What Successful People Do With The First Hour Of Their Work Day

How much does the first hour of every day matter? As it turns out, a lot. It can be the hour you see everything clearly, get one real thing done, and focus on the human side of work rather than your task list.

Remember when you used to have a period at the beginning of every day to think about your schedule, catch up with friends, maybe knock out a few tasks? It was called home room, and it went away after high school. But many successful people schedule themselves a kind of grown-up home room every day. You should too.

The first hour of the workday goes a bit differently for Craig Newmark of Craigslist, David Karp of Tumblr, motivational speaker Tony Robbins, career writer (and Fast Company blogger) Brian Tracy, and others, and they’ll tell you it makes a big difference. Here are the first items on their daily to-do list.

Don’t Check Your Email for the First Hour. Seriously. Stop That.

Tumblr founder David Karp will “try hard” not to check his email until 9:30 or 10 a.m., according to an Inc. profile of him. “Reading e-mails at home never feels good or productive,” Karp said. “If something urgently needs my attention, someone will call or text me.”

Not all of us can roll into the office whenever our Vespa happens to get us there, but most of us with jobs that don’t require constant on-call awareness can trade e-mail for organization and single-focus work. It’s an idea that serves as the title of Julie Morgenstern’s work management book Never Check Email In The Morning, and it’s a fine strategy for leaving the office with the feeling that, even on the most over-booked days, you got at least one real thing done.

If you need to make sure the most important messages from select people come through instantly, AwayFind can monitor your inbox and get your attention when something notable arrives. Otherwise, it’s a gradual but rewarding process of training interruptors and coworkers not to expect instantaneous morning response to anything they send in your off-hours.

Gain Awareness, Be Grateful

One smart, simple question on curated Q & A site Quora asked “How do the most successful people start their day?”. The most popular response came from a devotee of Tony Robbins, the self-help guru who pitched the power of mindful first-hour rituals long before we all had little computers next to our beds.

Robbins suggests setting up an “Hour of Power,” “30 Minutes to Thrive,” or at least “Fifteen Minutes to Fulfillment.” Part of it involves light exercise, part of it involves motivational incantations, but the most accessible piece involves 10 minutes of thinking of everything you’re grateful for: in yourself, among your family and friends, in your career, and the like. After that, visualize “everything you want in your life as if you had it today.”

Robbins offers the “Hour of Power” segment of his Ultimate Edge series as a free audio stream (here’s the direct MP3 download). Blogger Mike McGrath also wrote a concise summary of the Hour of Power). You can be sure that at least some of the more driven people you’ve met in your career are working on Robbins’ plan.

Do the Big, Shoulder-Sagging Stuff First

Brian Tracy’s classic time-management book Eat That Frog gets its title from a Mark Twain saying that, if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you’ve got it behind you for the rest of the day, and nothing else looks so bad. Gina Trapani explained it well in a video for her Work Smart series). Combine that with the concept of getting one thing done before you wade into email, and you’ve got a day-to-day system in place. Here’s how to force yourself to stick to it:

Choose Your Frog

"Choose your frog, and write it down on a piece of paper that you'll see when you arrive back at your desk in the morning, Tripani advises."If you can, gather together the material you'll need to get it done and have that out, too."

One benefit to tackling that terrible, weighty thing you don’t want to do first thing in the morning is that you get some space from the other people involved in that thing--the people who often make the thing more complicated and frustrating. Without their literal or figurative eyes over your shoulder, the terrible thing often feels less complex, and you can get more done.

Ask Yourself If You’re Doing What You Want to Do

Feeling unfulfilled at work shouldn’t be something you realize months too late, or even years. Consider making an earnest attempt every morning at what the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs told a graduating class at Stanford to do:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

“Customer Service” (or Your Own Equivalent)

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark answered the first hour question succinctly: “Customer service.” He went on to explain (or expand) that he also worked on current projects, services for military families and veterans, and protecting voting rights. But customer service is what Newmark does every single day at Craigslist, responding to user complaints and smiting scammers and spammers. He almost certainly has bigger fish he could pitch in on every day, but Newmark says customers service “anchors me to reality.”

Your own version of customer service might be keeping in touch with contacts from year-ago projects, checking in with coworkers you don’t regularly interact with, asking questions of mentors, and just generally handling the human side of work that quickly gets lost between task list items. But do your customer service on the regular, and you’ll have a more reliable roster of helpers when the time comes.

What do you do with the first hour of your workday to increase productivity and reduce stress? Tell us about it in the comments below.

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Hawk]

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794 Comments

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  • Silja Laasbärg

    I start my morning to worshiping and giving thanks to God. Just 10-15 min and He gives my real power for all day long.

  • Pavlos Rizos

    Email is a great toll invented but its true that if you start your working day be reading emails you get lost in a bulk of emails and requests (most of them are not important and some of them ruin your psychology).

  • I read the NYTimes and the WSJ every day. It's delivered to my apt door. I grab them around 6 ish and read both cover to cover. Brings me up to date on important news and helps me transition from the macro into the micro. Once at the desk, I try (but don't always succeed) in writing down a short list of three things that above all else, I strive to do that day. Keeps me focused.

  • Chris Brindamour

    This is my morning ritual for the first 3 hours:

    • exercise for a 1/2 hours
    • eat breakfast
    • read for 1/2 hour
    • review my major goals
    • get ready for the day
    • listen to audio while I drive into work
  • Julie

    I started something similar a few months ago. I sit at my computer, review my goals and how I want to live my life, and work on translating that into a few next steps for the day. The rest of the morning ritual is drinking 2 cups of water, meditating for 15 minutes (still working on that), 10 pushups, 10 squats, and as many reps of dead hang chinups I can do, and spending 15 minutes on my Inbox.

  • Tony Blanchard

    I found this article very useful! It forces us to get away from the turmoil that is e-mail. Instead of being programmed like a machine, loading e-mail, and starting to respond to each e-mail, these suggestions bring us away from this habit and start to look at the bigger picture of our work.

    The items mentioned above are all important, non-urgent tasks, that are described well within Stephen Covey's 7 Habits book under "Quadrant II Activities". Developing deep and lasting relationships with colleagues, vendors, and clients are a great way to build trust and strengthen partnerships.

    Best,

    Tony

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  • Adams

    Remember when you used to have a period at the beginning of every day to think about your schedule, catch up with friends, maybe knock out a few tasks? It was called home room, and it went away after high school. But many successful people schedule themselves a kind of grown-up home room every day. You should too.

  • Average Redneck Girl

    My rule of thumb each morning is get the "Bad Medicine" out of the way. This means do the stuff first that I don't want to do (the headache stuff) and get it out of th way. I, too, never check my email for the first hour or so.

  • Funwithguns11

    I'm not sure where all these people work where they can get away with not checking email the first thing in the morning. Meeting times change. Meetings get added. Customer want changes. An important employee called in sick.

    Do YOU want to be the person that misses the 9AM meeting that got scheduled at 6PM yesterday because you didn't check your email until 10AM. I sure as hell don't.

  • stephenbooth

    I get the impression that the majority of people commenting (in particular the ones who say they pray, meditate or go for a walk) didn't actually read the headline, let alone the article. It's what you do in your first hour AT WORK.

    I agree, first hour is for checking email (if you haven't checked it already). I travel to work by bus and have a Blackberry so I tend to check my email on the way in and plan my day. As I can put my headphones on and block out the world on the bus (plus I have a 2 hour commute) I've often done most of a day's work before I even get to the office.

  • Todd

    Well I pray to the Lord, of course. There is NO better way to start your day than seeking the guidance of Him Who made us and Who can direct us better than Him? Why not even ourselves no matter how intelligent we are!

  • jimeagen

    First thing I do: I write two thank you notes, on stationary, and send them out. They could be to someone who works for me, a customer, or someone I have simply been thinking about. Everyone loves to get a personal note and it feels great to write one too.

  • Nickeldog

    6:00am hot tub dip is first.  Allows me to clear my head and body.  Then, 15 mins for my TO DO list, written on scrap recycled piece of paper with my favorite pen.  Then go to the office and execute that list, one by one.

  • Nickeldog

     Oh one other thing... eat breakfast after that TO DO list... and do the Daily Word Jumble while you eat.