Work stress can really get you down, but you can set yourself up for success by doing a few things at the end of the day to increase your productivity. From making a to-do list to tying up loose ends, here are five things you can do to improve productivity and start each day fresh.
Make or update your to-do list
If you keep a running to-do list for the week, scratch off anything you’ve completed but have forgotten to mark off throughout the day. Each time you mark something off your list, you get a little spike of dopamine as a reward. You’re also combatting the Zeigarnik Effect, a phenomenon in which the brain remembers — even fixates — on tasks that are not yet completed while forgetting about things that are done.
If you write a to-do list for each day, trash today’s list and start a new one for tomorrow. You’ll feel more organized and focused for the next workday. Researchers from Florida State University found that people performed poorer at brainstorming projects if they were prevented from completing a small warm-up task first. They tended to focus on the task undone rather than the task ahead, which meant they weren’t getting anything done. So mark those tasks off your list at the end of the day so they’re out of mind.
Tie up loose ends
If something can be finished quickly and easily in those last few minutes of the workday, finish it. Leaving things undone means that they’ll be at the back of your mind when you go home, and they’ll be the first thing you think of the next morning. Do it too many times and you’ll develop a pattern of dread as you anticipate tasks left hanging day after day.
Send off a quick email, update your calendar and check in with your boss to be more productive the next morning. Be sure to end the day on a positive note, too, by chatting with a work buddy on the way to the elevator or reminding yourself of your successes that day.
Take care of little things
Wash the coffee cup that’s been sitting on your desk since ten o’clock this morning so it’s ready for you when you come in the next day. Send off simple communications at the end of the day when other distracting tasks have been completed. Career expert Lynn Taylor suggests that “e-mails, reports, status memos and thinking projects are best handled when phone calls, texts and other distractions have subsided.” Taking care of these at the end of the day means fewer emails and small tasks waiting for you in the morning.
Tidy up your workspace
Think of it as closure after the long day. Tidying up serves to mark the day as “done” in a tangible way. McKinsey & Company consultant Eric Matson and University of Southern California Marshall School of Business visiting scholar Laurence Prusak found that we waste up to 19 percent of the workday — 1.76 hours — just looking for stuff. That could be anything from a sticky note on our desk to researching something on the Internet. Not only will cleaning up at the end of the day help you start the next day on the right foot, but you’ll also enjoy a calm sense of relaxation as you close the day.
Turn off email notifications on your phone and turn your computer off for a while. If you use one laptop for both work and entertainment, make sure you close out all the windows you’ve had up during the workday. When you get home, charge your phone in a different room than the one you’re in, or turn it off altogether. Your family, friends, pets or even Netflix deserve your attention and you need the downtime. With a clear distinction between work time and personal time, you’ll be able to tackle the next day with more positivity and energy.
By taking a few small steps at the end of the day, you may just find that your mornings run smoother and your days are more productive. It’s worth a try, right?
Megan Winkler is an author, historian, Neurosculpting® meditation coach, certified nutritional consultant and DIY diva. When she’s not writing or teaching a class, Megan can be found in the water, on a yoga mat, learning a new instrument or singing karaoke. Her passion for a healthy mind-body-spirit relationship motivates her to explore all the natural world has to offer.