Recipe for a Successful Work Day

When I near the end a busy work day, I usually have unfinished business. There are tasks I haven’t completed, e-mails I haven’t responded to, and an uncertainty hanging over my head. After all this work today, how much progress have my team and I made towards our key deliverables?

Instead of powering through to the end like I used to do, I finally adopted a strategy that clears my head, lets me leave work at work so I can shift my focus to other priorities, and leaves me ready to effectively take on tomorrow.

My end-of-day review is the most important ingredient in my recipe for a successful work day. It takes about thirty minutes at the end of my day. I schedule it on my calendar and try not to take meetings at that time.

My end-of-day review routine includes 5 steps:

  1. Process all e-mail. I follow the simple e-mail management strategy David Allen outlines in Getting Things Done. The most important part of that strategy is keeping my inbox empty. If I can respond quickly, I do. Otherwise an action item is taken down and the e-mail is moved into an “Action” folder.
  2. Make a list of all outstanding items. I keep a notebook with me where I track issues and log action items for myself or my team (if I’ve delegated the task, I note to whom). In my end-of-day routine, I spend about ten minutes reviewing all of my notes and writing down any outstanding actions in a list, or new actions that come to mind as I review. (Outside of my day job I use Evernote for notes and Nozbe to manage tasks, but the firewall at work prevents me from using these tools.)
  3. Review meetings or tasks due tomorrow. I pull up my calendar and review the topic of any meeting I’m scheduled to attend (in my Friday review, I take extra time to review the entire next week). I note any actions needed to prepare for these meetings. I also note any scheduled deadlines on the calendar.
  4. Review the status of key deliverables. Once I’ve thoroughly reviewed where I’ve been, and have a pretty good idea where I’m at, it’s time to check the map. I keep a separate, smaller list of key deliverables and milestones that I’m responsible for. This list sits in a simple Word document on my desktop. These are the big rocks I must actively pursue, lest they be overtaken by more urgent things. As I review my key deliverables, I write down any actions that come to mind.
  5. Determine key tasks to complete tomorrow. At the close of my review, I usually have a pretty lengthy list of actions. If I could only get three things done, what would they be? I start a new day in my notebook and write down my “Top 3” just under the date. Below my top 3, I list any other actions from my list that absolutely need to be completed tomorrow.
  6. Bonus. My routine leaves me with a comprehensive list of outstanding items at the end of each day. Performing step #2 is usually as easy as reviewing my previous end-of-day list and notes from the current day, though I occasionally perform a thorough review my notes.

My end-of-day routine clears my head of hanging issues and tasks. Everything has been addressed and tomorrow is mapped out and ready for me. When I leave the office, I’m able to quickly put work out of my mind and shift to other priorities.

Do you end the day with a clear head?