Let me be candid – and let me hope it doesn’t get me in too much trouble with the editor.
When I arrive at the office every morning, I never quite start work straightaway.
I make a cup of tea and I have a chat with a couple of colleagues. I check the news from around the world, I glance through my Twitter account, and I reply to a couple of quick personal emails.
If there’s been a football match in Europe overnight, I might check the score; get sucked into the match report.
I take a sip of my tea. I look around. More colleagues have arrived. How are they? What did they get up to last night? Did they have anything nice for tea?
I look back at my screen. It’s 9.15am. I figure I should probably start some work…
And if that sort of routine – essentially losing the first quarter of an hour of the day – all sounds depressingly familiar, beware. It seems that this apparently inconsequential pattern of behaviour may actually be doing untold damage to our career prospects and professional happiness.
Business leaders, life coaches and career experts in the UAE are increasingly emphasising how those who waste the first and last 10 minutes of the office day are less likely to be productive, successful or content in their employment.
These first moments, runs the theory, take on a disproportionate importance in setting the tone for the next eight hours. If we’re not focused, it can put us behind and throw us of kilter all day. By the same token, the last thing you do before you leave can critically alter your effectiveness and efficiency when morning comes round again.
‘It’s imperative that you start and finish off right,’ says Michael Kerr, international business speaker, in his acclaimed book, You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humour to Work.
But here’s the good news, folks. If this is a problem you can identify in yourself, there are simple steps to fix it. And, if you can efficiently use that dead time when most people are gearing up or winding down, you really can get ahead in the workplace.
Friday speaks to a variety of experts – CEOs, HR executives, business experts and life coaches – and presents the five things successful people tend to do when they arrive in the morning and before they leave in the evening. If you follow the advice, you could well see your career prospects boosted with ease. And if I follow it, maybe the editor will overlook that first paragraph and decide not to call me into her office for a word…
At the start of the day
1 Arrive early
It sounds so obvious it should barely need saying, but don’t just get to the office on time – be there and ready to crack on a few minutes before.
Why? Two reasons. First, to take command of your day. ‘It doesn’t matter that you’re not contracted to be in until 9am. Get in and working at 8.56 or 8.57,’ says Priya Johnston, a UK-based higher education HR executive. ‘It helps you get ahead and that makes you feel good the whole day. It can change your entire mindset and that’s worth sacrificing a few minutes’ sleep for.’
Second, arriving early keeps the boss sweet. A 2014 University of Washington study found if two colleagues work exactly the same hours but at staggered times, it is the one who starts earlier who is viewed to be more conscientious and business-focused than the one who arrives later.
2 Hydrate with water
Sure, we all like a caffeine boost to start the day, but think about replacing a sugary drink with water. It will not only hydrate you better – especially important in the UAE’s hot, humid climate – but also give you greater mental energy over a longer period of time.
This is because water is better at topping up our energy hormone cortisol, whereas caffeine taken too early in the day – any time before 9.30am, scientists reckon – will simply numb the efficiency of our natural energy and make us more reliant on the caffeine. Perhaps, just as importantly, it’s far quicker to pour a glass of water than brew up. Ipso facto: you can be at your desk and ready to start sooner.
3 Do NOT deal with emails
Once you’re sat in your chair early and hydrated, it’s tempting to dive straight into the slew of messages that have arrived overnight.
Don’t. Scan them. Prioritise anything that’s urgent. Then, leave the rest for later.
‘This is the key mistake I think a lot of people make,’ says Raza Beig, CEO of Splash, the Dubai-based fashion retailer. ‘Replying to emails is a self-perpetuating task. Every one you answer leads to a reply, and more work. And before you know it, you’ve spent half your morning dealing with your inbox, but not really achieved anything. That’s not productive, and it doesn’t move the business forward. I always prioritise more important tasks and big decisions while I’m fresh.’
4 Plan. List. Schedule
Some people like to buckle straight down once at their desk. But to work without a plan is to be unprepared. Don’t dive straight in. Take a few moments to focus on what you want to achieve that day and how you can go about doing so.
‘Successful people always have an idea of where the day is going,’ says Raza, who has worked his way up over 23 years from the shop floor at Splash. ‘For me, that means making a priorities list, writing down a few things I want to get done, and reviewing my calendar for meetings or appointments. It may take 10 minutes, but it saves time in the long run by making the next eight hours far more efficient.’
5 Eat the frog early
Frogs – a term coined by American business guru Brian Tracy – are the projects you don’t especially enjoy tackling. It’s all too easy to keep putting them off and finding an excuse to push them aside for another day.
But workers who get ahead will stop delaying and smash into such jobs first thing.
‘By eating the frog early, you give yourself a psychological boost for the rest of the day,’ says Ghada Zakaria, executive leadership coach with Authenticity Coaching and Consultancy in Al Barsha, Dubai.
‘What you do is commit to getting this unpleasant job done straightaway and that means it’s not sitting there in the back of your mind, overshadowing everything else. It’s positive, affirmative action.’
At the end of the day
1 Go through your emails
The eminent American psychologist Ron Friedman described dealing with emails as similar to a chef cleaning the pots. It needs doing, of course, but it ain’t why he’s in the kitchen. So, make like Gordon Ramsey and leave the big clean-up until the end of the day.
Indeed, New York-based business coach Julie Morgenstern was so adamant that answering emails could distract from success, she called her first book Never Check E-Mail In The Morning And Other Unexpected Strategies For Making Your Work Life Work.
Raza agrees with both.
‘Going through emails is the last thing I do,’ he says. ‘It’s not a job that requires a great deal of brain power or creative thinking, so it’s a good one to leave until you’re finishing up.’ Plus, it means you arrive the next day to a relatively tidy inbox. A win-win.
2 Stay back if needed...
Not everyone wants to remain late at work but spending a little time after 5pm, wrapping up any jobs you’re in the middle of, is generally good practice.
‘Personally,’ says Priya, ‘I prefer to spend half an hour working over my clocking off time and completing a task than go home knowing that when I arrive in the morning, I’ve still got to finish it. It enables you to relax better in the evening and enjoy your downtime more.’
3 ...But not too late and not unnecessarily
If you’re getting to the point where you’re on first-name terms with the cleaners who come in a couple of hours after everyone else has gone home, you’re staying too long.
This is not the way to catch the boss’s eye. It’s just the quickest route to burning out.
Downtime is important. Leaving the office so you have time for family, friends and hobbies is not only key for a well-rounded life, but also helpful professionally, says Carmen Benton, founder of LifeWorks, a personal development training centre in Umm Suqeim, Dubai.
‘Achieving balance is difficult, but it’s vital for an enjoyable, successful and healthy life.
‘If you find yourself constantly staying late, you need to reassess what you can do during the day to finish at a more reasonable hour. You need to be strict with yourself.’
In short, successful people don’t work into the night. They make themselves more efficient during the day.
4 Reflect on today, plan for tomorrow
If you’re having a quick personal planning session in the morning (as we’ve already recommended), it might seem inefficient and counter-intuitive to have one the evening before too.
Not so, says Sujan Patel, entrepreneur and contributor to Forbes magazine.
Having a personal debrief on what you did well today and thinking ahead to tomorrow is important to ensure you’re focused and bang in the zone when you back again in the morning. ‘Knowing that you’ve prepared as well as possible for tomorrow will help you leave the day behind and put you in a good mood for the rest of the evening,’ says Sujan.
5 Tidy your work area
Clean environment, clean mind may be an oft-cited technique that contributes to overall well-being, but it’s just as vital when it comes to work life.
Filing away documents, ordering paperwork, getting rid of clutter and wiping down your desk is a two- or three-minute job. But it will improve your efficiency inordinately in the long run.
After all, how often do we all waste time looking for paperwork we never filed properly or on time? Additionally, says Carmen, the exercise offers a psychological boost in terms of sitting at a tidy, mess-free workstation every morning.
Ensure you have a comfy chair, good lighting and everything you’ll need tomorrow – phone, keyboard, memory stick – at hand before you leave.
‘Some people take pride in being so busy that they don’t have to clear space,’ says Carmen. ‘But clutter will catch up to you. A clean slate every morning better clears your mind for the day’s tasks.’