Does this sound like you? You roll out of bed exhausted every morning. Your brain was going like gangbusters all night, keeping you awake with thoughts and plans about your business. Now you’re ready to execute—if you could just find the shirt you were planning to wear to that important client meeting. Where’s the address again? Uh-oh, your phone isn’t charged, so you go on the computer to look up the location. Next thing you know, you’re sucked into emails. You look up, still in your bathrobe, and an hour has passed. Where did the morning go? Now you’re going to be late—and your phone still isn’t charged.
Four simple morning habits can change you from a harried slob in a bathrobe to a paragon of productivity.
1. Check your to-do list. You do have one, right? Okay, this habit really starts the night before, when you make a to-do list before going to bed. “Dumping” your to-do’s onto paper (or digital calendar) helps you clear your mind so you’ll sleep better (no worries about forgetting stuff).
Before you dive into your day, take a moment to glance at your schedule. If you’re like most small-business owners, your to-do list might have a dozen or more items on it. Figure out which are the must-do’s. These are typically things that involve other people (like travel, meetings or sales calls) or deliverables with firm deadlines (a big order has to ship today; a project is due). Unless you see a lot of down time, resist the urge to pack your to-do list with “just a few more things.” It’s important to leave some buffer time to deal with all the emergencies that inevitably come up when you’re running a small business.
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2. Do something for yourself. Whether it’s exercising, meditating or even just taking a really long, energizing shower, some type of activity that feeds you and centers you is a smart way to start the day. Any of these activities can help you get in touch with your subconscious—it’s amazing how solutions to problems that seemed insurmountable when you’re sitting at your desk can suddenly present themselves when you’re not thinking about them. (One of my business partners swears she gets most of her best ideas while running.)
I know—you barely have time to take a quick shower, much less take a long one, work out or meditate in the morning. All I’ll say is this: Everyone I know who makes time to do it says it pays off. Another colleague of mine skipped his morning workout for a week, trying to give himself an extra half an hour a day to work on a big project. He ended up wasting more than half an hour a day because he hit the 3:00 slump every afternoon and was no use to anyone.
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3. Have a routine. I’m not the most organized person, but I’ve observed a lot of people who are, and they have one thing in common: a routine. Hey, it’s morning, your coffee hasn’t kicked in yet, you’re not thinking totally clearly and you need to get things done without really thinking about them. Having a routine helps you auto-pilot yourself through the basic tasks of the morning (what to eat, what to wear) before you really dig into the tough stuff.
President Obama famously told Vanity Fair he only wears blue or gray suits. Why? It saves time and energy—instead of making decisions about what to wear and what tie goes with what, he saves his brainpower for important decisions. Routinizing your morning can help you be more productive, too.
4. Start with something big … or small. There are two schools of thought about getting started on your to-do list in the morning. One approach says start with the biggest, most important must-do of the day. The other advises you to start with a few quick tasks you can quickly check off your list to gain a feeling of accomplishment.
Personally, I like to mix it up depending on how I feel that morning. No matter how I’m feeling, I start my day with my email (ignoring the “rules” of time management). If I feel gung-ho and ready to go, then I tackle something big, putting aside distractions (phone calls, Twitter) for at least an hour while I work on it. If I’m feeling slackerish and need a nudge, I move on to some easy to-do’s—maybe updating my calendar, proofreading an article or sending a followup email to a prospect. That gives me the push I need to keep moving on to bigger things.
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