It’s a common proclamation in my keynotes and workshops: “I’m most productive in the morning!”
My follow up question usually takes people by surprise though – even though it shouldn’t:
“So… what do you do first thing in the morning, then?”
The realisation hits them….. “Email. Talk to other people. More email.”
You see what we should actually say is “I FEEL most productive in the morning,” or “I COULD BE most productive in the morning.”
Because even though most people feel their best when they first arrive in the office, the reality is that most people waste the first hour or so of their day doing trivial things – things that might be best left to the afternoon when they’re no longer on their game.
That first part of your day, we call BASELINE, because it generally sets the benchmark for your day. It’s really that important.
The Average Morning
Arrive at the office, put your stuff down at your desk and then go and make a coffee (if you haven’t bought one on the way in). Then check email.
Answer emails that are easy to answer and read over the others, thinking that you need to have a closer look later in the day.
Get distracted by some funny email or link to an online article. Whoops - time for the morning meeting already.
BASELINE is set. And it didn’t look good.
Go to the meeting, come back to your desk with stuff to do from the meeting. Maybe make another coffee.
Decide to get started on the stuff from the meeting. Get interrupted three times. Then actually do the stuff from the meeting. Morning over.
And what about those emails that needed some attention later in the day? Well, those will get done a bit later - most likely in the afternoon.
What happened to that productive morning? You spent it on emails, meetings, stuff from said meeting, a little bit of distraction by you (online articles) and others (interruptions), and a couple of cups of coffee.
Ok…….the coffee is important.
Three Steps to a More Productive BASELINE
- Identify your Time-Sucks
You need to know what is actually robbing you of your time. Is it email? Is it socialising? Is it reading the paper in the cafeteria? Work out what it is so you can tame it.
- Identify your PRECEDING behaviour – and change it!
Most of our bad habits are linked to other habits. For example, I make a coffee and read the paper. Or maybe I open Outlook and then get stuck in email. The easiest way to change is to change the preceding behaviour. For example, don’t make coffee first thing (shock!) and therefore don’t hang out in the cafeteria. Or maybe don’t open Outlook as soon as you sit down. Open something else that will help you get stuck into a long term project.
- Reward the ‘good’ Behaviour
Rewards reinforce behaviour – pretty simple, huh? When you’re procrastinating, you get a reward from doing something easy rather than something difficult. To counteract these rewards for doing something ‘easy,’ you need to reward yourself for doing something more difficult. Maybe get a coffee, tick that thing off your to-do list or read that article you wanted to check out earlier. Any of these things give us a great little dopamine buzz.
Being aware of the times of day you are most productive is one thing…. But being able to capitalise on that productive time is something else entirely. Don’t waste those moments.
** Tony Wilson is a Workplace Performance Expert focussed on helping leaders build the environment for high performance. His insights into performance science and it's application in the workplace will make you re-think the way that you approach leadership, culture change, high performance and productivity. Tony has an MBA and a BSc majoring in physiology and combines the two for a different perspective. He is also the author of Jack and the Team that Couldn't See and delivers workshops and keynote presentations around the globe.