How you handle the first 10 minutes of your workday can largely determine how productive and effective you’ll be the rest of the day.
“Getting off on the right foot isn’t just important with relationships. It’s important with the start of any workday, as well — particularly busy ones,” says Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work.
“The first 10 minutes can also set the tone and your attitude for the day — so it’s imperative that you start it off right, with a clean slate,” he says.
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, agrees. “Those brief moments can predict your all-important mindset because they’re the first impression of your day ahead,” she says.
“The first few minutes at the office can be the most stressful because there’s a level of anxiety about what you may face: A sudden onslaught of urgent emails; last-minute crises or meetings; a call to stop by the boss’s office; a cranky coworker, and so on. It takes greater self-awareness, a positive mindset, and self-training each morning to counter what feels like negative gravity pulling you down as you face overwhelming demands,” she explains.
Kerr says successful people tend to thrive on routine and habits. “Creating consistent habits is largely what makes them successful,” he explains. “And a key time for habit-forming practices is at the start of the day.”
Here are 18 things the most successful people do in the first 10 minutes of their workday:
1. They reflect
Achieving your best results requires you to reflect on where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going, says Taylor. “Successful people build in quiet time and solitude to do this first thing. They ask themselves: ‘What did I accomplish toward my goals so far this week — or last week?’ ‘What is the status of my current project?’ ‘What do I need to accomplish today in light of this?'”
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2. They take a moment to pause and be present
‘This may sound very ‘Buddha-like,’ but it’s important,” Kerr says.
“If you arrive and walk into a tumultuous situation with phones ringing and people clambering to see you, you run the risk of starting off on the wrong foot, getting derailed both emotionally and time-wise, and letting other people set the agenda for you,” he explains.
Centering yourself and being fully present will help make sure you manage the day ahead, rather than allowing it to manage you.
3. They get comfortable
Successful people take a minute at the beginning of the workday to make sure their chair is adjusted properly and the items they frequently access — keyboard, phone, computer mouse — are all in comfortable reach, Taylor says. “Ensure that you have proper lighting,” she adds. “Your day will go well if you have an ergonomic environment that’s functional.”
4. They organize their workspace area
Not being able to find things is a huge office time waster. “So while you may pride yourself on jumping into the fray with no down time, clutter will catch up to you,” says Taylor. “Facing a clean or cleaner slate on your desk and desktop will better clear your mind for the day’s tasks.”
5. They stretch, stand, and walk
Successful people make sure to stretch and get their circulation going before they get into a sedentary sitting position. “Consider walking or standing in the first few minutes of your workday,” Taylor suggests. “This can give you a feeling of greater control, too, as you tackle the day’s agenda — much as speakers establish authority by standing before their audience.”
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6. They review their to-do list and prioritize
“Get yourself current on priorities and tasks,” Taylor suggests. “Go beyond just making a list, and challenge yourself to create a realistic hierarchy for your projects.”
It’s vital to put the most important tasks first. Though the least desirable but critical projects are easy to put off first thing in the morning, your energy is strongest then, so that’s the ideal time to confront the most difficult assignments.
7. They visualize success
By envisioning the positive outcomes of various projects at hand, you can work backward and determine the necessary steps to get your desired results.
“This helps them remember the need to stick to the plan and focus on the things that are truly important and not simply urgent,” Kerr explains.
Mentally running through the day “can also help you see where potential challenges may lie with how you’ve scheduled your day, so you can make the necessary adjustments,” Kerr says.
8. They adjust and map out their day
Successful people review their calendars to assess if anything needs changing or rearranging with how their day is planned and to see if there’s any preparatory work that might need scheduling in before a call or meeting.
9. They don’t multitask
Multitasking in the morning — when you have lots to do, tons of energy, and it feels like you can do two or three things at once — is tempting, but it sets your whole day back. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time.
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10. They anticipate distractions
We all face some of the same distractions at the start of the day, and recognizing them is the first step to mitigating them.
“These may include low-priority calls, unnecessary optional meetings, chatty coworkers, new incoming emails or texts, social media, or other low-priority notifications — all of which challenge you to focus on your day’s plan.”
11. They say “no”
“Successful business professionals know how to mitigate distractions to maximize their first few minutes at their office,” Taylor says. “They can diplomatically and politely say ‘no’ to colleagues by offering to engage at a later time.”
If your boss needs you, that is clearly an exception. However, if you have crucial calls to make or meetings to attend, give your boss the heads-up.
Being a people pleaser isn’t good for anyone, Taylor explains. “Generally, no one ends up being pleased, as you can’t do your best work with conflicting priorities.”
12. They block out negativity
Successful people don’t dwell on any challenging events that occurred the previous night or on the morning commute, or other frivolous thoughts. “Compartmentalize by putting them in a separate ‘box’ as you start your week,” Taylor says.
13. They take time to greet their team
This is especially critical if you are a leader, Kerr says. “But no matter what role you’re in, it’s important.”
Taylor says visiting and checking in with your boss and team will help yourself and others kick-start the day.
“To advance in your career, you just can’t skimp on your people skills,” she says. “You can be the most technically savvy person in the room, but your attitude can amplify or chip away at the value of your technical skills.”
Being friendly first thing in the morning makes the workplace more pleasant for everyone — “and your humanistic approach will be contagious.”
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14. They take a temperature read of their staff/coworkers
Strong managers take a moment in the morning to talk briefly with their staff to ensure they seem engaged and motivated. “At a glance, these savvy professionals can often get a cursory reading of the energy level and job satisfaction of their staff,” Taylor says. “If things seem awry, they are best tackled later on in the day.”
15. They smile and laugh
“Many successful people I know have a routine of starting their morning with a simple chuckle — whether it’s from a ‘joke of the day’ email they subscribe to, or some tradition they’ve created to give themselves a chance to laugh each morning,” says Kerr. “Starting their day with a smile has become a must-do for them as a simple way to check their attitude and start with the right frame of mind.”
Taylor notes that studies consistently show that by using your “smile muscles,” your mood becomes more positive. “You don’t need to create a phony smile, but a pleasant expression will have the added benefit of reminding you of your power.”
16. They take a moment to be grateful
“A great way that successful people start their day is to identify something they’re grateful for, and it may be personal or business-related,” Taylor notes. “It’s motivational and reminds them to put small things in perspective.
Taylor says all successful people take advantage of the first few minutes of their workday to get grounded and focused. “Once you’ve adopted the right mindset and routine for success, the rest of the day flows much more smoothly.”
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17. They think about how they can help others
According to Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of the book The Conservative Heart, adopting a service mindset can reduce stress and raises job satisfaction because it displaces the object of attention from oneself.
“When I am working for myself, any disappointing outcome is a stressful, unpleasant reflection on me,” he writes. “When I am serving, on the other hand, the work is always intrinsically valuable because of its intention.”
18. They strategically check email
“I emphasize ‘strategically’ because email can quickly become a time-wasting, distracting quagmire,” Kerr explains. “Checking email can become one of those tasks that make it feel like you are accomplishing things, wherein the danger is you are not attending to priority-action items, and you’re letting others set your agenda.”
Successful people understand this, and are extremely efficient with email, which means the first 10 minutes of the day may be a quick scan and prioritization of emails to answer later as part of your preplanned day — not necessarily diving into the entire mass at once.