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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

The Surprising Change That Helped Make My Mornings Way More Productive

For years, my workday mornings all began the exact same way. I’d sit down at my desk, take a quick look at my inbox to get an idea of how many different tasks and loose ends managed to mysteriously find their way there overnight, and then make my to-do list for that day.

I’d write absolutely everything on that piece of paper. Individual emails that needed to be responded to, little follow-ups that had to be taken care of, phone calls I should make—all of them earned a line on my notebook page.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this made for an incredibly detailed—albeit, also incredibly long—list. In my eyes, this was a good thing. It meant I had a handy reference guide that would help me ensure that I didn’t let anything (no matter how miniscule) slip through the cracks of my day. It seemed like the only way I could function systematically.

Then one day, I had a major light bulb moment. There I sat, spending far too long scribbling out this endless to-do list. I was using precious time I could’ve spent actually taking care of some of those loose ends and little tasks—and, for what? To end up with this overly detailed record that seemed positively overwhelming and nearly impossible to tackle? Why was I bothering to write all of these things down, when I could just handle them immediately and have them completely off my plate?

It was then and there that I realized I needed to make a change to my morning routine. What I thought was helping me was clearly only slowing me down.

So, what did I do? I started my morning without a to-do list.

That’s right—no to-do list at all. I’ll be the first to admit that, at first, it felt strange—almost like I was going on a major road trip without a map or a GPS. But, it didn’t take me long to realize the benefits.

By not making this a part of my morning routine right off the bat, I’m able to use that hour or so (which I often refer to as my “warm up time”, since I’m not quite firing on all cylinders yet) to actually take care of some of those small, pesky tasks—rather than just writing them down. I’ll clean through my emails, return any phone calls, and check in on things that require a follow up.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this makes my mornings exponentially more productive—I’m often shocked by how much I’m able to wrap up by the time 10 AM rolls around. However, one other benefit took me by surprise: The quality of my to-do lists.

When I manage to get all of those minor details out of the way, it instantly becomes much shorter and far more focused. So, instead of feeling so bogged down by all of those little tasks and random tidbits, I’m able to zone in on the bigger-picture things I truly want to get done throughout the day. I find myself writing more articles, accomplishing larger projects, and just generally feeling less frazzled at the end of my workday.

Yes, there are definitely days when it’s still tough for me to get started without that list—I never realized how much I relied on that roster to steer my focus for the day. But, that aimless feeling isn’t nearly as paralyzing as it was in the beginning. And, now that I’ve seen such a positive difference in my productivity, resisting the urge to create that list has become that much easier.

I know it seems counterintuitive—you should avoid making one in order to amp up your productivity. But, it has honestly worked wonders for me so far. And, even better? I save myself a hand cramp by skipping those War and Peace-length, hand-written to-do lists.

If you’re the same type of person who tends to start each day by creating an overly detailed record, I’d recommend giving this method a try. I’d love to hear how it works for you, so give me a shout on Twitter!

Photo of list courtesy of Jamie Grill/Getty Images.