How the Most Productive People Start Their Workday (Hint: It’s Not Email)

What you do when you first get to the office sets the tone for the rest of your day. Learning how to prioritize and laser-focus can mean the difference between knocking out your to-do list before noon or getting knocked out by it. Instinctively, the first thing most of us do is check our email. And that’s a huge mistake, says Julie Morgenstern, a time-management expert who literally wrote the book on this (seriously, it’s called Never Check Email in the Morning).

Doing so first thing in the a.m. is the fastest way to make a detour into distraction city and kill your productivity. Email is reactive, not proactive, which lets outside forces control your time and agenda. So the real question is: What exactly should we be doing? To get answers, we asked super successful people killing it in business, fitness, and life in general what they do to be productive (and resist the siren call of their inbox) the second they step foot into work.

1. Trap your anxieties on paper.

“The first thing I do when arriving at ‘work’ (which is usually my wooden table next to a living wall in my house) is journal. I use a notebook like The 5-Minute Journal to clarify my goals and priorities for the day, as well as perform a basic gratitude exercise. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll drink pu-erh tea [a type of fermented dark Chinese tea] and free-associate for another two or three pages in a separate notebook. This often allows me to trap my anxieties on paper so I can be more productive with less stress throughout the day.” — Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and host of the podcast The Tim Ferriss Show

2. Get your energy up with some movement.

“The first thing I do is take a walk. (We just got a new puppy!) Then I spend the next hour checking all my social media. I know experts advise that we don’t waste our morning alertness on low-value work like email and checking Twitter, but I know that I can’t focus on more challenging work until I’ve checked in on all the various forms of communication.” — Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Better Than Before

3. Go over your to-do list.

“The very first thing I do—even before I power on my computer—is enjoy a cup of coffee while reviewing my to-do list, which I make before going to bed every night. This helps me get pumped and organized. After that, I’m ready to take on the day!” — Joy Bauer, R.D.N., nutrition and health expert on NBC’s Today Show and founder of Nourish Snacks

4. Do quick check-ins with team members.

“The first thing I do is say a quick hello and check in with one or two members of my team. It’s important to me because it helps me start the day on a happy, positive note, and it lets me take the temperature of our group. Plus, it’s a good thing for overall productivity as creative teams run on good personal relationships and positivity. And in the event something is off or tense, it gives me a chance to find out what’s up before things go off the rails. Mostly, though, I just do it because I enjoy it. I am lucky to work with great people who are a lot of fun to be around.” — Pilar Gerasimo, founder of Experience Life magazine and author of Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act

5. Complete the task that requires the most mental focus.

“I pour a cup of coffee and get to work writing. I’m fierce about not letting anything interrupt that time. I write for two or three hours and then go to the office for meetings or teaching or student appointments. If I write every day, even for just an hour, there’s a momentum that works for me. I can just pick up where I left off. I don’t write quickly, but the consistency makes it all add up.” — Marion Nestle, Ph.D, professor of nutrition at NYU and author of forthcoming book, Soda Politics

6. Make (and use!) a really effective calendar.

“The first thing I do in the morning is check my calendar. It is far more effective than a to-do list. This approach radically reduces the number of decisions I have to make every day because I don’t have to decide what to do. I just do it. The calendar also has something called buffer days where I handle small things, focus days where I do things that matter the most, and free days where I do whatever I feel like that isn’t work. This is the only way I’ve found that makes sure I get time for myself, for family and friends, and for my company.” — Dave Asprey, creator of Bulletproof Coffee and author of the forthcoming Bulletproof: The Cookbook

7. Hydrate…with a kick.

“We have a morning trifecta that works like a charm each day to make us feel alert, connected, and energized as soon as we hit the office. First, we always check in with our team, face-to-face. This interaction in the morning grounds us and connects us to our purpose as a united, productive team. Second, we prep our desks with huge mason jars of water. That way, once we sit down, we can be productive without interruption. Plus, getting hydrated first thing in the morning gives us energy and keeps us healthy. Finally, we sip on a little caffeine, like coffee or tea, for a little boost.” — Kirsten Potenza and Cristina Peerenboom, creators of the POUND workout and the POUND Rockout Results System

8. Express gratitude for who (and what) is working.

“I like to start my day with a little gratitude. I walk all the way through the office to the kitchen at the back and say hello to the people on my incredible team, making sure to let each one know how much I appreciate them!” — Kathryn Minshew, founder and CEO of The Muse

 

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This article was written by Charlotte Andersen, author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything which has been featured in Shape, Fitness, Prevention, and Women’s Health UK among others. She runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing in exercise, body image and oversharing. 

How to Set and Measure Personal Development Goals

There are many paths to personal growth. Friedrich Nietzsche is quoted as saying, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” and this can absolutely be true. But challenges that nearly destroy us aren’t the only path to greater personal development.

Setting goals for your own personal development can be an effective (and less stressful) way to grow emotionally and intellectually. Setting goals that can help you to succeed as a person in the ways that are important to you can help you to streamline your life, minimize stress, and really become the person you were meant to be in far less time. They can also help you to stay mentally sharp as any lifetime learner can tell you.

Goals Worth Going After

Personal growth means different things to different people, but the following goals can be widely helpful in creating a life filled with healthy habits, greater happiness, and meaning in life.

Learn What Is Most Important to You
We all have values that are a vital part of who we are. To some people, artistic expression is an indispensable part of who they are, and they fare much better if they are creating, at least some of the time, in their lives. To some, helping others is something they must do, and the meaning it brings to them and others is what makes life valuable. Others need to be solving problems to feel alive.

The reason it matters to realize this is that many people fill their time with things that are important but aren’t aligned with their values, with what they value most in life. If you analyze what is important to you, you can set goals to ensure that you make this a greater part of your life.

Pinpoint Where You’re Limiting Yourself
Many people self-sabotage in one way or another without realizing it. Perhaps you don’t believe that you’re capable of achieving things that you really want to achieve, and you limit yourself by not trying. Perhaps you’re not allowing yourself to devote enough time to your goals because you’re getting bogged down by other things in your schedule that are less important but that you feel “must” be done. Maybe you just spend too much time on social media and not enough on going after what’s important to you in life.

One way to identify this subtle self-sabotage is to focus on living each day as though it were pivotal to your success in life. Is everything you’re doing important, and contributing to your success? If you view things through this lens, it’s easier to identify energy drains and time wasters, as well as those things that hold you back.

Take Care of Your Health
When your health is compromised, it’s more challenging to focus on your goals in life. This is obviously true when facing serious health conditions, but it’s also true of less serious types of health compromises.

For example, most of us feel far more stressed and are not at our best when we haven’t had adequate sleep for a few nights in a row or have eaten unhealthy food for a few days. Focusing on taking care of your health can make a huge impact on the rest of your life.

Use Your Time Wisely
Time management is an important goal in itself. When you manage your time wisely, you have more energy and a far greater ability to pursue other things in life that are important to you. Time management enables you to maximize time spent in activities that feed you, motivate you, and help you develop yourself as a person.

Develop One Habit a Month
You may not be able to transform yourself in a few weeks, but focusing heavily on creating new habits on a regular basis can be transformative over the course of several months or years. The trick is to get into the habit of forming habits. Focus the bulk of your energy on making something new a standard part of your life, and then move on once you’ve become comfortable with it. This is the time to create a new habit.

Surround Yourself With Role Models
Have just one friend who is farther along on the path you hope to travel. Life coaches refer to these people as “expert friends” and they can be life-changing as they’ll have tips and inspiration you can pick up just by watching them be themselves. With these friends, watching becomes doing. This is also supported by social learning theory, which explains how it makes things easier when you have a friend to help you along the way.

Develop a Supportive Group
Using the momentum of a group can really help you to reach your goals. This is because peer pressure can be a strong influencer, so using it to your advantage is wise. Having people who can cheer you on when you win and help you to feel better when you lose can make all the difference with your success.

Unfortunately, not all friends are able to support you in this way. Some people naturally feel envious when their friends succeed too much,. So if you notice a friend being less than supportive when you reach a goal (and you have been supportive with them), you may want to simply avoid sharing your successes with this friend and move on to friends who are genuinely thrilled with your success and able to support you when you aren’t as successful as you’d like to be.

Remember to be this kind of friend as well. Another great idea is to find a group already focused around the goals you’re trying to attain. You’ll have built-in support, enthusiasm, and practical tips.

Learn Something New Each Month (or Year)
Self-development takes real focus. Learning a new language, for example, or developing a new skill can take time, and focusing the bulk of your energy toward immersing yourself in the pursuit of a goal is a great way to reach it. This is great when you want to really go deep in your knowledge and ability.

Follow Your Passion
You don’t have to pursue your hobbies as a career in order to fully explore them. It’s wonderful if you can make money doing what you love, but it doesn’t have to be a profession to be worth your time. Activities like this allow you to experience a sense of “flow,” which can increase your happiness levels and decrease stress as well. This means that you’ll experience benefits far beyond the mere acquisition of a new pastime.

How to Maintain Goals

Identifying goals to go after is an important first step. However, it’s also important to know how to pursue your goals. There are a few tricks to maintaining goals or adopting healthy habits.

  1. Set the right goals
  2. Take small, concrete steps
  3. Reward yourself along the way
  4. Consider slip-ups to be part of the process

Maintaining goals can be a little more involved than that, but this is the basic process. The vast majority of people who try to set personal growth goals tend to abandon them because they set their goals too high (or the wrong goals for their lifestyle), try to make too big of a change in too short of a time, don’t congratulate themselves for making progress on their goals, and give up if they have a slip. True success comes from breaking your goals down into smaller steps, rewarding your progress and, perhaps most importantly, trying again if you find yourself slipping up.

Setting personal goals that can really improve your life, and then sticking with them can help you to live the life you always hoped to have.

 

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This article was written by Elizabeth Scott, a Stress Management Expert, a wellness coach, an author, and a award-winning blogger. She is the author of 8 Keys to Stress Management, part of W.W. Norton’s popular 8 Keys to Mental Health Series, edited by bestselling author and trauma recovery expert Babette Rothschild.

Creating Your Life on Vision Board

Dream big! Create the life you deserve! So say Jo Lewis and Kathy Cunningham who are holding a Vision Board Workshop On May 31.

A vision board is — as it suggests — a board on which you put pictures and representations of things or concepts you want to acquire or achieve.

Kathy’s board, one she completed some time ago, is a collage of colour, representing things like a home, travel and things she’d like to have and do.

“What I like about this is the idea, but what’s even better is the focus,” she says. “When I put images like this out there — where am I going? Where am I living? What does it look like? Who is around us? What’s in the garden? I really like the idea of thinking of something quite big.”

It’s important that when you have a big idea in your head that you have something like the vision board on which to focus, she says.

Jo’s point of focus is slightly different.

“I had so much I wanted to put on I put it into a book,” says Jo. “I focused on the relationship I wanted — and 26 years later we’ve never argued.” The book reminds her of things she needed to do and practise to achieve the life she wants. That includes health, culture, attitude and material things.

“This was the picture I’ve had for several years of my little car … it’s parked outside. I had no idea how that was going to happen. There was no way. We were a single car family, my old car was parked in our drive because we couldn’t afford to keep it going. Suddenly, someone rocks up at the beginning of this year and offers to buy me a car. So I got what I wanted, what I’ve had on my board for years and it’s cost me nothing.”

Jo has also created a mind map and crosses things off as she achieves them, from weight loss to events she wanted to attend.

Kathy and Jo say the board alone doesn’t get you what you want but it provides focus and sets clear intentions.
It can be summed up in a number of pithy sayings: “If your dreams don’t scare you, dream bigger.” “Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it until you grow into the person who can.”

Both women agree that the vision board concept works very well for them, and want to share its success with others.

“Some might have something with their home, some might have their health, some might have a business, so it doesn’t matter — anything that you’re focused on,” says Kathy.

Neither Jo nor Kathy knew the other used a vision board until they were both at a different kind of workshop where the facilitator asked for a show of hands from those who “vision board”. They were the only two who raised their hands.

“It’s a holistic form of goal setting, really,” says Jo. “It just takes in that big picture.”
“It has to be a smart goal so you can actually visualise it,” says Kathy.
Jo says the science behind it is your reticular activation system — your brain is switched on to identify the things that are relevant or useful to you. The vision board is a tool on which to focus and reflect.

 

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This article was written by Paul Brooks, an editor of Wanganui Midweek.

The Power of Being Intentional

According to science and research, most of us live 95% to 97% of our lives on autopilot . . . we don’t consciously think about many of the things we are doing each day.

Some of you might be surprised by that number.

Let’s reflect on this for a moment.

  • You got up this morning.
  • Did you follow the same routine you had done for months and years, not varying it at all?
  • Did you even think about what you did first thing?

Just this morning, my sequence of events happened as it does every single morning: Get up, visit the washroom, take a multivitamin, turn on podcast, shave, shower, and dress. Breakfast 9 times out of 10 is comprised of consuming the same items in identical order.

Where is the intentionality in our routines if we don’t even think about what we are doing anymore? Have you ever arrived at a location in your vehicle, then thought how did I get here? Some of you drove to work today and did not think about your route.

The point is that most of our life is lived according to our autopilot our subconscious mind rather than through any intentionality (proactive thinking) on our part!

To be intentional is to knowingly choose your direction and shake up the routine on occasion to get your conscious mind working.

There are some who teach that we should have routines to lessen the burden of all the choices we have to make and there is some truth to that strategy.

But what happens when we allow our routines to run our lives, rather than intentionally engaging them? Autopilot costs us lost opportunities or it may take us completely off course, landing us at a destination we have not envisioned or planned. That happens when we don’t consciously or intentionally take over from our autopilot a sin of omission.

Your life can be negatively affected by what you don’t do as much as what you do.

A few years ago, I took charge of my health and wellness, which had fallen into disrepair. After I made the choice to get intentional with my health, I set a new direction, changed my routine, and lost nearly 40 pounds. Scroll ahead 3 years to where I injured myself playing hockey, which forced me to miss my workouts for a couple of months. I gained 10 pounds right away and didn’t return to working out.

It took a new level of intentionality on my part to get back on track. I can credit my wife Brenda for some friendly competition she secretly trained and surprised me by running a 10K race earlier this year. Yes, I was proud of her but my competitive side said, if she can do this, so can I!

So a couple months ago, I stepped up my efforts and began to follow a 10K training schedule. The workout had something different every day, which made it challenging and far more enjoyable than repeating the same work-out routine each session. My new enthusiasm gave me important insight my motivation to work-out prior to the 10 K training plan had reduced significantly. I now realize I was resisting because I was bored and stuck in a routine (autopilot).

Just last month, I competed and completed in my first 10K race because I chose to be intentional!

Too much routine and autopilot responses can lead to our becoming stale and to outcomes we don’t really want.

 

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This article was written by Ken Keis, President & CEO of Consulting Resource Group, the Global Leader in Assessments for Personal and Professional Development.

How to Make Your Leisure Time Productive

Some people hear the phrase ‘leisure time’ and see it as an automatic free pass to lounge around and do nothing. While that’s perfectly fine on occasion, leisure time can offer a great opportunity to catch up on unfinished tasks or advance yourself personally or professionally. Make your free time productive by doing activities for personal development, connecting with your social network, and optimizing your health.

Engaging in Personal Development

Review your goals and set new ones. Use your leisure time as a period of reflection. Look back on the goals you have set, decide if you are advancing as you’d like, and determine if you need to revise or develop new goals.

  • For instance, if you set a goal last month to “Save $250,” you might check your savings to see how well you are advancing towards this goal. If you are progressing as expected, move on to the next goal. However, if you have fallen behind, you may choose to lower the goal (to say, “$150”) or figure out a strategy to help you stay on track like getting a side job.

Identify some things you’d like to learn. Free time outside of work, school, or family responsibilities can be spent productively when you use those chunks of time to learn new things. New skills can help you get ahead at work, or simply challenge you creatively.

  • Make a list of a few new skills you’d like to obtain. These may include tasks like learning a new language, enhancing your understanding of computers, or learning to ride a horse.
  • For a balanced life, choose some skills that relate to your personal or professional development, and some hobbies that you want to pick up purely out of curiosity.

Streamline your to-do list. Your to-do list may be bogged down with extremely overwhelming tasks that you keep pushing to the next day or next week. Such tasks cause frustration and rarely get done until the last minute. Ensure that you actually complete the outstanding tasks on your to-do list by de-cluttering it.[2]

  • Write down your most important to-dos for the following week on a sheet of paper. Then, decide if this task requires one or several steps. Rather than writing “complete History essay,” individual action steps like “find resources for history paper,” “create outline,” and “write first draft.”
  • One-step to-do lists are much more likely to have check marks at the end of the day.

Make some extra money. If you’re in need of extra cash, you can spend your leisure time from work or school doing a side job or finding creative ways to make money. Get a second job that you can do on evenings or weekends. Monetize your passion for jewelry making by setting up an Etsy shop. Sell those old books or clothes in your attic.

Connecting Socially

Expand your professional network. Beyond the hours of 9 to 5, there are a range of networking events you can attend. Saturday brunch or evening cocktail parties may serve as the perfect backdrop to pitch a new idea or pass out your business cards.

  • Look up networking events in your area or put out feelers at work or in your professional organization to learn about after-hours events.

Invite some friends or family over. Having a strong social support group makes you more resilient to stress and even builds self-esteem. If you tend to flake on your loved ones due to school or work commitments, use your leisure time to hang out and nurture your existing friendships.

  • Plan a movie night, game night, or ice cream social. Call up a few friends or family members you never get to see and invite them to join in on the fun. Connecting with those you love is a wonderful way to spend your downtime.

Start a volunteer commitment. Helping out in your local community provides you with an opportunity to connect with others, do something meaningful, and even polish your resume. Think about an area of need in your community and find out how you can be of service.

  • You might help plan a community event, work in a homeless shelter, or pick up trash after the annual carnival.

Do random acts of kindness. If you are searching for interesting ways to fill your free time, do something kind for someone else. Random acts of kindness show those around you that you care, and they make you feel good about yourself, too.

  • These acts can be anything, from dropping off fresh-baked muffins to your elderly neighbor or volunteering to watch your sibling’s kids so they can go on a date. Make a list of fun ways you can give back to those around you, and aim to complete one random act each day.

Focusing on Health

Find some healthy recipes you’d like to try. If you have a bit of downtime, meal prepping is a great way to use it. When you plan and prepare your meals ahead of time, you are less likely to choose unhealthy options like fast or junk food. Browse interesting recipes on Pinterest and compile a grocery list to take with you shopping.

  • Ask your roommate, partner, or children to help you. This will help you get the task done faster. Plus, you’ll have more fun as you work together.

Exercise. Regular physical activity delivers an energy boost and keeps your mind alert. You already know you should exercise a few days a week. But if you plop down on the couch to watch TV first, you’re unlikely to get moving later. Make exercise a priority by using your leisure time to support your physical and mental well-being.

  • Allot at least 30 minutes to running, walking, biking or some other preferred activity. You can even turn on some music and shake your hips as you cook or clean your home.

Stock your self-care toolbox. Even if you are not currently stressed, you can positively influence your well-being by practicing self-care. Too often, you may relegate yourself to the bottom of your priority list. Creating a self-care toolbox helps you gather relaxing activities so they are at reach when you need a refresh.

  • Stock your self-care toolbox with items and activities that rejuvenate your mind and body. You might include scented candles and lotions, bubble bath or salts, a coloring book, a novel, a knitting project, or your favorite movie.

Tidy your home. You might wonder what cleaning has to do with health. A clean home can offer you mental health benefits because you aren’t stressed about where things are. However, if you suffer from allergies or other chronic conditions, cleaning your home regularly can reduce unpleasant symptoms. Also, cleaning offers you the chance to move your body and get your heart rate up.

  • Use natural cleaning products to reduce your exposure to toxins to further benefit your overall health and well-being.

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This article was written by wikiHow, an online wiki-style community consisting of an extensive database of how-to guides. Founded in 2005 by Internet entrepreneur Jack Herrick, the website aims to create the world’s most helpful how-to instructions to enable everyone in the world to learn how to do anything.

A New Reason to Get Up Early: It Might Help You Live Longer

Being a morning person isn’t necessarily something people go out of their way to become. Early risers might get a head start on the day, but night owls don’t often consider themselves at a disadvantage in day-to-day life. A new study from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Surrey in the UK could change that, as it shows a correlation between “morning people” and longevity.

The study, which is being published in Chronobiology International, is based on the lives of nearly half a million volunteers who were tracked over a period of six-and-a-half years. Over that lengthy sample period, night owls were approximately 10 percent more likely to die than their early-rising peers. That’s a significant difference, and it’s being attributed to late-night lifestyles that rob people of precious sleep.

The study is the first of its kind to look at the mortality implications of individuals based on their habits of either rising early or staying up late. The researchers point to night owls forcing themselves to wake for work or other obligations without adequate sleep as being a major cause for concern. They even go so far as to suggest employers accommodate these individuals when possible.

“This is a public health issue that can no longer be ignored,” Malcolm von Schantz of the University of Surrey explains in a press release. “We should discuss allowing evening types to start and finish work later, where practical. And we need more research about how we can help evening types cope with the higher effort of keeping their body clock in synchrony with sun time.”

As for why night owls seem to naturally stay up later, it’s hard to pin down any one reason. The researchers note that many factors could contribute to late nights, including stress, lack of exercise, and diet. However, they are quick to point out that night owls who make an effort to go to sleep earlier could curb their heightened risk of mortality. Going forward, the team hopes to test the health of night owls before and after they make the shift to becoming early risers, in order to see what kind of changes are possible.

 

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This article was written by Mike Wehner, a reporter for technology and video games who served as Tech Editor at The Daily Dot, and has been featured in USA Today, Time.com, and countless other web and print outlets. His love of reporting is second only to his gaming addiction. Find him on twitter here.

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