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Brendon Burchard tells the high performers he coaches to adopt one terribly difficult but highly productive rule each morning: Don’t check e-mail.

“It will increase your productivity by over 30 per cent every week,” he insists on The Charged Life blog.

It’s comfortable and convenient to start the day in your inbox. But he points out the inbox is nothing but a convenient organizing system of other people’s agendas. “Why is the world controlling your first hour?” he asks.

Instead, take control by sitting down with a piece of paper and writing, “What is it I am working on right now?” List the major projects and the four or five things you must next accomplish on those projects. Consider the people you need to reach out to today to get those projects moving, perhaps because they must make a decision. Ultimately, you want a list of three to five things that must be done that day – no matter what.

In short, what is it you need? That starts you off with intention on your own agenda, rather than reacting to other people’s needs.

There’s a second component to his advice, which mirrors the first directive: Don’t look at e-mail during the last hour of your day. And by that he doesn’t mean the last hour at work, but the last hour before bed.

He says each e-mail fires neuro-hormones in your brain, and even if you fall asleep fast, you won’t get a good night’s rest. The brain is more active than you want it to be. “Looking at our posts is like cocaine today for the brain, so what we have to do in that last hour is, don’t look at it,” he says. And also, of course, don’t look during the first hour of the next day. It’s a digital diet for greater productivity.

Here are some other productivity tips:

  • If an e-mail is somebody else’s agenda, don’t respond immediately. Nate Klemp, co-founder of the Life Cross Training consultancy, says in Inc. that while it feels good to turn around an e-mail quickly – or a text or phone call, for that matter – it’s an ephemeral feeling of pleasure that comes at the cost of using your time thoughtfully. “See what happens when you become less responsive. If you ordinarily respond to e-mails within 30 minutes, try three hours. If you ordinarily respond within three hours, try six,” he writes. The gain will be focus. To do that, he urges you to “make friends with the incomplete.” Again, you are avoiding a supposed pleasant state for something that may seem highly uncomfortable. After all, in school, “incomplete” is failure. “See if you can resist the urge to hurl yourself at your inbox. See what it’s like to go out to dinner with your partner or friends knowing you haven’t done it all. It may feel terrible – it certainly does for me – but remind yourself that this is the path to freedom,” he says.
  • Take a long walk with your dog every morning as you avoid e-mail. Leadership coach Susan Hilger shuns not only e-mail and texts but even client calls at the start of the day, preferring journaling or a long, meditative walk with her dog.
  • Figure out what your productivity kryptonite is. High-performance coach Rich Gee says there is always some activity – engaging with co-workers, surfing, dealing with clients or something else – that distracts you and keeps you from being a Superman or Superwoman. Avoid it, when you can.

Quick Hits

  • The most crucial skill we tend not to work on developing is the ability to see situations through the eyes of others, says consultant Art Petty. It’s hard work, and comes by asking questions until you understand what others need.
  • Your focus on the other may be improved by having your team start each day with everyone announcing how they feel on a scale of one to 10. Consultant Mike Kerr says that not only forces you to realize when you have to be careful and reset your attitude but when you might reach out to help a colleague.
  • Take the pressure off yourself when it comes to family meals. Daisy Wademan Dowling, co-founder of a consultancy that advises working parents and their employers, says on Harvard Business Review that often when you think of a family meal you imagine a hearty, home-cooked meal served nightly on real china. Change your expectations to perhaps one such meal a week or some family breakfasts – more realistic scenarios for working parents.
  • You probably have heard your résumé should be confined to one page. But executive recruiter Gerald Walsh says that’s only realistic if you are very senior and well-established in your field. Otherwise it will take two pages to explain your background properly and, in some cases, perhaps three.
  • If your company is acquired, blogger Dan Rockwell says you should prepare to be terminated. Reconnect with friends and build new relationships. To improve your chances of remaining with the organization, shift your loyalties – the old is gone, the new has arrived, and if you’re not on board you’ll be viewed as a traitor.

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