Starting your workday on the right foot sets the pace for the rest of it. Despite any morning mishaps that may happen before you get to the office, you can reset your mood when you arrive to have your most productive day possible.
Michael Kerr, international business speaker and author of You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work, says, “Getting off on the right foot isn’t just important with relationships. It’s important with the start of any workday, as well—particularly busy ones. The first ten minutes can also set the tone and your attitude for the day—so it’s imperative that you start it off right, with a clean slate.” So think positively, and take a few hints from what the most productive people do in their first hour at the office.
01. They ignore all non-urgent emails.
Fight the urge to clear out your inbox immediately. Your brain performs best in the morning, so don’t spend the early hours on email back-and-forth. Scan your inbox for pressing matters that require action, but otherwise steer clear until later.
In her book Never Check Email in the Morning, productivity expert Julie Morgenstern advises we alienate email completely in the first hour of the workday. Calling it out as one of the most time-consuming work tasks, she writes, "We interrupt ourselves every five minutes to check our in-boxes, hoping for something more interesting, more fun, or more urgent than whatever we are working on in that moment. Email is undoubtedly the world's most convenient procrastination device.”
We’re naturally drawn to dive into our inbox out of pride—“I don’t want to seem unresponsive!”—or external expectations—“I can’t let down my boss”—but Morgenstern asserts, “You need to fight this unhealthy speed-freak impulse and press your internal pause button. Don't let technology take away your time to think and apply your higher-level self to tasks." We all know how it goes: one quick peek can lead to endless opening, forwarding, and replying.
02. They review their deadlines for the day.
While it’s best to plan your to-do list the night before, revisit your daily priorities in the morning to make sure they’re still realistic. In most fast-paced work environments, priorities shift often and fast. Who knows what last-minute update or request may come in overnight?
Ron Friedman, psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, suggests that you think ahead right when you sit down at your desk. Ask yourself, “The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?” Visualize your end-of-day achievements, but don’t get over-ambitious. Focus on a doable to-do list of things to prevent unnecessary pressure and stress.
03. They tackle their most difficult and creative tasks.
Your busywork can wait. Start with tasks that require the most brainpower and creativity. I always prioritize thought-intensive things that involve strategizing and creation like writing and presentations. Then I can launch into the rest of my day with a sense of accomplishment—and relief—knowing these important things are out of the way. If you get to these types of tasks in the morning, you can also enjoy uninterrupted immersion before the office fills up.
Getting your biggest projects done first stamps out the Zeigarnick effect, the psychological tension that stems from uncompleted tasks. Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik discovered this phenomenon in the 1920s when she observed that waiters were more likely to remember incomplete orders than completed ones. Anxiety about the pending orders kept them top-of-mind. At work, this can manifest as stress caused by an unfinished project. Abolish this preoccupation by tackling key tasks first rather than saving them for later.
04. They prepare for meetings.
Scan your calendar for upcoming meetings. Consider your role and each goal to decide how much you should plan ahead. Are you leading the meeting or just acting as a fly on the wall? Is it a brainstorm or a project kick-off? Possibly a performance review? Hopefully you just have a few things left to do or review to feel fully prepared. But if you’re having a minor panic attack about a long-forgotten meeting (I’ve been there!), then jump right into it. Don’t wait until your 10-minute calendar reminder pops up.
Everyone has different preferences and tendencies when it comes to procrastination and preparation. Even if you perform well when winging it, at least think through each meeting to know what’s in store for your day. According to a Salary.com survey, 47 percent of employees say their biggest waste of time comes from attending too many meetings. Avoid this pitfall by doing your part to make them worthwhile.
05. They socialize a bit with coworkers.
Let yourself enjoy a little small talk. Casual chatter not only helps build relationships with your coworkers, but it also makes you sharper, happier, and more productive. University of Michigan research found that small amounts of social interaction can improve cognitive functioning, the brain activities associated with knowledge, memory, reasoning, and attention.
Another study conducted by MIT proved that the strength of a person’s social group is positively related to productivity. In observing the productivity levels of bank call center employees, productivity was boosted by 20 percent and satisfaction in work by 10 percent among those who had regular coffee breaks with coworkers. Of course, don’t let weekend gossip distract you from getting down to business, but some friendly morning banter never hurt anyone. Interacting with others will give you some perspective and cheer before you get heads-down in your work.
06. They clear up their workspace.
Declutter your desk or work area before getting started. Throw away lingering snack wrappers, clear off dirty coffee cups and crumpled papers, and put away anything else taking up valuable space. A clean workspace will help you keep your mind on the task at hand. You’ll also prevent wasting time looking for that report or Post-It note if your space is organized. In an OfficeMax survey, 77 percent of respondents said clutter lowers their productivity. Similarly, a Princeton University study uncovered that physical clutter increases stress and limits your ability to focus.
Productivity at work takes habitual discipline. It’s all about making the most of whatever time you have, starting with the first hours. As English author and rhetorician Richard Whately once said, “Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it.” Be strategic from the second you step into the office, and you’ll be well on your way to a fulfilling day.
Photo Credit: Cynthia Chung Photography