Some years ago, after I ran an abysmal half marathon, I learned an important lesson. While it’s important to pace yourself, if you go out too slowly (or in my case sluggishly), that’s the tone you set for the rest of your race. Work days are very much the same: The note on which you start that first work hour often carries through the rest of your day.
For example, start your day reading and responding to emails and you might have a more reactive day than normal. So how do you set the right pace in that first hour? Here are some tips to help you get organized and give you the biggest bang out of that first hour of work.
Do not check your email.
This might seem counter-intuitive or unimaginable but you’ll get off to a more productive and inspiring start of your day by diving into the meat of an actual task. Here’s why: Checking and responding to emails put you in a reactive mode, and prioritizes other people’s agendas over your own. So another way to look at opening your email first thing is a bit like letting your day be hijacked.
On this same note, stay off Facebook, Twitter and other social media in that first hour—provided it’s appropriate for your job.
Do the hard stuff first.
Whether it’s starting a challenging task or writing a spec, proposal, email or campaign outline, mornings are proven to be the time when our discipline is at its steeliest. And, you can get that challenging work item behind you without it lingering on your mind for the rest of the day which is a nagging distraction. So for anything that needs concentration consider taking it on first thing. An important side note: It’s recommended to avoid addressing personal conflicts first thing in the day—people aren’t ready for this head-on interaction yet. Timing is everything for these types of conversation; wait until later in the day when people are more warmed up.
Connect with your team.
Strong leaders and successful professionals know the importance of creating rapport with the people they work with. It’s really pretty easy, too. Just say “hello” to people you walk by on the way to your desk or office. Ask team members how they’re doing. You don’t have to hit up everyone, but make sure you braid cheerful and kind greetings throughout the course of a week. It makes for strong teamwork glue, too.
This doesn’t have to take the entire first hour, but take some time to consider your day and identify the important work that moves your project forward. You can better prioritize your day when you take time to consider the big picture.
Your brain is fresh in the morning, which means it’s a good time to think about career and business objectives and trajectories. This way, when you’re busy with the actual doing part of your job, you have a solid foundation of why you’re doing what you’re doing and where it’s taking you and your team.
Check project lists and calendars.
Scan your day ahead to see what’s expected of you—from morning deadline tasks to meetings you don’t want to miss. If you use online project scheduling software see what’s in the hopper for the day and if new priorities have arisen since the previous day. Then, make updates so you spend your time wisely for the next several hours.
Organize your work space.
You might be someone who always has a tidy desk. But for those of us who revel in a more lived-in feel, consider the impression that stack of papers and crumb-laced keyboard gives bosses who wander by and other team members you collaborate with. Also, whether you’re aware of it or not, a neat environment can help you dive into the white space of new projects with greater clarity.
Set three goals for the day.
Set three doable tasks that you’ll accomplish in any given day. If you’re working on big projects, break down goals into bite-sized pieces, and then commit to finishing them as best as you can! These goals can include actual hard tasks to a conversation to updating your project plan and asking someone about a project estimate. Make the goals achievable so you set yourself up for success.
There are more ways to spend a meaningful first hour at work—tell us yours!