7 Steps You Can Take to Gain Control of Your Workday

Itxy Lopez

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There are plenty of resources with excellent tips on how to make the best of your workday. I’m constantly looking for new ways to improve my work life, and I’ve applied a bunch of advice I’ve learned through books and articles. The six below are some of my favorites because they genuinely work.

1. Erase Your Email App

According to the Adobe blog, a 2018 study showed that “1,000 white-collar workers in the U.S…. are checking personal email an average of 2.5 hours on a typical weekday. On top of that, they’re spending an average of 3.1 hours checking work email.”

People spend an average of 5.4 hours a day checking their email.

I used to check my email often, too. Whether I was out with friends or as I worked. I used the same excuse as everyone else. There could be a “work emergency.”

Then I realized, if I was out, I shouldn’t be worrying about my job anyway. I should be present and paying attention to the real world.

Finally, I deleted the app from my phone, and now I spend dramatically less time checking it.

Then I turned to Apple’s email app on the laptop. If you don’t want to erase your account off the laptop, there’s a solution to this.

In the email app, go to ‘Mail,’ then ‘Accounts,’ and you’ll be taken to this part (screenshot below) of your settings app. If you uncheck the ‘Mail’ box, then you’ll no longer receive emails in the app. If I want to check my email, I open Gmail — and I’m far less likely to do that.

2. Leave Your Phone Off and In Another Room

You’ve read this tip in other articles, but have you tried it? I thought this suggestion was ridiculous when I first read it. If I wanted to check my phone, all I’d have to do was turn it back on, which isn’t difficult.

However, one day, I decided to give the idea a try. I turned off my phone and kept it in my room while I worked downstairs. In the middle of working, I remembered I’d wanted to check something, so I ran upstairs to do that.

I went to the window sill where my phone was and clicked the home button. I groaned when the screen didn’t light up. Now I’d have to wait for it to turn on, and that took too long.

It was then that I realized the evil genius idea behind turning off your phone.

People are too impatient to wait for their phones to turn on. Since we won’t take time to wait, we’ll leave it off and where it is.

The act of turning off our phones lets us use our impatience to our advantage. While our impatience is embarrassing, at least we found a way to make it work for us. Unless you’re desperate to turn on my phone, you won’t.

3. Turn Off Your Notifications

If for some reason you can’t turn off your phone, and you need to keep it beside you, then turn off your notifications.

In his article, “Set Up a Minimalistic iPhone and Use It With Purpose”, Brian Ye suggests turning off only some notifications.

Choosing notifications helps you take charge of what’s allowed to take your attention.

I believe you should turn off the notifications of all social media apps because they’re the most distracting. Then decide what’s most distracting and turn those off. I turned off all of my alerts except for Medium and iMessages.

If you have your phone beside you as you work, it’s not the phone itself that begs you to pick it up. It’s the screen lighting up and notifications.

Before you think you’ve found a loophole, turning your phone around won’t work. The possibility that you could have notifications is tempting enough. (Assuming you have your phone on mute.)

If you turn off your alerts, however, you don’t expect anything. It was embarrassingly hard to turn them off, but I rarely look at my phone if I need it beside me while I work now.

Bonus tip: Erase your saved bookmarks

I used to have my streaming services, social media, and other distracting websites bookmarked for easy access.

When I’d open Safari, they were some of the first things I clicked, so I finally erased them. Now I’m not tempted to open them immediately.

4. Take Breaks When You Need Them

By taking five- to twenty-minute breaks throughout your day, these time blocks will allow you to shake off the stress and refocus.

In his book “Imagine: How Creativity Works”, Jonah Lehrer talks about the significance of daydreaming, taking walks, and doing other things most would consider “wasting time.”

However, it’s in those in-between moments that genius happens. This is where you have insights and epiphanies.

What’s important is that you take breaks when you need them.

There’s a difference between taking a break because something is too difficult to deal with and resting because you genuinely think it will benefit you.

Psychology Today shared,

“According to author Nir Eyal, ‘When we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to help us execute our goals. But for a challenging task that requires our sustained attention, research shows briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation later on.’”

Take your breaks as seriously as you take your work.

5. Do the Things That Matter First/Use the ABCDE Method

In his article “Forget A To-Do List, Use The ‘ABCDE Method’ Instead,” Jari Roomer talked about a new way to construct your to-do list.

I’ve been using this method every day since he wrote the piece back in March of 2019, and I can genuinely say it helped me get my priorities straight. I suggest reading his article, but here’s what the ABCDE method is.

First, write down everything you have to do today. Next, go through the list and assign the tasks letters.

  • ‘A’ is for the tasks you must do today.
  • ‘B’ is for somewhat valuable tasks that aren’t as urgent as the ‘A’ ones.
  • ‘C’ is for jobs that are easy and quick to do.
  • ‘D’ is for items you can delegate.
  • ‘E’ stands for “eliminate,” for the least important tasks on your list.

Jari says,

“It is possible to have multiple tasks from the same category (for example, multiple A-tasks). In that case, rank them by priority by giving them a number. Always assign a ‘1’ to the highest value task. For example, A1 is your highest priority, followed by A2 and then A3.

This method helps you focus on your priorities and not busywork. You can’t move on to the next-letter items until you’ve finished the previous ones.

Bonus tip: Keep your to-do list where you’ll always see it

If you keep a to-do list on your phone, you can’t see it all the time. However, if you put it somewhere you’ll always notice it, it’ll push you to work.

I bought a ten-dollar whiteboard from Target, pinned it on my wall, and I write my to-do list on it. Now I have a constant reminder of what I need to do. You can also use sticky notes, use a corkboard, or pin a sheet of paper to the wall.

6. Learn to Stop Working

It’s pivotal that you have the discipline to stop working.

I used to quit working at eight at night, no matter what I was working on.

I stopped doing this because I’d reached a point where I wasn’t finished with my work by eight anymore. I had to finish writing or editing before the day was over, and that went past eight.

That happened because I didn’t prioritize. I did the easy tasks first. This is where the ABCDE Method comes in handy.

Since you know what your most significant tasks are (the ‘A’ items), you do those first. Even if they take you hours and you don’t get around to anything else, then at least you can say you did what mattered most.

Remember, work isn’t the only thing that matters. There’s a life outside of productivity.

We need to stop when we say we will so we can spend time with our friends and families.

7. Track Your Time With ATracker

ATracker is the best app I’ve found for tracking your time.

The reason you want to track what you do with your time is to notice how much of it you’re wasting.

The first time I got this app, I tracked the hours I worked. Anytime I got distracted, I’d pause it.

By the end of the day, I thought I’d done an excellent job and that I’d worked a lot. I checked my total working hours and was astonished to see I’d only worked about five hours all day.

I’d woken up at seven and had fallen asleep at around eleven. What had I done in those other eleven hours that I was awake?

I could remove a couple of hours like showering, getting ready for the day, working out, and having meals, but where had the rest of my time gone?

Track the times you scroll through social media, check your email, and do other distracting things that add no value either to your job or your happiness. Then, do something about it.

Take all of this advice, apply it, and take back control of your day.

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