This quote goes back a ways…Paul “Bear” Bryant was a very successful college football coach at Alabama, bringing that program to prominence in his 25 year reign. He retired in 1982, at the time holding the record for the most wins with 325. His quote was a perfect fit for the thought I wanted to share today.
In a recent blog post I commented that I made a mistake by looking at my email as soon as I woke up. I used to do this all the time, and it definitely had a detrimental affect on my day. As I read more and more about highly productive and successful people and what they do, I experiment with things and try to find the right methods for myself. Here is what I do to set my day up for success:
SUNDAY night, before the week starts, I make 5 days worth of Overnight Oats and put them in the refrigerator. I also have a weeks worth of lunches already prepped in the freezer, so I grab one of those and put it in the fridge next to my oats. I have my backpack with my laptop ready to go. Anything else like dry cleaning is already in the car, that way I can’t forget to drop it off.
Wake up about 5:30AM chat with the wife, walk the dog, etc.
Dress for work, gather my things from the fridge, and load up the car with everything for the day. (Cooler, backpack, etc.)
Drive to Starbucks, order the same drink, sit at the same table, grab my personal laptop and get it set up. I put my headphones on, take a deep breath, and flip the switch to activate the noise cancelling feature. It is a calming ritual that puts me in the zone to write. The background noise melts away, and I focus on my task at hand. I set an alarm to remind me to stop if my schedule requires it; on days it doesn’t I write until I am done.
After 60-90 minutes of focused output, then I head to the office. My mind is clear, I have done my work for myself, and now it is time to hit the office and be focused on my day job. Once I arrive, I sit down at my desk but I open email on my phone. I love the Focused and Other inboxes on the phone app version of Outlook, as I get a lot of crap emails that I don’t want to sort through. I delete everything in my Other inbox, reducing the list of emails that are waiting for me in my inbox on the desktop version of my Outlook.
Now that I am at work, I START WORK. I have clients all over the country in my day job, and they do not have the expectation of instant replies on every email they send. i flag the emails that need a response from me, but do not address any of them yet. I manage my day by doing my things first, and then getting back to the emails I flagged. Remember, your inbox is EVERYONE ELSE’S TO DO LIST. I prioritize myself and my tasks first before I start digging into the minutia of my inbox.
I write out my own To Do list each day before I leave, so it is waiting for me when I arrive at work. This is the priority list for the morning. Once these tasks are complete, then I am free to tackle all of the emails. I have phone calls as a standard part of my working life, so I am sure to check my voicemail as well. In many cases, people leave me a voicemail and then email me right away too. Odd, but then again I do it too. Covering all the bases I guess.
Ask yourself this question: What is the REAL expectation of an answer to that email you just got. Most of the time, 90%+, it is much longer than you think it is. We put artificial timelines on things like this, and that is our own (un)doing. I RARELY answer an email outside of MY work hours. Not my East Coast client’s hours, not my Hawaii clients hours. They do not expect me to be available 24/7, and if they do, we need to have a discussion about that. I am in sales, nothing I do is an emergency. Don’t make it one, and don’t allow the world you work in to make it one either. If your clients or peers want to get on the their laptop Sunday night, or spend half a day Saturday getting caught up, that is their business. That doesn’t mean you have to play that game.
Their lack of organization and time management is not your issue.
I realize that not everyone wants to sit at Starbucks and write to start their day, so feel free to plug in your own thing into that slot. I would certainly recommend working out in the mornings if your schedule allows. There are lots of benefits to this which I won’t bother to cover here. But this is a great ritual to do if possible.
Here is the main takeaway, have a STRUCTURED PLAN for your day, every day. Don’t wander through your day, muddling your way through the same pile of stuff you deal with all the time. Have a game plan, and execute it. I am more productive in this format than I am answering every email as soon as I comes in. That level of distraction leads to less output and certainly less quality to what I was working on before that interruption. This approach has lessened my daily level of underlying anxiety as well. I am way more calm and centered overall when I stick with this approach to my day.
Experiment for yourself what works for you. I don’t want to prescribe an answer for you that is a carbon copy of what I do, but use this example as a basis for figuring out what will work for you. Maybe you do have to be on 24/7, but maybe you have just drawn that conclusion yourself, and mimicked what most of the world is doing.
Just because it the popular approach doesn’t make it right.