Seems like a simple question, no? In terms of being productive and working on what’s most important, the question of how to start your day is actually pretty important. Take, for example, beginning in email. If you’re like me (and I’d guess you’d not be reading this if we didn’t have some things in common), I could spend most of the morning in my email without realizing how much time I’d spent. Because it’s not just browsing through and answering a few messages. Many emails include lengthy to-do’s, things to consider, or a series of steps. One email can snowball into 30 minutes. And don’t get me started on beginning the day on Twitter or Facebook!
For most people, the morning is a precious space. Your head is still clear and you’ve probably yet to experience the inevitable curve balls life is likely to throw at you. This is the time that can be great for doing some course planning, thinking through vexing problems, reading, or writing the results section on your latest manuscript. If we aren’t deliberate with how we spend this time (or gift), it’s easy to slide down a rabbit hole. A horde of productivity gurus will offer this same advice about avoiding email first thing in the morning. The trick is, what do you do instead?
One of my favorite podcasts related to productivity is the Home Work podcast by Aaron Mahnke and Dave Caolo. They offer substantive, helpful ideas to be mindful and deliberate about work life. On Episode Six Dave introduced me to David Seah’s Emergent Task Planner.
This simple tool helps me to determine my priorities for the day and block time for these most important actions during the day. If you take a look, you’ll notice that you’re prompted to first jot down just three major tasks. David is kind enough to provide three more spaces, but the point is that you realistically can’t complete 12 major tasks in a single day. Identifying the three most important tasks is really helpful for me in terms of making sure I have the time and space during the day to get these done. There’s a great area on the planner to block time during the day in 15 minute increments so that you can ink in the meetings you already have scheduled, with a not so subtle reminder that you also need to make time for your most important tasks.
While I still spend some mornings in my email inbox (like when I recently returned from two weeks away from the Internet), I always start by completing my task planner first. This helps me to make deliberate choices about how I spend my time. I’ve found that it helps me to be more realistic about what I can accomplish in a given day and keeps me focused on what’s most important rather than on what’s right in front of me.
In future posts, I’ll get into how I keep all my projects and tasks organized as well as my approach to using David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach. I’ll also do a round-up of helpful blogs and podcasts. For now, though, download a copy of the Emergent Task Planner (or buy the pre-printed pads on Amazon) and start your day off productively.