Steuart Snooks shares his top tips to help you start your day the right way

If you don’t start your day well, or get distracted by the wrong thing, you’re very unlikely to end up having a good day.
That’s why the first minutes of your day are critical. This is when you set your day’s direction and likely outcome. And that’s why checking email ‘first thing’ is less than ideal. Sure, it is important but not the best way to start your day. While doing this isn’t bad in itself, it subtly sets you up for a less than ideal approach to your day.

1. Don’t Check Your Email First

It’s very tempting to check email first thing in the morning.  It’s the prevailing culture these days. Most of us check email first thing when we get to work. Some even check it before they get to work. And some check it even before they get out of bed!

You’ve probably been checking email ‘first thing’ for some time now. And how’s that going for you, in terms of helping set you up for a productive and successful day? Probably not so great, from what recent EA clients have been telling me.

2. Open Your Calendar

When you see the calendar first thing in the morning, you’re viewing your own (and possibly your Executive’s) agenda and priorities for the day. Many of those commitments in the calendar are probably the result of emails you received yesterday, 2 days or 2 weeks ago. These are the important, higher priority tasks and activities you already have a commitment to, before you check what’s new in the inbox.

Seeing them first up in the calendar at the start of day helps to program your thinking and focus at a subliminal level. As a result, you are much more likely to achieve your ‘real work’ for the day. You’re more likely to head in the right direction if you’ve viewed the roadmap first.

3. Re-affirm Your Priorities

When you view the inbox first thing in the morning, you’re looking at everybody else’s agenda and priorities. As I heard someone say recently, ‘the inbox is your to-do list, but everyone else writes on it’.

You will, of course, feel obliged to attend to these new items promptly. I suggest that you will do better thinking and make better decisions about these new inputs after you’ve viewed the bigger picture context of the workload you already have.

Unfortunately, what so many well-intentioned EAs, PAs and Administrative Professionals do is go straight to the bright, shiny, new, exciting things in the inbox, at the expense of first viewing the things they are already committed to and then wonder why they are struggling to keep up with everything!

4. Make It a Habit

If you don’t already have your calendar set as the default when opening Outlook or Gmail, why not try it for the next week (or three) and see what difference it makes to the results you achieve each day? I believe this habit makes a fundamental difference to our day by day productivity. Now, it won’t make a big difference if you do it only for today. But if you make it a habit, day in, day out, week after week and month after month, you’ll be amazed at how more productive you’ll be in the longer term.

James Clear writes about the power of habits in his excellent book Atomic Habits. He writes that there are four keys to breaking an old, bad habit and creating a new, good habit. The first of these is that if you want to create a good new habit, make it highly visible or obvious.

As you can tell, what we’ve done by changing the default view is we’ve made the Inbox invisible and we’ve made the calendar visible at the start of the day, because that’s a good habit. So, if we want to get the good habit going, let’s make it highly visible to start with.

As one of my recent EA clients reported:

Opening to my calendar when I first turn on my laptop and open Outlook was a less stressful and quite calming way to start a day off.”

So, how will you start your day tomorrow?

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Steuart Snooks is an Australian Email and Workplace Productivity Expert. He works with senior executives, their EAs and support teams who are overloaded with email and crying out for practical, affordable solutions to the relentless demands of email and ... (Read More)

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