It doesn’t matter if we’re full-time employees for a company or freelance professionals operating from home — we all have to deal with being overwhelmed by work. Some days it can get downright frustrating and exhausting.
It gets even worse when, in the wake of a hellishly busy work schedule, our work gets returned for being sub-par because we tried to complete everything by a given deadline and didn’t have time to double-check it. To people who take pride in their work on top of building their reputation for quality output (as is the case for myself) it can be terribly disheartening. But given the naturally high expectations of our clients and employers, how can we ever hope to keep up with their demands without feeling out of our depth?
I say the best way we can handle things is to take them one day at a time. And in order to be as productive as we can in the span of a single workday, we need to have a great daily work strategy. Here are some things we can do in order to achieve super productivity:
Start the Work Day Right
The beginning of the work day essentially sets the tone for the rest of the “shift.” If we start it badly, we’ll likely be in a bad mood that we’ll be hard-pressed to shake for the rest of the day. If it starts out well, we’ll be able to breeze through it confidently. To do this, there are some habits we need to cultivate.
- Set a schedule, start on time. If we arrive at the office late or start our work late, we’ll be panicking for the rest of the day. As much as possible, we need to manage our schedules so we can easily slip into a “working” mindset that doesn’t involve rushing projects. And speaking of rushing, your schedule should include some breaks that will help you clear your head.
- Focus on today, not yesterday. If we find ourselves worrying about what happened on the day before rather than what needs to be done today, we’ll never get things done. Instead, think about what we CAN do TODAY. Write (or update) a to-do list, then prioritize tasks within the first hour of work to ensure that the day runs smoothly. Make sure that your list is reasonable and flexible.
- Organize the work space, have everything on hand. If, over the course of the day, we realize that we don’t have the things we need for the day, we might be propelled out of the productivity groove we’ve set. That’s why we need to have everything we need (based on our to-do lists) within reach from the very beginning.
- Handle voicemail, not email. If we check our emails first thing in the work day, we’ll never get anything done. More often than not, email can’t be considered all that urgent (unless it’s marked urgent) and they’re more likely to lead you to “must read” pages that get in the way of actual productivity. It’s much better for you to check your voicemail inbox instead, as the messages there are more likely the truly urgent and important ones. If you absolutely need to check email, focus only on the messages marked “URGENT.”
- Send urgent messages now, not later. If we want to increase the chances of getting a response from certain people within the work day, we need to reach out to them as early as possible. If we try to call them or email them in the mid-morning or later, they’ll likely be far too busy to give us the time and information we need from them.
End the Work Day Right
The end of the work day (and believe me, IT NEEDS TO END) is just as important as the beginning, if only because it can influence the next day. If we end our day badly, it can still affect how much good work we can do the following work day. If it ends well, we can have a great jump-off point for our next shift. To do this, we need adopt some healthy practices.
- Read email, do research, write reports. Paperwork and reports are facts of working life, and they’re always better handled near the end of the day when everything is winding down. NOW is the best time to check non-urgent email messages and catch up on any readings that we need to stay relevant to our industries. For people in the creative industry, this is the best time to outline the parameters of projects scheduled for a later date. It’s also the best time to work on the progress report the client or supervisor is asking for.
- Check to-do list, update as necessary, wrap up tasks. More than anything else, we need to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of our work day. Taking a look at our to-do list near the end of the day lets you see just how much we’ve finished, and at the same time helps us plan out our tasks for the next day. It also ensures that we won’t miss small-scale activities that will completely “close up” certain tasks for the day.
- Stretch, socialize, goof around. We need to ease ourselves out of the “working” mindset before we leave the office. The best and most subtle way to do this is to engage in non-work activities like social networking with friends, chatting with co-workers about their lives, and playing a round or two of solitaire. This has the added bonus of clearing your mind for the next day.
- Clear up your workspace, organize files, delete unimportant emails. We don’t want to start our workday by cleaning up the mess we made the previous day; it will probably sour our mood. That’s why at the end of the day, we need to throw out the junk we accumulated, fix what we need for the next day, and remove anything from our inbox that will only serve to distract and confuse us.
- Set a schedule, end on time, no excuses. Barring the occasional overtime necessary to reach deadlines, it is very important that we end our work day DEFINITIVELY. If we don’t do something to truly end the work day, we’ll be in “working mode” all the time, leading to stress and (potentially) sub-par output. If you need to, go as far as turning off your mobile phone for work so you can have some real down time.
If we stick to these, we can be as awesomely productive as we need to be.