The First Hour of the Day - How to Start Your Day More Productively

Updated: Apr 8

What’s the first thing you do when you get started each morning? For many of us, it’s a rush to pick up our phone to check email, which immediately gets you bogged down in routine and “have to do” tasks. One after the other and almost none of them were planned.

The problem with this is that the next thing you know, it’s lunchtime, and you feel like you’ve accomplished nothing. You know what that does to us recovering “perfectionists” and “overachievers,” it stresses us out. Maybe, just maybe, once we feel we’ve got nothing done, we can refocus our minds, after we’ve done a good job of playing the “shoulda” “coulda” game.

We all have our own morning routines, and developing your own is beneficial both short and long-term if it is a routine that supports your productivity AND well-being throughout the day.

Therefore, when you develop your routine, keep in mind the first hour of your day sets the tone for the rest of the day. Mornings are the time to focus on matters that require our focused thinking and problem-solving skills. The following tips will help you make the most of your first hour of the day. (These tips can be used by those of us who are productive at different times of the day, too.)

Make Sustenance a Priority

If you’re able to drink coffee — I’m not and wish I could — or black tea, it is great for waking you up and helping you focus, but your brain needs food, too. Even if it’s just a cup of yogurt or a banana, eat something before you even start thinking about work. You’ve gone 8+ hours without food. You’ll be unable to focus and think clearly on an empty stomach.

If you’re used to not eating first, you may not even be aware of the difference it will make by giving your body sustenance before you start the work of the day. But it does help a lot. There’s another extremely important reason it’s a good practice to implement. By doing so, you give yourself a strong message by taking care of your body: you are important — you come first! And nothing you need to do that day is more important than taking great care of yourself first. This type of message you give to yourself each day will increase your self-esteem because it’s a declaration and evidence through your actions of the value you place on yourself by taking care of YOU.

Zoom Out: Look at the Big Picture

Before you start on the details of your day, the first hour of your day is a good time to look at the big picture — zoom out. Review what’s most important and touch on your values and goals.

Make sure your calendar reflects your values and gets you one step closer to your goals. Then, consider what’s on your calendar for the next few weeks or months. If it doesn’t, consider if it needs to remain or would you be better served by deleting it. You are allowed to change your mind, to adjust, to modify. So give yourself permission to do just that.

Also, don’t forget about yourself and your well-being — that’s one of the most important parts of the big picture. You are an intricate part of the picture. If you leave yourself off your schedule, it will lead to overwhelm. What can you do? Add some self-care practices. This will ensure your well-being is taken care of as you move toward your goals.

It is much easier to decide what needs to be done today, what needs to be done first, and what can be deleted to add more time for self-care by considering the big picture.

Make a To-Do List

Creating a to-do list and setting a time limit for each item will help you manage your time for the day. Set a timer to keep you on track. Another way to manage your to-do list is to decide on a milestone for each task. You may have several projects going on at the same time.

Make sure that you set a reasonable and productive stopping point for each so you can get other things done and breaks can be added. However, I strongly suggest that you don’t put too many things on your to-do list in the first place. Maybe on the master list, but not on your daily list.

If you’re like me, noticing you did not get everything done will eventually slow you down because it becomes de-motivating to put in so much effort and not get everything done. What I found works is to identify the most important thing to get done for that day, then the next important thing, and the next — no more than three. If I get those things done and have some extra time, I can work on the next day’s tasks. I get more done this way.

More importantly, I feel accomplished, which adds to my level of motivation.

Let’s look at a quick example: if you are creating a course that would take several weeks or a few months, you would not want to work on it exclusively, sacrificing your other projects or tasks (while it may be tempting due to the level of focus — I absolutely love it!). You would break it down to work on it each day for a given period. Each day, you make it a priority until the project is completed. You may also decide to work on two other tasks on that day.

So working a little each day on a major and minor project will ensure you make progress and eventually get it all done. This is achieved by setting your priorities, starts, stops, and breaks. You’ll feel better at the end of the day knowing that you’re pacing yourself and steadily progressing toward your goal.

Don’t Start with the Inbox

Too many entrepreneurs and business owners begin with their email inboxes. According to HBR (Harvard Business Review), approximately 28% of people start here — in the email inbox — taking up 2.6 hours of their workday. How many emails do you respond to every day? The number is probably high. You have several conversations going on simultaneously in your email inbox. Starting the day by tackling all this chatter is likely to make you feel drained when your first hour of work is over.

Of course, emails need your response. But rather than going through and putting your focus and attention on whatever comes next on the email list, a better strategy is to glance at emails and decide which needs a response first and fast. Then, set aside time during a less productive lower energy time of the day to respond to the rest because you need to use your high energy for your most important projects and tasks.

Fun time! Do Something Enjoyable First

I put this one last because for some reason I think it will be the hardest one to swallow, so to speak. I figure it will put a big lump in a person's throat whose sole aim is to get more done in a day. Okay, here it is: You might (hear me say this in a frightened slow way) want to start your day with something unrelated to work (now I’m shrugging my shoulders). This is what I am proposing, take 20 minutes to indulge in a hobby first.

Why? It allows you to wake up and start your day in a relaxed mood. Your mood may be more relaxed than if you began your work straight away. For the same reason, some people choose to start the day with some light exercise or a walk. Hey, Science backs it up. You may be much more productive switching things up a little — like work before play.