How do you decide if a day of work was a good one? If you’re like many people I work with, at some point in the late afternoon or early evening, look around your desk, shut down your computer, and slide your chair under your desk.
“It’ll be here tomorrow,” you say to yourself.
That’s how you physically shut down, but what do you do mentally…and emotionally? As an executive coach, serving leaders across industries and country borders around the world, I teach people to do three things to close their day.
As you read through the three ideas below, ask yourself if it would be worth it to take a more deliberately productive and relaxing approach to ending your day.
Step 1: Stop Trying to Manage Time
If you focus on what hasn’t been done and how little time you have, you’ll undoubtedly suffer unproductive effects: you won’t be able to shut down and relax.
Do you find yourself thinking of more to do, even after you’ve left work (and even after you’ve had dinner!)? The brain is designed to close open loops. You have heard that old expression, “If you want something done right, you just have to do it yourself.”
If you follow this advice word-for-word, you’ll find yourself busier than ever, with less time to get everything done.
Old Time Management methods of yesterday taught us to make lists, organize our desks and block times on our calendar. Are you still using those tactics? Be careful. Today’s workplace is different; it’s time to recognize that it isn’t TIME you’re managing as much as Personal Energy, Professional Attention, Digital and Analog Tools.
Over the next two weeks, stop 3-4 times a day (for less than 5 minutes) and answer the following questions:
- What can I do to build the energy I need as I get ready for the next thing I’m going to do?
- How can I close off (or shut down) some of the distractions around me for 30 minutes? For 60 minutes? For 15 minutes?
- Where are my tools, gear, systems, and technology slowing me down? And, who do I know who would give me advice?
The more you acknowledge it isn’t JUST time you’re managing, you can better set yourself up to be productive, and end the day having finished important work.
Step 2: Maintain (and Build) the Energy You’ll Need
If you decide to use these ideas in your personal life, you’ll find even more issues, circumstances, and situations that require your time and energy to handle. Because you can’t (and shouldn’t) be ALL things to ALL people, you’ll have to make some hard choices.
The bad news is that energy is limited. The good news is that it’s a renewable resource.
Throughout the day, you’ll feel more and less energy; like a roller coaster. Whether you’re a morning person or you do your best thinking work after dinner, manage the environmental and psychic factors that produce (or take away) your energy.
A client I served had a plaque in her office: “Hope is not a strategy.”
She doesn’t “hope” people return her calls, “hope” that her assistant follows up on the presentation she gave last week, or “hope” that checks come in on time to pay her vendors.
There are two kinds of energy to build: Mental and Physical. Be mindful while you’re at work. Be mindful when you’re at home. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean you can space out, or have to empty your mind. The dictionary on my computer defines mindful as: to be conscious or aware of something.
Here’s a way to build mental energy:
Open your notebook to a new page in your journal.
Write today’s date on top of the page and make a list of things you’ve finished this week. Go for a long list, maybe 15 or even 25. When you have your list, pause and breath deeply as you reflect on your productivity and effectiveness over the past two days.
Notice how your energy lifts as you recognize how much you’ve accomplished. (On the contrary, notice what happens when you look at a list of 25 or more things that need to be done in the next two days!)
If you want to build physical energy, do something with your body. Anything. A favorite recommendation to give a client is to “leave their desk, get in the elevator, go to the lobby, exit and walk from the building for 5 minutes.” Then, turn around, walk back, and return to their desk. Usually, it takes less than 15 minutes. And, the boost of energy is immediate.
Step 3: Acknowledge Accomplishment
According to Beth Comstock, Vice Chair at General Electric, “45% of employees say words of affirmation are the primary way they like to be appreciated.” William Beldham, VP, CTO at ITG Networks, made an important point: “Just saying “good work” sounds like a formula. Make it personal.”
Even though we all know it’s important, it seems like when work piles up and the schedule gets packed, acknowledging success of others is one of the first things to go.
Keep note cards with you on your desk or in your suitcase if you travel often. Write a card when someone goes above and beyond and you can easily acknowledge their deed.
In a world as plugged-in as ours, it’s simple to send an email, make a phone call, or shoot a text. But a handwritten note is an unexpected way of saying thank you. It’s a small action that takes about 5 minutes to complete, but it makes an enormous impact.
A year or so ago, I was working with a client in San Diego who implemented handwritten thank-you notes into his weekly routine. Each week he found an employee, vendor or even customer and at the end of the week he took a few minutes to write a note and hand-delivered or mailed it. Over several weeks of writing these notes, he noticed a boost in energy and productivity when someone received a note.
One week he forgot. The next Monday morning, his office manager asked him quietly if he had forgotten. Apparently, someone recognized that no note had been given and began to wonder, “Are things ok?” It was the talk of the office!
Although there had been no fanfare in the delivery, no huge production to recognize the employee of choice, this quiet act of acknowledgment had made an enormous impact.
His simple weekly exercise let those around him know, “I’m around, I notice the work you are doing, and I appreciate it.”
Preparing ahead of time and taking a moment to acknowledge the successes of the people around you need not be done in a dramatic or over-the-top way. A simple handwritten thank you can make an enormous impact.
Whose contributions can you acknowledge this week?
There are specific things you can do to close the day feeling productive and create the conditions around you so that there is less stress and more engagement all around. Choose one of the three ideas here, and experiment using it this week.
And, please let me know how it works for you! Email anytime: firstname.lastname@example.org.