How to raise the odds that it’s going to be a fantastic day
Got that Monday (and every other work-day) morning feeling? Here’s how to begin each new day as if you can’t wait to get started.
This is my 100th article for Lifehack.org. That set my mind thinking about beginnings and endings. Last week, I wrote about how to leave work gracefully, so it seems natural to follow that by considering how to start your working day on a truly positive note.
The way that you start the day nearly always sets the tone for the rest of it. If you begin in a rush, feeling frazzled and harassed, it’s very likely that the rest of the day will go the same way—or worse. It’s well worth a little planning and care to start each day well. It may still go downhill, but at least you won’t have begun in a foul mood.
Too many people catapult themselves into each new work-day, fractious and ill-prepared for whatever lies ahead. Since they begin the day feeling miserable and stressed, just about any problems, however minor, have the power to knock them so far off their best that they have almost no chance of reaching the end of the day in anything except the blackest of black moods.
Here are some ideas to help you slide smoothly into the day instead, feeling relaxed and ready to take on whatever comes along:
Get up early. I know that sounds like punishment, and bed always feels especially comfortable first thing in the morning, but you should allow yourself plenty of time to get ready—and then some. Rushing to get ready causes stress and sends you out of the door tense and high on adrenaline. Believe me, beginning on an adrenaline high is going to lead to some pretty awful cold turkey as the day goes on. Work out how much time you need to get ready without hurrying, then add 30 minutes. You still need your sleep, so go to go to bed a little earlier than you do currently. That’s an additional benefit of avoiding a period of manic frenzy every morning.
Establish a morning ritual to help you do what you need to do easily and avoid forgetting things. The great benefit of rituals is that you can run through them on automatic pilot. So if you’re not much of a morning person, you don’t have to force your brain into a thinking state quite so early to ensure that, when you leave the house, you’re properly dressed and have everything you need to take with you.
Always eat some breakfast. It’s essential to start the day with your blood sugar in a good state. Sit down and eat something; don’t grab some sugary, high-cholesterol snack as you run down the street. All that will do is give you a quick blood-sugar high, followed by a crash shortly afterwards. You need a breakfast that will provide a steady delivery of sugars to your blood throughout the morning. That way, you’ll avoid the ten o’clock depression—and be much less likely to crave more sugary snacks. A constant see-sawing of blood sugar levels is exhausting in itself and is bound to make you tense and irritable.
Give yourself plenty of time for your morning commute. Many things can hold you up. If you’re running behind and meet a problem—like a traffic jam or an accident—it’s going to freak you out and send your adrenaline levels into the stratosphere. Hey, you know that the very worst delays always happen on the days when you’re running most behind. Go easy on yourself.
Vary your route to work as much as you can. Make it as interesting and varied as possible. Look around you. Enjoy the ride. Be present. What you don’t want to do is tune out and spend the time anticipating the problems you’re going to find when you get to work. A problem anticipated and worried over is a problem suffered at least twice.
When you arrive, have a simple ritual to ease you gently into the work environment. Get a cup of tea or coffee. Greet some friends. Organize your desk. Nothing stressful—just some simple activities to switch your mind easily back into work-day mode. Athletes warm up before an event to avoid needless strains and injuries to cold muscles. You should imitate them.
Take 10 minutes to set the day’s priorities. Nothing is more stressful than being busy all day and reaching the end of it tired—then realizing you’ve accomplished precisely nothing on the very items that you know are most important. How many times have you done this? Well, don’t do it again. Decide what you need to do, write it down, then stick to your game plan, If emergencies push you off track, get back on it as soon as you can. Always do what is most important, not what either seems most urgent or happens to be jumping up and down in front of you. Calm application to genuine priorities is most likely to allow you to end the day feeling satisfied with what you have done.
Never, never start your day with distractions, like checking e-mail. It eats up time and leaves you feeling pressured and stressed when you snap out of it and discover most of the morning has been spent on useless trivia.
If you aren’t sure what needs to be done first, follow this simple rule of thumb: look to see whatever needs to be done next and do it. Repeat until the end of the day. the result will be faster, more secure progress than you ever believed possible.
Above all, make a gentle start on the day allows you to preserve your energy for whatever’s still to come. Don’t treat each day like a sprint and hurl yourself into it headlong. Don’t dither and procrastinate and try to avoid starting at all. A steady, middle way is pretty much always the best. Most days are middle-distance races. Some are marathons. It’s amazing how far you can get through either kind without strain or hassle, if you keep plodding steadily along.
Give yourself two weeks to work out the best rituals and patterns for starting your day. Try out several to find what works best for you. Once you have picked the most useful, stick to them despite all the temptations to go back to morning chaos. You’ll be really glad that you did.