Morning Clarity


Tue Mar 11 17:34:00 -0700 2008

One of my favorite life hacking tips is how to use your morning time. (By morning I mean whenever you get up - for me, it’s technically afternoon.)

Recently, I’ve taken to using this time to jot down a simple plan for the day. Before anything else I ask myself: What’s one thing I could do today that would make me completely satisfied with my productivity for the day?

This is no doubt influenced by The 4-Hour Workweek's suggestion that you ask this question of yourself throughout the workday. At each moment you should be doing something that, were it the only thing you accomplished today, would leave you satisfied with the day. This is a great way to avoid excessive rabbit-trailing; but I think it works even better if you make the plan first.

This only works if you write down your plan before you let any distractions into your mind. That means: do not open your feed reader, do not check your email, and do not look at your phone to see text messages or calls that came in overnight. Do not open any program except a blank page in your text editor, where you’ll write the plan for the day. And make sure you left no windows open on your screen the night before. When you sit down for this you should find yourself before a blank slate, with a zen-like mental state to match. Only then can you focus clearly on the big picture and decide your most valuable short-term goal.

By the way, when I say “plan,” what I mean is a few words of shorthand notes for each item, and no more than three or four items. Something like:

- proof of concept for widget manager
- fix the gadget tracker page not found bug
- email joe to schedule that meeting

Short, sweet, to the point.

This moment of calm reflection brings incredible clarity. It’s so tempting to think ”I’ll write this stuff down as soon as I check for that important email that should have come in this morning,” but resist that temptation. If your inbox is anything like mine, as soon as you open it your focus is forcibly zoomed in on a flurry of user requests, questions from your coworkers, exception notifications, and so on. Within minutes of facing this hailstorm of information, the valuable clarity and perspective is whisked away, not likely to return again until the following morning.