Many people say that the way you approach your day can make or break your productivity.
In this article from our “Start the day productively” series we’re exploring the critical first three hours of our day at work, and what is best to do in those hours.
For the purpose of this piece, we’ll be talking mainly about work, so we won’t cover morning routines or breakfast best practices or whether it’s better to start the day exercising or meditating (although this could be another series, what do you think?).
The problem with mornings
The idea of this post came from a question that was addressed to me on Quora.
If you browse on the Productivity topics of Quora you’ll see how people seem to be concerned about how to use the first hours of their days effectively.
It makes sense: nobody wants to start a hard, complicate day at work on the wrong foot.
Doing the right things in the first part of the day seems to be a ket strategy on how successful people schedule their days.
Enter: the Circadian rhythm
It’s often defined as the “inner clock” that adapts our body and brain functions to the different phases of the day.
Many productivity experts and enthusiasts are starting to think about how to take advantage of our own circadian rhythm to boost productivity and work better.
This is just an example of how using the parts of the day when you work best, can help you achieve more and get things done in your day.
What to do the first 3 hours of the day
One important note I should make before proceeding is that every one of us is different. When it comes to productivity, the key is always to find out what works best for our routine.
That being said, those who are trying to make the best use of their mornings in the office, will surely benefit from these tips on how to use the first three hours of the day at work:
#1 Take ~30 minutes to plan the day
Every minute spent planning saves time in execution.
This is why I always recommend starting the day by planning it. It’s tempting to jump head-first in the work. But you can risk losing the focus on the tasks that need to be done, and leaving something behind.
Keeping productive on busy days is a challenge especially if you hop from task to task, without completing none.
You planning activity should include:
- Taking a look at what you did the day before, to resume the thread of your work (and take a look at what you’ve already accomplished! Yey!)
- Draft a list of to-dos you know you have to get done;
- Give priorities to the tasks, because you have to know exactly which of those need your immediate attention (and those who can wait).
After that, you can start working on getting the mean, unpleasant task out of the way, so they won’t bug you anymore during the day.
Speaking of which:
#2 Clear the inbox
Offices have an email problem. Freelancers have an email problem. I have an email problem.
The main issue with email is that our inboxes are so full that getting to the spam and answering the important messages can waste a lot of our time.
Email is not going anywhere, whether we like it or not. And I’m sure it’s probably the preferred means of communication by your clients/ managers.
So get rid of email right away, so that you can close the inbox and use your time to actually work.
(By the way, if you don’t know how much time you spend on email, it’s time you find out)
#3 Get the top priority out of the way
Day plan? Check.
Now you can finally focus on your work. Pick the biggest priority from your to-do list (because you have assigned the priorities, right?) and get it done right away.
I realize that might take you out of the 3 hours of the day limit, since it’s hard to predict how much tasks will take.
By getting that big boulder out of the way, not only will you cross it from the to-do list, you’ll also go through the rest of the day more motivated. Creative work is best when you can devote your focus to it, without the thought of that task at the back of your head.
Some people might recognize this as the old “Eat the Frog” advice. That means to get rid of the most unpleasant task – the one we’re most likely to procrastinate about – and get it done right at the beginning. Personally, I’d keep a mindset on priorities – and sometimes, the most urgent/important is indeed the frog on your list.
The way you begin your day is as important as how you end it. Once you’ve got your motor rolling, then the rest of the day should go on like a breeze.
Thanks for reading this advice! What do you usually do in the first three hours of the day at work? Let us know in the comments.