A different kind of morning ritual
Google “morning ritual” and you’ll find hundreds of suggested rituals. Some are focused on the time before you begin your workday, others have elements for how you structure your day, still others for dealing with particular types of events in your day, etc. One I found that particularly caught my attention was “3 Secrets to Having a Better Morning,” from Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree.”
Everyone has a morning routine. Some individuals have a consistent, fairly detailed process that they more-or-less follow every day. Others have an outline that they work from filling in the details as they go along. Still others have a set of principles that they follow to guide them to a successful day. And, some just let the day happen.
Eric Barker suggests that the most important function of the morning ritual is to set your mood for the day. He notes that research has demonstrated that your mood in the morning affects your productivity for the entire day. The good news is that you can set your mood. Barker suggests three things you need to do:
1. Feel a sense of purpose. Dan Pink, motivation expert and bestselling author, believes that a sense of purpose is one of the most motivating things we can have. Barker quotes Pink as saying: “Purpose is, ‘Am I doing something in service of a cause larger than myself, or, at the very least, am I making a contribution in my own world?’” Barker goes on to say that feeling that your life has purpose and meaning not only makes you feel alive; it keeps you alive.
If you don’t feel that what you’re doing now gives you a sense of purpose, Duke professor Dan Ariely suggests that you “reframe” your experience. You may not be able to change “what” you do but you can change “how” you see it. Look through the lens of how what you are doing helps another, serves a greater purpose, instead of seeing it as just another a task. For example, instead of seeing the next question to the service desk as simply helping another clueless client, see it as helping a student, a faculty member, an administrator, … to do work to complete his or her class assignment, research project, etc. Ariely writes in his book Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes our Motivations: “…if we are feeling bored and unmotivated, we can ask ourselves: ‘How is the work I’m doing helping someone down the road? What meaning can I find here?’ With this type of mind-set, chances are that we will be able to find a positive answer.” We can see the value in what we are doing.
So, as you review your calendar for the day, you can take on a new point of view, a new perspective, and better understand the purpose, the root why, you are taking on the task.
2. Feel in control. Work does not go well when you do not feel that you are in control. Barker says that you feel more in control and have greater confidence if you have concrete goals. So, as you plan your day, work to define a clear outcome for each of the tasks listed on your calendar for today. Neuroscience suggests that your brain likes it when you make decisions (i.e., remove uncertainty) and set objective goals.
3. Feel Optimistic. Barker notes that “Researchers tested soldiers on endurance. Turns out it had a lot more to do with their head than their legs. The researchers put it like this: ‘Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.’” Shlomo Breznitz and Collins Hemingway, in Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom write: “…the brain does not want the body to expend its resources unless we have a reasonable chance of success. Our physical strength is not accessible to us if the brain does not believe in the outcome, because the worst possible thing for humans to do is expend all of our resources and fail. If we do not believe we can make it, we will not get the resources we need to make it. The moment we believe, the gates are opened, and a flood of energy is unleashed. Both hope and despair are self-fulfilling prophecies.”
Barker suggests that you think about your goal and the obstacles and then determine how you can overcome them. You are much more hopeful and persistent when you have considered carefully the possible obstacles as you develop your plan.
So, in Barker’s view the keys for a good day are a sense of purpose, control, and optimism that you can meet your objectives. You need to plan your work – each item on your agenda – accordingly. As you lay out your day, carefully consider when to do what work. Follow Mark Twain’s old adage – “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – and do your most challenging tasks early in the day. Find time for “silence” when you’re doing that most challenging task as well as to take short breaks during the day to restore your mental and physical balance.
These changes in how you plan you work will indeed make a significant difference.
Do make it a great week. . . jim
Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Eric Barker, 3 Secrets to Having a Better Morning,” Time.com, July 2017. (The essay appeared earlier in Barker’s book.)
Brian Scudamore, 6 Morning Rituals That Will Make Your Productive All Day, Forbes.com, April 2017.
Evan Lee, The Morning Routines of the Most Successful People, Fast Company, July 2014.