How to Start Your Day Productively

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Isn’t it frustrating to realize that you’re already two hours into the day, and you haven’t actually gotten anything done? I’ve been there many times, and have finally learned how to avoid the anti-productivity trap. All you have to do is…

Don’t check your e-mail first thing in the morning. Don’t check social media either, and for goodness sakes, don’t read blogs or surf the net. Just say NO!

If you really want to utilize that wonderful window of clarity, energy, motivation, and fullness of brain function that tends to only occur in the A.M., don’t let yourself get sucked into all those mundane tasks. Trust me, your e-mail will still be there waiting in an hour or two. Instead, dive right into the #1 most pressing task or project on your list, and work on it for at least thirty minutes.

Really and truly, I have found that I’m much more productive this way, because I’m putting my real “work” first, and then dealing with everything else.

Here’s why this approach works:
Imagine that your day is a jar, your major tasks are marbles, and e-mail and other stuff is sand.
Scenario #1: If you start filling the jar with sand first, it will fill up quickly and you won’t have much room left for the marbles.
Scenario #2: But, if you put your marbles in first, then fill in some sand between them, then more marbles, and a bit of sand, and so on, until your jar is full, you’ll end up fitting a lot more marbles in that jar than you would have if you had filled it with sand first.

So first thing tomorrow, when you sit down at your desk, try this sequence:

  1. Open up your task list (your day planner, calendar, online to-do list, or wherever you list your agenda for the day).
  2. Pick out your most pressing task, and say to yourself “I’m going to work on this task right NOW. E-mail is OFF LIMITS until later”.
  3. Dive into your task for a set amount of time, or until you lose focus and need to take a break.
  4. After your focused work session, you can take a break to check e-mail or whatever. Bonus!: Since you’ll (hopefully) feel compelled to complete your half-done-task, you’ll extract yourself from the e-mail abyss and get back to work much sooner than you would have otherwise.
  5. Give yourself a pat on the back for actually getting work done in the first hour or two of your day!

There are many variations of this technique, so experiment with it until you’ve found a formula that works for you. For example, you could work for an hour, then check e-mail/other mundane tasks for twenty minutes, then take a ten-minute rest break, then back for another hour of focused work. For me, it’s more important to have focused work sessions with mundane tasks reserved for in-between, than it is to have set times for everything. So don’t feel like you have to adhere to a timer for this technique to be effective!

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About Barbara Austin

As the graphic designer & founder of Sweet Dreamz Design, Barbara loves working with women entrepreneurs to brand their businesses. She shares a variety of small business advice and anecdotes here on the blog. Check back every week for new tips, inspirations, and how-to articles, or subscribe to get regular updates in your inbox each week!

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