Why it works.
Being productive is about getting important things done consistently. It is the progress we make day in and day out that propels us towards our goals. Finding time is hard, especially in the morning and it is so easy to make overload ourselves with tasks we never get to, so why even try? Most people seem to think that being productive is about getting as many things done as possible, as fast as possible. While this frantic cycle might be sustainable on a short-term basis, it is by no means a long term strategy. Real productivity is about maintaining steady speed and consistent progress on a handful of things.
So why the beginning of the day? The morning is when our willpower is the highest, so by tackling the most important task early on in the day we are refreshed and focused. This makes us more likely to start, and possibly finish, our most important tasks. Willpower is a finite resource and we are trying to set ourselves up for success.
Now, the farther you get into the day, the more likely you are going to be interrupted by other tasks or people in your organization. These “distractions” will creep into your schedule and eat up your time, causing you to either stay late at the office, or put off that important project for another day. Doing the most important thing early in the day avoids distractions, lack of time or lack of willpower. It the time of day when it is the easiest for you to be the strongest and most focused.
By focusing on the most important task earliest, we are freeing up mental space for other tasks. The brain has a tendency to fixate on unfinished business and having too many important, unfinished projects slowly eats away at our willpower and focus. You might have experienced this by continuously thinking about something that takes days or weeks to resolve, as it will remain in our head as something that we started and have yet to complete. The brain prefers to work on something and complete it entirely before moving on. This is also why we tend to procrastinate on bigger projects, because we tend to think of projects as whole items. Remembering to break down a project into smaller steps can be crucial, otherwise we may feel so overwhelmed we never start.
Why we don’t do it.
We tend to spend the majority of our time in reactive mode instead of proactive mode. In reactive mode, we often spend our time responding to other people’s issues or focusing on tasks that seem urgent and productive, but are not. Checking and responding to email is a perennial time waster because it is so easy to spend hours going through and responding to messages. It becomes a vicious cycle because the more time spent in your inbox, the more emails you receive, and the harder it is to break away to work on more important projects. At the end of the day, instead of a sense of accomplishment for how productive you were it can be draining to have done so much, yet accomplished so little.
Furthermore, the tasks assigned to us by others might seem more urgent than they really are. This sense of false urgency can be instilled by the other person or our own brain might cause us to drop what we’re doing just to go and handle that other task. Most tasks are not urgent though and can wait for another time.
Knowing how to analyze the importance of tasks can make a profound difference in our lives. It is the tasks that move our dreams, creations or business forward which are the most important. Of course I’m not saying that one should ignore the responsibilities given to us by others, but it’s important to know when and how to prioritize these tasks. These should ideally be viewed as distractions and should be prioritized in a way to ensure that we still have time to push our own agenda forward and complete the things that matter the most to us.
Not a morning person?
There is no rule or study that says you have to do things first in the morning to be successful. What matters is finding the time of day you are most productive and consistently working during that time. Personally, I do some of my best work at night. Regardless, the one thing that remained true was that every great artist embraced the idea of creating sacred time each day where they could work on their own agenda without disruption.
The phrase “do the most important thing first” is a simple way to remind you to give yourself the time and place to work on the most important thing in your life, each and every day.