How do you currently spend the first two hours of your day? Things like: packing the kids’ lunchboxes, grabbing a coffee and a bit to eat form the local café, chatting office politics around the water cooler, walking the dog, or scrolling Facebook to see what all your friends have been up to in the 8 hours since you last trolled them. Then, before you know it, it’s 1pm and what have you achieved? Zilch.
All of this ‘stuff’ is a distraction that dictates what you do and when, and makes you unproductive for the whole day.
Yet the work of Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lambert, published in their book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, reveals we have an internal body that makes us more alert in the morning. That means anything that requires our focus and attention should be done first thing, and anything repetitive and routine is best for the afternoon when your body is naturally looking to rest.
So with some small but easy tweaks to your day, you can maximise your most productive time and feel better for it as a result. Here’s how.
TIP 1: Start the day right
Just like building a house without solid foundations, to-do lists won’t work if you lack the energy to complete even the simplest of tasks. Hence, however tempting it is to skip breakfast so you can ‘get on’, you must make sure you start the day with the right fuel.
Think of feeding your body like you’re adding logs to a fire. When you put in something like hardwood (complex carbs), then the fire burns for hours before you have to add more.
If, on the other hand, you put in a bunch of flimsy paper and cardboard (refined sugars), then you have to keep feeding the fire more and more to keep it going.
Our brain needs energy to stay alert and alive. So, if the brain isn’t getting enough glucose or energy from the right foods, then we struggle to focus and our productivity takes a dive. So make sure you eat, and eat right, to set yourself up for whatever follows.
TIP 2: Do valuable tasks first
The first two hours of our day is when we have the greatest levels of alertness and mental capacity. So we need to make the most of it on the most difficult jobs or the things that require great attention.
We’re talking things like coming up with a project plan if you’re managing a team, putting slide decks together if you’re pitching a new business idea or working out cost-saving opportunities if you’re in charge of your household finances.
By identifying the tasks that require the most energy, intensity or concentration from you, and those things that also get you a great return on your investment, you can prioritise those most valuable tasks, first.
TIP 3: Serve others second
Now you can turn your attention outwards to other people. The next couple of hours of your day is when your energy and attention is still up and positive, making is perfect for low impact tasks that still require a bit of brainpower. This is a great time to be in service to others, meaning giving time to someone else.
It might be helping a friend or colleague ‘bounce an idea around’, or catching up for a one-on-one with a customer or a potential client.
Your intensity at this time is still high and your alertness is good. So too is your ability to process information and be creative. For many, this is what might feel like an average day.
TIP 4: Leave email ‘til lunch
At lunch, we often experience a drop in attention, memory, logical reasoning and mood. It’s not a good time to have a phone call where critical decision making or problem solving is required, but it is a good time to do things like email.
Yes, it does seem ridiculously late, but according to an article by DMR, a company that looks at social media statistics and trends, the average user gets around 112 emails per day, with only 10 per cent requiring a considered response. (And, given that 80 per cent of your emails are probably a waste of your time anyway, there’s not much at stake here.)
Remember, if you are someone who responds immediately to all emails, then people come to expect that. Then, if you don’t reply to something within 30 minutes, you’ll get another email or a phone call wanting to know why you haven’t responded to the email.
TIP 5: Plan for tomorrow, today
Are you a busy working mum or dad? Do you have to get up early to get onsite and start your trade, or catch the train into the office? Then it’s likely you always feel exhausted and never quite on top of things.
So start blocking out one hour every afternoon to think about what you could do now that would have an impact on the way you started the next day.
Divide tasks into work-related and home-related categories. So for work, you might start tomorrow’s to-do list or send any quick emails that would get tomorrow off to a good start.
At home, you could prepare lunch for the next day, decide what you’re going to wear or pack bags for tomorrow. It’s a great opportunity to get everyone involved and have the kids do their own.
Over time, and with everybody in the household pitching in, you’ll all become more productive in the mornings, not to mention, get through more rewarding activities during the day.
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