How you design your day can impact your mood, productivity, and general wellbeing. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that these decisions must be personal. What’s best for your body’s natural rhythms might differ greatly from mine.
As author Gretchen Rubin writes in one of my favorite books of hers, “To shape our habits successfully, we must know ourselves.” We are all unique, and while I believe that bringing mindful intention to how we structure our workday can be helpful for all of us, how you end up structuring it should be entirely based on what feels best for you.
Start the day before
I like to get started the day before – especially on Sunday nights when looking at the week ahead. I sit down with my LifeTracker Planner and review my biggest meetings, events, and deliverables for the week ahead.
Midweek I do the same, taking special note of any meetings that I have the next day, which I almost always schedule for the afternoon. This allows me to preserve the mornings for the hardest work I do: creating original content like this blog post and podcast, writing reports or preparing workshops for my corporate clients, or preparing for an upcoming Bossed Up Bootcamp.
I’ve found mornings to be the best times for my productivity and creativity, so I do my best to schedule whatever calls and meetings need to happen the next day for the afternoon.
Set a #1 priority
Every day I look at all the items on my TO-DO list in my planner, and come up with my number-one top priority. What’s the most urgent thing that needs to get done today? Or what’s the biggest, most complex problem I need to solve today? That’s where I begin.
I try to capitalize on the fresh start effect at the beginning of the day and tackle the biggest challenges I’m facing first, but I’ll admit it: it doesn’t always work. As something of a recovering perfectionist, I have to resist the temptation to procrastinate because I don’t feel 100% ready to start. I try to dive in head first to take on the top priority of the day right away. Sometimes that means asking for help from my advisors, peers, or mentors, when I’m feeling unsure of myself or stuck.
This brings me to another strategy I picked up from one of my first managers and have found to be incredibly helpful over the years: make sure you’re not being a bottleneck. At the start of each day, I look at my TO DO list and look for opportunities for delegation. Do I need to get my tax accountant an updated profit & loss statement for them to prepare my quarterly tax payments? Must I record a podcast introduction to get it to my Production Assistant Kirby and our editor so they can finalize that episode? Should I hop on the phone quickly with an incoming featured trainer for Bossed Up Bootcamp in order to give her the information she needs to get me the materials I need to feature her?
Whenever I am the bottleneck that’s holding a project up from moving forward, I aim to prioritize those items and give others the tools they need to help me get stuff done. That also means giving my team members whatever they need to get them up and running on their work, too. Delegate first and it’s like you’re multiplying your productivity.
Embrace productive procrastination
I’m far from perfect when it comes to being a task-master who’s always on top of things. But I’ve learned over the years not to beat myself up when I catch myself procrastinating. Instead, I try to give myself permission to be a productive procrastinator.
For instance, when I catch myself mindlessly scrolling through social media, I can recognize that clearly my brain needs a break. Instead of beating myself up about it and trying to force myself back into worker bee mode, I get up and clean my kitchen, do a load of laundry, or call my mom. Maybe I’ll get inspired to make the bed or get dinner going in the slow cooker. I consider these “chores” a form of productive procrastination: a way to avoid real work and give my brain a break while still getting things done.
Now I recognize that a lot of this is what comes with the privilege of working from home most days (when I’m not on the road for days on end), but this can apply to others, too. Get up from your desk and make that doctor’s appointment you’ve been meaning to. Call your relatives you know you should check in with more anyway. Start planning your upcoming vacation. Whatever it is, productive procrastination is going to leave you feeling more energized and less guilty about avoiding work than the more mindless, passive forms of procrastination.
Motivate with evening plans
Finally, I’m the kind of person who could easily “accidentally” keep working late into the evening most nights. In fact, when Brad has a big project or deadline he’s working towards, we both go through those phases and regularly eat dinner at 9 pm in our house as a result. But one way I’ve found to curb my endless workday habit is to schedule fun evening plans as much as I can.
Earlier this year I wrote about the joy of midweek dinner dates with friends, which I try to make happen as often as possible. Otherwise, I try to get industry happy hours and other weeknight events on my calendar to get my eyes off screens and actually converse with other human beings at the end of the day.
When I’ve got something fun on the docket in the evening, it majorly boosts my productivity between the hours of 4pm and 6pm than my usual end-of-day slog.