What are the worst ways to start the day? In other words, what are the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk? For many of us, checking email or listening to voice mail is practically automatic. In many ways, these are among the worst ways to start the day. Both activities hijack our focus and put us in a reactive mode, where other people’s priorities take center stage.
A better approach is to begin your day with a brief planning session. Ask yourself this question the moment you sit at your desk: The day is over and I am leaving the office with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. What have I achieved?
This exercise is usually effective at helping people distinguish between tasks that simply feel urgent from those that are truly important. Use it to determine the activities you want to focus your energy on.
Then—and this is important—create a plan of attack by breaking down complex tasks into specific actions.
Productivity guru David Allen recommends starting each item on your list with a verb, which is useful because it makes your intentions concrete. For example, instead of listing “Monday’s presentation,” identify every action item that creating Monday’s presentation will involve. You may end up with: collect sales figures, draft slides, and incorporate images into deck.
Studies show that when it comes to goals, the more specific you are about what you’re trying to achieve, the better your chances of success. Having each step mapped out in advance will also minimize complex thinking later in the day and make procrastination less likely.
Finally, prioritize your list. When possible, start your day with tasks that require the most mental energy. Research indicates that we have less will-power as the day progresses, which is why it’s best to tackle challenging items – particularly those requiring focus and mental agility – early on.
The entire exercise can take you less than 10 minutes. Yet it’s a practice that yields significant results throughout your day. By starting each morning with a mini-planning session, you prioritize important decisions to a time when your mind is fresh. You’ll also notice that having a list of concrete action items (rather than a broad list of goals) is especially valuable later in the day, when fatigue sets in and complex thinking is harder to achieve.
Now, no longer do you have to pause and think through each step. Instead, you can devote your full attention to the execution.
This post was adapted from ” How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day” by Ron Friedman on HBR.com
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