When you make a habit of handling the day’s biggest challenge as early as you can, the long-term odds of success are in your favor. Studies indicate that human beings are better able to handle challenges early in the day, rather than later. Most human beings, that is.
Peak energy and alertness for most people, meeting planners included, is about 8 a.m. Also, fewer interruptions are likely earlier in the day. This isn’t to say you can’t be effective handling large tasks later in the day. As every planner knows, you often have no choice.
When composing a to-do list — regardless of in what order you list the items — identify the vital challenge you face that day, circle it or draw an arrow from it up to the top of the page, indicating that this is the task you’ll do first. Then clear away any minor hurdles that would impede your ability to start.
Own your space
Do you need to rearrange your workspace accordingly? Go ahead and do so, not to stall but because you’re making logistical changes to your workspace that help your performance.
Do you need to tell others that you shouldn’t be distracted? Do so. Clear stretches of time give you your best chance of being productive, especially when you’re taking on a project that is new, requires highly creative thinking or is unfamiliar.
Each distraction, however fleeting, can turn into a full-fledged interruption. Interruptions in and of themselves aren’t so bad, on average lasting only minutes, but the typical interruption leads to other activities that can last up to 25 minutes. That means any interruption can pull you from the task for much longer than you might expect.
You’re more likely to be distracted as the day goes on, too. So, you have a compelling reason to do the biggest tasks as soon as you can get to them. Once you’ve done so, no matter how difficult the challenge was, the whole day tends to go better.
Major victories early in the day have a way of affecting the rest of the day. Freed from the psychological baggage of the task as well as the mental and physical effort necessary to do so, you almost automatically go forward thinking “What else can I accomplish today?”