According to Dan Ariely, I Should Be the Most Productive Person in the World

Old-time readers of my blog should know who Dan Ariely is, given how often I’ve used his work in my posts.

If you’re not sure who he is, Dan Ariely is a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University. He is also the author of several New York Times bestsellers and he has a biweekly advice column in the Wall Street Journal. It’s his advice column that has been a frequent source of material for my blog, such as the one you are reading.

Here is one of the letters he received:

What’s the perfect morning routine for increasing productivity? —Emily

Here was Dan’s response:

The best way to start the day is with a fixed ritual—mine involves drinking espresso, sometimes two of them. Rituals, particularly ones that involve food and drink, are a way of telling our mind and body that we are moving into a different state—in this case, a productive morning state. Then I would advise taking advantage of the clarity and energy that most people enjoy in the morning to tackle a problem that is important, complex and difficult—whether it’s a piece of homework, a work project or a tricky personal relationship. Investing your early-morning energy in hard work is a way of helping your future self, since later in the day you’re more likely to get distracted and feel an urgent need to check out Facebook or YouTube.

In a previous post, “I Spend the First Two Hours of My Day as a Robot“, I talked about how I am a creature of habit, particularly with my morning routine. I exercise (following the same weekly schedule I’ve used for years), make my smoothie (following the same recipe I’ve used for years), take my vitamins (the same two I’ve taken for years), take a shower (following the shampooing and conditioning routine described in the Robot post), and then I’m ready to start my day.

So as you can see, I follow a fixed ritual, and if what Ariely says is true, then that should lead to having a productive day.

But it doesn’t always turn out that way.

Some days I get a lot done as soon as I’ve completed the ritual above, other days, not so much.

I think my problem, contrary to what Ariely claims, is that it doesn’t take until later in the day for me to get distracted and feel an urgent need to check out Facebook or YouTube.

What I need is mid-morning routine, an early afternoon routine, and then a late afternoon routine.

Maybe once I establish all those routines, I’ll live up to the promise of following a fixed early morning ritual…

*image from