No one at my place of employment questions my level of productivity. Not only can I account for the work I accomplish on a weekly and monthly basis, but my methods to increase my workday productivity tend to be a running joke.
They’re just jealous.
Because I take pride in the value of my work, I make choices on how I conduct my workday. And after years of trial and error, I have found that my productivity on certain types of tasks are best done at certain times of day.
My hunch tells me that those times of day can also help you increase your workday productivity.
It’s all about routine, commitment and the angle of the sun.
Pre-Game Your Workday
No, I am not advocating for chugging beers or taking shots at 7AM. Just the thought makes my stomach queasy.
There’s more than one dictionary definition of pre-game. For example, the activities that occur before an athletic competition.
Think about what you do before you compete. You get on your gear, you drink plenty of water, you warm-up, you stretch—then the game begins. You don’t just jump into the game, at least if you’re serious about winning.
When your pre-game is routine, more things happen than just a step-by-step list of events. You’re mentally ramping yourself up for the game or the match or the race. Your mind recognizes that these are the steps you take before a competition, so you mentally prepare for the challenges ahead. That way when the siren sounds, you are fully focused on and committed to the present.
Same goes with your workday. If your pre-game is all over the place or basically doesn’t exist, then you are not giving yourself the chance to focus and commit to what you need to accomplish.
It’s simple to create a pre-game: define your routine before your workday starts and stick to it.
Your mind is skilled at recognizing patterns. If you have a set of activities you perform in a specific order before you begin your workday, your mind can easily transition into work mode.
Here’s how I pre-game my workday. I start with a 5:15AM run, gear up in work-specific attire, drive the same route to the office, pour myself a glass of water and a hot caffeine beverage (lately it’s been tea), set my desk up for success. By the time I’m sitting in my desk chair, I’m centered on facing today’s challenges.
My pre-game is so routine that I get annoyed when a doctor’s appointment surfaces on my schedule. I don’t like any pre-game curveball that can jeopardize the developments of my day.
AM = Analytical Minutes
Your brain is the most alert between 9AM and noon. It could be from last night’s sleep, the caffeine surging through your veins or because the sun is back in the sky. Whatever the reason, your mind was made for mornings.
So use it. Focus the earlier hours of your workday on creative production and solving problems. An end-of-the-day difficulty from yesterday can have a no-brainer solution today. Tasks that seem daunting in the afternoon are easy-breezy in the morning. If they’re not, you are more driven to take on the challenge anyway in the AM.
For me, I increase workday productivity in the morning by scheduling my writing task as my first to-do. My creativity is the strongest in the morning (the only time of day where I don’t let myself overthink everything) and the confidence I feel after accomplishing a composition carries on the rest of the day.
Middays are for Meetings
After an accomplished morning, it’s tempting to quit while you’re ahead. Yet your employer doesn’t pay you to take an early afternoon nap or scroll through your social media feed.
You’ll find yourself chatty after your lunch break. Following a morning of independence, you are more ready to engage with your co-workers and eager to take a break from your desk between noon and 2PM.
Let yourself keep talking by scheduling needed conferences or calls in the early hours of the afternoon. That way, you are committed to the conversation and more invested in discussing whatever needs to be “talked out.”
Boost Your Afternoons
For many, the afternoon is a lost cause. You tend get drowsier as the energy from the caffeine dwindles and as your lunch sets up camp in your stomach. Your eyes hurt staring at your bright computer screen where the tiny words are starting to blur.
Step away from the computer. Immerse yourself in projects and tasks that can be done outside of digital documents or away from URLs. This forces your brain to shift and think differently, not to mention giving your squinting eyes a well-deserved break.
Take your small group brainstorm session on the road. By having a walking meeting with a set agenda, you perk up because you’re forcing yourself to move and you increase your workday productivity in the afternoon because you have goals to accomplish during the scheduled timeframe.
End of Day Endgame
When 4:15PM rolls around, your eye naturally gravitates towards the clock. Instead of counting down the minutes until you can leave, increase your productivity at the end of the day by planning ahead.
Set yourself up for tomorrow’s success. Make a list of actionable items (lead with verbs, not nouns) that you can tackle tomorrow in the order that’s best to be taken. If there’s anything you can do today to help you jump right into those tasks tomorrow without delay, do them now.
Tomorrow’s success starts with your workspace. If there’s any unnecessary clutter, remove it. If there are any desk dust tumbleweeds circulating, wrangle them into the trash.
My end of day organization starts with a sticky note. I jot down my meeting times at the top, note 3–5 tasks I want to accomplish before noon in the middle and scribble down a few reminders at the bottom.
I then spend the rest of the time accomplishing the miniscule tasks that I don’t want to be bothered with tomorrow morning, such as organizing file organization, cleaning up my inbox and scheduling future meetings.
When You Can’t Control Your Schedule
This is bound to happen on the weekly, if not on the daily. Your boss wants to meet in the morning. Problems prompt you away from your lunch hour. And there’s always that dreaded end-of-day conference call.
Be present. Choose to commit to the moment at hand without wavering towards other thoughts. And use your time-of-day superpower to push through—be creative in the morning, talk it out midday and walk it out in the afternoon.
Most importantly, don’t choose defeat because the current challenge doesn’t fit best with your workday. Be the leader you need to be (whether for your team or for yourself) so that your productivity stays strong.