Figuring out how to stay focused and productive can be a challenge. Right now, there are more things vying for your attention at all times, meaning it can be harder than ever to stay on top of what you have to get done every day.

I'm always looking for anything that can give me an advantage in the battle with my to-do list, which is why I really enjoy this simple trick used by really productive people like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. We'll get to that in a moment, I promise. 

First, I want to tell you why this seemingly unconventional trick has been such a powerful tool for my productivity routine. See, I'm a morning person, not because I like getting out of bed early, but because it's when I'm able to find time to actually focus on what I have to do. It's also some of the only uninterrupted time I get during the day. 

As a result, I try to get as much done as I can before our four children get up. Once that happens, the wheels of productivity grind to a halt and give way to making sure everyone gets up, gets dressed, and gets breakfast before virtual school starts. Then, it becomes a steady stream of making sure everyone is on the right Zoom meeting at the right time, and is logged in to the right apps to complete their assignments.

So much for getting anything else done. If I can find time during most days it's a bonus, which places an additional level of stress and anxiety on the time I have in the morning--which sort of defeats the entire reason for getting up early in the first place.

That is, until I looked into what those highly productive people did with their morning routine. One thing kept popping up:

Do Something Else First

That's right, when you get up in the morning, resist the temptation to dive into work. Instead, do something else first. 

For example, Bill Gates is known to start his day on the treadmill watching educational DVDs. Jeff Bezos, on the other hand, doesn't take business meetings until 10 a.m., preferring to make time for other activities at home first. 

Maybe for you it means going for a walk or playing in the backyard with your dog. Perhaps you might read the newspaper or even a book. Answering emails, by the way, doesn't count. 

No matter when you wake up, if you're like most people, you look at your phone before you do anything else. As soon as you see an email that requires your attention and start to respond, even if it's not all that important, you start your day dictated by external demands, instead of being thoughtful and intentional about setting your own priorities and direction.

It seems completely unconventional and counterintuitive to do something else first. If you only have a limited supply of time--and you do--it seems like it would make far more sense to use it all doing the most important things. It's tempting to think that the most efficient way to tackle your to-do list is to get started as quickly as possible in the morning. 

Except, and this is important, sometimes the most important thing you can do is to think about something else, or even nothing at all. That's because, just like your body, your brain needs time in the morning to prepare for the things you have to do.

Giving yourself space by doing something else first actually helps you be more engaged when you sit down to work, which means you can get more done when you do. It also creates a boundary so that you don't go straight from bed to work, which is especially important now that most people are working from home

When you do something else first, you give yourself space to gather your thoughts and process the day ahead. That means you can be intentional when you finally sit down at your desk and, ultimately, get more done with the time you have.