What you do when you first get to the office sets the tone for the rest of your day. Learning how to prioritize and laser-focus can mean the difference between knocking out your to-do list before noon or getting knocked out by it. Instinctively, the first thing most of us do is check our email. And that’s a huge mistake, says Julie Morgenstern, a time-management expert who literally wrote the book on this (seriously, it’s called Never Check Email in the Morning).
Doing so first thing in the a.m. is the fastest way to make a detour into distraction city and kill your productivity. Email is reactive, not proactive, which lets outside forces control your time and agenda. So the real question is: What exactly should we be doing? To get answers, we asked super successful people killing it in business, fitness, and life in general what they do to be productive (and resist the siren call of their inbox) the second they step foot into work.
1. Trap your anxieties on paper.
“The first thing I do when arriving at 'work' (which is usually my wooden table next to a living wall in my house) is journal. I use a notebook like The 5-Minute Journal to clarify my goals and priorities for the day, as well as perform a basic gratitude exercise. If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll drink pu-erh tea [a type of fermented dark Chinese tea] and free-associate for another two or three pages in a separate notebook. This often allows me to trap my anxieties on paper so I can be more productive with less stress throughout the day.” — Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and host of the podcast The Tim Ferriss Show
2. Get your energy up with some movement.
“The first thing I do is take a walk. (We just got a new puppy!) Then I spend the next hour checking all my social media. I know experts advise that we don’t waste our morning alertness on low-value work like email and checking Twitter, but I know that I can’t focus on more challenging work until I’ve checked in on all the various forms of communication.” — Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before
3. Go over your to-do list.
“The very first thing I do—even before I power on my computer—is enjoy a cup of coffee while reviewing my to-do list, which I make before going to bed every night. This helps me get pumped and organized. After that, I’m ready to take on the day!” — Joy Bauer, R.D.N., nutrition and health expert on NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks
4. Do quick check-ins with team members.
“The first thing I do is say a quick hello and check in with one or two members of my team. It's important to me because it helps me start the day on a happy, positive note, and it lets me take the temperature of our group. Plus, it's a good thing for overall productivity as creative teams run on good personal relationships and positivity. And in the event something is off or tense, it gives me a chance to find out what's up before things go off the rails. Mostly, though, I just do it because I enjoy it. I am lucky to work with great people who are a lot of fun to be around.” — Pilar Gerasimo, founder of Experience Life magazine and author of Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act
5. Complete the task that requires the most mental focus.
"I pour a cup of coffee and get to work writing. I'm fierce about not letting anything interrupt that time. I write for two or three hours and then go to the office for meetings or teaching or student appointments. If I write every day, even for just an hour, there's a momentum that works for me. I can just pick up where I left off. I don't write quickly, but the consistency makes it all add up.” — Marion Nestle, Ph.D, professor of nutrition at NYU and author of forthcoming book, Soda Politics
6. Make (and use!) a really effective calendar.
“The first thing I do in the morning is check my calendar. It is far more effective than a to-do list. This approach radically reduces the number of decisions I have to make every day because I don't have to decide what to do. I just do it. The calendar also has something called buffer days where I handle small things, focus days where I do things that matter the most, and free days where I do whatever I feel like that isn't work. This is the only way I've found that makes sure I get time for myself, for family and friends, and for my company.” — Dave Asprey, creator of Bulletproof Coffee and author of the forthcoming Bulletproof: The Cookbook
7. Hydrate... with a kick.
“We have a morning trifecta that works like a charm each day to make us feel alert, connected, and energized as soon as we hit the office. First, we always check in with our team, face-to-face. This interaction in the morning grounds us and connects us to our purpose as a united, productive team. Second, we prep our desks with huge mason jars of water. That way, once we sit down, we can be productive without interruption. Plus, getting hydrated first thing in the morning gives us energy and keeps us healthy. Finally, we sip on a little caffeine, like coffee or tea, for a little boost.” — Kirsten Potenza and Cristina Peerenboom, creators of the POUND workout and the POUND Rockout Results System
8. Express gratitude for who (and what) is working.
“I like to start my day with a little gratitude. I walk all the way through the office to the kitchen at the back and say hello to the people on my incredible team, making sure to let each one know how much I appreciate them!” — Kathryn Minshew, founder and CEO of The Muse