The 5 Things I Do in the First Hour of My Day (Before Breakfast)

September 13, 2012


Complete serenity. Early morning is my favorite time of the day. The coffee is brewing while the sun has yet to rise. There’s not a sound in the house (besides the slow drip of the coffee) and I’m basking in solitude. I suppose it’s “me time.” The first sip of coffee gets me started and I’m off to the races. I don’t try to solve the world’s problems in the first hour of my day, but I do just enough to set up the day for success.

Here are the five things I do in the first hour of every day.

1) Check on things that require an immediate response.

Sometimes, I’ll wake up (fully rested) before my alarm goes off. That’s usually a sign of a very productive day to come. More often, I’ll waken to the sound of my iPhone alarm. Then, without turning on the light, I’ll spend the next 5 minutes checking work and personal email.

It’s mostly a quick scan through the emails that arrived overnight, to see if there are any matters requiring immediate attention or response. Once I’ve completed the email check, I’ll get out of bed and fire up the coffee maker.

While the coffee is brewing, I’ll check Twitter. I don’t check on tweets, but I go specifically to “Interactions” to look at mentions, retweets, new follows, etc. Based on that, I suppose you could call me vain (and I’d admit it). I usually don’t check Facebook this early in the morning – that will come in the second or third hour of my day.

2) One word: COFFEE

The morning serenity is great, but nothing is more enjoyable to me than the morning cup of coffee. And I don’t do just a cup, mind you. I fill up a Thermos with about 14 ounces of fresh brewed Joe. My daily grind is two third’s Starbucks French Roast and one third Peet’s Major Dickason’s blend.

Call it a French Major, if you want – it tastes great. I like to savor the coffee, too – I’ll find myself taking the last sip more than an hour later. So coffee, if you will, completely comprises the first hour of my day.

3) Determine what to read, but I don’t actually read it.

Next step: grab the newspaper off the front stoop. Whoops! All of my newspapers are online. I have a set of 5 core web sites that I check every morning. If I’m ambitious, I’ll also peek at my RSS subscriptions in Google Reader.

The goal is to cobble together the interesting articles that I should be reading. At the same time, I’m identifying whether there are time-sensitive articles that I need to read right away. For the most part, though, I spend the first hour of my day curating, rather than consuming.

For each article I find interesting, I paste the content into a text document using Notepad on my Windows laptop. After I’ve completed my curation, I’ll paste the entire text document into Google Docs. From there, I can read all of the articles when my schedule permits – on laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc. – without all the banner ads, site navigation, pop-ups and web site overlays.

4) Create a short list of things that must get done (today).

There are more things to get done than the day is long. So I try to be realistic. I’ll prioritize my task list and figure out the handful of the most important things (that must get done today).

Of course, as time permits, I’ll get to other items on the list, but I find that narrowing the list is quite effective. It ensures that I’m focusing on what matters most (that day) – and, I find that I do a better job on the smaller bites that I’m chewing.

5) Set up the rest of the day for success.

Like my approach to curating the morning headlines (rather than reading the articles entirely), I don’t try to accomplish everything in the first hour of my day. Instead, my goal is to get the framework in place to make the rest of the day productive.

I’ll scan my Outlook Calendar for scheduled meetings and mentally prepare for them. I’ll do some research to get me prepared for an upcoming meeting. I’ll also do some mental preparation around the short list that I’ve compiled. If I need to write a blog post or a product sheet, I’ll start thinking about headlines and outlines.


Right about now, I’m finishing up the last few sips of my coffee. I’m an hour into my day – and while I haven’t taken the world by storm, I’ve gotten the pieces in place for a good one. And with that, it’s time for … breakfast!

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

The Name Of The “Game” Is Engagement

August 9, 2010

Future brand loyalist or virtual goods buyer?


Social gaming start-ups are a hot commodity these days.  In the past 12 months, Playfish was acquired by Electronic Arts and Playdom (more recently) was acquired by Disney.  Zynga, which remains independent, has a valuation that’s reported to be as high as $5B.  I expect that CrowdStar, another independent gaming start-up, will be acquired before 2010 closes.

These gaming companies provide “free to play” games on the web and on smartphones.  They then sell virtual goods (within the games) so users can achieve an elevation in status (e.g. a sharper sword, more crop for the farm, designer sunglasses to replace your generic pair, etc.).

Sustainable Growth Can Be Challenging

These gaming start-ups have attractive attributes:

  1. Ability to generate hundreds of millions in revenue (in some cases, more)
  2. High growth rates in users, revenue
  3. High profit margins, since the “cost of goods” (for virtual goods) is virtually zero

While it’s hard to argue with the results that these start-ups are turning in, I wonder if we might be in a mini-gaming-bubble, in terms of current valuations and the potential of sustainable, long term growth.

Social games can be similar to the recording and film industries.  Success depends on the blockbuster hit.  Over time, it becomes more and more challenging to consistently produce the blockbusters, especially in the face of growing competition.  Today, Facebook serves as a great “record label” for the gaming companies.  It provides a marketing vehicle that you can’t find anywhere else – “distribution” to its 500+ MM “listeners” (users).

The gaming companies know, however, that they can’t put all their eggs in the Facebook basket – hence, the plans from Zynga to launch their own Zynga Live platform (as one example).  The gaming companies need their blockbuster hits to turn into self-standing brands (e.g. FarmVille), which then relies on a variety of distribution vehicles.

We know that consumers can be fickle, however.  Recall the progression of “hot social network”, from Friendster to MySpace to Twitter/Facebook.  Games will have a related challenge.  FarmVille is not going to be the #1 game forever, which means that Zynga is already figuring out the “next FarmVille”.

I believe there will be a short list of winners in a market that will be increasingly fierce.  In addition, I wonder if over the long term, the rate of virtual goods purchasing is sustainable – or whether it will continue to grow over the long term.

A New Game in Town?

One of the challenges of the virtual goods model is the funding source. Revenue growth is dependent on fickle consumers, who could love your game one day and move on to another game the next day.  And yes, I realize that part of good game design is to build in the hooks to create user loyalty.

That being said, what about services whose funding source comes from brands that want to reach consumers?  The bills in their “wallet” are of higher denominations than the $1’s and $5’s that consumers use to purchase virtual goods.  In addition, “brands are already brands”, which mean that they have a pre-existing following from consumers.


Consider Foursquare.  Some consider it a “location based service”.  I view Foursquare as an engagement platform that’s built on top of a location based system.  In fact, Foursquare has a loyalty program that generated successful outcomes for Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, Whole Foods and many others.

The Foursquare business model is both powerful and scalable: powerful in its use of technology (e.g. location based check-ins) and scalable in leveraging existing brands (e.g. Starbucks) for the consumer following and activity.

Location based technology is great, but the long term success of Foursquare is more about the engagement and loyalty programs it facilitates for brands, based on the applicable and available technology of the day.

Nitro Participation Engine from Bunchball

Keep your eye on the Nitro Participation Engine from Bunchball – a Silicon Valley start-up who counts NBC, Warner Brothers and Victoria’s Secret as clients.  The Nitro engine “drives participation using Gamification”, which means that any brand can easily add gaming elements to their web site(s) – and then leverage the Nitro engine to track user actions, points, status and leaderboard. In addition, brands can use Nitro to deploy and sell virtual goods.

What This Could Mean

I think we could be witnessing a transformation of the advertising industry.  If the 90’s and the 00’s were about banner ads and paid search, this coming decade could be about engagement and loyalty platforms.

Foursquare, Bunchball and others have much to gain – if they can tap into a small percentage of the $100+B spent on advertising annually, they’ll make their investors very happy.

These engagement platforms can move from brand impressions (90’s) to brand engagements – where the engagements are longer lasting and more valuable than a click on a paid search ad.  They’re more participatory and can result in immediate purchases (e.g. the latte that someone just purchased at Starbucks).  In addition and perhaps more importantly, they enhance loyalty between consumers and brands, which is great for the long term.

Of course, sustainable growth is a challenge with any technology. Engagement platforms will face their own challenges as they see adoption grow.  Consumers will only be able to participate in so many engagement or loyalty programs.  That being said, consumers are taking batting practice right now – the first inning has yet to start.  Enjoy the ballgame!

I’ve now managed to speak enough.  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts on this topic.

Related Links

  1. ClickZ article (by Christopher Heine) on brand engagement featuring Booyah, Loopt, Brightkite, Gowalla and Stickybits
  2. Foursquare’s Future Slowly Takes Shape“, by Om Malik of GigaOM
  3. Social-media games: Badges or badgering?“, by Caroline McCarthy of CNET

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