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5 Ways to Immediately Regain Control of Your Day

5 Ways to Immediately Regain Control of Your Day


    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”.

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    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.

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    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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    Last Updated on March 23, 2021

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    Manage Your Energy so You Can Manage Your Time

    One of the greatest ironies of this age is that while various gadgets like smartphones and netbooks allow you to multitask, it seems that you never manage to get things done. You are caught in the busyness trap. There’s just too much work to do in one day that sometimes you end up exhausted with half-finished tasks.

    The problem lies in how to keep our energy level high to ensure that you finish at least one of your most important tasks for the day. There’s just not enough hours in a day and it’s not possible to be productive the whole time.

    You need more than time management. You need energy management

    1. Dispel the idea that you need to be a “morning person” to be productive

    How many times have you heard (or read) this advice – wake up early so that you can do all the tasks at hand. There’s nothing wrong with that advice. It’s actually reeks of good common sense – start early, finish early. The thing is that technique alone won’t work with everyone. Especially not with people who are not morning larks.

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    I should know because I was once deluded with the idea that I will be more productive if I get out of bed by 6 a.m. Like most of you Lifehackers, I’m always on the lookout for productivity hacks because I have a lot of things in my plate. I’m working full time as an editor for a news agency, while at the same time tending to my side business as a content marketing strategist. I’m also a travel blogger and oh yeah, I forgot, I also have a life.

    I read a lot of productivity books and blogs looking for ways to make the most of my 24 hours. Most stories on productivity stress waking up early. So I did – and I was a major failure in that department – both in waking up early and finishing early.

    2. Determine your “peak hours”

    Energy management begins with looking for your most productive hours in a day. Getting attuned to your body clock won’t happen instantly but there’s a way around it.

    Monitor your working habits for one week and list down the time when you managed to do the most work. Take note also of what you feel during those hours – do you feel energized or lethargic? Monitor this and you will find a pattern later on.

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    My experiment with being a morning lark proved that ignoring my body clock and just doing it by disciplining myself to wake up before 8 a.m. will push me to be more productive. I thought that by writing blog posts and other reports in the morning that I would be finished by noon and use my lunch break for a quick gym session. That never happened. I was sleepy, distracted and couldn’t write jack before 10 a.m.

    In fact that was one experiment that I shouldn’t have tried because I should know better. After all, I’ve been writing for a living for the last 15 years, and I have observed time and again that I write more –and better – in the afternoon and in evenings after supper. I’m a night owl. I might as well, accept it and work around it.

    Just recently, I was so fired up by a certain idea that – even if I’m back home tired from work – I took out my netbook, wrote and published a 600-word blog post by 11 p.m. This is a bit extreme and one of my rare outbursts of energy, but it works for me.

    3. Block those high-energy hours

    Once you have a sense of that high-energy time, you can then mold your schedule so that your other less important tasks will be scheduled either before or after this designated productive time.

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    Block them out in your calendar and use the high-energy hours for your high priority tasks – especially those that require more of your mental energy and focus. You also need to use these hours to any task that will bring you closer to you life’s goal.

    If you are a morning person, you might want to schedule most business meetings before lunch time as it’s important to keep your mind sharp and focused. But nothing is set in stone. Sometimes you have to sacrifice those productive hours to attend to other personal stuff – like if you or your family members are sick or if you have to attend your son’s graduation.

    That said, just remember to keep those productive times on your calendar. You may allow for some exemptions but stick to that schedule as much as possible.

    There’s no right or wrong way of using this energy management technique because everything depends on your own personal circumstances. What you need to remember is that you have to accept what works for you – and not what other productivity gurus say you should do.

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    Understanding your own body clock is the key to time management. Without it, you end up exhausted chasing a never-ending cycle of tasks and frustrations.

    Featured photo credit: Collin Hardy via unsplash.com

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