How did you start your work day today?

Did you check your texts and open your inbox—and hold on for dear life? Or, did you set a clear intention and take control of its outcome?

Pause for a moment and really think about this question. It’s way too easy these days to show up at work (or your home office) and just ride the wave of email, texting, phone calls, Slack messages, and meetings (and then some). It’s true that checking off items from this constant stream of quick tasks may seem like an accomplishment in the short-term. 

What you won’t notice is your career collapsing under the weight of outside influence. 

This method of working conditions you to operate in a shallow manner. While you may be getting lots done in the trenches, you run the risk of losing focus on things that will advance your career and life success and/or goals. Each day becomes a week, which becomes a month, a year, and eventually a career. If you let other people's agendas and conflicting technology direct what you do each day, then you’re seriously compromised. And may not realize it. 

So, why don’t you shift to a more meaningful approach?  

When most people consider shifting their approach, the initial obstacles are all perceived reasons why things can’t change—and how control of the day is outside of your grasp. I say this is true because you make it true, since your thoughts and actions lead you to this daily outcome.

If you really want to change, you simply need to have a buddy who’s trying to create the same meaningful change. Play a simple game for a week and keep each other apprised of how each other is doing. Don’t try to do this yourself; it won’t work as well. The support and intention you set by sharing the experience is key. Plus, I’m sure your friend could also benefit from this exercise.

Assuming you have your buddy, it’s as simple as two steps:

  1. You can only check email three times a day. Select the times and let your friend know what you’ve selected. Each time you check your email, record how many emails you received, how many were deleted immediately, how many were read and relevant, and how many were truly urgent that you should have read sooner. 

  2. Before you actually start your day, take a look at what’s ahead. This means looking at scheduled meetings, your inbox, and important tasks or conversations that must happen today. Is it all possible? Is some of it unnecessary? Look at the various items in sequence and set your intention. 

At the end of each day, check in with your friend and let them know your stats and if you cheated with additional email checks. Did you get everything done in line with your intention? If yes, why? If no, why?

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I don’t want to gloss over how impactful, yet challenging this simple exercise is. 

You’re going to discover many reasons why your day isn’t what it needs to be—or can be. Objectivity and courage are the most important traits you will need to rock this opportunity and come out on the other side. Seeing your day-to-day with fresh eyes requires a reset on how you view your office, your colleagues, and your boss. It also requires courage to push back on things that don’t make sense in a professional, constructive manner. 

From my experience, if you share this exercise with others, they totally get it and want to do it themselves. You can tell people that you won’t be checking Slack, email, and voicemail constantly and what your schedule will be. You can let them know how to reach you if it’s truly urgent. If you’re working in an environment that doesn’t understand this concept, or the benefits gained when truly tuned in to the important things, then you might want to consider a change. 

The first time I played this game, I was completely astounded with how much time came back into my day when I disconnected from the constant drip of interruptions and dove into the much deeper and meaningful tasks. When you can construct months and years of intentional focus, it’s amazing how much more efficient and rewarding everything becomes. 

So, what’s your plan for the day?