time of the day? Let’s take a look at the study below.
Students are a popular demographic for studies, and this is no exception when it comes to productivity. Based on an analysis of 1.8 million records from the Los Angeles Unified School District, a 2016 study found that students had higher GPAs in English and Math when they were enrolled in morning (rather than afternoon) classes.
However, since Nolan G. Pope, who ran the study, could not isolate any specific cause, he ultimately suggests that it comes down to one of three possible reasons as listed below.
- Students’ learning abilities are higher in the morning (though even Pope doesn’t appear to agree with this conclusion because he also states, “The results seem to indicate that differential alertness due to the circadian rhythm does not drive the results”).
- Attendance variation throughout the day may drive the outcome (more students leave or skip school in the afternoon).
- Teachers tend to perform better in the morning, which translates to better grades for their students.
However, Pope also notes that students perform better in school overall when their days don’t start too early. In his study, he states, “For the average adult, the secretion of melatonin starts around 9 p.m., peaks between 2 and 4 a.m., and stops around 7:30 a.m. For adolescents, this time schedule typically shifts two hours later in the day.”
There are multiple studies that support the claim that students perform better when school begins later in the day. This is generally because earlier start times result in students not getting enough sleep, but the results are clear.
Laura Dabbish conducted a study in 2001, which found that people are more likely to self-interrupt (e.g. getting a cup of coffee, checking emails, etc.) in the morning than later in the day. This study also contradicts the idea that we are the most productive in the morning.
However, Pope points out that “the time-of-day effect on the performance of laboratory and field tasks varies drastically, even for similar tasks.”
You can find reputable studies that argue both sides of the issue, which means that we really don’t yet have a definite answer. Current articles on the topic also tend to focus less on when and more on how to be productive. The fact is, people are different. Some folks are early birds while others are night owls, but everyone can ultimately find their own ideal routine for the best results.
It’s possible that many people are more productive in the morning because they work best right after a refreshing night’s sleep. Others might be productive because of caffeinated beverages consumed in the morning. Still others may just happen to be the most productive as soon as their job starts, whatever time that is. And some folks could be the most productive when they feel the most relaxed and creative, which can also occur outside of work hours. The answer likely varies for everyone.