Each morning when you sit down at your desk, before turning on your monitor or checking your voice mail, take a second to mentally prepare yourself for the day’s work. Briefly close your eyes, inhale, exhale, and settle into your chair.
Once you’re comfortable and relaxed, pull out your to-do list and calendar. Read through every item and decide:
- What has to get done by the end of the day?
- What would I like to get done by the end of the day, but won’t lose my job if I don’t?
The answer to your first question will decide your flow of work for the day. Look at your calendar, and schedule blocks of time when you will work without interruption to get those must-do items completed. During these times, you’ll hit the Do Not Disturb button on your phone (or disable the ringer), turn off the notification light on your e-mail, close all instant messaging programs, and hang an “If it can wait, please talk to me after 11:00 a.m. — I’m working on the [X] project” sign on your office door or at the entrance to your cubicle. If you work in an open office, stick ear phones in your ears, even if you’re not listening to music, as a signal to others not to disturb you. When it’s time to work on your most important projects for the day, set a timer to help pace your work. If you finish your task before the timer sounds, tackle a few of the non-essential items on your list while you have the time.
Be careful not to schedule your dedicated project time during your low-processing points of the day. Even if you eat to maintain consistent energy throughout your day, you will still have mental highs and lows. Our brains simply can’t stay focused for multiple hours consistently — and you’re actually more productive if you vary the type of work you do. It’s best to alternate your schedule between mindful and mindless work to produce your best work product.
A productive workday for a desk job might look like the following:
|7:30||Arrive at work, hang up coat, get coffee|
|7:45||Plan the day|
|8:00||Project meeting in conference room A|
|9:30||Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work|
|10:00||Dedicated work time on project X|
|11:30||Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work|
|1:00||Dedicated work time on project Y|
|3:00||Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work|
|3:30||New client meeting in interview room|
|5:00||Check and process e-mail, voice mail; Admin work|
|5:30||Complete all must-do work on projects X and Y|
|6:15||Power down equipment, prepare workstation for next day|
If you’re already into your workday, you can plan the rest of your day now. Do what you need to do to make sure that the most essential work is completed on schedule. Even if your plan isn’t 100 percent successful — you get pulled into a meeting you hadn’t expected or an emergency arises — you will experience less stress because you will know exactly how to adjust your schedule for the remainder of the workday to accomplish what you have to do before leaving work.