There’s a difference between being busy and being productive. In this day and age, busy is worn like a badge of honor. We use the ‘b’ word like it adds meaning to our lives. The busier we are, the more successful we are. Or so we’re told.
I’m banning that b-word from my life. Busy isn’t how I want my life to be. I want to have the time for things that matter, and I want to dedicate enough time to everything I need to do. It’s no surprise to me that researchers have found that the busier you are, the less original and creative you are.
The first hour of work used to be my busy hour. I’d spend time sorting through things and setting it up. Not realizing I was busy, not productive. I had an epiphany one evening, typing away at a deadline I didn’t hit on time. I recognized the importance of powering up my working week by starting with the very first hour of the day, and I’ve never looked back.
USE YOUR TIME WISELY
“I never want work to feel like work.” I was sitting across from Jen Atkin, looking at a bottle of OUAI hairspray. OUAI was so unknown in the UK at that point that I had to Google how you pronounced it before I sat down with her. I had asked her how she balanced her work with her life, and she had smiled at me and fondly recalled her Saturday night stress-induced meltdowns.
I remember thinking I never wanted to let work take over my life like that. But it’s so easy to let tasks spill out across your weekends and into your evenings. I asked her how she overcame it. She told me the answer was simple. She tried to do as much as she could with the time that she had.
This was a revelation for me. How many times had I lost track of the time that I had? Letting deadlines roll into evenings and weekends just because they could. Time is a funny thing, the more you have, the more you use. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.
POWER UP YOUR MORNING
I started an overhaul of my life by trying and testing every productivity and time management tool I possibly could. I had multiple free trials on the go, thinking that software was what made you better at time management (spoiler: it’s not). Now I know how to make the most of that first hour, I have never been more productive.
The first hour of work is a powerful time. It’s a time that sets the tone for your day; you can spend it doing busy work, or do productive work. I arrive half an hour before everyone else to do that busy work if I need to. For me, that’s organizing notes and setting up a blueprint for the time that I have.
I open up my planner to get a snapshot of tasks I need to do, and because I always try to do as much as I can with the time that I have, I love this planner. It has sections for the meal prep I need to do, the exercise I’m planning, and expenses as well as all my daily tasks. I prefer to write down times for everything. If I don’t hit that deadline, I move on to the next thing regardless.
I also keep my days structured digitally by using Evernote. I have a simple checklist of all the things I need to do in one week, and then I go through it at the end of every day to make sure I’m on track.
EAT WHAT’S RIGHT FOR YOU
I genuinely believe in the power of a good breakfast. It’s the only thing that will help you get through the day, so the first hour of my workday also includes breakfast. I eat granola with natural yogurt in the morning and usually drink a black tea. What you put into your body has a huge effect on your mind, and when you’re in your early twenties, this is something you don’t even realize.
So after I’ve finished all my busy work, I will eat breakfast while I work on my first task of the day.
PRIME YOUR BRAIN FOR SUCCESS
I’m reading a book about the psychology of influencing people that’s really changing my life. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book and highlighted almost every page. So far, the most exciting thing I’ve learned is that we can prime our brains with schemas. Simply put, our mind is influenced by ideas and will subliminally think of associated words and concepts.
Schemas influence us every day, whether we know it or not. We can be influenced to think about the Easter bunny or a dessert cake made from vegetables without even realizing that we are.
Just to illustrate my point, name the first vegetable that comes into your head within one second.
If you thought of a carrot, you were influenced without even knowing you were. And you can use this knowledge to change the way you feel about the first hour of work. Prime your brain for success by showing yourself images that promote energy, productivity, and success. I try to do this in the morning by reading and looking at a mood board before my morning meeting. I also think it’s important to use the first hour of work to bounce ideas off others and check in with your colleagues.
This is how I’ve powered up the first hour of my workday. I’d love to know what you thought of this or if the psychological trick worked on you.
Photography by Celina Fairbairn for CGD LONDON
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