How do you spend the first hour of your work day?

When I look at time logs, I see that many of us have work-starting rituals. We get to our computers and do something: check email, check certain blogs or websites. We may start figuring out what to work on of the day’s priorities, but at some point, meeting or phone call #1 starts, and then the time after that gets chopped up.

We probably need some kind of ritual to signal that it’s time to work, but spending too much time on these rituals, especially if they result in lots of new things that must be dealt with, may be a missed opportunity. The first hour of the work day is a chance to knock stuff out of the park. One study of people’s energy levels through the day found they tended to peak around 8 a.m. — right when people showed up at work. With that cup of coffee in hand, you are ready to conquer the world. As a blogger I’m thrilled if people use that window to read my blog, but from an objective perspective, it’s probably not anyone’s top priority.

That time might be better spent on something else.

I’ve been experimenting with this lately. Technically, 8-9 a.m. would be the first hour of my workday most days, but with the kids’ new school schedules, we’re still working on getting everyone out the door on time, so it’s hard to focus during that slot. Two days a week my first hour will be 9:15-10:15, but so far doing the school run solo makes me feel like I wish to stop at a coffee shop for a donut, not buckle down to work.

So it looks like I might be back to waking up early. One reason the morning routine is slightly taxing is that the kids aren’t waking up early on their own. It’s rushed. But that means that I could likely bank on getting 6:20-7:20 a.m. to myself if I wanted it. Then I’d need to figure out each day what I’d aim to get done during that time, and be ready to go when my alarm went off.

Of course, that’s also a great time to exercise, which is what I did this morning. Too bad the time before breakfast isn’t infinite. What do you do during the first hour of your workday? Have you ever tweaked it to make it more productive?

14 thoughts on “How do you spend the first hour of your work day?

  1. Usually my first task is to plan out my day. I’d like to do that the day/week before, but often when I open my e-mail I find that priorities have changed. Then I love to be able to do something that’s pressing but can be done quickly – finishing up a project, sending an important e-mail, making a phone call. It’s nice to start the day with a sense of accomplishment.

    1. @Chelsea – I agree that accomplishment is a great way to start the day. As for email changing priorities, this is a tricky one. If the original first priority is still there, is it good to knock it out quickly and then deal with the new priorities? I wonder because if I’m not careful, I’ll never get around to what I intended to do that day. Which is fine if it doesn’t matter, but if it’s still relevant can be problematic.

  2. I get my tea, and then I sit down and either write my to do list for the day, or review the one I wrote the day before. I let myself catch up on social media and email while I drink one cup of tea, then I switch over to my top priority item on the to do list.
    (Off topic- I’ve decided to start commenting here w/my “career” blog and real name instead of my personal blog and pseudonym. It seems like the thing to do. For any other regulars who care: you may know me as Cloud.)

    1. @Melanie – I think this is key to transition rituals: setting a limit on it. Otherwise, I can read blogs all day! (yours included)

  3. I plan my day hour by hour before I leave work the day before. So when I get to work I immediately start with whatever I had planned for the first hour of my day. Because I work in a lab it usually involves setting up the day’s experiments. If I finish the tasks designated for that hour I let myself on the internet.

    I get up at 5:30 though and I am not at work until 7:30. The first thing I actually do each morning is a 2 mile walk.

    1. @beth – that sounds like a great morning. I love when I’ve had the foresight to plan the day out and I *know* what I need to do first. Such a little thing, but so important.

  4. I have kind of the opposite problem – I really don’t get going until 9-10 AM, yet I work in a 7 AM industry. I used to save myself a pile of “stupid work” to be done first thing in the morning. Then after my mid-morning tea and snack, I’d start doing the smart stuff. In my current job I don’t have so much “stupid work”, so I’m not as productive first thing in the morning.

    1. @Byrd – sounds like having less stupid work might be a good in its own right, even if you’re not productive first thing…

  5. I’ve switched from the Corporate world to Start-up and as part of that transition, I took time to think about how mornings ‘could’ be instead of ‘should’ be. Here’s my approach to beginning the work day: I start with coffee at 5:30am so I can chat with my husband before he goes off to work. Then I meditate for 15 minutes, shower, dress and tackle the first item on The List that I created the night before by 7:30am-8:00am. I save exercise for late in the day as a substitute for more caffeine or chocolate. For me, in my new role, it’s all about intrinsic motivation and driving my agenda for launching a new business.

    1. @Marian – I go back and forth on the exercise thing. I do like doing it in the AM and getting it over with. On the other hand, as you point out, it can be a substitute for caffeine and snacking in mid-afternoon. It’s a break and it’s energizing. Maybe I’ll do both and be in the best shape of my life!

  6. My parents own a contracting business and my father likes to rise super early, and spend an hour or two at work before typical work hours start. He says that it gives him “time to think, before he needs to think,” meaning he can do any number of things he needs done before he needs to start fielding phone calls, etc. I’m sure it’s not 100% productive every day, but it gives him a cushion to his day in which he can finish off work from the day before, or look at issues without interruption.

    My workday is dictated for me (I work in health care). I love the idea of getting up early to get some personal things done, though. I just can’t seem to get over that hurdle of not being a morning person. I assume you are dressed and ready to go for your 6:20 start, so it really feels like part of a workday? But doesn’t your energy flag by 10? I’m wondering how long I’d have to do this before I could adjust! I can get things done very effectively at night, but then it’s hard to make myself stop at a reasonable hour.

    1. @Christine – “time to think before I need to think” sums it up well. I don’t do the morning thing every day, but find if I’m in bed by 11 I will be up around 6 anyway. There’s always a break for getting the kids ready, and I get a second cup of coffee mid-morning so there are ways to manage energy. As for the evenings, yes, if I’m up really early they’re less productive. If you are productive at night, there may be no reason to change that.

  7. I’ve been experimenting with getting up early the past few weeks. I’ve found that at night after the girls are in bed, I’m just too tired to be terribly useful. So I am trying to save blog reading for the evening.

    I still hate exercise but need to do it, so I’ve moved that and cooking something healthy to the early morning.

    This way, as soon as I’ve dropped the girls off at their respective schools (a soul sucking 45 min round trip on a good day), I’m ready to be heads down doing work stuff as soon as I get back home, which is 9:15 at the earliest.

    It also feels less harried in the morning if I can get my own breakfast and set up the girls’ food before they are downstairs.

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