Ever get that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you forgot something crucial? Or head into the weekend with a sense that you didn't accomplish much during the day or week that just ended? It can be an uncomfortable to know you've left important tasks on the table or missed your own goals.
To avoid that discomfort, it’s important to have a set routine for the way you end each workday. By sticking to it, you’ll have a clear view of what you accomplished each day and what you have to do tomorrow.
Here’s how to put one together.
The Email Rundown
A big cause of anxiety after work can be missing an important email or forgetting to send a time-sensitive reply to a client or customer. Spend a small chunk of time at the end of each day running through the emails you sent and received. Make sure that you’ve sent replies to every person that needed one and read every message that needs your attention. You'll find the missing one or two conversation threads that you didn't put on your to-do list and have a greater awareness of everything that's going on at work.
Sometimes, your inbox entirely runs away from you and you can’t seem to make heads or tails of it. In that case, take extra time to go through and clean out the last week or month of emails. Assign labels or stars to each one based on what needs your immediate or future attention. By knowing what you need to handle now and what you can handle later, you'll set yourself up with more digestable bites of tasks to run through.
Delete all newsletters and notification messages to clean out the irrelevant noise clogging your inbox. An organized email habit is a crucial first step towards a clear bird’s eye view of your work. When your emails are properly labeled and easily searchable, you’ll rarely miss out on sending a reply or reading an important message.
The Unfinished Task
Oftentimes, you’ll end your workday at a stopping point in the middle of a task or project. That stopping point ideally serves as a starting point for your next workday, but if you’re disorganized you may find it difficult to return to the task and may try to avoid it entirely. This can result in a big delay in when that task gets done -- just because you didn't wrap it up in a way that made it easy to get back to.
It’s important to note (especially at the end of a week) where and what you were working on so that you don’t forget to continue working on it or finish it the next day. You can use anything from a crude sticky note to an online to-do list. Whatever method you choose, be sure to utilize it whenever you have unfinished work that you intend to complete later. You'd be surprised how much unfinished work is due to this lack of path-creation in completing small or large tasks over several days.
The Important Conversation
There will be days on the job where you’ll need to have an important conversation with a coworker or manager. Unfortunately, scheduling is hard, even within an organization, and so you might not have gotten to that conversation during the day while both of you were otherwise occupied. Important conversations about the progress, direction, or issues of a project should be had as soon as possible. If you just can’t sync up the person you need to chat with, it can often leave you in limbo as you wait for an opportunity to chat.
To fix this issue and avoid the bump in the road, stop relying on informal meetings and hallway chats for important conversations. Formalize your need for a conversation by setting aside a block of time on your calendar. Send the person you need to speak with an email about the purpose of the chat, add in a few times you’d like to meet in the next day or two, and make sure to follow up with them to get it scheduled. Send them a calendar invite to confirm, send a reminder if they're the type likely to forget, and make sure to get the meeting out of the way.
(Bonus) End of Week: The Finish Line
It’s Friday and you’re probably spending the last few hours of work half productive, half thinking about all the fun things you have planned for the weekend. Your mind is probably more focused on the after work happy hour than the task at hand. But if you want to avoid the “What did I forget?!” moment during the weekend or the "Wow, I did nothing last week" cringe on Monday, you should zero in on your remaining work and pound out a productive end to your week.
The best way to start a new week is with a fresh set of tasks. So, as you wrap up your Friday, come up with the list of leftover tasks your moving to next week and other additions to your to-do that will get your Monday started quickly and efficiently. It's like setting out your clothes the night before -- you'll get to skip that decision making process Monday morning and get right to work, which can set a great pace of productivity and remove the mental exhaustion of needing to "warm up" to start teh week.
And if the clock is about to strike 5pm and that's your usual closing time, think about whether you want to spend the extra half hour finishing whatever task you're up to so that you don't need to return to it. Task interruption is one of the greatest blocks of productivity. You'll wind up happier and with more flexible time at work if you avoid needing to constantly warm up and return to prior projects.