Let me guess the first thing you did when you opened your eyes this morning: You didn't, by any chance, pick up your phone and start tapping away, did you? If I got that right, it's not because I'm clairvoyant. It's because I've read the research.
One recent Pew survey found 80 percent of Millennials sleep with their phones. No wonder then that another poll showed 40 percent of Americans of all ages check their phones within five minutes of waking. By the time they've brushed their teeth, more than 80 percent of people have grabbed their gadgets. And this isn't just the addled and unsuccessful -- another survey found that half of top executives start their day with email.
A vast majority of us, in other words, kick off our day by consuming and reacting to other people's thoughts and demands. Actor and investor Ashton Kutcher, however, is in the minority.
"Everyone else's to-do list for you"
Your email, he told Arianna Huffington's Thrive Global Podcast recently, is "everyone else's to-do list for you." And if you allow your inbox to set the tone for your day, you're guaranteed to spend a huge chunk of your time on other people's priorities.
Kutcher should know. He used to be one of the many who reached for his phone first thing. As a result, he would spend hours a day on email.
"It became an impossible hole to get out of," he explained, "because then every response I had had three more responses. All I was doing was other people's work all day long, and I never actually got to the things that I wanted to accomplish."
To break out of this success-killing pattern, Kutcher took action, designing a new morning ritual that allows him to work on what he actually thinks is important each day.
"When I wake up ... I spend the first hour of my work not looking at email, and actually just writing out what it is that I want to accomplish in a given day, and then before I go through my emails, I'll do all my outgoing, outbound stuff, which is what I want everyone else to do for me. And then I'll go and get reactive to whatever's going on," he told the podcast.
The incredible power of morning writing
Kutcher doesn't explain where he hit on this idea, but he's certainly not the first to suggest kicking your day off with a bit of writing. Several experts strongly urge people aiming to achieve great things to use those all-important first minutes of the day to clear their mind and reflect on their priorities.
Several entrepreneurs have suggested a morning ritual similar to Kutcher's. "Use the Five Minute Journal every morning," recommends founder Chris Remus, for example. "Your whole day will be better as a result."
If you're aiming more for creativity than productivity and have a bit more time to devote to a morning writing practice, you might want to give the idea of Morning Pages, developed by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way, a try.
Meanwhile, psychologist and my Inc.com colleague Benjamin P. Hardy suggests a small amount of writing not only in the morning but also before bed, to tap into your subconscious in order to answer some of your life's trickiest and most pressing questions. "This simple routine will help you crystallize where you want to go, and how you will get there," he says.
It's up to you to decide which form of writing appeals most to you and works best with your existing routine, but whichever you choose, it's worth at least taking Kutcher's idea for a spin to see if it saves you from inbox slavery and gives you more control over your day.