A while ago, I set out to try singletasking in an attempt to clear the static from my current workflow and restore a little sanity to what had become a frantic and scattered way of getting things done. I can’t say that I’ve fully adopted the singletasking approach, since I find that my attention span just isn’t capable of focusing on one task at a time, but I did learn some simplification habits that have helped me to work better.
The first priority, I’ve found, is the first part of the day. Not only does it set the general tone for the rest of the day, and by extension for the entire week, but it also directly affects my productivity levels. And it isn’t about getting more done in the morning, it’s about doing less.
The Bedside Table
I find that as someone who works at home, I can’t help but pay keen attention to my surroundings. That extends beyond my home office area and into the bedroom. Specifically, the bedside table, which usually contains both the last thing I look at before I go to bed, and the first thing I check when I get up.
Before recently, I’d be referring to my cellphone. Specifically, in my case, my iPhone (s aapl). Saying it’s become a constant companion would be grossly understating things. Being without it for any length of time tends to make me feel like I’m being both personally and professionally negligent. It got to the point where I would wake up well before the alarm to the buzz of a silent email arrival notification and spend the first hours of the day doing inbox management from bed.
No more. The iPhone is now banned from the bedroom. I don’t want to go to sleep thinking about what I just read on Twitter, only to wake up to jump right back into the stream, creating the impression of an almost unbroken link. As I’ve had to do with textbooks and television in the past, I’ve outlawed computers of any kind in my sleeping space to keep resting and waking untouched by the rigors of the day.
Before doing anything else (including checking my iPhone/email/Twitter), I also now have a breakfast that I actually prepare, even if it’s something as simple as instant oatmeal and some fresh fruit. Generally speaking, breakfast will be accompanied by tea and orange juice, too. But it isn’t a ritual that’s completely devoid of work.
Breakfast is a great time for unplugged preparation work. That could mean reading the newspaper (on my Kindle, I admit, so it’s not a completely gadget-free affair), or if I’ve got a particularly full schedule ahead, preparing an old-fashioned pen-and-paper to-do list. I still find it’s important not to brave the inbox yet at this point, or I could get lost before the day even starts (my approach is similar to Jared Goralnick’s in this respect).
Begin the Day in Earnest
Generally speaking, about an hour into the day, after I’ve done my breakfast routine, it’s time to actually start work. I find that I’m much more ready and willing to tackle work like inbox clearing, administrative work, and challenging, complicated tasks that I might’ve jumped into immediately upon waking before.
Tasks that used to inspire serious procrastination and take long hours to complete now get done quicker and without nearly as much hesitation. I have more energy, less stress and greater professional satisfaction.
It may not be possible to dedicate the first part of your day to relaxation and preparation, but consider getting up early to allow time for a good start. You may be surprised to find that the extra time provides more energy and drive than an additional hour of sleep might. The sleep you do get could be of much better quality, especially if you resist that urge to check Twitter just one more time before bed.
How do you prepare for work in the morning?