I just had one of those days.
You know w I’m talking about…you’re at work with big plans for the day, then 8 hours later you hit the couch, and reflect on what just transpired:
“I didn’t do shit today.”
Am I right? Nothing bums me out more than starting the morning off right only to be derailed shortly after.
Looking back, I can pinpoint exactly what threw me off my game – a borderline useless meeting with my boss.
Experts say your morning often dictates your productivity and energy for the remainder of the day. Personal experience tells me this is true.
If I do something positive within the first few minutes of the day, I’m much more likely to ride that wave for the rest of my working hours.
On the reverse, if I sit around browsing Reddit or listening to a co-worker complain, it becomes much easier to throw in the towel. This sounds extreme, but it literally just happened, so it must be true.
The first few minutes of your day can greatly affect the next several hours.
The mistake I made this morning was letting someone else disrupt my core working hours. I am personally most productive between the hours of 7:30AM and 11:30AM. As a result, this is when I schedule my Most Important Tasks (MITs). When someone else steals my attention during these hours, the rest of my day goes to hell in a handbasket.
This morning was a classic example of that. I got into work with every intention of hitting the ground running. Instead, my boss called our team into a “meeting” to give us an impromptu, motivational, Monday-morning speech. You know the type.
“Five minutes of your time guys. Step in here for a quick chat,” he said. Almost fifty minutes later, I returned to my desk.
The result – at least for me – was the exact opposite of what he wanted to achieve. Rather than work through my list of to-do’s, I sat there completely dumbfounded and daydreaming. It was incredible what a small fraction of the day does to the rest. Whatever, his loss I guess, not mine.
Don’t let someone else dictate your day.
The lesson I’m trying to convey here is really two-fold:
1. Start your day with positive action. This leads to more positive actions. I used to start my day by checking my phone, going through social media, emails, and whatever else was going on in the world. Now, I wake up, write in my gratitude journal, stretch, brew some tea, then get started with my day. I’m much more productive when I start off on the right foot.
Think of your day like building a snowman. You start with one little bit of snow and it eventually rolls into one giant ball after another. You can benefit from doing almost any positive habit, as long as it’s a conscious action. Brushing your teeth may not work since you’ve (hopefully) been doing it all your life. Instead, try meditating for a few minutes, doing some push-ups, or making your bed.
2. Once you get rolling, don’t let any non-essential distractions derail your day. You know yourself best and when you thrive. Do everything in your power to set aside that time for you and your MITs. Save any meetings, emails, or other “busy” work items for the afternoons when possible.
How to get back on track when the inevitable happens.
But Jason, what if something comes up and I absolutely have to do it? Great question. Hopefully, this won’t be the norm, but when it does happen, I’ve got a solution for you to try.
This is actually what I did today to get back on the track after that epic morning derailing.
Step 1. Allow yourself to be derailed. I know, this is counter-intuitive, but hear me out. When you’re feeling burnt out and like you want to sink into the couch, just let it happen. Let your mind wander and recharge for a bit. The trick is to give yourself a timer before you muster up the willpower to even attempt getting back on track. I like to set myself 15-20 minutes to allow myself to do stupid things before I start getting back into work mode again.
Step 2. Focus on small wins. Don’t immediately jump into your most challenging and longest task. This is a sure-fire way to completely ruin the rest of your day. Remember, productivity is like a snowman – when you get derailed, you need to slowly build back into it again. The easiest way to do this is to find a couple quick, easy tasks and knock them out of the way. You can actually start by doing something and simple as going to the bathroom. Then maybe do the dishes. If you work at an office, clean up your workplace a bit. Start off with a few tasks that take no more than 5-10 minutes total to complete. Now you’re ready to tackle the big stuff again.
Step 3. Work through your Most Important Tasks. With the productivity snowman starting to form, now’s the time to start working through your list. Remember to avoid distractions, resist the urge to procrastinate, and take short, timed breaks in-between your tasks.
In your work, remember that one good habit often leads to another, and don’t make the mistake of letting someone else’s agenda rule your day.
Jason Gutierrez teaches young professionals and entrepreneurs how to build better habits. He writes at themonklife.net about overcoming fear, making habits stick, and achieving peak performance. Sign up for his free newsletter to get practical advice and tips for becoming better, faster, healthier.