HR Management

The First 5 Minutes: How to Turn Good Intentions Into Finished Work

5 minutes

People often talk to me about having great intentions about what they want to get done on a given day or week.

But then, they get to work and it all those good intentions go out the window as they deal with all the urgent crap that comes up.

We are all faced with constant distractions and interruptions from others — not to mention a fair amount of wasted time that we inflict upon ourselves through procrastination, 2000 messages in our inbox, or just the general chaos that leaves us waiting, searching, or wasting time vs. doing.

Create your daily five minute plan

I have found a simple practice that only takes five (5) minutes, and it makes an enormous difference in turning those good intentions into finished work.

Each day, before you do anything else, spend the first five minutes planning your day. Think about and write down, “what are the specific things I need to finish today?”

That’s it.

The simple act of doing this shifts your whole mind set from chaos to control.

Take control of your day

You start your day defining and taking control of the kind of day you want to have instead of starting your day reacting to whatever came in on email.

If you start your day by reacting to email, you have ceded the kind of day you are going to have to everyone else.

Sure, on minute six when you “finally” look at your email, there might be something that you must do right away, but if you did the planning beforehand, you will think and act very differently.

Be more productive

Instead of just jumping into reactive mode, by having thought about what you want to get done that day, you give yourself the chance to judge the priority of your intended plans against the new things that have “come up.”

Photo by istockphoto.com

Instead of just getting on the roller coaster by jumping in and reacting, you might decide to first knock two quick things off your list because they are quick and important, and then work on the reactive, urgent tasks during the rest of the day.

Or you might decide that this new task and your thing are tasks that deserve equal time, so you come up with a strategy to make enough progress on both of them by spending no more than four hours each.

If you didn’t think about your plan ahead of time, this new thing you are reacting to will just take over your mind and your time, and you will fail to make progress on the things you intended to get done.

A real example from today…

As an example, today, my my five minutes of planning generated this list: create a proposal for a client that is due tomorrow, work on a key webpage on my website, exercise, answer five specific emails, and publish my blog for this week.

Once I looked at my incoming email, I discovered website issues, new requests, and a plea for help from a colleague.

I decided to lead with the website issues for the first hour, then create the proposal (for up to 2 hours, which I finished), then exercise, the answer the 5 specific emails, then help my colleague, then publish my blog. I got a start on my webpage project, and put the rest of my webpage work on my plan for tomorrow.

Without my plan, I can tell you I would have spent the whole day reacting, not getting my stuff done, (and convincing myself that there wasn’t time in the day to exercise).

But with my five minute plan in focus, I got almost everything on my list done, plus all the reactive, (important) stuff that came in. There were plenty of emails I did not reply to today.

Does it have to be the morning?

Some people prefer to do this at the end of the work day, or before they go to bed. That is fine. Just make sure:

  1. You take five minutes to make a plan every day.
  2. That you look at it first thing — before you look at your email.

Additionally, know that your brain is very receptive first thing in the morning.

What you feed your brain in the first 15 minutes after waking will have a lot to do with the kind of day you have.

So why feed it email? Why not fill it with good stuff instead? Something that energizes you?

Whether or not you use the morning to build your five minute plan for the day, keep control of the first 15 to 30 minutes of your day by keeping email (and everyone else in the world) out of it.

Then YOU can decide the kind of day you want to have when you wake up in the morning.

Don’t let email ruin your day

If your email is going to piss you off, you will be much more capable of handling it, without it ruining your mood and your day, if you deal with it in minute 31 vs. the first waking minute of your day.

Instead of letting email get you all riled up first thing in the morning, use that time connect with your spouse, your kids, your pets, or yourself — first. The before you dive into email, make your 5 minute plan or check the one you made last night.

You will have a much better shot at having a good, productive day that makes you feel accomplished and happy if you start your day in a positive way that you keep control of.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .
  • Phil Pickman

    Good advice. Any one of us can make it work.