Build Your Day Around Productivity From the Start

A Question for the (New) Ages…

What’s the first thing that you reach for as you wake up? Is it your old fashioned alarm clock? The person or household pet snuggling beside you? A glass of water? How about your phone?

The smartphone is quickly becoming the object that bookends slumber, taking the place of alarm clock, daily planner, main source of news and chief personal assistant. It’s the last thing people will glance at as they doze off to sleep and then it’s the first thing they look at when they wake up.

The cynical take on this new reality is that we’re all constantly compelled to touch the gleaming glass and metal rectangles and in some form we are the phone’s servants. Another view, one that we would favor as technologists and digital strategists, is that we can start setting the tone for a productive and healthy day with that very first touch. Each day can be the most productive day it can possibly be, so with that potential in mind, who would ever slam the notion of checking their phone first thing in the morning?

The Smartphone: Running Your Life or Ruining It?

I recently discovered an app called Streaks which got me thinking about this new habit of waking up right in the 21st century. The app is essentially a to-do list generator. I prefer to view it as a productivity and health benchmarking tool. The user defines tasks (up to 6) which they’d like to complete, sets up the cadence for that task (daily, every other day, weekly, and so forth), and the app records your frequency in completing those tasks. As the user builds up a longer record of completed tasks, the streak continues to grow.

Streaks has a clean and elegant UI and that’s one of the reasons I love using the app. Beyond design and usability, the app has one subtle function that makes it all come together: the pest factor.

If you’re like me then you grant your phone very limited permission to interrupt your day. The push notification is a powerful thing, and if you let it grow out of hand then your phone ends up holding you back instead of helping you move forward. Those notifications are like screeching little gremlins, ready to sidetrack your attention and crowd your vision. And don’t even THINK about feeding them after midnight…

My go-to solution is muting all notifications for an app. Unless the app provides mission-critical info then it doesn’t need to interrupt my routine.

I decided that Streaks would be one of the few apps that could have the rare “all-access pass” to my notifications. This app is supposed to prod me into performing tasks that will help me stay healthy and maintain good habits, a bit like a life coach or personal trainer. That’s the kind of pestering that I can live with.

So if I see my to-do list for the day as soon as I wake up, I’m already thinking about ways to get those tasks done and clear them off of my virtual desk. I might have a detailed plan in place to complete the 20 flights of stairs I’m supposed to climb, or I might only subconsciously register the challenge of climbing 20 flights for that day. Either way, the app’s primacy — literally being the first thing I see in the morning — rewires my brain to take action. At the very least I’ll be motivated to keep the streak going because that holds so much sway over my mind.

“I didn’t get my 10,000 steps in today? *Gasp* That means my streak of 32 days will be over!”

[furiously paces around the room to get the last 750 steps in]

I don’t feel that I’m alone in this neurotic stance.

Image courtesy of

Plan to Start off Fresh in 2016

So what does it all mean? Utilize those anchor points of your daily routine, such as checking your smartphone first thing in the morning, to introduce the best methods for productivity into your day. Make a conscious plan to influence your subconscious.

Try out the app if you have an iOS device (Android version coming soon, hopefully). There’s even a fitness-focused version of the app for Apple TV that turns your entertainment center into the personal trainer for your living room. But the mobile app is free and it could turn your days into dynamos for productivity.

Have a productivity tool that you love to use? Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts.

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