The Importance of Doing the Important Things First

My default, mindless way to start the day is to lounge in my favorite chair with a good cup of coffee and my phone in my hand. From there, it’s easy to spend the next two hours browsing my favorite sources for content. I scroll through Feedly, my Twitter lists, Flipboard, and my email. It feels productive. I read lots of things, upload about 20 things into Evernote, and take lots of notes about things to write and read about.

But those days are never really productive. I feel anxious by 8am, and I spend the day trying to recover. My tasks are one form of procrastination followed by another, and the anxiety lingers throughout the day. I’m so flooded with content that I can’t decide what to write about. So, I usually end up doing my most important work after dinner when there is no more time to procrastinate, the same way we used to pull all-nighters before an exam.

On the other hand, if I start my day in a deliberate, focused way, my day ends up being more than productive. There are several different versions of my morning routine, but they all involve staying offline for at least two hours after I wake up. I drink a good cup of coffee, read a book (off my iPad), meditate, practice yoga, go for a walk. And I write. I do the important things first, and afterwards, I can work on the research, content browsing, writing emails, engaging on social media, and other less important tasks. Even when I had a more traditional 8 to 5 job, I tried to structure the more important things first, even if it involved waking up at 4am.

In Deep Work, Cal Newport writes, “Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” The difference between the default and deliberate ways to start my day are focus. By starting my day disconnected, I can deepen my focus instead of feeding my dependence on distraction.

How do you structure your day? Are you doing the important things first? Are you arranging your day so that you get the important things done before they become urgent?

Or are you feeding your distractions? Procrastinating? Resisting?

If you want to be productive and if you want to move past being an amateur, it’s important to do the important things first.


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