Leaving the office at a reasonable time to push more priority out of the last hours of the day into the first hours of the day is a great strategy for getting more things done. If that’s all we do, we may still find our productivity lacking. Two additional co-strategies maximize the effect that we may get by becoming early risers.
The first co-strategy is that of making sure that the last half-hour of the day prepares us to “hit the ground running” the next morning. Nothing slows one down like getting up early and find that we can’t get anything done because we have to clean up messes from the previous day. To make sure the next morning is optimized for success, I follow a checklist of things to accomplish during the last half-hour of the day:
- File any papers that are loose or laying around. I can’t work with it the next morning if I can’t find it.
- Clean my desk. Like the deck of an aircraft carrier, it should be ready for action.
- Empty my inbox. No loose ends waiting for me in the morning. Everything should be done or in my system.
- Empty my voice mail inbox for the same reason. I also return all calls that I can complete in 2–minutes or less. Return calls that take preparation that will last over 2–minutes go into my system unless it is a crisis.
- Empty my email inbox for the same reason.
- Empty my hardcopy mailbox. I have a mailbox in which subordinates place information and tasks that have physical support material to manage.
- Preview and plan my tasks for the following day (a mini-weekly review for you GTD’ers out there).
- Place my highest priority in the center of my desk so I can attack it the following morning.
In short, I wrap up my day in such a way to enable me to forget today and, when I come into the office the following morning, concentrate on the day before me. To paraphrase a verse in the Bible, someone who tries to plow a straight row while looking behind is not wise and unfit (Luke 9:62) (Yes, I know that’s a very loose paraphrase). In the same way, we can’t make efficient use of our day if we are continuously looking back to the day behind us. So, wrap that day up. No looking back.
The second strategy is to choose appropriate tasks upon which to work the following morning. Many of you have keyed in on that concept, judging by the comments that have been received.
The early morning is the time that we have the most control over our day. We need to use it to handle more important tasks that may be dropped by the wayside as more urgent, but less important, tasks and situations present themselves. Some possibilities:
- Personal goals
- Tasks related to our Key Areas of Responsibility at work
- Superior-assigned tasks that are important and urgent
- Tasks that are related to business or personal crises.
- Tasks that require a longer time commitment, time requirements that may be impossible to arrange later in the day.
In other words, this is the time for your big rocks. Here’s a quick story for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Big Rock strategy. There was once a presenter who was explaining the “Big Rock” theory to those in his workshop. He placed a container on the table in front of the group. He then asked the students to fill up the container with big rocks, gravel, sand, pebbles. The class quickly filled the container but had plenty of material left over. The presenter then placed a new container before the class. He then brought out more material with which to fill the container. The presenter placed all of the large rocks in the container first. He then placed the smaller stones, which filled in the spaces between the rocks. He then used even smaller pebbles, which filled in the spaces between the stones. He then poured in sand, shaking the container periodically so that the sand filled in the spaces between the pebbles. When he used up all of the materials, the container was full. He asked the class if the container was completely filled. When they yelled, “Yes!”, he produced a gallon of water that he poured into the container. It held it all. The point of the story is that when one starts with the big rocks, there will always be space for the smaller things.
Fill the first early hours of your day with your big rocks, those tasks that are important to you.