Each day I live
I want to be
A day to give
The best of me
I’m only one
But not alone
My finest day
Is yet unknown
I broke my heart
Fought every gain
To taste the sweet
I face the pain
I rise and fall
Yet through it all
This much remains
I want one moment in time
When I’m more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me
Give me one moment in time
When I’m racing with destiny
Then in that one moment of time
I will feel
I will feel eternity
But instead of adding items to your morning in hopes of starting your day more productively, consider eliminating a few things from your routine. Consider it addition by subtraction.
What should go on your not to do list for first thing in the morning?
1. Don’t plan out your day.
Instead, make a to-do list the night before. That accomplishes a number of things.
One, you’ll sleep better. As David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, says, “Your head is for having ideas, not holding ideas, and it’s certainly not for filing things away. Without exception, you will feel better if you get stuff out of your head.” Deciding what you’ll do tomorrow — especially deciding what you’ll do first — instantly relieves a little stress and anxiety.
And ensures you don’t waste time deciding what to tackle first. Or mistaking the seemingly urgent for the truly important. Or wasting time gathering up whatever you need to actually work on what you want to tackle first.
Before you end your workday, list what you need to get done tomorrow. Then determine the single most important thing you need to get done tomorrow.
Then, before you step away, set up your workspace (which, if like mine, is simply your computer’s desktop) so you can hit the ground running first thing in the morning. Have the reports you need open. Have the notes you need handy. Make sure you have answers to your questions.
Starting your day with a productive bang creates natural momentum — and provides the motivation you need to move on to whatever is next on your to-do list.
As Gladwell says, “There are so many other things I would rather do with my time than agonize endlessly about those kinds of trivial decisions.”
Plus, we all have a finite store of mental energy for exercising self-control. Some of us have less, some have more, but eventually we all run out of willpower steam.
That’s why the more choices you need to make during the day, the harder each one is on your brain — and the more you start to look for shortcuts. That’s when you get impulsive. That’s when you make decisions you know you shouldn’t make.
The fewer decisions you have to make, the better the decisions you will make when you do have to make a decision.
Maybe you’ll start having the same thing for breakfast. Or always working out before you start work. (More on that in a moment.) Or scanning the same key metrics.
Or, as President Obama once told Vanity Fair, “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Automate as many decisions you have to make in the morning as possible, especially when they don’t improve your efficiency and effectiveness.
Which means exercising first thing lets you take full advantage of the “happier” 12 hours that science says follow.
4. Don’t forget to include protein in your first meal.
In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss recommends consuming 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. At least one nutrition professor recommends consuming at least 30 grams of protein for breakfast.
Why? Protein tends to keep blood-sugar levels steadier. Protein tends to help prevent hunger spikes. Most important, research shows dopamine regulates motivation, helping you to “initiate and persevere.”
Which is exactly what you need to do first thing in the morning: get started and keep going.
Granted, knocking out 30 grams of protein might sound daunting, so try a protein bar or protein shake. That’s what I do: My first meal is always a protein bar and a glass of water.
Decision already made, protein consumed. Win-win.
5. Don’t forget to take the right breaks.
Generally speaking, we can only focus on any given task for 90 to 120 minutes. After that, we need a 15- to 20-minute break so we can recharge and be ready to perform at a high level on the next task.
So do this: Split your day into 90-minute windows. Instead of thinking an 6-, 8-, or 10-hour workday, split your day into four or five 90-minute windows. That way, you will have, say, four or five tasks — or chunks of tasks — you will get done a lot more efficiently.
Just make sure you take the right kind of break. Sitting and chilling is fine, but taking a break to knock out a few relatively mindless tasks could be just as useful (and leave you feeling a little more productive).
Think of it this way: Momentum is everything. Breaks should reinforce your sense of activity and accomplishment. So take a quick walk. Grab a drink or a snack.
Or, if you feel the urge to stay Type A, pick a few productive tasks you like to perform — and gain a sense of accomplishment from — and use those for your “breaks.”
6. Don’t stick blindly to the same morning routine.
Maybe you’ll need to wake up a little earlier to take advantage of “quiet time” to complete your first task. Maybe you’ll need to wake up a little later so you’ll feel more rested.
Maybe you’ll need to exercise later in the day after all, or adjust what you eat, or change a few of your other “automatic” decisions.
To be more productive, you can’t do what you’ve always done.
Nor should you slavishly stick to the new routine you create. Every once in a while, take a few minutes to evaluate what’s working and what’s not. And adjust as necessary.
Because the key is to do what makes you most successful.
When my wife and I were first married, we went to meet with a counselor to learn some strategies for improving our relationship. I will never forget his advice after hearing both of us talk about our challenges.
He said, “You both need to do a better job of managing your ‘expect-or’.” Never having heard the term before, I asked him, “What do you mean by that?”
He quickly replied, “Life is a lot easier if you don’t have any expectations.”
Just as quickly, I vehemently disagreed. I thought, “How can you be in relationship with someone and not have any expectations?”
Since that time, I have learned that what our counselor said was true. I have discovered that many of our personal and professional frustrations stem from violated expectations, particularly those which we have not clearly identified or communicated to others.
Here are a number of expectations that may create problems in your working relationships with others if you are not giving them your attention.
1. Expectation of awareness
Often we don’t realize that we haven’t identified our expectations, nor have we distinctly communicated them, until we get different results than what we expected. When this happens, it is necessary to take a look at what we expected and determine if we clearly communicated our desires.
If you are in doubt, then you have no one to blame for your unmet expectations but yourself. We assume that others are aware of what we expect, but often they aren’t. Sometimes we become so busy or distracted that we fail to make others specifically aware of what we want.
2. Expectation that others read my mind
Because our thoughts and feelings about something seem obvious to us, we presume that they are to others as well. We figure if people know us and are tuned in, they should know what is needed without it being spelled out. Making these types of assumptions is a recipe for miscommunication and frustration.
3. Expectation of clear communication
When we take the time to tell people what we want, we suppose that they clearly understand what was communicated. Differences in communication style, life experience, education, age, various levels of authority, etc. mean that we might not understand each other in the same way. There are too many variables to assume understanding without being specific and allowing for clarifying questions.
4. Expectation of similar performance
We each have a level of performance and ability we are accustomed to achieving. It is common to expect people to perform exactly the way that we would. If you haven’t clearly explained how something should be done, you can’t assume that others will do it the way that you would.
5. Expectation of job satisfaction
Attaining job satisfaction rests with both the manager and the employee. Each is dependent upon the other to meet their expectations. The manager has the responsibility to meet the expectations of the employee. The employee is also required to meet the expectations of the manager.
If neither party has ever explored one another’s expectations, then it is entirely possible that neither party’s expectations will ever be met. So much for job satisfaction.
6. Expectation of engagement
Managers may expect employees to take responsibility for improving their engagement, while employees may expect that managers will take responsibility for their disengagement. When this happens, each party may be silently waiting for the other to meet their expectations. Meanwhile, nothing happens.
7. Expectation of infallibility
We would like to think that we are above making missteps. Because we are all different, you can trust that your expectations will be violated, plus you will sometimes not meet someone else’s expectations. The likelihood of difficulties will dramatically decrease as we discuss our expectations of others. Expectations are often held, but not communicated. Therein lies the problem.
8. Expectation of competence
Because we assume that no news is good news, we expect that the absence of negative feedback means that we are doing a good job or that our manager is satisfied with our performance. We may also assume if we don’t hear about problems from our direct reports, that all is well. Given that people are generally afraid to talk about what matters most, if you want feedback, you had better ask for it. If you don’t ask, you may never know.
9. Expectation of vision
You can’t expect that people want the same things or want to achieve the same goals. Working on the same project or having specific goals does not mean that both parties hold a mutual vision or purpose. The vision needs to be clearly identified and both parties need to understand how each contributes to the achievement of the mutual goal.
10. Expectation of why
Just because your expectations are clear doesn’t mean that people will understand the reasons behind what you are asking them to do. You want to be clear about the why to increase motivation and expand another’s purpose.
11. Expectation of priorities
You can’t expect others to know your priorities nor can you expect to know another’s priorities if you haven’t clearly communicated. Knowing how frequently they change, it is important to revisit priorities frequently if you expect your efforts to contribute to the desired results.
12. Expectation of need
We often presume to know what others need based on our expectations and experiences. If we don’t communicate with them, we may not be supporting them in the areas they need to achieve our expectations. Failure to meet an individual’s needs in areas such as resources, support, education and development may limit their success.
13. Expectation of feedback
Whether you are a leader, manager or employee, you generally cannot expect people to give you unsolicited feedback. Often the higher up the organization you are, the more difficult it is for people to want to provide feedback. So if you want feedback, you need to ask for it. When you receive it, listen for factual specifics or examples, and if you don’t get any, then you need to ask. Feedback is often hard to come by, so when you receive it, be grateful and express appreciation, then look for actionable items that can help you improve.
These are some examples of the kinds of expectations that may limit our success. Taking the time to clearly identify your expectations, communicate them to others and check that you have been understood will improve your relationships and your ability to achieve the desired results.