Many of us are falling into a trap on a daily basis where we are prioritizing the urgent over the important. One such example is the way most people manage their inbox (or maybe get whipped by their inbox?) within the course of their work day. Does this morning routine sound familiar? You wake up and see 173 unread emails and you start to triage immediately, maybe while the shower is warming up. You drive to work, maybe continuing the triage at the red lights. You arrive at work, boot up your computer, continue the triage until you realize it's 5 minutes until Stand-Up so you rush to that meeting feeling slightly stressed. When you come back to your computer there are… more emails! You may choose to continue the triage and sometimes don't emerge until close to lunch time. Over time this is leading to less overall output of the important type of work and potentially a reduced willingness or attention span to engage in the important work.
Consider this alternative. Schedule two hours in the morning to achieve your most important work and block the time on your calendar. Then check your email two hours in. Energize your morning with purpose and achievement.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
- Mark Twain
Scientific research has shown that your energy, focus, and concentration is greatest in the morning and steadily declines as the day goes on, especially after lunch. You may need to re-train your teams and partners that you will see their messages in batches throughout the day and not at the beginning of the day, and they should call if something is urgent. Side note: I find it strange that when we have important work planned, we often leave our calendars wide open, almost inviting others to schedule an interruption (also known as a meeting).
You may also try the "cooking show" approach. It is amazing how enjoyable cooking can be when all the veggies are cut, the ingredients are measured and in neat bowls waiting to be assembled. Prepare all the parts that are needed to complete a difficult task the day before and start the work first thing in the morning without opening your email. The cooking show even prepares (or pre-bakes) some of the hard parts that cannot be achieved within the window of opportunity. This is a sign that we may need to chunk our work down to smaller parts so they are achievable within this window of high energy, focus, and concentration.
Work in focused 20-minute segments within the two-hour window, taking a quick walk or moving around to keep your blood flowing then resume the work. This is known as a "productive pause" which helps keep you fresh and focused during your most important window of the day. Save email, Facebook, and fantasy football for later when your energy is lower and you feel the high of achieving your most important work of the day. Social connectedness, especially with your teams and partners, is really important but that probably isn't the essence of your job or how you are measured.
You can work smarter and be your best by prioritizing your most important work first in the morning. Use your morning energy, focus, and concentration to build your brand as someone who gets important work done every day.
How do you keep technology from encroaching your morning and/or your energy for your most important work?
Some additional resources
What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, Laura Vanderkam
Smart Thinking and Habits of Leadership. Art Markman