How productive are your “office hours?” You know the time during the day when people like you work in an office-wherever that may be. Do you wish you could get more out of those formal hours and more done in them? May I humbly submit that likely the solutions to greater productivity in the office are discovered outside of the office. Often we miss opportunities to seize the momentous day that is upon us because we did not prepare ahead of time every day to be ready. Former President Abraham Lincoln challenges our laissez-faire mindset with these words, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” These may sound obvious, but the following habits-that may vary a bit in your context-done in advance of the workday, are helping me get much more out of my workday:
The keys to an intentional, poised day begin long before the day actually begins…in fact almost 12 hours beforehand. Here are a few that are helping me get a “leg up” on the next day:
- Attitude-instead of coming home from work with the reactionary mindset of “I deserve a break the rest of the evening,” I first eagerly commit to “I need to set up our family’s tomorrow for success” throughout the evening. (Then I am free have some life-renewing dinner, leisure, and time.)
- Stomach-coffee maker loaded, breakfast set, lunch packed.
- Vehicle-gassed up, vacuumed out, washed and ready for whatever off-site curveballs you may be thrown tomorrow.
- Calendar-coordination with spouse/kids/parents on family schedule, confirm with coworkers/staff any appointments for the next day.
- Mind-end the day with non-pragmatic reading if you are able or at worst a leisure TV show-no social media or cable news that could keep your overstimulated brain awake.
- Body-go to bed early and religiously (9:30 PM for me) at the same time every night. (I know it appears that I am being a “kill-joy,” but maintain this schedule even on weekends as much as possible to avoid the Monday morning grogginess from late nights on the weekends).
All of the above preparation is not to “allow you to sleep in longer” but to help you enter the day with momentum. Therefore, what you do with that proverbial wind at your back determines everything moving forward. The following are some early morning commitments that are helping me gain greater productivity/traction in my life and leadership:
- Body-begin early at the same time every day (6:00 AM for me) with exercise integrated between morning hygiene and then get fully dressed for the work day. (Notice that the previous day ends with body intentionality and the next begins with the same.)
- Home-make your bed, open the curtains/blinds, do others tasks that make your home feel like it is “in motion” for the day as others awake.
- Soul-once body is engaged and clean, engage in reading, prayer, and meditation in a journal format that is repeatable and measurable. (I post a daily takeaway from my devotions early in the morning on social media to keep me accountable on this front.)
- Family-make yourself available to help your husband or wife or kids with any last-minute needs that help them gain momentum in their day.
- Ears-start the day with soothing, semi-upbeat instrumental/background music to set an even-keeled tone for the rest of your day (There are tons of long-form options under “focus music” on YouTube.)
- Deep Work-spend whatever time necessary to collect your thoughts, initiatives, and study for the day in your home office or another “white space” that will take twice as long once you show up at work. (For me, this tends to be about 2 hours worth of “deep work” as Cal Newport would put it before joining the rest of our staff at the church.)
While your specific “office” may be a bit different than mine, I guarantee that anybody in your field that you see and wish you could replicate their productivity is using a similar rubric. As one author put it, “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” It’s not what they are doing in the office that differentiates them from the pack; it’s what they are doing when they are not.
Stop blaming your coworkers, customers, parishioners, family members, etc. for regularly starting days a bit flatfooted. Own that the responsibility lies squarely upon your shoulders to step up your game. As Craig Groeschel puts it, “Your potential to lead others is a direct result of your commitment to lead yourself.” Nowhere do leaders today, with so many so-called shortcuts and pervasive distractions, need to exhibit more self-leadership than what they do after and before their next day in the office.
Proverbs 24:27 reminds us that we ought to be certain that a well-ordered life has been established before embarking upon any family or vocational endeavors, “Prepare thy work without (literally means “outside”), and make it fit (get everything ready) for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.”