Want to Be Truly Productive? End Each Day Like This
A while back, I wrote a column with tips on how to start a great day. What I neglected to mention is that the best way to make sure your day has a solid start is to have a great ending to the day before. If you finish your day stressed and worried about loose ends, it will impact your time at home as well as your sleep. String a few of these unhappy endings together and you’ll watch your productivity plummet like a rock.
You can solve this problem with a small paradigm change. Focus as much or more energy on ending your days well and you’ll start each day more rested and vibrant. Here are seven simple tips to help you finish right so you can start the next day with a clear mind and a happy heart.
1. Finish one “organizing” project.
Busy people always have some organizing project they have yet to get accomplished. It might be cleaning out an old file drawer or clearing your email. Whatever it is, schedule 20 minutes at the end of the day and tackle it. Even if you get partway done you’ll feel like you started to accomplish something. Within a week at most the task will be done and you’ll feel lighter inside.
2. Address all communication.
I hate having email and messages that lag overnight. They create little voices in my head screaming Answer me! Answer me! I feel like I was rude and left people hanging. I hate ending the day feeling guilty. Even if you can’t find a way to deal with all your correspondence and messages, the least you can do is acknowledge that you received the communication. Create a signature that says: Thanks, I got this. I’m a little busy but I will respond within a day or two. Then you can add the task of responding to your list of things to do without offending those who made the effort.
3. Do a brain dump.
When I am really busy, my brain will run in circles and I struggle to fall sleep. Rather than suppressing the mental energy, I prefer to release it. I sit down and write down everything on my mind. Not everything that comes out has value (as some have told me). But once it’s in a document or on paper, my brain frees itself and allows me to rest. Journaling can also help extract those sticky thoughts. I often write my columns at the end of the day since it leaves my head drained and ready to recharge on the pillow.
4. Review your calendar and to-do list.
It seems obvious to do this, but many people wait until the morning to make their list and set their dates. I find the later part of the day is the best time for making the to-do list and reviewing the calendar so I can make sure I didn’t leave anything hanging or open-ended from the day. There is nothing worse than trying to rest and feeling like you forgot something important.
5. Set out your clothes.
Weather reports have become sufficiently accurate to know how to dress the next day. If you followed tip #4, you’ll know if you have any meetings that require you to dress a little nicer. Better to have a fashion crisis in the evening while watching TV than to end up late because you couldn’t find that tie or blouse. You can even catch a little more sleep if the clothes are all there, pressed and waiting when you wake up.
6. Set a “Shut Down” time.
Even though late-night phone calls are rare around my house, email and texting can go all night long. This is not a good idea. I finally made a decision to stop checking a couple of hours prior to bed. It allows me to decompress and takes away the risk of adding more thinking to my brain that will disturb my rest. I’m not a doctor or paramedic, so there are few emergencies that need my immediate attention. They can wait until morning when I am fresh and ready to address them.
7. Center yourself.
Once everything is put away, organized and the day is over, find 20 minutes before bed for some relaxing introspection. Be it meditation, prayer or simply quiet breathing, isolate yourself from people and electronics so you can spend some quality time slowing the outer world. (It’s OK to have the poodle on your lap. At least this works for me.) This is a good time to let go of anything that made you angry or upset. It’s also a wonderful time to acknowledge gratitude for anything good that happened. If that doesn’t help you start the next day on the right track, nothing will.
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Want more Kevin? Here are three more columns on Inc.