Below are 4 tips to revolutionize your work day! These tips are the base to make you more productive and organized during your work day.
How often does the work day end and you head out the door and realize that you didn’t complete a single thing from your to-do list? This used to happen to me several times during a work week. I constantly felt like I was drowning and could just never get ahead. I could never get back on track once I was interrupted from a task. My email inbox was on a never-ending cycle of always containing way too many emails that I needed to follow up on.
I would leave work each day feeling depressed or maybe even stressed out about how much work I had left to do tomorrow. I’d come home and be cranky because I was still thinking about work things. My mind could not stop thinking about what else needed to be done at work and it was impossible to fall asleep at night.
This all came to a head recently when I got married in March. Between thinking about and stressing over wedding tasks and job duties, I felt like I was literally losing my mind. Having made it through the wedding I don’t think that there is anything different that I could have done from a wedding planning perspective. I got my vendors booked early and I was always several months ahead on tasks that I had planned. Planning a wedding is stressful no matter how organized you are. Yes, I could have gotten a wedding planner but that was not within our budget and sticking to our budget was important to me.
Knowing what I know now about my work habits, I think that I definitely could have made the work side of things less stressful for myself. As soon as the wedding was over and I was back to work, I knew that I had to make some changes. I implemented the below four tips and they have honestly revolutionized my work days. I have been doing these things for over two months now and would consider myself to be ahead of the curve at work. Finally!
Finding what worked for me took some time and I would encourage you to not only implement my tips to your work day, but also tweak or add to them to make them work for you. I don’t believe that there is a one-size fits all solution for helping people to be productive at work but I do think that these four tips to revolutionize your work day provide a great base for you to build on.
Tip # 1 – Check your calendar when you get to work and when you leave work.
Make checking your work calendar (and personal calendar if you keep them separate) the very first thing that you do once you sit down at work and the very last thing that you do before you leave. Knowing what meetings or obligations that you have for the day will help you craft a better to-do list (see Tip #4).
I would often be in the middle of a large task and then a calendar reminder would pop up to say that I had a meeting in 15 minutes. Wait…what?! But I haven’t prepared anything for that meeting! And I am right in the middle of this project! Ugh!
When you check your calendar at the beginning of the work day, you are aware of what is on your schedule and you can not only schedule some time to prepare for the meeting, but you can also make sure not to start a complicated task without having enough time to finish it.
When I check my calendar at the end of the day I am looking for three things:
1) Did I complete all of my calendar events for that day? If yes, then yay! Move onto #2. If no, then move that calendar reminder to the next day. This ensures that a task will never fall through the cracks because you forgot to complete it and then didn’t remember to do it the next day.
2) What is on my calendar for tomorrow? I am looking for lunch dates so that I can plan my attire appropriately (If walking to the restaurant wear comfy shoes and bring umbrella/jacket if needed). I am also looking to see if I have any meetings the next day that I need to be prepared for. If the meetings are early in the morning then I will make sure to move preparation for that meeting to the top of my to-do list for the next day.
3) Finally, I look at my schedule for the next seven days. This gives me a better idea of things that I need to plan for, as well as take note of any after-work appointments.
Tip # 2 – Make checking your e-mail Inbox the second thing that you do every day when you get to work.
Every person is different with how they prefer to handle their e-mails. I know some people that don’t mind if their Inbox has 1,000 emails in it. I on the other hand, prefer to not have more than 20 emails in my inbox. I have occasionally gotten it down to under 10 but it isn’t realistic to keep that as a permanent goal. To be clear, emails that I keep in my inbox are ones that I am waiting for a response from someone else, or I am responsible for completing an action related to the email.
After I check my calendar for the day, I open and quickly scan all of my new emails. I delete any that I don’t need to keep, I flag any that will need my attention that day, and I respond to any that only require a quick response. Checking these new emails right away will make sure that I am caught up on any issues or requirements for the day and also this helps me towards my goal of having < 20 emails in my Inbox.
During the day, I will write on my to-do list when to check emails. I used to open emails immediately after I got them. This was distracting and was disrupting my workflow. Now I only check emails when it is next on my to-do list. On an average day I will end up with 25 completed tasks on my to-do list and checking emails will have been on there 4-5 times. This helps keep my inbox total down but also ensures that I don’t miss anything time sensitive.
Tip #3 – Break large tasks into smaller steps.
If I had a dollar for every time that I got interrupted when I was working on a complicated or long task, I would be a very rich woman. You absolutely cannot control and get rid of all distractions. You need to focus on what you can control, and that is what you are doing at the time that you get distracted.
By taking a large task and breaking it into smaller steps, you are making the overall task easier for yourself in several ways.
1. It is easier to plan several small time blocks of 15-30 minutes to accomplish each step than it is to try and schedule 4 hours at once to complete the whole task.
2. If you do get interrupted, it is easier to pick up where you left off if you are only working on a small portion of the task.
3. You get to cross items off your list more frequently. This seems like a weird benefit but when you read Tip #4, you will find out my obsession with lists and why being able to cross off more items consistently makes me more productive.
4. Smaller steps are easier for me to mentally tackle than one large task. I have a bad habit of pushing non-immediate and large tasks to the bottom of my to-do list. I will decide that “oh, I don’t have enough time to do that today.” If I break one large task into smaller 15-30 minute steps, I can always find time in my day to do at least one of those steps. This keeps me on track to get the task done.
Tip # 4 – Make a to-do list and reward yourself when you complete a task.
While all of the tips are important and helpful, this tip has easily been the biggest game changer for me. During the time at the end of each work day when I am checking my calendar, I will also start my to-do list for the following day. I start with “Check e-mails” and then add any items that I noted were needed from my calendar review. The next day I will continue to add items as I figure out what I need to do for the day.
The best part of having a to-do list is being able to cross-items off of your to-do lists! I will sometimes add an item that I already completed to my to-do list, just so that I can cross it off. Why? Am I crazy?
Well, yes, I am kind of crazy, but that’s not why. Crossing items off of my list gives me a sense of accomplishment. It becomes a snow ball effect for me. Once I get one thing done and cross it off of my list, I am now motivated to keep going with my list!
Now this snowball effect is good for about five line items before I run into an issue. I start to lose focus. I am more susceptible to distractions. I start checking the clock and wondering why it has only been two minute since the last time that I looked.
Schedule rewards for yourself right on your to-do list! Yes, you read this correctly. Write down reward items for yourself on your to-do list. After every 3-4 items that you have on your list, write-down a reward that takes approximately 2-5 minutes to complete. Any less time and you won’t feel like you actually got a reward. Any more time and you are officially slacking on the job and losing productivity, which is not the goal.
What are the rewards?
These will depend on what makes you happy but here are some that I use and that keep me in a good mood:
-Read one or two short news articles or blog posts
-Make updates to my bullet journal
-Take a five minute walk outside or on the stairs
-Eat a snack
-Creep on my dog’s webcam to see what she is up to
It is important to note that you don’t want to come up with rewards that go against your work policies. The idea here is to be a good employee, not a bad one! Find rewards that are in line with the rules at your workplace.
Depending on how long the 3-4 tasks on my to-list take, I get a reward about every 1.5 hours. This seems to be the right balance to ensure that I am getting my work done, but also making sure to reward myself before I totally lose focus. It sounds crazy, but taking those short breaks throughout the day has actually made me more productive than if I were to just put my head down and try to work the entire day.
Again, these four tips to revolutionize your work day are meant as a guide and are to be customized to use what works for you!
I would love to hear what tips that you have found to be helpful or what rewards you use! Please share in the comment section!