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April 13, 2011
The Most Unpleasant Thing To Do
I remember when I stopped drinking coffee in the morning. Without coffee, I stopped wandering around news and entertainment sites. But my email-checking routine remained the same. Working from home, where the office is between the bedroom and the bathroom, checking email was more important than brushing my teeth in the morning.
Then I realized that it was because of my aversion to bad news. I don’t like receiving (bad) news about work after 5:00 pm, because I want to rest and fall asleep peacefully. I wanted to hear the bad news first. You can judge a day by its morning. Email is like Pandora’s Box. We let our curiosity take hold of us, opening us up to what may be bad news that can ruin our day.
The “Get Things Done” approach tells you to make a rule not to check your email in the morning, but to put all your tasks—big and small—on a list and cross them off when you’re done. Another approach is “Ignorance is Bliss,” in which you pretend that you don't have any email at all. Choose one of these methods, and you might continue to do something that doesn’t work for you; or, you might stick to the promise to change your method today and break that promise the next day.
But, you don't need any of those methods. You already have a to-do list in your head with only one item: the most unpleasant thing to do. And instead of reading email in the morning, or making the rule not to read email in the morning, you should start your day with the most unpleasant thing in your day.
Every day you have certain responsibilities you’ve avoided that you transfer to the next day. Morning is the best time to clear these “leftover” tasks, and to get a clear picture in your head, which enables you to judge better and to think more creatively about your work.
While I am working on my most unpleasant things, my employees have checked all of my email accounts and have answered all their emails to the degree that they are able without my help.
Of course, then there are always a few mails left to make it to “inbox zero.”
That’s where I jump on the stage.
First, with my employees, I go through all the pending emails, give input on each, and teach them how to respond to them in the future. They are still in front of the email, not me.
After we are done, there are basically two groups of pending emails. Interesting emails (leads, requests, opportunities) that my staff leaves for me to answer in person and complex, unpleasant-to-answer emails.
I sit down in front of my inbox, and first answer the unpleasant ones.
And then I answer the interesting ones.
“Inbox zero,” baby!
Emails are just an example of “the most unpleasant thing to do.” Yours might be looking over sales figures, researching leads, or looking over Google Analytics. Whatever your most unpleasant task, do it first, and fall asleep peacefully.

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Mark White has spent two years testing the methods in his new book, Get Out of Jail Free Card, and now he’s made it available to workaholics worldwide. This short e-book is designed as a tool rather than as an armchair diversion. It shows you the faster, easier, natural way to take back your life, streamline your tasks, and reduce your workweek from 70 to 40 hours.
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