Team Productivity

How to Effortlessly Plow through Your Entire To-Do List in the Morning

Daniel Threlfall
March 23, 2016
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Crush your entire to-do list in the morning! It sounds great, but is it realistic? If your to-do list consists of 1) brushing your teeth and 2) eating breakfast, then, yeah, not a problem. But what if you have above average aspirations? With the right planning, preparation, and hustle, you can get far more done in the morning. Here’s the system.

Use your energy, not just your hours

Step back and take a look at your morning. Chances are, you’re thinking of it in terms of hours. That’s normal.

Instead of a discrete period of time, however, look at your morning as an energy zone. By entering this zone of energy, you’ll be able to plow through enormous amounts of work.

Here are some suggestions for sustaining your energetic flow throughout the entire morning.

  • Eat breakfast. You need calories to function.
  • Drink coffee. It boosts your productivity.
  • Work in 45-minute cycles. You won’t get burned out.
  • Try pomodoro. It forces you to focus.
  • Do not schedule meetings or allow interruptions.

Put your 3 most important tasks on the to-do list

If your to-do list is short, odds are pretty high that you’ll accomplish everything on it. The brain loves a sense of forward momentum and completion. Small wins, like crossing a single item off your to-do list, give your brain a shot of dopamine. This chemical neurotransmitter gives your brain a positive surge and a boost of more productive energy. The result? You get something else done.

You can “trick” your brain into accomplishing an unbroken chain of to-dos. The magic number is three. If you place three items on your to-do list and get them done, you will, in effect, create a superhighway of progress for the remainder of your morning.

Give it a try. Put three items on your to-do list, get them done, and ride the productivity wave.

Refuse to participate in energy-sucking activities

Since your morning crush zone is about energy, it’s important to protect that energy. You probably don’t have to be reminded about the need to “protect your time,” but what about protecting your energy? In this context, it’s just as important as time.

Identify activities that drain your energy, and remove them from your morning to-do list. These may include:

  • Phone calls
  • Meetings
  • Running reports
  • Email
  • Errands
  • Sales calls
  • Etc.Refuse to allow anything in your schedule that has an unpredictable end time.

If you don’t know when an activity will end, don’t let it land on your morning to-do list.

For me, one of the most schedule-destroying choices I can make is putting something like “figure out” or “plan for” onto my morning to-do list. Why? Because these are undefined and open-ended tasks. To best use my morning productive time, I need to know precisely what I’m supposed to accomplish and how long it will take.

Prepare your to-do list in advance

Before your morning begins, prepare your to-do list. Be realistic about how many items you expect to accomplish.

The only way to plow through your entire to-do list in the morning is to have that list ready the day before. Download our free to-do checklist template to get a head start.

Conquer your toughest tasks first

Brian Tracy’s book Eat that Frog makes this point with vivid detail.

“If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first. This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you, start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first.”

The frog-eating analogy comes from Mark Twain, who wrote,

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

What’s the benefit of morning frog consumption?

“The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous.”

A tremendously productive day begins with a few froggy morsels in the morning.

Start earlier

You can make your morning bigger and better by starting earlier. Often, the earlier the morning, the more productive the morning.

High levels of productivity are positively correlated with earlier mornings. (Don’t worry: If you’re a night owl, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed.)

Early mornings give you a better chance to get a jump on the day, to make use of the quiet hours, and to achieve progress earlier rather than later.

Take breaks

You’re cruising through your super-productive morning zone, but you should still take breaks. Why? Taking a break has the power to boost your energy and refresh your brain.

You’re not too busy to take a break. If you’re busy, it means you should take a break to come back feeling more energized, more creative, more powerful, and more ready to cross items off your to-do list.

Work out

Exercise can fire up your brain for a more productive morning. One study from Penn State found that people who work out in the morning are more productive and happier throughout the day.

You might be loathe to surrender 20 minutes of your morning for something as grueling as a treadmill session or some yoga poses. Embrace it. Your morning will become more productive as a result.


What happens when you have a killer morning? It usually means that you have a better afternoon and evening. Mornings really do set the tone for the remainder of the day. And the more productive and powerful your morning, the better you’ll be able to relax, flow, and crush the rest of your day.

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