How do you start your work day? If you are like many people, you probably ease your way into your daily tasks by first checking your email, sending responses to messages, listening to your voicemails, returning phone calls and maybe taking a quick coffee break.
It’s a pleasant enough way to begin a day, but what time is it by the time you get to the actual important tasks on your to-do list? Sometimes it is mid-morning or even afternoon by the time you finally focus on the big presentation you need to prepare or the research project you need to start. Your truly productive hours may not begin until close to the end of the work day.
To increase your personal effectiveness every single day, it’s important to jump right into the important work at hand instead of procrastinating or becoming distracted with smaller, less pressing activities.
Sid Savara wrote a post called “7 Reasons You Should Never Check Email First Thing in the Morning” for his personal development blog and included this advice:
Do you know what is most important for you to work on? Do you know the first thing you want to do this morning? Then go ahead and do it!
On the other hand by checking email, you risk doing what someone else wants you to do. Every time you open an email, you should consider whether it’s more important than everything else on your task list – but realistically, how many of us actually do that?
If you don’t, then the items you end up working on (even if it’s just replying and giving information) end up being tasks for other people rather than yourself.
Email, though a very useful work communication tool, can be responsible for hours of distraction and lost personal effectiveness in any given day. If you must check your email first thing in the morning, try to scan your inbox for urgent messages needing immediate attention. Respond to anything that truly must be taken care of right away, take care of any emergencies, then close your email. Turn your attention to your top priorities for the day– the tasks that have the most pressing deadlines or the projects that you absolutely need to tackle.
Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits blog, prioritizes his “Most Important Tasks” (MITs) each day to stay focused on his goals:
It’s very simple: your MIT is the task you most want or need to get done today. In my case, I’ve tweaked it a bit so that I have three MITs — the three things I must accomplish today… do your MITs first thing in the morning, either at home or when you first get to work. If you put them off to later, you will get busy and run out of time to do them.
This method of setting “Most Important Tasks” is one that can be easily incorporated into your daily schedule. Write them down, enter them into your calendar or your project management software and keep yourself accountable for accomplishing them. Try using Post-Its or index cards as a simple organization tool of you struggle to prioritize.
How do you begin your work day? Do you write down your top priorities for the day or use other strategies to stay on track?
Learn more about EDSI’s Increasing Personal Effectiveness course.