Focus On This Podcast

63. Start Your Workday The Right Way



Somehow, it’s already noon—and you’ve accomplished nothing you intended to. You started the day with good intentions. But then, you had a string of morning meetings and split your time between too many tasks. Now, the day is half gone and you feel like it’s been wasted.

We know what it’s like to feel at the mercy of your day. But we’ve discovered how to leverage the power of rhythms to start each day with clarity and confidence. That’s why we’re unpacking the three simple practices of a workday startup ritual built for breakthrough.

At last, you’ll stop wondering where the day went and start each day with a clear path to success.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • Why setting your priorities boosts productivity
  • How to balance the meetings you need to attend and the work you need to accomplish
  • What to do to prevent your inbox from derailing your day
  • And, a special segment with a Full Focus community member about why goal setting and self care might just be the solution to feeling unmotivated

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Courtney Baker and Blake Stratton.

Courtney: Hey, guys. Happy Monday.

Blake: Hey, Courtney. Happy Monday unto you.

Verbs: Happy Monday.

Courtney: I don’t know what to say, all of a sudden.

Blake: That’s actually the perfect thing to say, because, Courtney, a lot of people start their workday the same way you just started this podcast, which is relatively clueless, relatively not sure what to do. I’m just kidding. But seriously. Maybe this has happened to you. I know it has happened to me. You come into work, and you’ve already received three emails that are stressing you out, or maybe you start with a meeting, and you’ve just kind of rolled into the day, and before you know it, it’s the middle of the day and you’re like, “Whoa! I just got caught in a wave, and I feel out of control.”

Courtney: Yes. One hundred percent. I think the majority of people probably start out of the get-go… They wake up, and then they look at their work email. So, before they’re even intentionally thinking, “I’m about to start working,” they’re already plowing in right out of the gate from alertness in the morning, so the day just kind of happens. It’s nonstop.

Verbs: It’s like a notification addiction. All inboxes of all types and sorts will get checked upon awakening.

Courtney: Ultimately, the problem is when you do that, it allows other people and other things to set what you’re going to do for the day. You end the day feeling like, “I just worked really hard, and I feel like I got nothing done. I worked hard, but I didn’t accomplish anything.” It’s a really strange place to be.

Blake: It’s really defeating too.

Courtney: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, nobody feels fulfilled that way. What we want to help you do is start your day feeling like you have clarity, that you feel grounded and clear on what you need to accomplish, and then, at the end of the day, you worked hard and you know exactly what you accomplished; that you have that feeling of fulfillment, of “What I set out to do I actually did.”

Verbs: What would you say are some of the ways our listeners could actually start off the workday on the right foot?

Courtney: First of all, you need a rhythm. If you’re out there listening and maybe you already have a rhythm, and it’s checking your work email as soon as your alarm goes off, maybe you need to reevaluate that rhythm, but figuring out what that rhythm needs to be and implementing some rituals around what you actually want. Again, this is more of an intentionality. You have some sort of rhythm, most likely. It’s just, is it a rhythm that is working for you? We want to see if we can help set you up with a rhythm that works well for what you want to accomplish.

Blake: We talk a lot at Michael Hyatt & Company about habits, and the reason we talk about habits is our habits, the true habits, the ones that are on autopilot that seem to happen without any conscious thought, are so powerful. We’ll be doing things and not even realize we’re doing them. That’s very, very powerful. What you’re describing, Courtney, is essentially creating such a powerful habit for the start of your day that the barrage of notifications or other issues at work or meetings or scheduling, or whatever else, doesn’t dominate you but, actually, your habit does the heavy lifting for you.

Courtney: Absolutely. While you’re talking about habits, we should say we actually have a brand-new book that’s coming out from Michael Hyatt & Company specifically about habits. It’s called No-Fail Habits. For those of you listening, you may be familiar with our other “No-Fail” books. They’re some of my absolute favorites. There’s No-Fail Meetings and No-Fail Communication.

Blake: “No-Fail Podcasting.” We’re going to release that one next year. Right?

Courtney: Right. That’s an awesome one. So, now we also have No-Fail Habits, which I know so many of you who are listening are going to be really excited about. Today, we’re going to be talking about three practices for building a workday startup ritual, specifically. I think there are a lot of breakthroughs that can happen when this is done well, when this is leveraged for you.

Blake: Absolutely. Whenever I do training with teams and we start talking about rituals or habits or that sort of thing, I say one of the most powerful rituals you could start with is a workday startup, because it gets everything in line and queues you up for success. It’s really a recipe for success for the rest of your workday. If you have a practice of that, a habit of that every workday, then every day is set up for a win.

Courtney: Okay. We’re going to walk you through the practices you need. The first practice is to set your priorities. What we really mean with this is to set your Daily Big 3. These are the most important tasks for you to get done that day. If you don’t determine what is important for you, other people will do it for you. Again, that’s kind of how you end the day being like, “I just worked really hard, but I didn’t get anything accomplished.”

By simply narrowing what you want to focus on, you’re going to increase your ability to progress on your most important work. We talk all the time about loving Mondays again, and I think this is so important to that promise: really figuring out what your own priorities are so that you do love Mondays. Instead of letting other people own your Mondays and own your work, you’re setting out to figure out, “What’s going to be the priority for me?”

Verbs: This is one area where I found the Weekly Preview to be so powerful for me, just looking ahead at the week and, like you said, establishing my boundaries and what’s coming down the pike for that week before somebody else attempts to do that. Just for my own brain, I know I can see from Monday through Friday or Monday through Sunday, whatever the case may be. It’s helpful to get that visibility into your week and establish those Daily Big 3’s. That’s helpful.

Blake: When you’re setting your priorities, what we’re not saying is that you can only ever do three things. You know, we talk about setting the Big 3. The truth is not all tasks are created equal. Some tasks will inherently create bigger, more important results than other tasks. The reason to set goals, for instance, or to set a Weekly Big 3 is because you are trying to direct your time toward what’s most important.

Now, day to day, there may be certain things that are more urgent and important than a specifically goal-related task, but the point is simply this: take time to identify, “What’s the 20 percent that will drive 80 percent of the results?” You would be wise to start there, because if you get all three done, you feel like it’s a win. If you get three done and then can do more, then you’re really winning. That’s great. But what you don’t want is to just be reactive and responding to somebody else’s priorities and then wondering, “Am I getting what’s most important done?”

Courtney: Well, you’re not. The answer is you’re not. By default, we go into most urgent. All we’re doing is putting out the biggest fire. Setting your priorities is really about figuring out what is important and urgent. Otherwise, you’re just going to keep spinning your wheel on the urgent over and over and over again. Again, that is a recipe for feeling very unfulfilled at the end of the day, at the end of the week. Part of this workday startup is acknowledging that and then setting those priorities.

Blake: Set your priorities. That’s the first practice. The second practice for your workday startup ritual is we recommend you preview your calendar.

Courtney: I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. You don’t want any scheduling surprises during the day. Previewing your calendar helps you ensure that you’re prepared for any meetings. Frankly, for me, this is something I do as part of my workday shutdown the day before as well, but then when I’m doing my workday startup, I’m just reviewing that again and making sure I am ready to go and that I actually have the time during the day to accomplish the priorities I set in step one.

We’ve talked about this. This is kind of our secret. Verbs, Blake, we don’t always have three priorities, because there are times where you look at your calendar and you’re like, “Actually, I am only going to get one of these done today,” and that is okay.

Blake: Verbs, I’m curious. Do you write down your meetings as well as have a virtual calendar?

Verbs: That’s a good question. I do write down meetings just so that I know they’re happening on that day, because that affects whatever type of production work I may need to do. If a meeting is going to happen, if I’m starting off at 9:00 working on workbook design, I know I have to pause by 10:00 for a meeting, or however those tend to fall throughout the day.

It’s helpful to do that because, again, that visibility helps me know what expectations I have for my day and where I need to adjust a little bit. But as Courtney just mentioned, if there’s a day where we’re… I work on the production side of producing our BusinessAccelerator intensives. That’s an all-day event, so my Big 3 is really a “Big 1” for that entire day since it’s a whole workday.

Courtney: A question I feel like we get a lot that we could probably touch on here is how you do a digital calendar with putting your calendar in the Full Focus Planner. I think this is probably true for all three of us, but I’d love to hear from you two if it’s different. My Google calendar is the home base for my calendar. That’s where my assistant helps me schedule. That’s where people can see if I’m free or busy. Part of this is actually writing down those meetings in my Full Focus Planner.

You may think in your head, “Well, that feels repetitive.” It’s not. It really helps with my focus during the day. I’m not constantly checking in, getting into Google Calendar and then getting distracted by something else. It also makes me recommit to what I have for the day. I may find that there’s a meeting I don’t actually need to be in, and that’s the moment for me to say, “You know what? Actually, I need to say that I don’t really need to be there.” Again, I mentioned our other book No-Fail Meetings. That’s a great tool for learning how to say, “Yeah, I don’t need to be in that meeting.” Again, this is your moment to recommit to what’s on your calendar.

Blake: Exactly. I mean, you tried to get out of this podcast recording today. I was like, “No, we need you.”

Courtney: Yeah. I was like, “Y’all probably are good without me.”

Blake: Practice two: preview your calendar, don’t have any unexpected surprises, and make sure you’re not overcommitted with your tasks or your meetings, which brings us to the third practice: zero your inbox. What does that mean?

Courtney: If you’re a little overwhelmed out of the gate, we actually have a whole episode about this. It was episode 57. This step allows you to feel confident ignoring your inbox. That may sound revolutionary for you, but it’s really what allows you to get into deeper work and actually accomplish those priorities you set in the first step. This is the superpower.

Blake: Right. There’s something different between replying to your emails and processing your emails. When I say email, when we say inbox, I’m really just meaning any incoming messages from other people who are requesting a response or sending you information. It could be Slack. When I’m doing my workday startup, I look at all of my inputs, which are two different apps for communication that I use for my individual team at work and our whole team, as well as my email. Those are the inboxes I’m trying to zero.

There’s a difference between replying and/or doing the things the email is telling you to do and processing through those messages. So, what I mean when I say “Zero your inbox” is more the latter, to process through. There may be some things you don’t need to do anything with, and you can simply archive it, just see it, basically ignore it. There may be other things that are going to require some time, and that’s when you get to decide, “Is this going to take just 30 seconds and I can do it really quickly now or is this going to take some more time?”

If that’s the case, you probably want to transfer that as an action item into your planner. Maybe it belongs as a Daily Big 3, maybe it doesn’t, but you want to catalog that. What I would recommend is transferring an email, essentially, transferring that to-do to your physical planner, and then archiving that email. I say “archive” because I like to be able to just quick search and pull up the email for reference if I need it later. But I just want to distinguish that. We’re not suggesting that you can reply to every email, do every task. That’s not the point. You want to process through and determine “Am I clear on what’s most important?” and move on.

Courtney: That’s really important. I mentioned this in episode 57. What I think happens for a lot of people is they look at their inbox for their to-do list for the day, and they let that drive their actions. Again, that is a recipe for ending the day feeling unfulfilled and that you worked hard but didn’t get anything done that you wanted to get done. Again, there are a ton of resources in that episode. If you’re like, “Hey, I’ve got one. I get the priorities. I understand previewing your calendar,” but this whole “zero your inbox” feels like your kryptonite, definitely check out that episode.

Verbs: All right. Courtney, I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about what’s going to happen right now. We have a chance to answer some listener questions since in the Facebook community a lot of these frequently come up, and every once in a while, we’ll even pose a question to see what kind of response we get. I’m happy today we get an actual listener on the line with us. We have Christian Ortiz from North Carolina. Christian, how are you? Welcome to Focus on This.

Christian: Hi. How are you guys?

Courtney: Good. We’re doing great. Verbs, I think you forgot a really important thing, which is not only are we on the line, but we are on video together here, which is extra special. Christian, thanks so much for joining us. Like Verbs said, we’re really excited to hear your question, because we know people love to hear what other Full Focus users are questioning and running up against and how those can get solved. What do you do, Christian?

Christian: I am a social media/content creator for a consulting firm. I serve a lot of small businesses with content creation, I guess.

Courtney: That’s awesome. Sounds like a marketer.

Christian: Kind of.

Verbs: You’re in good company.

Courtney: Yes, that’s very true. Okay. What question do you have for us?

Christian: My question for you guys is…Do you have any motivation tips for the unmotivated? I seem to not really be motivated by the Daily 3, the Weekly Big 3, really anything. I am okay with not checking stuff off, and I need some help getting back on track and achieving my goals.

Courtney: That is such a good question. Verbs, everybody out there is like, “I’ve been there.” Honestly, Verbs, do you feel like 2020 is the year even the most motivated had a hot minute where they were like, “Wah, wah. I’m kind of okay not checking anything off for a hot minute”?

Verbs: Yeah. I would say that’s true, and I would even dare to say that… Would you describe yourself, Christian, as being… Well, you are, being that that’s the nature of your job. You do creative work. You would say you are a creative?

Christian: Yes. I would definitely say that.

Verbs: The second question would be: Have you ever been motivated at all to check the boxes, have your Big 3 established, or anything like that?

Christian: Yes. Normally, I’m very motivated by checkboxes. Any task that goes overdue on my work task list, I get very frustrated with that, and normally I’m very quick to fix it, but right now I’m just kind of letting it all roll into the red.

Courtney: That’s such a great question. Are you in a season of this? Or how long has that been going on for you?

Christian: It has probably been about a month now where I’ve kind of let it fly by the wayside, and I’m kind of just doing what I need to to get by, but I’m letting a lot of things go later than I need to with work tasks, specifically.

Courtney: Yeah. I feel you. I said this earlier. I feel like there are a lot of people this year who probably feel this way. I have another follow-up question for you. Are you currently pursuing any goals? What does your relationship with your goals look like right now?

Christian: I don’t have a lot of work-related goals, mostly because I’m not in a manager or leadership role, so I’ve personally struggled with setting work goals. I don’t really know what that would look like for me as just an employee, I guess.

Verbs: What about personally? Do you have any personal goals you’re working toward?

Christian: I do have a couple of personal goals. They are pretty separate from my work life, though, so it has not been… That’s typically a pretty separate thing for me.

Courtney: One thing that comes to mind as I think about rekindling passion, especially after a year like 2020… My first recommendation would be to reconnect with your goals. I would really challenge you. If you’re finding like, “I don’t have any motivation for work, and it just feels like a drag…” I feel like we have to have so much grace for ourselves, because it has been a hard, hard year.

But if you’re looking for, “Okay. How do I get this train back on track?” the first thing I would challenge you on is “Okay. How do I create some goals for me, personally, around work that I could get passionate about? What would that look like for me?” Again, you mentioned some points about not being in a manager role or a director role. I would even challenge you on those. I think maybe that’s a limiting belief that you can’t have a goal because you’re not in one of those roles.

How could you reframe that for yourself? To be like, “Okay. What could I get really passionate about with my job?” So, spending some time reconnecting with your goals and then letting both your personal goals and those professional goals trickle down into your Weekly Big 3 and your Daily Big 3. I think probably what is missing is that passion. Again, it has happened for so many of us. We had goals at the beginning of 2020, and they all got blown up.

I had to do this, honestly, several times. I had to go back to my goal list and try to reformulate what my goals were going to be, because I would just look at them and be like, “I’m just not excited about this anymore.” So much has changed that I wasn’t passionate. Again, if you’re using the system well, and it sounds like you have previously, those goals trickle down into your Weekly Big 3 and Daily Big 3. So, if you find yourself like, “I’m ‘blah’ about all of this,” that’s where I would start. Verbs, what do you think?

Verbs: Christian, let me ask this question. Do you feel like the lack of motivation may just come from the type of work you’re doing right now? The only reason I ask that is I know for 2020, a lot of people have gone back to think about the work they’re currently doing through the middle of some people being laid off or having to pivot their work, and it has created new ideas or possibly new aspirations to do more with the work they were doing or, for some folks, just an all-around job shift. Do you think your lack of motivation may come from considering those things in the work you’re doing now, that there may be something more to do in that area?

Christian: I serve a lot of small businesses that have been impacted by COVID, more so than the company I work for specifically has been, and that has definitely changed the way we look at social media and the digital marketing platform as a whole. But I think a lot of my personal lack of motivation comes from a… We have a very small team at the company I work for and a very long task list that can become a little overwhelming, so sometimes you hit a wall where it’s like, “I just don’t really want to do any of this anymore.”

Courtney: Yeah. That never-ending to-do list is a villain. Hitting up against it over and over again can get hard. I wonder, too, if we should talk about the self-care planner. Christian, do you use that as part of your Weekly Preview?

Christian: I usually write something in it, and then I ignore what I wrote in it.

Courtney: Maybe there’s something around that to be a goal, like, “Every week, I’m going to identify one thing to really help in the self-care section of the Weekly Preview,” and the goal is to do it. Not just to identify it, but to actually do it every week. I know self-care is one of those overused buzzwords, but my goodness. If there’s a year for some self-care, now is the time, my friends. And self-care can be really fun. Christian, if you need some ideas, email me.

Treat yourself. Get a massage. Go have a therapy session. Take a really long hike. I don’t know…whatever the things are that you actually would be excited about. Maybe I’ll make that a goal, Verbs. Christian, I’m stealing your goal. That sounds great. I’m going to do that. Christian, I would love to gift you… In December we are launching Your Best Year Ever. It’s all new for 2021, because we know it has been really hard. I would love to gift you access to it when it comes out.

Christian: That’s amazing.

Courtney: I think that would really help you. It’s something we do every year. Verbs, I don’t know for you and your wife, but Chase and I just love it every year. It is a game changer for me. It feels like such a gift and reunites so much passion. So, hopefully that will help you as well.

Christian: That has been on my list of books to get and read for a while, so that will be super helpful.

Courtney: Oh, we’re not going to just gift you the book.

Verbs: Wait. There’s more.

Courtney: We’re going to gift you the course.

Christian: The course? What?

Courtney: Yes. You’ll get to go through the whole course, which will walk you through so much of how to set goals. Honestly, it’s the thing I wish everybody who had the Full Focus Planner had access to, because once you set really great goals, it creates this whole domino effect as you go. So, I think that’ll be a great tool for you moving forward as well.

Christian: Thank you, guys, so much.

Courtney: You’re welcome.

Verbs: Awesome. Thank you, Christian. All right. The good news is you don’t have to feel at the mercy of your days. Start strong with a breakthrough morning startup ritual that includes setting your priorities, previewing your calendar, and zeroing your inbox. Blake, Courtney, any final thoughts for our Focus on This listeners?

Courtney: Yeah. One thing that is really helpful for me is that my workday shutdown ritual mirrors my workday startup. I actually do these items during my workday shutdown as well, and then when I come in in the morning to do my workday startup, it’s pretty easy. I can kind of fly through these. Frankly, anytime I have somebody on my team who’s really stressed or feels very overwhelmed, one of the first questions I ask them is, “Hey, how is your workday shutdown and startup going?” and almost always they’re like, “Actually, I’ve gotten out of the habit of doing that.”

I highly encourage you… When you feel overwhelmed, that’s the time to really hold on to these habits. They can be extremely powerful when you feel all the chaos, the stress, the overwhelm. So, mirroring those together can be really powerful.

Blake: My final thought is that this habit, your workday startup, is going to be a superpower of productivity. People will take notice because you are clearheaded and are achieving more, and even if your work environment is chaotic, you will not be.

Your workday startup is just one example of a habit that has that powerful impact on your life. Maybe you are excited to get better at forming habits. Maybe you feel like that’s a challenge for you in life right now and you recognize, “You know what? If I can be great at forming the habits I want, ultimately, I can create the life I want significantly easier and with greater speed.”

If that’s you, I want to reiterate something we shared earlier, which is a new book we have for you called No-Fail Habits. You can learn about it at or join our Countdown to 2021. is where you want to go to enter that, and we’ll tell you more about No-Fail Habits in that community.

Verbs: Thanks for joining us on Focus on This.

Courtney: This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends and remember #focusonthispodcast.

Blake: We’ll be here next week with another great episode for you, but until then…

Verbs, Courtney, & Blake: Stay focused!