There are few things more frustrating than spending hours and hours on a task that should have been quick. But that’s the reality of an unproductive day at work, which is an all-too-common occurrence for many people.
With phones, social media and at-home distractions for those who work from a home office, it can be hard to stay focused on your job, especially when you’re working on a boring task or big project.
But experts say a morning of fulfilment and helpful routines can set you up for a day of focus. Below, productivity experts share with HuffPost what they don’t do before a workday and offer some swaps to make instead.
They don’t immediately start working.
A morning set-up routine can be a good way to set the tone for your day, Lee said. Figure out what that routine looks like for you and make sure “you’re not off and running the moment your feet hit the floor.”
Some suggestions include starting your day with yoga or a walk, doing a morning skincare ritual, making an at-home latte, cooking a hearty breakfast or cleaning up the house before you dive into your day.
Morning routines are different for everyone, so you may have some trial and error before you figure out what fits.
They don’t work off of a long to-do list.
“I know people in the morning like to make their to-do list, and it can be really tempting to have a daily to-do list that is 50 line items long,” she said.
This can be a surefire way to start the day overwhelmed — which is clearly not good for productivity. Additionally, when you see a really long to-do list, you’re probably tempted to do the easy things first but are potentially not so crucial to your day, she said.
To keep herself from having a long to-do list, Massey said she uses the final minutes of her workday to plan the following business day.
“My last task of each workday is spending five minutes planning out my next day,” she said. “Part of that is deciding what I call my ‘focus three’ tasks are.”
To figure out her “focus three” tasks, she asks herself what three assignments are most important to get done tomorrow. This allows her to give those tasks her best time and energy from the beginning of the day instead of pushing them off to the end of the day when she’s tired and ready to call it a night.
They don’t look at their phone right away.
“I would say something that I wouldn’t recommend that I know is really hard is to not wake up and immediately check your phone or check your emails or get on a screen,” said Lucinda Nixon, a productivity creator in Florida.
She added that what we do at the beginning of the day sets the tone for the rest of the day. So, waking up and scrolling social media or immediately diving into your work emails before breakfast won’t have you prepared for the day.
A good way to resist the temptation of checking your phone first thing is by getting a physical alarm clock instead of using your phone for an alarm, Nixon said.
They don’t have tough conversations before work.
One way to drain your energy before your workday begins? By partaking in a tough conversation as soon as you get up.
According to Amy Tokos, the president of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, she avoids hard conversations in the morning because they can be a productivity suck.
Whether it’s a tough conversation with a child, spouse or coworker, you may want to wait until later in the day to have the chat if you think it may not be a smooth one.
“Having it early in the day could set the tone for your whole day,” she said. And if you feel bad after, you’ll likely feel bad (and distracted) all throughout your workday.
They don’t have an unstructured day.
“One thing that has also helped me get ready for the day and be more productive and intentional with my time is dedicating blocks of time to tasks,” said Nixon.
Specifically, Nixon said she creates blocks of time meant for answering emails or replying to Slack messages. This way, she can allot time to those necessary tasks without losing focus on other work assignments throughout the day.
To try this, you could give yourself dedicated time for some necessary work to-dos like checking your email or creating meeting agendas. Outside of that time, you can focus on your other assignments. This can be particularly helpful if you have a large work project you need to get done, along with those smaller daily duties.
They avoid distractions.
“The thing I really, really have to do is take care of distractions,” Lee said. “I cannot work or begin working if the things that distract me are visible.”
For Lee, distractions include dirty dishes in the sink and her cellphone. “My phone has to be upside down; do not disturb has to be turned on,” Lee explained.
For you, it may not be possible to ignore your phone — like if you work at a job where you receive a lot of phone calls — or you may find that your phone isn’t a distraction. Lee said it’s important to figure out what your distractions are (they’ll vary for everyone) and to take care of them before your workday begins.
They don’t ignore their mental health.
“I would never skip my 20-minute morning mental health hygiene practice,” Massey said.
She added that she’s a big believer in the notion that “our thoughts create our words, our words direct our actions, and our actions impact how we experience our life.”
Spending some time doing a morning mental health ritual can help you show up as your healthiest version of yourself for not only yourself but for your family and your coworkers, too, Massey added.
Some examples of mental health hygiene practices include journaling, prayer and meditation, Massey said. For you, it could also mean getting in your workout or spending some time listening to your favourite podcast.
“I’m so adamant about making sure people know your morning practice does not need to be two hours long to support you, it doesn’t need to be aesthetically pleasing to support you … it doesn’t have to look the exact same every day to support you,” she said.
In other words, as your life changes, this practice can change, too.
They wouldn’t follow a one-size-fits-all formula.
“There is no earth-shattering thing that you should do or [shouldn’t] do to be more productive,” Tokos said. “It’s all about creating habits that support your day ... and knowing that everybody is different.”
What’s helpful for one person’s productivity could be completely different for their colleague. So, if one of the tips above doesn’t fit, it does not mean you’re an unproductive person, Tokos added. Instead, you have to figure out what kind of tools and routines help you personally.
Lee added that you may find you need to adjust your routine or mindset to find your productivity stride, and that’s OK. Like anything in life, it takes time to figure out what works best for you.