Do the Worst Thing on Your To-Do List First

By
Hands filling to do list
Photo: null/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Maybe you carefully, gently eased yourself back into work this morning by doing pleasantly mindless tasks like replying to emails or organizing your in-box. This morning routine, alas, is wrong, all wrong, according to psychology writer Eric Barker. In a new post on the things to do in the morning to set yourself up for happiness all day, Barker recommends starting your day by tackling your most-dreaded tasks first. Sounds fun!

Barker is drawing here from the scientific literature on self-control, the bulk of which has suggested that willpower is a limited resource, something that becomes depleted as the day wears on. It’s similar to the reason that behavioral scientist Dan Ariely has suggested that the first two hours of your day are likely to be your most productive. Your self-control is at its peak first thing in the morning, so this is the best time to make yourself do the stuff you really would rather not do. “The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen,” Roy F. Baumeister, a psychology researcher at Florida State University and one of the leading experts on willpower, tells Barker. “Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.”

As Barker phrases it, “What’s that thing you’re going to feel guilty about having not done?” Identify that and do it first, in the fleeting moments when you still have the willpower with which to get it done.