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The Importance of Starting the Day Correctly

In an industry of high pressure, demanding deadlines and the need to deliver, often the hardest challenge is to simply draw a line under a bad day and start a fresh the next morning. It is important and I'll explain why.

8th May 2015    |     Craig Smith: Associate Director, Rolton Group

The first few hours of the working day can have a significant effect on my level of productivity over the following seven or eight; carrying baggage from the previous day, especially negatives, can set me on a downward spiral from the off. “Having a good start to the day where you have greater control is critical in achieving better results, and ultimately greater career success,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.

How I begin my morning often sets the tone and my attitude for the day. It can also derail or direct my focus.

It's key for me to settle: I take a deep breath and compose myself for the day ahead. I often take five minutes to assess and plan my biggest priority for the day and set aside the non-important non urgent tasks. I start each day with a clean slate, and some days that can be a lot harder than others! Whilst I appreciate I will undoubtedly have to attend to projects or discussions that have rolled over from the previous afternoon, I always try to treat each day as a fresh one.

The first hour of the work day is the best time to assess priorities and to focus on what I absolutely need to accomplish. Too many people get distracted first thing in the morning with unimportant activities such as diving right into their morass of e-mail, when there may be a whole host of more important issues that need dealing with. I make a to-do list, or update my previous day's and try to stick to it. However, it’s OK re-shuffle your priorities within reason but plan it out.

For me I need to tackle the complex problems early in the day when my mind is fresh and get those issues complete and out of the way; putting them off is an easy option but the problem will only get worse, and later in the day my mind / body is tiring and my focus / thinking will be less effective. As I have grown in a management position I have learnt it’s not always necessary to have long team or resource planning meetings in the morning, instead a quick 5 to 10 minute team chat can be an effective way for many people to start their day. Project specific discussion between engineers and 'catch up' sessions with regular on-going communication is paramount to keep projects on track but also to encourage people to take responsibility for their own workload.

Anyone in my organisation will back me up when I say I need to have an organised workspace! Clearing off my desk and creating a neat environment sets a tone for the rest of my day. My workload is sorted following priority review into neat piles and ready to work through. Also, for many, it’s difficult to think clearly, easy to forget important reminders, and just plain stressful if you feel you’re fighting the battle and the tornado of mail or paper is winning. Ideally, you’d clear whatever you can out the night before so you can have a fresh start before you even turn on your computer in the morning. But if not, make sure clearing your desk takes precedence over things like checking emails and chatting with people in the morning.

The hardest task I find is to not be distracted by my inbox. This one is difficult for most people, but the experts agree that you shouldn’t check your email first thing in the morning. I struggle with this as I like to be control of what is happening or at the very least be aware and prepared for what issues could arise that day so I still check my emails, but I try very hard to only read and respond to messages that are urgent. I priority scan my inbox; in my opinion not all emails were created or should be treated equal. I tend to quickly sift and address what must is urgent and often only respond immediately to the urgent messages so that I can take control of my morning activities because there will be time during the day to respond to the less urgent emails. I am on a learning curve with this and it goes against how I like to run my life, but it is the best way to manage I find and I'm getting there!

Why must you put off checking emails? For me and for far too many people, email and the web can serve as huge time-wasters and a distraction, particularly in the morning. Most people jump on the computer and ignore their phone, which is my biggest falling, something I am not afraid to admit and I am working on improving. While office voicemail is indeed becoming antiquated as people rely more on mobile phones and email, some people do leave voice messages, and if you ignore them, you could miss something.

If I know I need to get in touch with someone that day, I make the call or send the email first thing in the morning. If I wait until midday, there’s a greater chance I won’t hear back before I leave the office and there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to complete something and not having access or answers from people you need because your day time hours were lost on other matters. In my opinion if you have your questions ready and your emails fired off during early peak hours, by the end of the day you should have what you need or the time to consider a plan B. Many people feel that their brains function best in the morning, and that morning is when they are most creative and productive, I always consider whether I am making the best use of my brainpower and plan ‘high brain’ activities in the morning.

A little trick I use is throughout the day to take mini breaks at my desk, sit in the reception area or conference room and just use this time to assess where I am with my day and take time to myself so that I can keep my momentum. I know my morning routines are critically important to me, they help me focus. I’m a big believer in the importance of starting a fresh every day and the importance of using the first few hours effectively.

I am by no means an expert in this field, I am Chartered Building Services Engineer; engineering is in my blood and I am an engineer 24/7 in everything I do, but like a lot of people I've had to and continue to learn to be a manager and to manage myself effectively.

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