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How to Maximize the First 3 Hours of the Workday to Reduce Your Stress


Working incredibly long hours and rarely taking vacations is the new normal, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for us. In fact, the pressure and stress is taking a toll on U.S. workers. Working all the time causes emotional and psychological problems, impacts our health, our personal lives, and even our memories. So what can we do to make work more manageable?

early bird gets the worm 

(Photo Credit: Andrew Morffew/Flickr)

One strategy for reducing the tension is to get the bulk of your work done before lunch – which might sound impossible at first. However, with a little planning and preparation in advance, you can maximize the first three hours of your workday to significantly reduce your stress. Here are some tips.

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1. Understand that many of us do our best work in the morning.

One effective way to reduce stress is to work less. And, one way to work less is to work smarter, maximizing the time we spend at the office so that we can cut out a little sooner. An awful lot of people feel that they do their best work in the morning, and science has shown that the first two hours of the day might be our most productive. However, we often don’t maximize these hours the way we should. Instead, we ease into the day, puttering slowly through tasks and “gearing up” for the real work that starts a little later.

The first key to maximizing your mornings is to realize their awesome potential. If you’re a morning person, realize that the first few hours of the day are important for you and commit to using them wisely and intentionally.

2. Get to work early.

As tempting as that snooze button can be (we’ll talk more about sleep later) there could be some real benefits to not only ignoring it, but actually waking up even earlier than necessary. Getting to work early gives you time to take care of tasks before others arrive with their distractions and requests. Most importantly, it allows you to feel super prepared for the official start of the day. By the time others arrive, you feel ahead of the game, which will give you a feeling of control and accomplishment that should support your productivity and energy levels for the rest of the morning.

3. Set a schedule the day before, clean your office, and then stick to the plan.

This is really three tips lumped together into one, but it’s all a part of the same master plan. In short, you need to prepare for productive mornings the day before, and then you should resolve to follow the schedule you’ve set for yourself.

Prepare your schedule for the next morning before you leave the office the day prior, and also tidy up your workspace a bit so that you’re ready to hit the ground running. When the morning comes, stick to that plan. If someone has a request, let them know that you’ll be happy to attend to that item right after lunch. Your morning is full … just the way you like it.

4. Take care of your body.

In order to use the first few hours of the day to their full potential, you need to be well-rested. If you’re tired and dragging, this time isn’t nearly as ripe with potential. Not surprisingly, sleep is the real key to productivity, yet so many of us still neglect to get adequate rest a lot of nights. Make sleep a bigger priority in your life and your waking hours will be more effective.

Similarly, exercise has been proven to increase productivity and improve cognitive functioning. It can be difficult for busy folks to make the time to exercise, but it might be easier to make it happen when you embrace the fact that working out will help you get more done in less time throughout the rest of the day.

5. Try to schedule meetings for the afternoon.

Let’s face it, meetings are often a huge waste of time. If possible, try to schedule yours for after lunch. Better yet, reduce the time you spend in meetings as much as you can. Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over this. But, making others aware of your preference for p.m. meetings can’t hurt.

6. Please, please, don’t check your email first thing in the morning.

A lot of folks start the day by checking their email, often before they’ve even arrived at work. But, email can waste a tremendous amount of our time. So, don’t start your day with this. Save email for later in the day, and consider limiting the number of times you check in. Your mornings will be much more productive as a result, which should help to reduce your stress overall. That’s more important than getting to that inbox right away, isn’t it?

7. Do the toughest tasks (usually your writing) first.

Since mornings are often such a fruitful and productive time of day, use them to settle your toughest tasks. Writing work is very mentally demanding, so taking care of these projects first should help the rest of the day run more smoothly. Getting the hardest stuff out of the way early on will give you a little emotional and mental boost that should help you stay happy and productive as the day progresses.

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