How do you currently spend the first two hours of your day? Go on and think about this for a minute. If you are like most, then you likely come to work, grab a coffee, chat with a few colleagues, sit at your desk, open your email and respond to them from the top down. Then, before you know it, it’s 1pm and you’re still reacting to requests.
Email, whether you realise it or not, is a distraction that dictates what you do and when, and makes you unproductive for the whole day. (Can you relate?)
Yet the morning, our first two hours in particular, is our most productive time and should be protected, not squandered like this. And here’s why.
Leave email until lunch
The work of Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lambert, published in their book The Body Clock Guide to Better Health, describes a person’s typical circadian rhythm. According to our internal body clock, our peak alertness is actually at 10am and our best coordination is at about 2.30pm.
Hence, tasks that require attention and focus are best done in the morning, and repetitive tasks are best done in the afternoon when your body is naturally looking for a rest while it digests your lunch.
At this time, we often experience a drop in attention, memory, logical reasoning and mood. It’s not a good time to have a meeting where critical decision-making or problem-solving is required, but it is a good time to do things like, yes, 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 about 112 emails per day, with only 10% requiring a considered response. (And, given that 80% 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.
When you delay your email then you start to form a new and improved habit and you protect your time in the morning for your ‘real work’.
Schedule valuable tasks first
So if we are at our best in the morning, then this is when we also make the most impact. By identifying the tasks that require the most energy or intensity from you, and those things that also get you a great return on your investment, you can prioritise those most valuable tasks.
So we’re talking things like editing (if you’re an editor), coming up with a project plan or the department’s budget (if you’re a manager) or putting slide decks together for an important pitch presentation (if you’re an entrepreneur).
The first two hours 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.
Assess the amount of your brainpower a task will require.
Does it need deep thinking, concentration and focus (high intensity)? If so, it is best done in the morning.
Or can you do it with a blindfold on and one hand behind your back (low intensity)? If so, leave it for the afternoon.
Scheduling high-intensity and high-impact work for the first two hours of your day is the first step to truly managing your time and not reacting to your inbox.