Why You Should Do Your Work First, Others’ Work Second

I stopped checking my email first thing in the morning several years ago after reading Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek. He said that one simple change would be a life-changer, and it has been for me.

The reason why it works is because it enables proactive work first, reactive work second.

Even when we have clear top priorities for the day, checking email first thing can easily derail those plans by compelling us to react and respond to other people’s “urgent” needs. And before you know it, the day has been totally eaten up, and our energy drained, before we can get started on our own projects.

This is why Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University, says “It would probably be best if managers went to the IT department and asked that email not be distributed between 8 and 11 every morning.”

The experts say that it is key to block off time in the morning whenever possible to do the work that is most important to you, including focusing on long-term projects without an immediate payoff. If you don’t build big-picture meaningful work right into your daily calendar, it will always get crowded out by the small stuff.

Best-selling author and researcher Tom Rath reinforces this point by saying, “What you will be most proud of a decade from now will not be anything that was a result of you simply responding.” He recommends to, “Manage your communications, online and offline, instead of letting them run your life. If you don’t, you will inadvertently spend a majority of your time responding to other people’s needs instead of creating anything that lasts.”

We are busier than ever and there are dozens of things every day to divert our attention, so it now seems that that maintaining our focus is actually our biggest competitive advantage. Entrepreneur Scott Belsky, named to Fast Company’s “100 Most Creative People in Business List”, says that “Whatever the future of technology may hold, the greatest leaders will be those most capable of tuning into themselves and harnessing the full power of their own minds.”

It is actually easiest to get sucked into a day of busyness and bouncing from one urgent thing to the next. Perhaps that’s why the best leaders and creative minds seem to agree that giving ourselves time to think, and focusing on our top priorities before others’ needs, is a key to long-term productivity and success.

In a world filled with distraction, I know that I’ll keep looking for ways to harness my attention and preserve more space to focus on the big picture. As Henry David Thoreau said, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

Now just imagine if there were no meetings and no email before 11am — perhaps that is the way of the future!

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Several of the quotes in this post come from a great little book called: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind

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