shutterstock_220802032Much of my research around morning rituals and success habits point a big spotlight on this ‘morning email thing’. Most of the articles I read said quite pointedly, “Don’t do it!” Heck, my blog last week also suggested it’s not a good idea. The very thought no doubt makes most people cringe, and many will say “I can’t have it any other way!” But what if you could?

What if you chose to start your day in a different way? What if you made the bold and scary decision to turn your back on the default habit of ‘checking in’ on email as the first thing you do to start your day? Those who do it say they’re more focused, productive and relaxed through the rest of their day so maybe there’s something to it?

Last week I shared 3 reasons why checking email first thing is the wrong thing. It was nice of me to tell you that ‘first thing email’ is wrong without offering up alternatives, so this week that’s my goal. But it’s a mighty beast to battle when research suggests that 80% of smartphone users have their phone with them 22 hours a day, and check their email within 15 minutes of waking up.

Our connectedness is both convenient and chaotic. It’s a can’t-live-with-can’t-live-without situation that has infiltrated our daily habits and messed with our productivity and mindfulness. This one could be a hard habit to break, but let’s try. And perhaps I’ll start by softening the blow…just a bit.

My ultimate wish for you would be that email is not the thing that takes over your mind before you’ve had the chance to be mindful, but in the real world, it’s not always so cut and dry. So if a quick glance is necessary to calm the stress and off-set potential emergencies then look! And then consider one or more of these alternatives before you do a deep dive into the email chasm…because you and I both know how hard it is to climb out once you’re in there.

1) Eat breakfast

This seems too obvious to be considered a high-performance habit but it may be the most important thing you do to start your day. Besides being good for your overall health, that first meal improves your memory, boosts your energy, improves your mood, and enhances your concentration. Who wouldn’t want that kind of competitive advantage heading into the day? It’s also a good time to connect with your family, or just have some quiet time. It’s only 15 or 20 minutes without email but the benefits are worth every painful minute away from your inbox. Be in the moment and eat it up.

2) Meditate

I’ve been reading a lot about the benefits of meditation, which include lower levels of stress, enhanced creative thinking and productivity, improved cognitive functioning, and even improved physical health. I was also surprised to learn how many high-performers – from Anthony Robbins to Ariana Huffington to Oprah…even Katy Perry and Madonna – include daily meditation as part of their success plan.

A Huffington Post article on the topic said:

“A number of Fortune 500 companies, including Google, AOL, Apple and Aetna, offer meditation and mindfulness classes for employees — and the top executives of many major corporations say that meditation has made them better leaders.”

Meditation isn’t just for Monks anymore. I decided to give it a try and sought the help of an App (yes, I said that) to overcome my hang-ups about it… “don’t know what to do, don’t have the time, it’s too woo woo for me, what if I suck?” I downloaded HEADSPACE onto my smartphone. I laugh every time I tell some one about it because it seems crazily counter-intuitive to use an App to meditate, but it’s working for me.

The program takes the fear out of the process and essentially brings mindfulness to you in daily 10 minute chunks (the sessions get longer as you go along). I’m through 12 days now, and up to 15 minutes of morning meditation, and while I still have monkey brain through much of the meditation I am enjoying learning something new and I feel more calm and ready to get on with the day once it’s done.

When I jumped from 10 to 15 minutes I actually thought “Do I really have time for this?” And then I realized that I’ll spend at least that amount of time flipping through Instagram, and that much time again looking at email or facebook or The Globe and Mail… so I can afford 15 minutes to be in the moment and clear my head. Choose to be mindful…not mind full.

3) Move your Body

Beyond the obvious benefits of regular exercise, your morning routine can set you up for work day success in many surprising ways.

‘First-thing fitness’ is a great way to habituate regular exercise. Research shows that those who prioritize exercise before work are more consistent exercisers. If you have trouble fitting in fitness, do it first, before busy-ness and fatigue get in the way.

Morning movement helps you feel more confident and in-control as you enter your day, and you can celebrate having done something good for yourself and your health right out of the gates. The rest of the day is yours to do with as you wish.

Also, that a.m. hustle will boost your productivity in big ways. A good walk or run can increase your mental clarity for four to 10 hours post-exercise, so you’ll be firing on all cylinders once you get to work.

And it doesn’t take much. A brisk 15 minute walk will up your energy, mood and productivity in significant ways. Move away from morning email.

4) Set Your Goals for the Day

Before I started researhing my next book The Energy Habits of High-Performing People my entry into the work day was like so many others’. I’d open up my email and see what the world had waiting for me. I’d let the inbox guide my every step. Stupid.

First thing in the morning your mental clarity and focus is high, probably the highest it will be all day. Rather than waste that productive and creative energy on other people’s requests and problems why not ‘take 10’ to get clear about your objectives for the day?

These days, before I dig in to email I sit at my desk for about 10 minutes and get clear about what I need to accomplish for that day. I write a list in my planner, prioritize tasks in order of importance. And then I start on the first one. Sometimes the 10 minutes end and I open up email, but more often than not I get one or two important things off my plate before I’ve read a single email.

I wish I’d started doing this a long time ago. Not only am I getting more done, but I’m getting better work done. And I have fewer days where I feel cluttered and out-of-control, because all of my tasks are in one place (so I don’t lose them) and small and large tasks are accounted for (so my brain gets to breathe). Your goal is your goals.

There are dozens of things you can do every morning to start your day successfully. If it isn’t one of the above it might also be reading, yoga, focused family time, or even writing a gratitude list. None of these alternatives to email take that much time, so why not train yourself to delay that first inbox check-in until you’ve done something good for your mind or body? It’s worth a try!

Send me an email and let me know how it goes for you! Who knows, I may include your story in my book!