The first hour of the work day impacts your productivity for the entire day. In this article, you will learn how to design morning habits and develop an intentional approach to starting your day.
In the past few years, morning routines has become a hot topic in books and on the Internet. Books such as The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod and The 5am Miracle by Jeff Sanders make the case for waking up early and starting your day with positive habits. Both those authors have had a positive influence on how I start my mornings. Both books focus on personal development, habits and personal goals – all valuable points to pursue.
Here’s what missing – how do you apply the morning routine framework to your professional career? Adapting to the office environment means understanding the pressures and realities of that context. Let’s cover the barriers to an office morning routine and the ways to start your day well despite the distractions.
The Distractions of the Modern Office
The rise and widespread use of the open office format makes it difficult to stay focused on your key tasks. The physical environment is only one factor to consider. Consider the following typical challenges office professionals face.
- Noise. A constant drum of conversations, phone calls, printers and other sounds make for a distracting office. This factor is especially important if you tend to operate as an introvert.
- Reactive Email Habits. It is common practice to start the work day by reviewing emails. Unfortunately, that practice means you are likely to work on tasks with little or no connection to your goals, especially at higher levels of responsibility.
- Socializing. In the proper amounts and context, there are benefits to office socializing. It helps to build trust and transform a group of people into a team. It is easy to use to get carried away with these conversations so that poses a risk to your productivity.
- Too Many Meetings. If your work day starts with meetings, your ability to focus will be undermined. There is an established practice in Scrum to have a daily check-in meeting (“the daily scrum“). This practice has value yet it should not be your first office task.
- Personal Procrastination. Coping with the stress of office life leads some people to indulge in extended personal procrastination – putting off valuable tasks early in the day. This habit takes several forms: eating a long breakfast at your desk, browsing social media websites like Facebook for an extended period and more.
All of these pressures make it more difficult to start your day effectively. These habits and drift mean valuable morning hours – a time when most people have high energy and mental focus – are lost. Fortunately, it does not have to be that way. You can design a morning office routine that suits your goals and environment.
How To Start An Effective Morning Office Routine
Building a better morning routine involves changing your habits and it is well worth the effort. You will need to adjust the details to suit your specific situation. If you adopt all the practices below, the whole process takes about 30 minutes (the “inbox zero” practice usually takes the longest to complete). Here are a few elements of a successful morning routine that work well in the modern office.
- Arrive Early. Arriving in the office 15-60 minutes before the majority of other people in your department is a key step. When I started to arrive at the office at 8:30 or 8:00 in the morning, I found it was easier to focus and get the rest of the day under control.
- Make Coffee/Tea. In my office, the login process to the corporate network takes several minutes to complete. I like to make a cup of coffee or tea in the morning while that process is underway. Of course, other drinks such as a glass of water are also a great choice.
- Plan 3 Wins. I learned this practice from using The 5 Minute Journal last year and it makes a major difference. Imagine you are at the end of the work day: what are three concrete wins that would make for a productive day? Limiting yourself to three points makes it easy to manage. If you’re not sure where to begin, I suggest reviewing your annual objectives and design tasks that align to those objectives.
- Review Today’s Calendar. A brief review of your calendar will early in the day will help you to get ready for important meetings. Of course, your calendar is more than a list of meetings. I recommend noting reminders for yourself, especially for following up with other people and reminders to make progress on large tasks.
- Achieve Morning Email Inbox Zero. Perfecting the art of sorting through your email inbox quickly takes practice. I use a simple system to keep this under control. Emails from “VIPs” (e.g. managers and executives) get attention first and often create tasks. Information bulletins, notices and reports are usually filed away. To further improve your email skills, read 12 Ways To Use Email Better.
- Enjoy A Small Reward. Taking a few minutes to enjoy a small morning reward makes the whole process more appealing. Given the limits of the office environment, you have a few options. Reading something you enjoy (e.g. 2-3 pages from your current book, your favorite blog or newspaper) is one move. You can also take a walk around the floor to say hi to a friend.
Further Reading On Morning Routines.
There is a growing field of productivity authors and experts who have covered the topic of effective morning routines. Explore these resources to continue your journey to effective morning routines and habits.
The 5 AM Miracle by Jeff Sanders. Sanders’s runs a podcast and has published a book based on his morning routine. He does good work on linking an early morning practice to goals and productivity.
The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. This was the first book I read that explored and defined the morning routine concept in detail. Elrod explains a multi-part process to creating an effective morning. I have used parts of the process (e.g. reading and exercise) and find it valuable.
My Morning Routine. This website collects and publishes morning routines from a variety of people in different professions. Here are some samples to give you a sense of the website: YUKO SHIMIZU (an artist and teacher based in New York), IVANKA TRUMP (real estate executive), and RYAN HOLIDAY (best-selling author and marketing expert).