Do you dive into the day like some people dive into a swimming pool without even testing the water temperature? Or do you start by dipping a toe into the shallow end and inching your way gradually into deeper water where you can start your serious swimming?
Different strokes for different folks. There’s no right or wrong way. The important thing is what happens once you’re in the pool. If you simply stand in the water, caressing the surface of the water with your hands, it is not very productive in terms of physical fitness.
Similarly with work, some people prefer to follow most time management experts’ advice to start with priorities – ignoring email, inbox, voicemail and “To do” notes from the evening before – until you get your most important tasks completed.
Others like to warm up first by organizing their desk, getting rid of those pesky emails that came during the night, and making quick replies to text messages and voicemail requests. They then feel energized and ready to tackle the team’s priorities.
Which approach is best?
Well until about a year ago, I would’ve told you the first scenario – starting with the priorities and ignoring email and other time gobblers until later in the morning. In fact, I have written articles in the past advocating this approach. After all, it makes good sense. Checking email could sidetrack us from our plans for the day. And spending time on the trivial tasks keeps us from productive work, saps are energy, and doesn’t fully utilize our prime time – that early part of the day when most people are more mentally alert and at their peak energy level.
I have discovered, however, that we are unable to work at peak performance as long as we are constantly wondering what awaits us in our inbox or what calls we missed on our iPhone or the reason for that flashing red light on our landline telephone.
But if we were to spend the first half hour of our work day satisfying are concern that something urgent is awaiting us – and dashing off the odd email and making it a quick note or two of things that need tending to later, our minds would be free to focus on the priorities of the day. Mental distractions can frequently be more disruptive than physical distractions.
I still insist on getting up early and using my prime time; but the first, slightly hazy, half hour or so is used to dispense with any distracting thoughts and fears of missing something critical.
That’s why the first 90-minute block of time to work on a goal-related activity is not scheduled in my planner until 9 AM or so. Prior to that I am simply getting my feet wet, warming up to the day and building up a head of steam.
After all, each workday is more a marathon than a quick sprint. And productivity in the office is not as often caused by a slow start as it is by a slow, haltering pace throughout the day.
Planning each day – even to the extent of blocking off specific times to work on specific projects and tasks – will more than make up for any slow start.
And you may find, like I have, that it’s actually slower to start working on priorities while your mind is dwelling on the unknown.