Be The First One In

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Go ahead, call me a Type A personality.

I’m not so sure that would be the truth. Being self-reflective, I often find myself being super-lazy, binging on way too much Netflix, or watching a movie on the plane when I should be writing. It’s not all perfect. I can be super-focused. I can be super passionate. I am, ultimately, a human being. I am just as distracted by those shiny-bright objects as the rest of you squirrels might be, but… if there’s one thing I cherish and try to do as often as possible, it’s this…

I want to be the first one in the office.

There’s a well-known leadership strategy (that has been adopted and morphed from the military), that a company’s leader should always lead from the front. That they should be the first one in and the last one out. The aphorism – and how it fits into a world of combat – makes so much sense (you have to demonstrate to your team that you’re willing to be the first one with boots “on the ground,” to establish that you’re willing to take the first bullet, and that you’re the last person out, because you are hanging in there – in the thick of things – with everyone else, and to ensure that no one is left behind). It would be so self-serving for me to use that as my reason for being the first one in the office. It’s not.

Why I am the first one in the office?

It’s an indirect way to send a message about the work to myself. The early morning offers the sacred hours. The family is off to school. The hum of emails and meetings have yet to commence. The distraction of social media is a dull roar. It’s all about focus. The ideas seem fresh. The real work is done, because there are no interruptions. The caffeine from my morning coffee is just kicking in. The world is filled with boundless ideas and opportunities.

It’s not about emails, calendar items or to-do lists. 

Some of the best leaders use this time to catch up on emails, schedule their appointments or rocket through their daily list of things to do. Because that time is so fresh and solitary, that’s the time that I use to read, take notes (lots and lots of notes) and write (sometimes quick little shots, sometimes longer blog posts, prep work for client-related content and more). Fast Company published an article today titled, The Case For Being The First One In The Office. The reasons did not really resonate with me (being available for people in different times zones, doing things that won’t be disrupted when the phone starts ringing, vigorous exercise, and more). They did have one reason that is often overlooked by professionals: “According to researchers Mareike Wietha and Rose Zacks in an article published in the journal Thinking & Reasoning, working early in the morning, when you’re still groggy, promotes greater insight, problem solving capabilities, and creativity when compared to starting the day after 9 a.m., when you’re feeling more alert and awake.” This one, I believe in. Deeply.   

Groggy am good. Groggy pm bad.

I am sure there is a case for night owls as well. I’m sure there is some research to substantiate it. The night is very tough for sprints and ideation (especially if you’re balancing work and a young family). It’s hard to not be exhausted… in a drained kind of way. That being said, being the first one in the office isn’t for everybody. It’s a concept. It’s a mental model. It’s something to experiment with. From my limited experience, whatever gets done first in the am tends to be the thing that had the most attention, care and creativity on it.

And, to quote the hilarious movie, Talladega Nights (don’t judge me!): “If you’re not first… you’re last.”