Mastering the First Ten Minutes of Your Day

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on November 10, 2010 in: Time Management Strategies, Tips in 10

In most articles of Tips In Ten, I try to provide ideas, techniques, or tools that you can apply to one particular task or function, and do so in just 10 minutes. But in this issue of Tips In Ten I wanted to take a slightly different approach. Rather than talk about a specific function, I wanted to instead talk about a specific period of time – the first ten minutes of your day – and give you some ideas to make the first ten minutes of your day really useful.
I’ve learned, through years of owning several businesses and helping clients become more productive, that how we start our day makes a huge difference in how the rest of our day progresses. A good start usually means sustained productivity and a better finish. So I want to give you a few tips to do in the first ten minutes of your day (or in preparation for it) that can set the tone for your day and transform your business.

Tasks to do in preparation

The first few tasks below aren’t things you are going to do in the first ten minutes of your day. Rather, they are things that you can do to make the first ten minutes more productive. Think about how you currently spend the first ten minutes of your day.

Like many people, you might tidy your desk, get your coffee, turn on your computer, open the programs you need for the day, check your voicemail, check your email, check Facebook, check Twitter, (and the list goes on and on). Suddenly, you might find yourself half an hour into your work day with nothing to show for it. So the first group of tasks deal with reducing some of those things you normally do in the morning.

Tip #1: The Day Before
I used to work in an office where the habit was to just walk out at 5:30 pm and ignore everything on your desk. When you got into work in the morning, you clean your desk and move over unfinished tasks to the next day and review your calendar. I couldn’t figure out why my mornings felt so unproductive until I stopped that habit and started finishing my day with a little clean-up and prep. Then I could start my next day fresh. So, before you finish your day each day…

  • Make sure your tasks and calendar is set for the next day, moving over any unfinished tasks before you leave.
  • Clean your desk of the clutter that tends to accumulate through the day.
  • If you keep a paper list or paper-based calendar of your to-dos, have it front-and-center on your desk and make sure the tasks are prioritized.

Tip #2: Computer set-up.

When your computer starts up in the morning, you likely spend a few minutes opening the programs that you need throughout the day. In fact, depending on how many programs there are and how fast they take to start-up, it could take up the first five minutes of your day!

1.    So, if you’re running Windows, go to your Start Menu > All Programs > Start Up and right-click Start Up.

2.    Then choose “Explore” and copy a shortcut to the programs you open into the Start Up menu. (For example, you might copy in your web browser, Skype, your IM client, TweetDeck, and other programs you keep open during the day.)

Tip #3: Browser set-up.
In addition to the programs that you open, you should also set your browser to open the pages you use most often. I’m shocked at how often people have a home page set on their browser that they navigate away from and never return to. Make it useful to you! Make your homepage the site you use most.

And, if you use Firefox, take advantage of the fact that you can have more than one page open at start-up: Let’s say that you have 3 pages you want open; Google.com, Gmail.com, and Wikipedia.org. (Of course, you can use anything; I’m just using these three as an example).

1.    In Firefox, go to Tools > Options
2.    When the Options window opens, go to the General tab.
3.    See where it says “Home page” and has a URL in there? Change that URL to one of three sites you want to open. Then type “|” (which is the vertical line you get when you press Shift + the “”” button). Then type the second URL. Type “|” again and the third URL. So the line looks like this: http://google.com|http://mail.google.com|http://Wikipedia.org

Now, when you open Firefox, three tabs will open, each with one of those sites. Some suggestions you might consider:

  • The page you visit most often during the day
  • Your project management website
  • Your online email access
  • Your online telephone management console
  • Your blog sign-in page

There are other Firefox add-ons that might be appropriate for you, either to recapture and optimize those first 10 minutes of your day or to make Firefox better throughout your day.

Tip #4: Organize your bookmarks
When I sit down to do my work, there are usually several sites I need to hit throughout the day. Now, maybe I don’t want to open them all when I first sit down to my desk but I eventually need to get through all them. For those sites, I’ve organized them into a single folder in the order that I will access them. (Since I use Delicious, which sorts alphanumerically, I’ve labeled them “01 – [the name of the first site I need to visit]”, “02 – [the name of the second site I need to visit]”, “03 – [the name of the third site I need to visit]”, etc. So all I need to do each day is click the next one in the list.

Why bother with doing all of this stuff? For the simple reason that a day which starts productively tends to be more productive. And if you start your day by opening programs and doing “busy work” (work that feels productive but doesn’t directly contribute to your business) then you miss an early window of opportunity to make a strong start.

Tasks to do in the first ten minutes of your day

The next tasks are the three things I recommend you do in the first ten minutes of your day. I’ve found that doing these three things can make a huge difference in how the rest of your day works out.

Tip #5: Review your goals and projects for the day (Duration: 1 – 2 minutes)
You should get to the point in your business where you know what specific goals you must achieve each day in order to attain the level of success you want. For example, you might need to write 1 proposal, make 2 follow-up phone calls, and do 6 hours of billable work in order to generate enough customers and revenue. Whatever your daily effort is, make those your goals and review them each day as soon as you sit down to work.

To get daily goals, use your annual goals and divide them by your workdays: You (hopefully) have annual goals for your business. Take those goals (perhaps a revenue goal, profit goal, number-of-customers goal, or some other kind of numeric goal) and divide it by the number of weeks you work in the year (probably 48 to 52) and then divide that number by the number of days in the week that you work (probably 5 or 6). So let’s say you want to earn $125,000 in income in a year: Divide it by 50 (and take a 2 week vacation) to get $2,500; then divide that number by 5 (for working 5 days a week) to get $500, which is your daily income goal.

Once you’ve reviewed your goals, quickly look over your projects, just to refresh your memory.

Tip #6: Get started! (Duration: 5 minutes)
Before you check your email or Twitter or Facebook or RSS feeds or (fill in other potential first-thing-in-the-morning distractions), open your first project and work on it for five minutes. Try to get in as much work as you can in just five minutes, just to get some critical mass building on the project. Doing this kind of work this early in your day can help set the tone for the day. You’ll come back to this important project later in the day and you’ll have already done some good work on it!

Tip #7: Anticipate (Duration: 2 minutes)
One of the best ways that small business owners can outpace their competition is by anticipating what is going to happen in the day and proactively dealing with it before it happens. Get into the habit of anticipating what is going to happen to you. Are you expecting a difficult phone call? Is there an email that will probably contain bad news? I’m not talking about being a fortune-teller and trying to predict what could happen; rather, I’m talking about being aware of your business and making it a habit to see the trends that will influence your day. One way to do this is by taking two minutes early in your day to list the two or three challenging things you expect to face in the day. For example, it could be an irate customer or a vendor who is wondering when they will get paid or a frustrated employee. Think about what you are going to expect in the day based on what you know is happening in your business. At first, this list will feel like you’re writing down the things you dread. But soon it will become almost another to-do list that is uniquely focused on issues that could bog you down (but which you can start dealing with right away).

Your first ten minutes of the day will race by. Once you’ve done those three tasks, move on to what you would normally do after you opened the programs on your computer. It probably includes checking your email or opening Twitter. But by optimizing your morning for a faster start, and by focusing your first ten minutes on goal review, head-start efficiency, and anticipation, you’ll set the tone for the rest of the day to be far more productive.

Heather Recommends:

If you are a coach, freelancer, or entrepreneur who wants to succeed like a pro, I can help.

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