Let’s face it, whether you like it or not, how you start your day can have a huge impact on how the rest of your day unfolds.

Say your day starts off like this: you wake up late; there’s no hot water, so you have to take a cold shower; the shirt you wanted to wear is dirty; you pour sour milk over your cereal; and to top it all off, your car breaks down on the way to work. UGH. Now, do you think you’re cut out to be the best team player at work today? Probably not!

On the other hand, let’s say your day starts off like this: you wake up naturally to a bright, sunny morning, five minutes before your alarm; you already have the perfect outfit laid out; you make yourself bacon and eggs, and eat them while reading the newspaper; it’s so beautiful out that you’re able to bike to work. MUCH better, if you ask me!

And while some things are out of your hands, there are plenty of things in your morning routine that you have complete control over.

These are a few killer ways to jump start your morning and boost your overall productivity for the entire day.

Add something positive

It’s so easy to fall into the following morning pattern: wake up to an alarm clock (after not having gotten enough sleep); curse at, and turn off, the alarm clock and get out of bed; make coffee (if you woke up in time); shower; get dressed and leave for work.

But there are many things you can alter in terms of your morning ritual to make it more positive and beneficial. One of the best is to add something positive, and as new research from the University of Warwick recently confirmed, happiness makes people about 12 percent more productive.

Think of something that: 1) you enjoy doing in the morning; and 2) doesn’t require a large effort. Some great examples would be to:

- meditate
- make yourself breakfast (maybe eggs and toast)
- read the newspaper or a few pages of a novel

All of the above: 1) require very little effort; 2) have a positive impact on your general state of mind and well-being. You might have to wake up 20 minutes earlier, but it will be well worth it.

One thing to note: don’t multitask it. Don’t say “I’ll read the newspaper while I’m brushing my teeth.” That will only lead to frustration and you certainly will not get the full, intended enjoyment out of your new, (supposed to be) pleasurable activity. Give the new item its own time within your schedule so you can fully enjoy it without feeling the need to rush through it and just “get it done”.

Imagine if you were to add one of those simple items to your daily morning routine how much happier you may be when you walk out the door each morning?

Put in just 10 minutes on an important task

The beginning of the day is a very special time. You’ve just woken up (hopefully refreshed after a good night’s sleep), and you have a chance to start with a clean slate, free of distractions.

You have your full mental real estate to work with—you haven’t already had to use a bunch of brainpower to attack new tasks, deal with crises, and just live your life. And because of that, you’re very frequently at your most productive first thing in the morning.

The following is one of the best productivity tips I’ve ever employed, and you can put it into action whether you have a full-time job to run off to, or if you’re a freelancer or consultant that works from home. It’s simple: take a small, set amount of time, right away in the morning—say 10-20 minutes—to work on one of, if not the, most important thing you plan to do that day. That’s it.

David Kadavy, author of Design for Hackers, uses what he calls the 10-minute hack every single morning, where, first thing, he takes just 10 minutes and starts working on an important task he was planning to tackle for the day. No contemplation. Just sit down and go.

And here’s the trick. The reason this works so well is that the hardest part can be just getting started.

But by setting the bar low—committing only 10-20 minutes—and just going, you allow your brain to fully engage almost immediately. And at that point, you’ve already broken down the biggest barrier. As Kadavy mentions—and as I’ve experienced time and time again—that 10 minutes frequently turns into 20, which turns into an hour, which turns into two hours, and you’ll have just accomplished more in those first two hours than you may have originally in the the full work day.

Do not start your day by checking your email

Avoiding context-switching—particularly to start off your day—is crucial. If you start the day by checking your email, you’re bound to be unproductive.

Think about it… You look through your inbox and see requests from 5 different people for 5 completely different things. …And there goes your focus!

Whether you like it or not, your brain will be at least partially consumed with those potential requests, and it will start using precious resources to begin planning for them. You’ll inevitably begin stressing about all of the things you need to get done before actually getting anything done. And every time you check your email, you’re removing your focus from the previous task you were working on.

In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association on the mental tax of multitasking and context-switching, they found that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”

In today’s day and age it’s very easy to feel obligated start your day by checking your email. For better or worse, it’s how things get done. It’s how requests are made and filled, and how progress is tracked. It’s how the majority of business-related communication occurs.

But with that said, you still have control over how you manage your own email access. And not checking your email to start off your day can be a great place to begin.

Instead, set a few specific times a day to check it—say 11 am and 4 pm. By checking it at those two times—right before midday and before the day’s end—you should catch, and be able to respond to, any necessary requests.

And don’t forget to communicate your newly-adopted changes to others you work with. Let your clients/coworkers know that, in an effort to improve your own productivity (who can argue with that?), you’ll be checking your email less frequently. If they have more urgent matters, they can always call you or approach you in person.

Limiting your email access may be the most impactful, productivity-related improvement you make all year. It will help keep you sane and more focused on the most important tasks at hand.

These three simple changes will help you start your morning off on the right foot and roll right into the most productive days you’ve ever had.

Featured photo credit: Girl stretching in bed via istockphoto.com

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