How to Start Your Work-Day Right

Do you ever get a sinking feeling at the very start of your day? Perhaps it’s prompted by a full inbox – again, or several colleagues stopping by to ask questions, or the mountain of work on your desk.

Whatever the exact cause, the feeling is the same: you’re distinctly uninspired about the day ahead – and your stress levels are already rising. Once you get into this frame of mind, minor problems suddenly seem like major crisis situations.

By beginning your morning in the right way, you’ve got a much better chance of a calm, smooth work-day, start to end. Here’s how:

Get Into the Office Early

If you can, get to work half an hour before most of your colleagues arrive. This gives you a chance to make your to-do list and start on a major project without so many interruptions as usual.

This isn’t the only benefit of getting in early. You may also find that:

  • Your commute doesn’t take so long, because the roads aren’t so busy.
  • You can get a better parking spot.
  • You can leave correspondingly early (assuming your company offers some level of flexi-time).

If you struggle to get out of the house on time, let alone early, try putting everything ready – clothes, important documents, cash for lunch, etc – the night before. That way, you can get moving faster in the morning.

Make a To-Do List

If you’ve ever forgotten a small but vital task, or found yourself spending the whole day on trivialities, you need a to-do list. Your to-do list lets you:

  • Capture everything that’s on your mind, so you’re not wasting brainpower on “I mustn’t forget to phone John…”
  • See your priorities for the day – one to three significant tasks that you want to complete.
  • Keep track of what you’ve accomplished – at some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve experienced the satisfaction of checking off items on a to-do list.
  • Re-plan your day if necessary – you might realize that some of your tasks will need to be postponed, if you’ve clearly got too many items for one day.
  • Move from one task to another without wasting time trying to figure out what you should be doing next.

It doesn’t take long to create a to-do list for the day – perhaps just five or ten minutes. By investing this time first thing in the morning, you’ll ensure that your whole day runs more smoothly.

Don’t Check Emails Straight Away

Unless your whole job is about responding to emails – you work in tech support, say – then you really shouldn’t be checking emails the moment you get into the office.

This is another reason why getting in 30 minutes early is a big help: if clients know that you normally start at 8.30am and you’re in the office at 8am, you won’t feel obliged to respond to emails at that point!

Encourage colleagues and clients to pick up the phone if they truly have an emergency situation, and to use email for less time-sensitive communication. Keep in mind that, if you keep your inbox open all day and respond to emails almost instantly, you’re setting up certain expectations.

How exactly you manage your email is up to you, but you may find it helpful to follow some of these tips:

  • Only open your inbox at set times of day (e.g. 9am, 1pm and 4pm)
  • Deal with emails in a batch, rather than answering them as they come in
  • Use software such as AwayFind to ensure that you read crucial emails (e.g. from your boss) promptly

Even if you really do need to keep your inbox open for the majority of the day, try to find at least a couple of hour-long blocks where you can focus on important work. By focusing on one task at a time, you’ll be surprised how much faster and effectively you can work.


Conquering the first hour or so of your morning is key to having a great day at work – instead of a day when you feel stressed and rushed, despite seeming not to get anything worthwhile done. Try out at least one of the ideas above this week, and see what a difference it makes to your morning.

If you’ve got any suggestions to add, then let us know in the comments!

Photo credit: “Sunrise” by Big Stock


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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