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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801 Comments

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  • Mike Larry

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  • Do the worst first is a saying I'd heard before. I agree with the exercise or meditation as a starter. I use "mindful" exercise. As I bike , I practice mindfulness with every rotation of my feet. I use the same principal with weights and floor exercises--total focus on the workout and my "place" in it. Following, I do my "Writer's Commute." As a work -at-home writer, I don't have to fight traffic but I use that time to get the busy work out of the way. I thank new Twitter followers and post a positive message for the day; I deal with my fortunately short list need-to-do emails; I pass quickly through my FB author site with a few responses; I read 3 informative blogs (like this one) and comment. By then my first cup of coffee is finished, my brain is free of temptation to hit the social media and I'm read to work. This two part start to my morning works well for me. I published two books this year already among other things.

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  • Crafty-Studios: I'm only just starting on my journey to achieving a crazy, successful business, so not fully qualified to contradict the findings here. However (lol), checking my emails first thing in the morning seems the most logical approach to me.

    I open my two email accounts, and delete all the obvious time-wasting emails (such as those from Vistaprint with another 'great saving' that proves not to be a saving at all).

    Once I've done that, I'm left with a dozen or so emails to check, and I quickly zip through them to catch any possible problems that might need my attention straight away, if none found - I close down my browser (so as not to get distracted by facebook, tumblr, pinterest and the million or so bookmarked sites in my browser).

    I get that warm glow of knowing that I've started and completed my first task of the day.

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    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).

  • Glance through all email and mark them highest to lowest priority. Then join two meetings to talk through project status.

  • 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.