The Secret to a Productive Morning

The early morning hours are the most precious hours of my day.

After a shower and some coffee, morning is when I most alert, most creative, and most energized. Out of every hour of the day, I will protect mornings most fiercely.

But my mornings also have a couple big enemies. First, too much sleep. Second, the dozens of menial tasks that need to be done to get ready for the day.

Here’s the sad reality: the most precious time of my day can be ruined by oversleeping, or by the need to get things ready for the day.

But I discovered this simple principle. The best way to have a productive morning is to have a disciplined evening.

That’s it. Be disciplined enough to get everything you can possibly do the night before: clothes laid out, coffee ready. I even lay my Bible open to the passage I’m going to read. And—this is important—go to sleep when you should. Discipline yourself to use your horizontal time for actually sleeping, not for using your phone. Let the wise be warned.

If it helps, think about it this way. You become a servant the night before so you can be a king in the morning.

If this isn’t already your habit, try it. Your morning self will thank your evening self for freeing up those most precious hours of the day.

A Powerful Productivity Tool at Your Fingertips

If you’re reading this on a smartphone, you have a powerful productivity tool right at your fingertips.

I’ve used it to read mentally demanding books, clear out my e-mail inbox, plan for meetings, and strengthen my prayer life.

No, it’s not an app or any kind of online program. It’s much simpler than that.

It’s the 15-minute timer.

And it’s ridiculously simple. I have an iPhone, so I begin by saying, “Hey, Siri. Set the timer for 15 minutes.” When the countdown begins, I shut out everything else and put all my concentration into that one task.

This works on tasks I love and the ones I loathe. The enjoyable tasks, if left unchecked, could keep me occupied endlessly—to the neglect of other important ones. The fifteen-minute timer keeps me accountable to move on to other tasks I need to do. And those irksome tasks (the ones you get busy just to avoid) can be tamed by the timer, too. I’ve been surprised how much of an unpleasant task I can knock out when the timer is going.

Of course, not every task lasts only fifteen minutes, but tasks that require more time can be divided into smaller units. And the awareness that the clock is ticking helps me push myself, cut out distraction, and ultimately get more done than I thought possible.

You might be surprised how many e-mails you can respond to in fifteen minutes. Or creative ideas you can generate. Or even the quality of heavy reading you can do.

So why not give it a try? All it takes is a little determination—and a timer.

Five Apps I Love and Use a Lot

It recently hit me that there are certain apps that have become part of my daily routine or that I often depend on. Here’s a list of the apps I currently love and use a lot.


I use this library service app nearly every day. You can connect it with your local library, and check out a nice selection of books, audiobooks, and even movies and documentaries.

Listening to audiobooks with Hoopla has become part of my morning routine as I get ready for the day. Right now I’m finishing up Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy (OK, I admit I haven’t been fully engaged for the entire thing), in the middle of The Quantum Moment by Robert Crease and Alfred Goldhaber, and I just started listening to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (I’ve read it before, but it’s been a while).


I love to keep strains of Bach or Beethoven in the background while I work, so I’ve gotten a lot of use from this app. I don’t care for the ads (about once every thirty minutes), but I just mute them anyway.

One nice feature of Spotify is that it can track your pace when running and match music with a similar tempo.


Cram is essentially a flash-card app. Since I’m learning German right now, I’ve found Cram to be quite valuable for learning vocabulary. The coolest part about Cram, in my opinion? People can share their sets of flash cards, and Cram makes these lists very searchable. I found dozens of vocab lists from the textbook I’m using (German Quickly), so I didn’t even have to create my own list. Big time saver.


I’ve talked about Evernote before. While I don’t use it every day, it still remains an important way for me to capture, tag, and file nearly anything I think I might need later on. I actually use the Evernote Chrome extension more often than the app.


I’ve mentioned Duolingo before as well, but it deserves another shout-out. I’m indebted to this app for getting me started in German. It’s geared more to develop conversational language skills, and so I had to move on to a textbook for reading German in the humanities. But I still come back to it to refresh some phrases and vocab. Thank you, Duolingo!


My use of apps varies widely, depending on my stage of life and what I’m trying to accomplish. But these five are definitely winners.