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January 21, 2016 // 6:30 AM

How Morning Freewriting Brings Lasting Productivity

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We've all heard that you should never check your email when you first get to the office if you want to start your day at peak productivity. If you're not careful, you'll be lost in a black hole of links, articles, and email chains that don't deserve your morning attention.

But if this is the case, how should you start your most precious working hours?

In Claire Diaz-Oritz' book Design Your Day, she reminded me of one of my favorite productivity analogies involving a jar, a couple of big rocks, and a ton of small pebbles. If you start by pouring in all of the small pebbles, you won't be able to fit the larger rocks. Now, flip your process. Begin with the big rocks, and all of your pebbles fit in nicely. Consider Ortiz' thinking:

Life is the same way. It's easy to fill up a day or a life with an endless series of pebbles and then not have the time, energy, or resources to fit in the big rocks. A life well designed is about making sure that the important stuff stays important, day in and day out."

In other words, start your day with the largest, most intensive task. If you've prioritized your to-do list during yesterday's end-of-day ritual, you should already know what that task is.

However, when you come back in the morning, there is a large possibility your mind is either racing because of all the tasks you need to get done or you're groggy from a severe lack of caffeine. Neither of these states are ideal places to be when you need to tackle that "big rock" first thing.

Enter the brilliance of freewriting. Before you start your day -- and yes, even before you log into your laptop -- have a notebook and pen in hand. Check the clock. For 10 minutes, just write.

Before you think freewriting is just for your marketing friends or a middle school English class, consider this: According to a study from Harvard Business School, regular workplace journaling is one of the best ways to improve professional performance. Not to mention research shows that occasionally writing by hand improves both memory and creativity.

Writers, of course, use this exercise to get past writer's block. But for anyone else, freewriting will bring perspective to your work and narrow down the focus of your day. Even if your job involves absolutely no writing, this quick morning ritual will help you move past the mindset of prioritizing and ease into the heavy lifting of your day.

As a salesperson, don't underestimate the emotional toll your work has on you. Emails, phone calls, and prospecting affect both your physical and psychological ability to focus on the task at hand. Morning journaling recognizes that truth, and helps you eliminate any subconscious roadblocks that prevent you from being your most productive self.

Does this mean you writing has to center around what you need to get done that day? Of course not. That would defeat the purpose of this being freewriting. Although it may take some time, train yourself not to stress over what works to put on the page. It could be as trivial as the song stuck in your head from your morning commute, or as daunting as how you are going to close that deal.

Consider mine from this morning:

Today, I am starting to get stressed about the number of things I need to get done in the coming weeks. Writing my blog post will definitely be my priority. But after lunch, my focus has to be design. For this ebook, I need to brainstorm data visuals earlier in the writing process ... "

The idea is, by writing what you know -- whatever it may be on that particular morning -- you'll be able to sort out your thoughts and leave behind anything clouding your best thinking.

Use these prompts if you’re stuck:

  • Recently, I’m struggling with …

  • If I had more time in the day, I’d use it to ...

  • Today, I’ll relieve stress by …

  • I feel out of my comfort zone when …

  • My work is motivated by …

  • This week, I’m thankful for …

  • Today, I should avoid …

  • I feel fulfilled at work when ...

  • From my team, I’m proud of …

  • I work best when ...


Remember, with freewriting there is no wrong answer. It doesn't have to be pretty, or even legible for that matter. Embrace the stream of consciousness purge to clear your mind. Besides, what better way to boost your morning morale than to start with an automatic win?

Before long, your mornings will become a coveted part of your day -- a time you can rely on to release tension and generate fresh ideas.

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