Business may be 24/7, and your tech may never get tired, but human beings are cyclical animals. Our creativity and energy levels wax and wane throughout the day, week, and year. When it comes to productivity, you can take a couple of approaches to this reality.
Some would-be superheroes simply try to power through the low points through sheer force of willpower and caffeine. In the medium- and long-term, that’s an almost certain recipe for burnout. What’s the other approach? Working with your body’s natural rhythms to get the most out of the times when your energy is flagging—the last hour or so of your workday, for example.
So how do those who are most successful at surfing their moods for maximum productivity handle this generally low-energy, low-focus period and set themselves up to achieve the maximum the next day? Experts offer surprisingly consistent advice.
1. Consciously Decide When You’ll Switch Off
Thanks to technology and the general craziness of work, it’s easy to simply let your workday drift on and on as you tackle just one more task or quickly respond to one more message. All of a sudden, it’s late, your family is annoyed, and your brain is fried. Successful people know that rest is essential for peak productivity and make a conscious choice about when to end the workday and how in touch to be after they leave the office.
“It’s important to be present for your family and friends,” organizational psychologist Michael Woodward told Forbes. His recommendation? Explicitly tell your colleagues when you’ll be available and how you can (and cannot) be reached—and then stick to it! But that’s not the only approach. “Personally, I end my day in steps. I stop writing before lunch. I stop answering work emails and doing administrative tasks after 6 PM. I stop all internet activity at 8 PM. And I stop reading when I get sleepy,” sociology professor Tanya Golash-Boza has written, explaining her personal shut-down schedule.
My Inc.com colleague Peter Economy even suggests setting a workday limit for the next day the night before. In different periods, different end times and levels of connectivity will be right for you. Just choose thoughtfully. Don’t drift.
2. Tidy Up
“Studies show that a cluttered workspace actually hinders our ability to process information and concentrate. We aren’t aware of it, but clutter competes for our attention in much the same way as a whining child or a barking dog does,” reports Brittany Lite on blog Wise Bread. Successful people intuitively know this and keep the clutter from building up.
“No one likes to start their workday entering a chaotic scene, so taking a few minutes to organize your space ensures you’ll be starting your day with a clean slate. Literally,” Michael Kerr, author of You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work, told Business Insider.
3. Don’t Make Any Big Decisions
“Successful people never tackle a project or make an important decision that requires a lot of brainpower or focus at the very end of the workday,” Kerr adds. “Leave important writing or thinking tasks for the following morning, when your brain is at its peak energy, and instead use this time to focus on clearing off simpler tasks, planning, and reflecting.”
4. Close Conversations
The same basic rules of politeness you’d use in your personal life apply to your professional life—despite your busyness and stress. If someone is expecting to hear from you today, make sure you at least check in with that person before you go (even if it’s just to say you’ll reply tomorrow). “Don’t assume they can wait,” Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job, says.
If no one is waiting for a specific reply from you, that doesn’t mean you can slink off, however. “We forget that it can be just as important, and make us feel good as well, to say a friendly and proper goodbye to everyone rather than just silently drift off into the night. This is triply important if you are the supervisor,” Kerr advises.
5. Review Your To-Do List (to Celebrate and Focus, Not Stress)
Almost every expert you can consult online agrees about at least one aspect of the ideal end-of-day routine—it involves spending a little bit of time reviewing your to-do list and calendar and thinking about what needs doing the next day to avoid wasting time strategizing in the morning. “Make your to-do list for the next day. This will make sure that you start the next day with a plan and goals in mind-which means you’ll spend less time thinking about everything you have to do and more time actually doing it,” suggests Andrea Ayres on the Crew blog, for example.
But Ayres and other true productivity ninjas advocate an essential twist on this process. Rather than just use the to-do review to set yourself up for the coming day, they mainly use this time to celebrate their accomplishments and reflect on their priorities—not to stress about as-yet-undone items.
What good is working if you never take pride in those accomplishments that you put so much time and effort in?” Ayres asks. “Look at what you accomplished that day and feel good about it.”
VC Marc Andreessen is another proponent of making space to celebrate all your wins, big and small. He recommends you take time each day to compose and review a “done list” to keep your motivation up and your work focused.
What’s your end-of-day ritual?
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