While reading a business article on how to work better (as opposed to just working) one entry intrigued me.
“Don’t check emails before 10”.
The justification, according to the journalist, was a psychological one: When you check your emails first thing in the morning, as many of us do, you are immediately placed into a reactive frame of mind.
In other words, you are not making your own decisions. You are catering to the demands of other people. The typical morning inbox is a veritable cuckoos nest of demands, requests and commentary – one sometimes so stressful we need to inject ourselves with caffeine just to make it through the mere thought of dealing with it. And we all deal with it. Every day.
Particularly when you work for an international business crossing time zones – and given the ease of access afforded by the internet, this is now extremely common – it is not unusual for your inbox to span several pages by the time morning rolls around.
Also bear in mind we are checking all this digital documentation while still recovering from the morning commute. Which in London means you were trapped in a steel tube with a group of angry strangers inhaling eau d’armpit for half an hour.
So, rather than succumbing to the siren-call of the daily email drudge, what do you do instead? Well, this is what I endeavored to find out. I decide to put this theory to the test and go an entire week not checking my work emails before 10am.
The most interesting thing in putting creative and innovation-based projects first, as opposed to getting the demoralising monotony mail mountain out the way, is the level of energy and freshness of ideas available to you. Rather than passively going about the tasks your mailbox has dictated, you are in control – actively pursuing projects instead (this blog post being, appropriately, a case in point).
Doing important projects first thing in the day, additionally, means you are doing them without stress nesting in your brain like some sort of unwanted, overly-chatty squatter. Your brain is a blank canvas, ready to be inspired and translate those thoughts, colours and ideas into the task before you. Because the distractions are minimal, the engagement with the task is much higher.
Not to mention this hour also gives you a moment to breathe as you go about organising your tasks and goals – something proven to be beneficial for a better work life.
Psychologically, after that single hour of uninterrupted working bliss in which you have dived straight into your latest project, you will feel a satisfying sense of achievement. Why? Because it was something which you chose to do and you have created. This is a block of time for those ‘unexpected’ projects – the ones traditionally left for ‘when I have time’ (and trust me, you never will).
Moreover this reflects the attitudes towards innovation used by many of the world’s top technology firms. Mark Zuckerberg and his team of developers will cloister themselves away for a few hours at a time in order to brainstorm – in the same manner they did in Harvard’s dormitories at Facebook’s birth. Google, on the other hand, works on the theme of ‘intrapreneurship’. All employees are given freedom each day to pursue their own projects, and this has resulted in many of Google’s most iconic features – including Google News, Google Alerts, GMail and Google Earth.
The concept of freedom in the workplace may seem novel, but it marks a new, and very exciting, step in the corporate world. Large-scale companies are looking back and taking the lessons learned from the energy and enthusiasm of start-up operations. These two powerful emotions come from passion, and passion springs only from genuine interest in what you are doing.
So if you want to do better at work, leave that inbox alone and invest your time more wisely – at least for an hour or two.