The first project of the day (or how to work ON the business rather than IN the business)

Five years ago I sent out a newsletter with what has turned out to be the most helpful of all the ‘how to’ business tips I have ever found. I could not write blogs, newsletters, work on our web site and so on without having taken the advice below to heart and gradually, slowly, learnt to put it into practice. Here it is.

The First Project of the Day

by Colin Thompson

‘The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.’

– Stephen R. Covey

The US Army used to have a slogan that read ‘We get more done before breakfast than most people do all day’. Over the past few weeks, I have been experimenting with a practical application of this slogan to my working day. Instead of getting started on the overnight e-mails or getting stuck in to my daily task list, I deliberately choose something which *doesn’t* need to be done today and make that the first project of the day.

Here’s what this looked like last week:

Monday: Wrote a few pages of my new book, ‘Quantum Leap’.

Tuesday: Did some on-line research on potential project partners for training work when I visit Ghana.

Wednesday: Wrote an e-course for a new web project.

Thursday: Worked on ‘Quantum Leap’ in the evening.

Friday: Read a few chapters of ‘Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It’ by Cali Ressler and Jodi Thompson, in the office all day working and had a great evening with my wife and friends (Trevor is my friend of 50 years with his wife).

In each case, I spent between 30 – 90 minutes on the project, and in each case I then moved on to my daily dose of e-mails, appointments and to-dos. In other words, I prioritised what was important over what was urgent, knowing that anything which was truly urgent would get done anyway but anything which wasn’t (longer-term goals, projects and explorations) might not.

Now, this is by no means an idea which originates with me — time management experts from Julie Morgenstern (‘Don’t Answer E-mail in the Morning’) to Mark Forster (‘Do it Tomorrow’) and Michael Masterson (‘Automatic Wealth’) have been preaching the benefits of beginning your day on your terms for years. But what has been a revelation to me is just how much easier it is to get stuff done *before* I open myself up to the input of the day.

Once I’ve answered my first e-mail or picked up my first phone message, my brain automatically begins solving other people’s problems or responding to their heartfelt questions. And there’s a part of me that loves that — I want to be of service and I enjoy being able to make a difference in people’s lives. But by simply delaying that process by an hour or so each morning, I get to put my first things first.

And because I know I’m taking care of what matters most to me, I’m much more inclined to then take care of what matters most to the people around me.

Today’s Experiment

1. Starting tomorrow, begin each day with at least 5 minutes of work on something which you really want to do but know doesn’t *have* to be done today. As you get more comfortable with this idea, extend the time to 15 minutes, then 30 minutes or more.

2. Create a ‘frontlog’. Everyone knows about backlogs, but a frontlog is simply a list of all those things which you know will be on your to-do list later in the week, month or year but wouldn’t otherwise make the list now. When you find yourself with free time you want to spend moving things forward, you can begin clearing your frontlog instead of filling that time with busy work or idle surfing.

Have fun, learn heaps, and contemplate this quote from Alan Cohen:

‘On the day you die, you will have unanswered e-mail in your inbox’.

Colin Thompson is a former Managing Director of Print Manufacturing Plants, Print Management/Workflow Solutions companies and other organizations, former Group Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives and Non-Executive Director, helping companies raise their `bottom-line` and `increase cash flow`. Author of several publications, research reports, guides, business and educational models on CD-ROM’s/Software and over 400 articles published on business and educational subjects worldwide. Plus, he is an International Speaker and Visiting University Professor on the International circuit. Colin can be reached at + 44 (0) 121 244 0306 or via email at His website is

So if you planning on writing a book, self publishing, finally writing that advertising flyer or brochure or designing some new greeting cards or postcards, the priceless advice contained in the article above will prove invaluable in getting the job done!