The Worst Way to Start Your Day

What if I told you that the worst way to start your day is something you are probably doing every day?

The worst way to start your day, my friend, is checking your email.

If you constantly feel behind at work, overwhelmed by all you have to do, and just overall despondent, listen up. I'm going to give you 3 reasons why starting your day on email kills your productivity and makes you miserable. Then, I'll propose a new way to start your day and rules for making it a reality.

Reason 1: It Let's Others control your day:

When you check your email first thing in the morning, you instantly surrender your autonomy to the whims of the sender. A distinct shift from "What do I need to get done?" to "What do you need from me?" occurs. This sets you up to fall behind on your priorities, which only grow and can lead to more and more stress. You immediately become a dog chasing cars. Your priority list keeps growing and it just might lead to you working through lunch to get what you need done.

Reason 2: It Sets you up for Immediate Distraction:

The average worker in America switches tasks every 3 minutes. When we open our email, the day can go in thousands of different directions, very few of which we would find productive. How often have you been in this scenario?

-Email from coworker about the project in Connecticut
-Reminded of an aunt that lives in Connecticut
-Looking at pictures of her dogs on Instagram
-Wikipedia deep dive on obscure dog breeds

If this isn't you, and you have iron willpower, congrats I guess. If this is something you identify with, you effectively can burn a large amount of time at the beginning of your day that might have you working more hours later to catch up.

Reason 3: Its Unhealthy:

There's a psychological reason we start our day with email and constantly check it. The reason is dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, so it’s like pulling a mental slot machine to see the pretty alerts and good news in our inbox. The trouble is we can get addicted to it and that can cause us a ton of stress. Over time, you can develop lottery brain, where you keep pulling that slot machine for good news that never comes and you start your day from a negative emotional state.

If you are honest with yourself, how often do you actually get good news from email? Aside from earning a large inheritance from a Nigerian Prince, of course. To sum it up, if you check email first thing, you almost guarantee misery as soon as your day starts.

What to do Instead:

At the end of your day today, try writing out what you want or need to accomplish tomorrow. Pick one to three things that will take under an hour of focused time to accomplish. When you start your day tomorrow, don't check your email, slack or LinkedIn. I like to call this my 3 quick wins for the day. Instead of feeling dread or worry as your first emotion of the day, you'll feel productive and energized by accomplishing something important. If the rest of your day completely goes to hell, you still have something to show for it.

Rules for Success:

Try doing your 3 quick wins in your first hour of the day. This is when you have some of the best mental capacity available, so put it to good use. A good way to make this a habit is blocking off your calendar with the title "High Priority Work" every day for the first hour of the day.  

I understand this practice is contrary to the way most people run their day, so you might have to explain it to others. Your rationale can be as simple as "I'm trying an experiment to improve my productivity, so I won't be checking my email until 9:30 this week." A good practice is to let others know your phone number in case something is an actual emergency. That way, if an actual emergency happens, people can get a hold of you. When trying this, make sure you communicate with your boss, team, and clients so they know about this and you set the right expectations. One thing you might find is that people don't care or notice, and the world goes on just fine without you. Humbling, but freeing.

Emergencies happen and the day doesn't always go to our linking, but if you can even accomplish this a few times a week, you will see the results compound and might even find yourself with more free time as you become an efficiency machine.

Call to Action

-Block off your first hour for next week
-Let your boss and team know about your experiment
-Get more done than your peers
-Be in a better mood
-Work fewer hours and become wildly successful
-Let me know it works out next Friday