How often do you begin your day with this thought:

“Ugh.  I’m too tired for this.  I wish I could get settled before the nonstop hassles start?”

How often do you end your day with a thought like:

“I’m exhausted…I can’t remember what I accomplished today, but I feel like I slogged uphill carrying my desk?”

For many of us, the answer is “far too often”.

There are many things that could contribute to those feelings, and many are beyond our control – immediate or otherwise.  However, there are several things we do to ourselves that contribute to ending a day with such work exhaustion that it guarantees the next day will begin with it. This starts a self-reinforcing cycle that will end in burnout.

Fortunately, there are several things you can immediately implement to start gaining control of some of your day and give you the perspective to seize control of as much of the rest of it as you possibly can.  Here are five things you can do…beginning today.

1. Stop scheduling meetings for first and last thing

You just gave yourself three hours right there.  If you have a 9-hour workday, it just became a 6-hour (normal) workday with three hours at the beginning and end to review your plans for the day and revise as necessary, identify whether meetings need to be scheduled or rescheduled since yesterday, and finish out your day by making any final notes (either in your calendar or in your daily notebook) about what transpired and any required follow-up actions.

2. Schedule breathing room

Don’t allow incursions.  Really.  How many times have you tried to schedule a meeting with someone to find their calendar completely full from beginning to the end of the day, and possibly with overlapping or conflicting appointments?  Annoying, isn’t it?  And completely counterproductive.  No one can possibly hold all of those meetings, and if even just one or two slip, the remainder are usually slipped later in the day rather than killing or rescheduling one meeting in favor of saving the others.  Protect your ability to remain effective:  schedule islands of meeting prep and recovery time (for assembly of briefing materials beforehand and documentation afterward) to start gaining control of your day.  A fifteen-to-thirty minute hold on your calendar around most meetings will suffice.

3. Schedule lunch

Protect it.  Lunch is important, even if you don’t eat.  But, eat.  Skipping a meal guarantees you’ll crash sometime during the afternoon, and almost certainly overeat at dinner.  Lunch is also a crucial middle-of-the-workday decompression time.  If you don’t want to spend half an hour or an hour in a restaurant, take your lunch to a nearby park, picnic table, or somewhere else that will get you outside if the weather is good, and away from your desk regardless.  If you aren’t eating lunch for some reason, at least take time for a constructive break.

4. End meetings with clear expectations of what’s next

“What’s the next action?”

David Allen’s Getting Things Done espouses this principle as one of the most crucial to being productive.  I happen to agree, and practice it almost constantly.  Ending a meeting with no clear expectation of what is owed to whom guarantees something – or everything – will be late.  Declaring “I need something” does not equate to issuing an action.  Identify the action, the desired result, the expected delivery timeframe, and the person who is responsible.  Ensure they understand this information…have them repeat it back to you.  The trick to gaining control of your day is not to assume they understood you simply because you think you were clear.  Meetings that are scheduled to end at 5PM and do not include a time before the end of the agenda to review action items are not properly-scheduled meetings.  It doesn’t matter if you have a great GTD tool you use, or are using a paper planner, capture the next actions in a way that allows you to find them again.

5. Make daily notes

Do it more often than once a day!  Waiting until the end of the day to make all of your daily notes will virtually guarantee that you will have forgotten an action or an important detail, and it will frustrate you when inevitable interruptions occur during your carefully-constructed end-of-the-day notetaking time.  As much as possible, jot down memory-jogging notes about your meetings and decisions as you make them, or very quickly thereafter.  An easy way to do this is to add notes to calendar appointments, or print the calendar and take it with you; you can then simply add it to your notebook with the appointment “pre-populated” and the notes written on it, automatically placing them in context.

(Photo credit: Man Holding Clock via Shutterstock)

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