Friday, 4:15pm. You shutdown your computer and say to yourself, “That’s enough. I’ll get an early start on this first thing Monday morning.”
Famous last words, right?
While you might have the best of intentions, what really happens is that you spend the next 48 hours completely off your normal schedule. Some of the activities you do might be categorized under borderline abuse. Whether it’s excessive eating, consuming a wee tipple too much of alcohol, or even doing too much activity (in the form of yard work or physical recreation), few workers return to the job refreshed and ready to go on Monday morning.
That big project you planned on finishing first thing Monday now creeps into Tuesday or even Wednesday. This backs up all the new work coming down the pipeline.
So goes the treadmill of the eternal rat race. If only you could hit the reset button and wipe everything from your inbox.
Well, you can’t.
But with a few simple changes to how you approach tomorrow’s tasks, you can prepare yourself for what could be the closest you ever come to a perfectly productive workday.
It all begins with getting started on tomorrow’s work tonight. Your perfect day of productivity commences now with a concentrated focus on better preparation.
It’s one thing to say, “Okay brain, we’re going to work on this project first thing on Monday morning”.
However, it’s a completely different approach to success when you actually take the time to put in the preparation and plan specifically for the task at hand.
Before you shut down your computer for the day, go back to the project and spend five minutes putting together specific action steps to get more done. This will allow you to make rapid progress in the critical first few hours – or even minutes – of your workday (before emergencies start landing on your desk and in your voicemail or inbox).
Of course, a key to the perfect workday begins with getting started before everyone else.
My mentor, Mark Ford, who started our website EarlytoRise.com back in 2000 has simplified the secret of success down to one piece of advice. “Getting to work early is such a common virtue of successful people that I’m tempted to call it the single most important thing you can do to change your life,” he claims.
As I like to say in my presentations, using the one joke that actually works for me on-stage, “There’s a reason our website is not called GetUpAt2pm.com.” Here at Early To Rise we believe there is magic in the morning, and to dismiss this free and natural opportunity to get ahead in life could be one of the greatest mistakes you ever make.
I’m not just tempted to call it the most important change you can make, but I’m also willing to guarantee it will work for you. Begin tomorrow by starting your day five minutes early. Next week bump it up to ten minutes, and so on, until you are starting your day at least thirty minutes earlier. You’ll be amazed at what you can produce in your newfound magic time.
Starting early works. I know because I’m living proof. In 2003, while I was a young, struggling personal trainer, I began building my online business. Given the split-shift schedule that so often accompanies the fitness industry, working on my online business required me to awaken at the (then) ungodly hour of 4:20am so that I could spend thirty minutes working on my online business (today I’d feel like I was late if I slept past 4:15!).
The precious time I made in the morning was used to write an email to my small mailing list, or devoted to product creation, article writing, or even answering email (not something I’d recommend today).
Looking back, there was no specific magical task that moved me ahead. What mattered was the consistency of taking action and the momentum it built in heart and mind that powered me through the dips of the day when my real job brought me frustration. Knowing that progress was made first thing in the morning turned the worst day into a satisfactory day – all before 4:50am when I’d start getting ready so that I didn’t miss the 5:20am bus downtown to my real job.
That’s the power of getting started early. That’s the importance of being prepared for working on what matters.
I cannot overemphasize the need for you to be prepared to dive right into the important tasks first thing in the morning.
Your next task is to identify where you’re going to start. Write down the steps you’re going to take on the project. If you are unprepared to get going first thing in the morning, you will find it hard to overcome inertia and will likely succumb to the gravitational pull of procrastinating activities. It might be surfing the Internet that sucks you in. You might even spend thirty minutes doing chores you’d otherwise neglect, simply as a way to procrastinate getting started on your real work.
Trust me, there’ve been days that I’ve done a load of laundry, shaved (and I hate shaving in the morning!), cleaned the kitchen, and even mopped the floor – all before 6am – simply because I wasn’t mentally prepared to tackle the big tasks on my to do list. Sure, I knew what needed to get done, but I didn’t have a plan in place to attack the activity.
Even successful CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies are not immune to these procrastination techniques. According to a recent study by the big consulting firm, McKinsey and Company, less than 25% of CEO’s are happy with how they spend their time. Many of them admit to chronic procrastination and time wasting, placing themselves in one of four self-explanatory categories, “The Online Junky”, “The Schmoozer”, “The Cheerleader”, or “The Firefighter”. No doubt you’ll immediately identify with one of those terms. You’ll get no judgment from me. I have my own battles to fight against the Online Junky syndrome.
That’s why there is only one way to overcome the inertia of getting started and the gravitational pull of your personal time suck. And that is to be prepared.
If you’re a writer, you need to create an outline. If you’re a salesperson, you need to have a list of the first three to five calls you’re going to make in the morning. If you’re going to study, you need to know what book, chapter, and page to start on. Even if you’re going to use this time to exercise, you need to have a written plan for your workout routine.
Leave nothing to willpower first thing in the morning.
Instead, you must simply get up and go to it, taking robotic action. You must simply start. That’s the only way to overcome the procrastination that plagues us all.
And just in case, identify the obstacles in the way of your work and come up with at least two solutions for each. If you know that the siren’s call of the Internet is distracting for you, then use a computer that is not connected online, or use an Internet-blocking program for the first sixty to ninety minutes of your day.
Finally, you need objectives to achieve within a specific time frame. What is the endpoint in your work and how long are you willing to commit to working towards it? Set objectives and a deadline so that meetings, calls, and newsletter writing sessions don’t drag out long past they’ve become productive.
If you’re a writer, your objective might be a minimum of 500 words in 30 minutes (as mine will be for the next 100 days as I write a new book – getting me to a 50,000 word manuscript in just over 3 months and 3000 minutes of writing time – that comes out to 50 hours – it takes barely more than a work week to write a book!).
If you’re a salesperson, set an objective with a deadline of making five prospect calls before 11am, and more importantly hitting two sales (or whatever your goal close rate). Add an objective that you can measure your performance against.
It’s a very simple strategy – plan your day, outline your work and objectives, get up early, and attack it immediately.
It’s almost so simple that you might dismiss its value, but I urge you to try it for the next two weeks. Before you shut the computer down each night, schedule out your next day and give yourself an outline with action steps, objectives, and a deadline.
You’ll find that the old saying is true:
“Well begun is half done.”
And wouldn’t that be a nice feeling to have next Monday morning?