People First HR Services

First 60 minutes can make your workday

Colleen Coates

Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Fortunately, this wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but is a colourful metaphor for smart time management: get the most undesirable task out of the way first thing, and the balance of your day will go much smoother. Tackling the least desirable job first may come as a bit of a surprise strategy, especially to slow starters who prefer wading into the workday one toe at a time, but it’s one way to ensure you make the most of your first 60 minutes of your day.

Here’s another quote from economist Richard Whatley that’s not only a little more palatable, but underscores the importance of hitting the ground running: “Lose an hour in the morning and you will be all day hunting for it.”

Some of the most successful people in the business world use their first hour in surprising but effective ways. For instance, Tumblr founder David Karp says he does not check his emails from home first thing in the morning because it doesn’t feel good or productive. Plus, he says, if the matter is truly urgent, he knows that someone will undoubtedly call or text.

For most of us, checking our overnight emails as soon as our bleary eyes can focus is like a reflex. But Karp might be on to something here.

Resisting the temptation to scroll through messages eliminates unnecessary distraction that keeps us from concentrating on those “frogs” that need to be handled first thing. By checking your email first, you risk doing what someone else wants you to do instead — and why give someone else the power to change your top priorities?

Here are some other strategies for getting your day off to a great start:

Arrive on time. Showing up late for work can derail your entire day, not to mention that it makes an unfavourable impression on your co-workers and boss. But getting in on time helps get your mind in the game and promotes a feeling of accomplishment.

Take advantage of the peace and quiet. If possible, getting to work before anyone else lets you set your own pace and stay on track. Without the interruption of the phone ringing and no one to look over your shoulder or stop by to gab, you should be able to power through the work that needs to get done.

Fuel up mentally and physically. If you’re not a morning person, do whatever it takes to come in to the office with a positive attitude even if that means taking time to stop for breakfast and a second cup of coffee. Your mood affects others, so be aware of the impact your attitude has on their day.

Start with a clean slate. While you may have to work on unfinished projects, treat each day as a new one with fresh eyes and a clear perspective. This renewed approach may help you come up with innovative ideas and tap into previously-overlooked solutions to problems.

Take a deep breath. Do something to focus on the here and now, rather than bringing any baggage from home or a stressful commute to your workplace. Slow down and take few precious moments to calm and centre your thoughts before slipping into work mode.

Reward yourself at the 60-minute mark. When you successfully complete the tasks you needed to finish, mark the end of the hour by giving yourself a mini-reward: a coffee break, a breath of fresh air, a brief stretch and walk around the office, a chat with a co-worker or even a little treat. You’ve earned it.

Leave a to-do list at the end of the day. Determine tomorrow morning’s priorities and create a list of what needs to be accomplished in the first hour of the day. You’ll appreciate the reminder of what’s what while clearing away those morning cobwebs. At the same time, organize any needed materials so that no time is wasted once the clock starts ticking.

The first hour of the workday sets the tone for the following seven hours, so make sure you use it wisely by charting a course for a successful day. By remaining committed to positive habits every morning, you should be able to end your day on a productive note.


— With reporting by Barbara Chabai


Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 6, 2013 H2