Rise and shine! Morning time just became your new best friend. Love it or hate it, utilizing the morning hours before work may be the key to a successful and healthy lifestyle.That’s right, early rising is a common trait found in many CEOs, government officials, and other influential people. Margaret Thatcher was up every day at 5 a.m.; Frank Lloyd Wright at 4 am and Robert Iger, the CEO of Disney wakes at 4:30am just to name a few. I know what you’re thinking – you do your best work at night. Not so fast. According to Inc. Magazine, morning people have been found to be more proactive and more productive. In addition, the health benefits for those with a life before work go on and on. Let’s explore 5 of the things successful people do before 8 am.
1. Exercise. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. Most people that work out daily, work out in the morning. Whether it’s a morning yoga session or a trip to the gym, exercising before work gives you a boost of energy for the day and that deserved sense of accomplishment. Anyone can tackle a pile of paperwork after 200 ab reps! Morning workouts also eliminate the possibility of flaking out on your cardio after a long day at work. Even if you aren’t bright eyed and bushy tailed at the thought of a 5 am jog, try waking up 15 minutes early for a quick bedside set of pushups or stretching. It’ll help wake up your body, and prep you for your day.
2. Map Out Your Day. Maximize your potential by mapping out your schedule for the day, as well as your goals and to dos. The morning is a good time for this as it is often one of the only quiet times a person gets throughout the day. The early hours foster easier reflection that helps when prioritizing your activities. They also allow for uninterrupted problem solving when trying to fit everything into your timetable. While scheduling, don’t forget about your mental health. Plan a 10 minute break after that stressful meeting for a quick walk around the block or a moment of meditation at your desk. Trying to eat healthy? Schedule a small window in the evening to pack a few nutritious snacks to bring to work the next day.
3. Eat a Healthy Breakfast. We all know that rush out the door with a cup of coffee and an empty stomach feeling. You sit down at your desk, and you’re already wondering how early that taco truck sets up camp outside your office. No good. Take that extra time in the morning to fuel your body for the tasks ahead of it. It will help keep your mind on what’s at hand and not your growling stomach. Not only is breakfast good for your physical health, it is also a good time to connect socially. Even five minutes of talking with your kids or spouse while eating a quick bowl of oatmeal can boost your spirits before heading out the door.
4. Visualization. These days we talk about our physical health ad nauseam, but sometimes our mental health gets overlooked. The morning is the perfect time to spend some quiet time inside your mind meditating or visualizing. Take a moment to visualize your day ahead of you, focusing on the successes you will have. Even just a minute of visualization and positive thinking can help improve your mood and outlook on your work load for the day.
5. Make Your Day Top Heavy. We all have that one item on our to do list that we dread. It looms over you all day (or week) until you finally suck it up and do it after much procrastination. Here’s an easy tip to save yourself the stress – do that least desirable task on your list first. Instead of anticipating the unpleasantness of it from first coffee through your lunch break, get it out of the way. The morning is the time when you are (generally) more well rested and your energy level is up. Therefore, you are more well equipped to handle more difficult projects. And look at it this way, your day will get progressively easier, not the other way around. By the time your work day is ending, you’re winding down with easier to dos and heading into your free time more relaxed. Success!
Yesterday started with the best of intentions. I walked into my office in the morning with a vague sense of what I wanted to accomplish. Then I sat down, turned on my computer, and checked my email. Two hours later, after fighting several fires, solving other people’s problems, and dealing with whatever happened to be thrown at me through my computer and phone, I could hardly remember what I had set out to accomplish when I first turned on my computer. I’d been ambushed. And I know better.
When I teach time management, I always start with the same question: How many of you have too much time and not enough to do in it? In ten years, no one has ever raised a hand.
That means we start every day knowing we’re not going to get it all done. So how we spend our time is a key strategic decision. That’s why it’s a good idea to create a to do list and an ignore list. The hardest attention to focus is our own.
But even with those lists, the challenge, as always, is execution. How can you stick to a plan when so many things threaten to derail it? How can you focus on a few important things when so many things require your attention?
We need a trick.
Jack LaLanne, the fitness guru, knows all about tricks; he’s famous for handcuffing himself and then swimming a mile or more while towing large boats filled with people. But he’s more than just a showman. He invented several exercise machines including the ones with pulleys and weight selectors in health clubs throughout the world. And his show, The Jack LaLanne Show, was the longest running television fitness program, on the air for 34 years.
But none of that is what impresses me. He has one trick that I believe is his real secret power.
At the age of 94, he still spends the first two hours of his day exercising. Ninety minutes lifting weights and 30 minutes swimming or walking. Every morning. He needs to do so to achieve his goals: on his 95th birthday he plans to swim from the coast of California to Santa Catalina Island, a distance of 20 miles. Also, as he is fond of saying, “I cannot afford to die. It will ruin my image.”
So he works, consistently and deliberately, toward his goals. He does the same things day in and day out. He cares about his fitness and he’s built it into his schedule.
Managing our time needs to become a ritual too. Not simply a list or a vague sense of our priorities. That’s not consistent or deliberate. It needs to be an ongoing process we follow no matter what to keep us focused on our priorities throughout the day.
I think we can do it in three steps that take less than 18 minutes over an eight-hour workday.
STEP 1 (5 MINUTES) SET PLAN FOR DAY.
Before turning on your computer, sit down with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. What can you realistically accomplish that will further your goals and allow you to leave at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been productive and successful? Write those things down.
Now, most importantly, take your calendar and schedule those things into time slots, placing the hardest and most important items at the beginning of the day. And by the beginning of the day I mean, if possible, before even checking your email. If your entire list does not fit into your calendar, reprioritize your list. There is tremendous power in deciding when and where you are going to do something.
In their book The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe a study in which a group of women agreed to do a breast self-exam during a period of 30 days. 100% of those who said where and when they were going to do it completed the exam. Only 53% of the others did.
In another study, drug addicts in withdrawal (can you find a more stressed-out population?) agreed to write an essay before 5 p.m. on a certain day. 80% of those who said when and where they would write the essay completed it. None of the others did.
If you want to get something done, decide when and where you’re going to do it. Otherwise, take it off your list.
STEP 2 (1 MINUTE EVERY HOUR) REFOCUS.
Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour. When it rings, take a deep breath, look at your list and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.
STEP 3 (5 MINUTES) REVIEW.
Shut off your computer and review your day. What worked? Where did you focus? Where did you get distracted? What did you learn that will help you be more productive tomorrow?
The power of rituals is their predictability. You do the same thing in the same way over and over again. And so the outcome of a ritual is predictable too. If you choose your focus deliberately and wisely and consistently remind yourself of that focus, you will stay focused. It’s simple.
This particular ritual may not help you swim the English Channel while towing a cruise ship with your hands tied together. But it may just help you leave the office feeling productive and successful.
And, at the end of the day, isn’t that a higher priority?
Do you often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do, or do you find yourself missing deadlines? Or do you sometimes just forget to do something important, so that people have to chase you to get work done?
All of these are symptoms of not keeping a proper "To-Do List." These are prioritized lists of all the tasks that you need to carry out. They list everything that you have to do, with the most important tasks at the top of the list, and the least important tasks at the bottom.
By keeping such a list, you make sure that your tasks are written down all in one place so you don't forget anything important. And by prioritizing tasks, you plan the order in which you'll do them, so that you can tell what needs your immediate attention, and what you can leave until later.
To-Do Lists are essential if you're going to beat work overload. When you don't use them effectively, you'll appear unfocused and unreliable to the people around you. When you do use them effectively, you'll be much better organized, and you'll be much more reliable. You'll experience less stress, safe in the knowledge that you haven't forgotten anything important. More than this, if you prioritize intelligently, you'll focus your time and energy on high value activities, which will mean that you're more productive, and more valuable to your team.
Keeping a properly structured and thought-out list sounds simple enough. But it can be surprising how many people fail to use them at all, never mind use them effectively. In fact, it's often when people start to use them effectively and sensibly that they make their first personal productivity breakthroughs, and start making a success of their careers.
Write down all of the tasks that you need to complete. If they're large tasks, break out the first action step, and write this down with the larger task. (Ideally, tasks or action steps should take no longer than 1-2 hours to complete.)
Note: You may find it easier to compile several lists (covering personal, study, and workplace, for example). Try different approaches and use the best for your own situation.
Run through these tasks allocating priorities from A (very important, or very urgent) to F (unimportant, or not at all urgent).
If too many tasks have a high priority, run through the list again and demote the less important ones. Once you have done this, rewrite the list in priority order.
USING YOUR TO-DO LIST
To use your list, simply work your way through it in order, dealing with the A priority tasks first, then the Bs, then the Cs, and so on. As you complete tasks, tick them off or strike them through.
What you put on your list and how you use it will depend on your situation. For instance, if you're in a sales-type role, a good way to motivate yourself is to keep your list relatively short, and aim to complete it every day.
But in you're in an operational role, or if tasks are large or dependent on too many other people, then it may be better to focus on a longer-term list, and "chip away" at it day-by-day.
Many people find it helpful to spend, say, 10 minutes at the end of the day, organizing tasks on their list for the next day.
Tip: When you're prioritizing tasks, make sure you differentiate between urgency and importance.
Although using a paper list is an easy way to get started, software-based approaches can be more efficient in spite of the learning curve. These can remind you of events or tasks that will soon be overdue, they can also be synchronized with your phone or email, and they can be shared with others on your team, if you're collaborating on a project.
There are many time management software programs available. At a simple level, you can use MSWord or MSExcel to manage your lists. Some versions of Microsoft Outlook, and other email services such as Gmail, have task lists as standard features. BeeTodoList (http://beetodolist.com) is one of simple and powerful free online to do list and task manager application.
One of the biggest advantages to using a software-based approach to manage your list is that you can update it easily. For example, instead of scratching off tasks and rewriting the list every day, software allows you to move and prioritize tasks quickly.
Tip: All of us think, plan and work differently. A program that works well for a colleague might not work well for you simply because you learn and think in your own way. This is why it's useful to research and try several different ways of compiling your list before deciding on a single system.
To-Do Lists can help you get, and stay, on top of important projects and piles of tasks or decisions.
For instance, imagine you're heading a team that's working on a project. There are so many tasks to do, and so many people doing them, that staying on top of it all seems overwhelming.
In this situation, structure your list by team member, writing out tasks and deadlines for every person on the project. Each day as you write out your own tasks that need completion, you can also check your Team To-Do List to see who's working on what, and if anything is due in that day. You can also include other tasks that you need to complete as part of your job.
Or, imagine you're in a sales role and have a long list of people who you need to talk to. You write out a list of everyone you need to call and every client you need to see, and start prioritizing.
You know that one client really keen on your product and is ready to buy, so you prioritize them with an "A" – this is a prospect that's really worth focusing on. Conversely, you know that another prospect is playing you off against several competitors, meaning that the you'll make less profit, and that there's a reasonable chance that you won't get the business. You prioritize this person with a "D". It's worth making some effort here, but you should focus most of your attention on better prospects.
To be well organized in the workplace, you need to be using To-Do Lists. By using them, you will ensure that:
You remember to carry out all necessary tasks.
You tackle the most important jobs first, and don't waste time on trivial tasks.
You don't get stressed by a large number of unimportant jobs.
Start by listing all of the tasks that you must carry out.
Mark the importance of the task next to it, with a priority from A (very important) to F (unimportant). Redraft the list into this order of importance. Then carry out the jobs at the top of the list first. These are the most important, most beneficial tasks to complete.
You can also use software-based approaches to manage your list. You can often access these from anywhere, and they can often be synced with your Smartphone or PDA.