You know those mornings when you wake up knowing exactly what to do and you jump in to do it without a second thought?

Mornings like this usually lead to the most fulfilling and productive days, and yet in my experience they are rather rare.

Left to my own devices, I tend to be a slow starter in the morning, and even after sitting down to work, it can take me a good half hour to really get started.

If I’m being honest, sometimes more.

This often involves unproductive rituals like checking email or the news, etc., and then muddling around until I remember what I’m supposed to be doing.

Unfortunately, muddling around like this can color the whole day.

However, I find that if I can avoid that part, not only is the whole day more productive, but I often end up finishing what I thought would take a full day in the first few hours.

I recently started doing something simple that cuts through the morning fog and consistently yields productive, clear-clear headed days.

The Method

It could hardly be simpler.

In the evening, once you’re done working, write or type yourself a brief note summarizing what you did that day and what needs to be done the next day.

It doesn’t even have to be everything you need to do the next day, just the first thing, along with whatever reminders might be helpful. For example, where you saved documents that you will need, what exact problem it was you were trying to solve, etc.

Then, the next morning, make sure one of the first things you do is read it.

If you’re working from home, do this upon waking or soon after.

If you commute into an office like me, it can wait until you sit down at your desk.

Then, jump right in and start working on it for at least half an hour.

Obviously, this is different if you have a meeting first thing, but generally you should aim for something about like this.

Why it works

For starters, it keeps you from poking around and wasting time on things you do out of habit that are not productive. Not only does that waste time, it wastes what is potentially your most productive, energetic, clear-headed hours of the day.

Notice that I say that not even naturally being much of a morning person.

I think it also has something to do with memory.

For some reason it seems like the first things that happen in the day are the ones that stick in your mind. What you think about in the morning is likely what will stick around in your subconscious and keep returning to your mind later in the day.

If you’re going to dwell on something it might as well be something productive

I’m also pretty convinced at this point that your mind continues working on problems while you sleep, so by crystallizing your problems at the end of the day, you make it much more likely that you can take advantage of sleep problem solving.

You might even consider reading the note right before you go to bed. However, don’t do this if you tend to get caught up in your work to the extent that it keeps you awake.

Why it beats a to-do list

Recall that this is a blog about focus, not about organization. Due to my work, I tend to have one big thing to work on at a time and I can usually avoid lots of small tasks.

The thing about to-do lists is that they aren’t natural for many of us.

For one, unless you’re really good at doing and checking off items, the list of items tends to grow to a demoralizing length.

This is particularly a problem in the mornings, as the last thing you want to feel first thing in the morning is overwhelmed.

If you feel that first thing in the morning, you’ll probably feel it all day and it will severely undermine your happiness and productivity. It’s far better to not look at lists until AFTER you’ve gotten something substantial done.

The same list will look a lot shorter if you first look at after you’ve done something to feel productive and build momentum.

The morning note feels more like a friend who is there to help you rather than a boss who’s wondering why your tasks aren’t done yet.

In this way, it helps kill avoidance, which is a big driver of procrastination.

There are a lot of organization systems and tools out there, but they tend to take a lot of work to get started and to maintain. Here at The Focus Formulas we believe in keeping it as simple and easy as possible.

The Morning Note Method is most effective when you’re concentrating on one big task, rather than a whole bunch of small ones. It’s easy to start and to maintain but dramatically effective.

The Morning Note Method is an example of something I came up with recently. Usually that would go to my email newsletter well before being worked into a blogpost.

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