If you’re anything like me, you’re probably tempted to spend time catching up on social media when you end your typical workday a little bit early. I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t unwind at your desk occasionally, but I’m sure you can think of at least a handful of times when you could’ve used your last 20 minutes or so at the office a little more wisely.
You might not write the next Great American Novel in those 10 minutes before it’s acceptable to start packing up for the day, but there really are some meaningful ways you can make the most of them.
1. Start a New Project Knowing You Won’t Finish It
One of the best excuses for running out the clock at work is, “Well, I’m not going to get through my entire to-do list in the next five minutes, so why even start?” The truth is that you’re actually on the right track. Well, sort of.
You won’t complete everything on your list in the few minutes, but you can get a head start for the next day. In fact, that’s what Stacey Gawronski, Senior Editor at The Muse, told me she’s done recently to make the most of her time before she leaves for the night.
“The reality was that I wasn’t going to start and finish an article, but I could definitely start it,” Gawronski said. “And I realized, ‘Why shouldn’t I?’”
That’s a question you should ask yourself when you’re debating beginning a new project: Why shouldn’t I? Worst-case scenario, your brain’s dead, your ideas end up being no good, and you’ll have to start from scratch in the morning—as originally planned. But best-case scenario is that the 15 minutes of brainstorming and outlining you did gives you a huge jump on it. Sometimes, removing the pressure to finish can make it that much easier to get creative.
2. Organize Your Desk
I know, I know. This sounds not-so-fun. But before you judge me too much, take a look around you. Unless you’re like the four people I know who manage to keep their workspace clean all the time, there are probably times when soda cans, random piles of pens and pencils, and those desk toys you love so much turn your space into The Most Impossible Place to Work on the Planet.
The good news is that organizing your desk, even if you don’t finish completely, is an excellent way to clear your mind and set you up to get things started on the right note in the morning.
Really! Commit to picking up three things right now and putting them in their place (even if that place includes the trash can).
3. Review All The Emails You Saved For “Later”
I hit the “star” button on emails a lot. And I have the best intentions when I do it. I mean to respond to every single one of them. Except I’m not always good at following through on it, especially if it’s not critical to what I’m working on in that moment. Based on the people I know, the Starred Messages feature in most inboxes is something a lot of folks use on a daily basis. If you’re one of those people too, the end of the day is an excellent opportunity to go through all those messages you saved for later.
You might ultimately realize that you flagged a handful that don’t actually require any action. And that’s great. But, you also might discover a few that make you say, “Oh shoot, I owe that person a response.” Even if you can’t respond until the following morning, taking the few minutes before you head out to review these messages will save you a lot of headaches—and help you know where to begin in the morning.
I’m not here to come down on anyone who takes advantage of their “free” time at work to read up on what their friends are up to on social media. I do it all the time. I bet I’ve done it multiple times today. However, if you’re noticing that you’re falling behind on things—or are simply complaining that you wish there were more hours in the day—there are ways to optimize your schedule. And if you have a job that makes you feel obligated to run out the clock, you might as well choose to run it out productively.