Building on my pre-Christmas blog entitled Switching Off from Work, and achieving that objective in 2018, for 2019 I set myself a new year’s resolution to really plan my days better and more importantly develop a morning routine. We all know new year’s resolutions come and go but as we are nearly into March I can safely say that this new mindset is fully ingrained and I am more productive as a result.
Breaking old habits
One of the first things I used to do as soon as I woke up was check my email on my phone – this was before going to the loo, brushing my teeth and making a brew. Those who know me well know I’m an early riser and stick to a rigid gym routine but by checking my emails before going out to exercise I was already in work mode before the day had even begun and it would be hours until my colleagues were getting started with work….this email check was counterproductive as instead of focusing on exercise and relaxation I was mulling over responses and ideas. That was a bad habit and one I could easily break. In the aforementioned blog I mentioned about setting up screen time on your iPhone and locking certain apps out at certain times of the day – the trick is not to select the “allow for 15 minutes” override and be disciplined.
Create a routine
In addition to the email quick win there are a series of strategies I have adopted to make my mornings more productive and overall make my day go better:
1. Set a brief plan the night before
Just before you switch off for the evening spend a few minutes identifying the quick wins and three things you wish to tick off before you open Outlook. These can be simple tasks or more lengthy activities but nothing more than half an hour per activity. This will give you a sense of accomplishment early on which will help maintain momentum throughout the morning. Before you log off try to prioritise and clean up your inbox on the key things you need to respond to first thing, remembering to switch Outlook to “Work Offline” so when you look in the morning you are not seeing any new stuff.
2. Block time out in the diary
Whether it be for the next day or the week ahead, use Outlook to your advantage by blocking one and two hour slots for major reports or analysis that you need to get done without distractions from others. By doing this people will realise in MS Teams, Skype etc that you are not available and therefore you are not simply slotting the work in between calls and meetings (which results in the project taking longer anyway as you are constantly switching gears and focus).
3. Take a break
I learnt a great trick about productivity a few years ago from The Energy Project. Studies show on average 90 minutes is the most time we should spend on a single activity before we get distracted and productivity wanes. It highlights the importance of taking a quick break to reset and walk away from the screen – make a cup of tea, do some discrete deep breathing (without freaking out your colleagues) or a quick walk. I now do this three times in the morning where possible always at the same time. Use the stopwatch on your phone to get used to this, but over time your will go into autopilot and realise when you need to do a quick reset.
4. Keep a notepad to hand
This will enable you to quickly right down and key ideas you have that you may need to action later. Don’t be tempted to action them straight away, focus on delivering the plan you set the night before, but by writing down you have downloaded so your brain isn’t worrying about forgetting it.
5. Get rid of notifications
Whether that be Skype, WhatsApp on your desktop, Facebook, Instagram, BBC breaking news etc – if people need something urgently, they will call you. Those constant notifications in the morning and that phone vibrating is a distraction whether you have taken a sneak peek or not….by hearing a ping or a vibrate you know something is going on and therefore it has already taken you attention and subsequent productivity.
It is important to make time for others, and if you have boxed off your most pressing work early, then afternoons become more flexible. Personally (& somewhat selfishly) I am more focused on listening and supporting others when I know I have accomplished my own personal objectives in the morning. I admit I am not great at listening to someone at 9am if I know I have my list of things to do, from mid-morning as well as afternoons I am more attentive, and they get my undivided attention.
Not everyone is a morning person, some people love to burn the midnight oil and are most creative late at night. What is important, is to recognise and read those around you, and adapt your communication and working style to when you both operate at your best. It is easy to flip this routine to make it work for you. There will be days when this structure is not always possible but if you can achieve it more days than those days you don’t then you will find a heightened sense of accomplishment.
Photo: Viktor Hanacek