The way you start your day often determines your productivity level.
Surf aimlessly for an hour and saunter over to the coffee-bar way too many times all morning and you’ll find that, by 5 p.m., you’ve basically ruined any chance of completing a project or even finishing a task.
Ironically, we’re living in a heavily task-driven world. What you can accomplish within eight hours with those shiny new gadgets, that powerful Internet connection, and even sitting on that fancy Herman Miller chair will usually determine whether you rise in the ranks or capture a market segment. In case you don’t know, it’s the hardest-working people (and companies) that garner all of the glory these days.
Fortunately, these tips for what to do in the morning can help. They don’t just set the tone. They train your brain to work hard and stay in a zone of super-productivity. And they aren’t just random happy accidents. I’ve been doing these things for 15 years.
1. Make a mental checklist.
Before you make any actual notes about your day, it’s a good idea to “rehearse” your day. No, seriously–it’s like those bobsled athletes who play out every turn on the run in the minds. Before you ever login at work or get coffee, think about a few things you want to get done. Start prioritizing them before work even starts.
2. Time your journal entries.
Productive people write in a journal in the morning. In fact, around a half-million people have read about my seven-minute plan for keeping a journal. Write down your challenges for the day and your big successes from yesterday. It works because our brains need the written reminders. We use what scientists call sustained attention of about 7-10 minutes to collect our thoughts.
3. Give yourself feedback.
Don’t get feedback from your board of advisers, a mentor, or the boss first. Get it from the person who knows you the best: You. Look over your notes and review the big challenges and the big wins; remind yourself about why something hasn’t worked or why you did such an excellent job on a given task.
4. Go short-term on your goals
Productive people don’t hide behind a long-term goal. They know they have to live in the moment. The social media campaign you need to complete starts this very second. It depends on what you post on LinkedIn today, not tomorrow or next week. Always set daily goals. Then, do them on a daily basis.
5. Check in with a mentor.
Yes, do this before coffee as well. You’ve made a mental checklist, you’ve jotted down your challenges, you’ve set some immediate goals. Now bring in the big guns. Ask a mentor to give you advice for the day (make sure this person knows you and your daily challenges). Ask for feedback then act on it.
6. Pick one weakness and work on it.
That’s right, you need to figure out what isn’t working today. We tend to think about weaknesses too broadly. It’s safer that way. Instead, get specific. Pick one area, like speaking in front of a group, scheduling your social media posts, or confronting a co-worker, and make some progress on that area of improvement.
7. Negate one distraction.
Distractions can be overwhelming, mainly because we can’t address all of them. So, pick one. Is it a phone that keeps buzzing? Disable notifications. Is it a chair that squeaks? Go buy another one. Pick one thing that is bugging you every morning and fix the problem. In a week or two, you will take care of them all.
8. Give a few tasks the boot.
It’s freeing to be able to pick a few things that are not that important and nix them. It’s why you should never complete every task on your to-do list. Go ahead and jettison a few things that can wait. The benefit is that it creates a renewed focus on the things you really need to do.
9. Fake your way to inbox zero.
Here’s a dirty little secret. I sometimes want a totally clean inbox, so I just take my messages, label them, and then sit back and admire the results. You can, too. Just mark messages quickly or delete the superfluous emails. Seeing the clean inbox will motivate you to get busy with other things.
10. Make your meetings an action verb, not a noun.
When you look at your day, make sure you view any meetings as a way to “meet” people and interact, discuss, and resolve issues. Make it a verb. Productive people never just go to meetings. They are always highly intentional about every meeting and see them as an activity, not something on a schedule.
11. Watch the Slacks.
Slack is a wonderful tool for collaboration, but highly productive people know how to use it wisely. Jump in and scan messages, reply, and move on. Too many office workers keep Slack running all day. It was never meant to be used that way.
12. Limit your phone calls, schedule the rest.
The phone is a productivity killer when calls become a series of random interruptions. Before you dig in too much, decide to skip any unplanned calls. Schedule any other calls in 15-minute increments, and then go hardcore on that time-frame. Calls are great; useless chats are time-wasters.
13. Publicize your quiet hours.
Everyone in your office follows you on Twitter right? Just post when you need to have quiet hours for the day each morning. If you don’t have an easy way to publicize that, make sure you create some method everyone uses (Facebook, text messages, or whatever works).
14. Tune up your playlist.
Productive people pick their music for the day. Seriously. I tend to pick out a few albums and queue them up, at least for a few hours. Music can be a distraction if you have to keep fiddling with Spotify or get sick of listening to Kanye. Schedule your listening patterns.
15. Pick your hard stop.
Each morning, you should decide how long you will work. Let people know they can meet with you, expect an email response, or stop by before that time. By picking a hard stop, you give yourself a window for your work, which forces you to think about task completion.
16. Group your conflicts.
Stress is the ultimate destroyer of productivity. To get a handle on it, group anything that might be stressful, like a meeting or a phone call, so they all happen one after the other. That way, you will put a corral around those stressors and they won’t interfere all day.
17. Schedule a guilty pleasure.
You need to self-motivate. So, each morning, pick something that you really like–chocolate bar, ordering a new blend of coffee, going for a run–and make a plan to partake. I helps you focus on the now because you know there will be a reward later.
18. Plan for procrastination.
Wait, what? Procrastination is never planned, right? Sure it is. Pick a report you need to write or something you want to do but isn’t super important and consciously make a plan to let it slip. If you get it done, great. If you get more done because that item fell off your list, even better.