Habits of Leadership – the First Hour of the Day – with Linda Yaffe and Steven Fulmer

There is an old saying that “well begun is half done” — and our experts agree.

Linda Yaffe, a certified executive coach from the Philadelphia area, says that a great way to have a highly productive first hour in one’s workday is to prepare the night before.

An ideal first hour rests on several foundations:

  • adequate sleep
  • a prioritized to-do list
  • an effective start-of-the-day routine

Here are the elements you can prepare the night before:

  • lay out the correct clothes for the day’s activities
  • prepare your prioritized to-do list
  • get to bed at a reasonable hour
  • in bed, think about your major challenges so you can dream about them productively

An effective start-of-the-day routine can include:

  • eating a good breakfast
  • thinking and saying positive thoughts (affirmations)
  • getting to work early

Trying to keep your to-do list in your head is “clutter in your head” — it prevents you from focusing completely on the task at hand. That lack of focus prevents you from being maximally productive.

You can do your to-do list in the morning, however you just blew the first half hour of your day. As Steven Fulmer pointed out in the second half of the program, Newton’s First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that an object at rest tends to remain at rest, and an object in motion tends to remain in motion — and the same applies to people. Linda’s strong suggestion is to start the day with your to-do list already written, so that you start being productive right away. That momentum can carry you forward.

If you’re going to have a meeting first thing in the morning, you want to show up ready for that meeting and dressed appropriately. You don’t want to start off your day rushing, trying to prepare for that early meeting.

This reminded me of a story that Linda Ellerbee relates in one of her books — when she was traveling to a different town every day, she would write on index card as she was going to bed two things:

  • what city she was in
  • what she was supposed to do first thing in the morning

In her book, Ellerbee related that waking up in a new city every morning was sufficiently disconcerting that this trick with the index card allowed her to avoid an experience that was starting to become common for her — waking up in a new town, in a new hotel, and not remembering where she was, what she was supposed to do, or why.

The truth is, our brains are very bad at remembering things — we are very good at pattern recognition, and comparatively bad at remembering facts and lists. Any time we can create a system for ourselves to help us remember, we offload from our brains a task that the brain is bad at, and we free the brain up to do the things the brain is good at.

As we contemplate what it will take to start the day the best way, contrast these two scenarios:

  1. wake up late, wishing I could sleep in longer because I got to bed late
  2. try to remember what I’m doing that day
  3. try to find the right clothes to wear
  4. skip breakfast
  5. not exercise
  6. show up late and unprepared


  1. wake up early after a full night’s sleep
  2. glance at a prioritized list of what I’m going to do that day
  3. put on the clothes I laid out the night before
  4. eat breakfast
  5. exercise (if that’s part of my routine)
  6. show up early and prepared

At this point, my workday hasn’t even started, and it’s very clear to me which of these two scenarios is going to be the foundation for the better, more productive day.

Steve Pavlina suggests that, as you prepare yourself for sleep, you meditate on the challenges of the next day, to allow yourself the opportunity to dream productively (or even experience lucid dreams) about those challenges, and possibly solve some problems in your sleep.

Linda Yaffe also suggests that you use your prioritized to-do list to create a mental model for yourself of what the shape of your entire day will look like. That overview will help you feel more in control of your day.

Linda gives her clients an exercise, to spend a day listening closely to what people say, and to notice whether they are positive or negative statements. They usually come back astonished at how negative people are in many of their casual comments. She then gives them the follow-up assignment to listen to their own internal self-talk. They discover that their internal self talk is about 75 to 90% negative.

This internal self-talk — these “tapes” that we play — can have a profound effect on our attitudes, our mindset, and the kind of day we have.

And what’s more, as the negative self talk generates a negative attitude, it leads to negative outcomes. The bad attitude can become a self fulfilling prophecy — the thought “I’m going to lose this account” can close your mind to opportunities to keep or grow the account.

Another good habit for the start of the day is to focus on that subset of our world that is under our control. As you notice yourself thinking “my team is not responding to me the way I need them to” or “my boss is hard to work with” or the like, ask yourself this:

What am I doing that is contributing to the way my team is responding, or, what am I doing that is contributing to the way my boss is interacting with me?

This question, “what am I doing that is contributing…” serves two functions: it lets me off the hook from blaming myself 100% for the problem, while focusing my attention on what is under my direct control, namely my own behavior.

Listen to the program to get all of this, and more.

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