Many professionals often spend their initial moments at their desks checking emails or listening to voice messages. However, a more effective approach to starting your day is to begin with a brief planning session. By envisioning what you want to accomplish and prioritizing your tasks, you can differentiate between truly important activities and those that merely feel urgent. Breaking down complex tasks into specific actions and starting each item on your to-do list with a verb can help you minimize cognitive load later in the day and reduce procrastination. Furthermore, focusing on tasks that require the most mental energy early in the day can enhance productivity and performance.
In the kitchen of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain (who sadly passed away in 2018), the concept of mise-en-place is highly valued. Mise-en-place, meaning "everything in its place," involves studying recipes, preparing tools and ingredients, and creating a plan before starting to cook. It is not just a time-saving technique but a mindset that allows chefs to approach their work with precision and concentration.
Although most of us don't work in kitchens, we can still greatly benefit from adopting a similar approach in our professional lives. When you arrive at your desk, rather than immediately checking email or voicemail, take a moment for a brief planning session—an intellectual mise-en-place. Pose this question to yourself: "If the day were over and I felt incredibly accomplished, what would I have achieved?"
This exercise helps you distinguish between tasks that may feel urgent but are not necessarily important and those that truly contribute to your goals. Use it to identify the activities you want to prioritize and focus your energy on.
To effectively execute your plan, break down complex tasks into specific actions. Productivity expert David Allen suggests starting each item on your to-do list with a verb, which makes your intentions concrete. Instead of listing a general task like "Monday's presentation," break it down into specific action items such as "collect sales figures," "draft slides," and "incorporate images into the deck."
Research shows that setting specific goals increases the likelihood of success. By mapping out each step in advance, you reduce the cognitive load later in the day and minimize the tendency to procrastinate.
Prioritizing your tasks is also crucial. Whenever possible, begin your day by focusing on tasks that require the most mental energy. As the day progresses, our willpower diminishes, so tackling challenging items—especially those demanding concentration and mental agility—early on is advantageous.
The entire process can be completed in less than 10 minutes but offers significant benefits throughout the day. By starting your morning with a brief planning session, you make important decisions when your mind is fresh. Additionally, having a concrete list of action items rather than vague goals becomes invaluable later in the day, when fatigue sets in and complex thinking becomes more challenging.
With this approach, you no longer need to pause and think through each step of your task. Like a master chef, you can devote your full attention to their execution, enhancing your efficiency and effectiveness. Take advantage of the first 10 minutes of your day to set a clear direction and optimize your productivity.