Productivity hacks never helped me, but a morning habit I've had for 14 years allows me to stay focused on work

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  • Writing in a journal can be a therapeutic activity to start your day off with.
  • Here, author Jamie Friedlander shares how keeping a journal in the morning has helped quell her anxiety and allowed her to focus on work.

I'm self-employed as a freelance writer, which means I spend roughly 40 hours per week at home, in loungewear, typing away on my laptop.

The internet is overflowing with productivity advice for people who work from home. Always get dressed as if you're going to work so you feel more confident, they say. Avoid distractions like friends stopping by, some advise.

I don't abide by these two rules, or many other prescriptive pieces of advice people often share for the work-from-home crowd. I have my own morning task that sets me up for the perfect day, and it's never included on these lists.

I write.

I am a writer, so this might sound obvious. But I don't write articles for work on my laptop. Instead, I handwrite for pleasure in my journal.

I'm 28 years old and am currently on my nineteenth journal. I began journaling when I was 14, and the habit never subsided. I began writing as a way to document my life. But the older I got, the more my journal turned into my confidante and my way of dissecting my emotions and exploring why I was feeling a certain way.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which means my mind is often overflowing with tiny, insignificant things that disproportionately worry me. Long ago, I discovered writing about these little things often helped me see that they were irrational, and in turn, my anxiety would dissipate. Doing this first thing in the morning helps me set aside the anxious thoughts that occupy my mind so I can focus on the work at hand.

Countering "what ifs"

Several months ago, I had a big interview lined up - one of the largest of my career. I would be speaking on the phone with Dr. Oz for one hour to write a profile on him for Success Magazine. I had interviewed other celebrities in the past, but no one this well known. My impostor syndrome kicked in, and I spent the days leading up to the interview riddled with self-doubt and fear.

On the morning of our call, I wrote about my fears in my journal. I explored every "what if" that was making me anxious, and then wrote about a rational reason why none of them wouldn't happen. What if I ask a stupid question? That won't happen because you've prepared immensely, and you specialize in health journalism, I told myself. What if I stutter or my voice falters? That won't happen, because the minute you start an interview, you transform into a person of confidence and conviction, I reminded myself.

Read more: A psychologist says this is the one simple way to tell if you're insecure or self-confident

Spending just 20 minutes writing about everything that was making me anxious set me up for the perfect interview. None of my "what ifs" happened, and I was able to put my anxiety aside for the call.

Looking inward on personal issues

This morning routine extends beyond my professional fears. In fact, 90% of what I write about each morning is personal. Part of GAD is overthinking anything and everything, and writing about these things often helps me see that I am, in fact, overthinking them.

Due to a shoulder injury that left me unable to exercise for most of the summer, I dwelled incessantly over the fact that I had lost some of the muscle tone I achieved from doing barre each day, and had in turn gained a few pounds.

My husband reminded me that just a few pounds on my 5-foot-7-inch frame wasn't at all noticeable, and that I'd be back to my normal self in no time. But my fears still consumed me, and I couldn't let them go. Despite my husband's kind attempts to assuage my worries, I still felt anxious about my body image. Only writing about these fears helped.

Will people think differently of me if I gained four pounds? I wrote. The answer was, obviously, no. Did I look that much different? No - the worry was irrational. Does my husband, the person who matters the most, still think I'm beautiful? Yes, and he reminds me of that fact every day.

By looking inward at my problems through writing, I'm often able to see when I'm obsessing or catastrophizing. And doing this in the morning - not at night - helps me get these worries out of my head before my day begins, so I can focus on my work with a clear mind.

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