That Will Change Your Life
I’ve written before about the importance of ending your day correctly. You can find links to those at the end, but I wanted to get more specific. This article discusses exactly how to spend the last fifteen minutes in the office as you shut down for the day. Don’t just let your day come to a screeching halt and walk away. More importantly, don’t allow your day to end only when it crashes and burns.
You may not be able to control your entire day, but you should control how it ends.
This method will require some practice. You need to train yourself and your co-workers how and when your day ends. They will fight it. You’re the person leaving work on time. Who the hell do you think you are? More to the point, you will fight it. Wait, I need to do this one more thing.
No. You don’t.
Most workdays follow some sort of schedule. It’s rarely 9–5 anymore, but your’s could be. Maybe it’s 8–6. Whatever. It has a beginning, doesn’t it? You don’t get to wander in whenever you feel like it. It should also have an end. Sure, you can come in early. But here three things I learned in decades of work.
- You can come in two hours early, and no one will care. As a matter of fact, if you come in first, it didn’t happen.
- You can work two hours late, and no one will care. And it won’t matter. There are things left undone after eight hours, and there will be things undone after ten hours.
- This one is important: In terms of the workday, 9:05 am is ten minutes later than 4:55 the day before.
The first thing you will need to do to make this end-of-day ritual happen successfully is to train everyone else. First, barring an actual emergency (not the made-up ones that occur every day.) you are going to leave at a specific time. Every. Day. Second, the last fifteen minutes are sacred. They are yours. Do Not Disturb.
That last one will be a bit tricky. People will try their best to trip you up. Once they know you are leaving at say, five o’clock and you don’t want to be disturbed for the last fifteen minutes, all manner of emergencies will pop up at 4:50. Remember the old saying, Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.
I used to have one manager pop in my door every day at about 4:55 with, “Oh, I forgot about this. It’s really important.” To which I would reply, “Oh, I just remembered, the building’s on fire. Email it to me, and I’ll take a look first thing tomorrow.”
It really won’t take long to train everyone if you stick to your guns. But for it to work without getting too much pushback from upstairs, they have to know two things:
- If it really is an emergency (extremely rare), you will stay and handle it.
- You really will take a look first thing tomorrow.
Here’s another tactic I used successfully. “I don’t have time right now, but if it’s that important, how about come in a couple of hours early tomorrow and we’ll take care of it before the day starts.” That will put out about 98% of all fires.
The first thing you need to do every day is shut everything down and make ending your work part of the ritual. To begin with, this too will take practice. But after a while, it will become rote.
For one thing, this ritual will help you plan your day better. By the time you begin shutting down, all significant tasks should be long finished, and high priorities already checked off. You won’t need to watch the clock as your afternoon will naturally flow into this process.
Whatever you are working on, make a note so you can pick it up again in the morning. Remember that it is only fifteen minutes from now in work time. Close and put away all paper files. Clear the desk. Shut down all programs except your task management software, your calendar, and your email.
Check your email for anything that came in late. Usually, when checking email, you delete garbage, schedule tasks, and do anything that takes less than two minutes. That last one doesn’t work now. Everything gets deleted, filed, or scheduled for tomorrow. This is an extension of the training process above. When knocking on your door doesn’t work, they will start sending a barrage of emails at the end of the day.
After scheduling tasks from email, shut that down and move to calendar software. Double-check the calendar to ensure you don’t have anything planned for first thing and then close the calendar.
Finally, it’s time to move anything from your to-do list from today to tomorrow. Ideally, there will be none, but that will come with time. If you continuously are rescheduling things, then you need to revisit your task management. You are putting too many things on your list. You need to schedule a time for breaks and contingencies.
At the end of the day, there should be nothing left, but low or no priority tasks. Drag those into tomorrow. Check tomorrow’s list and identify what you need to do first thing in the morning. Prioritize that and shut down the computer.
This last step is essential, so don’t skip it. You have cleaned your desk and shut down your computer, now do the same with your brain. Sit back for a minute, close your eyes, and just breathe. Reflect briefly on the day and then think quickly about tomorrow.
Then, shift your attention toward home. Visualize the walk to your car or other transportation. Think about your commute home. Is there anything you need or want to do on the way? Think about tonight. Visualize your family and what you will be doing with them this evening. Transition yourself mentally from work to home.
This ritual will sound foreign to many of you, but I used it successfully in my last several years of work. Once your co-workers understand that it is non-negotiable, they will honor it. They may not like it, but they will come to respect it and perhaps envy it.
At the end of your day, end your day.