Finally, the days are getting longer, and winter’s frigid temperatures are rising. Pretty soon, it will be downright pleasant to enjoy evenings on your front porch, back patio, or balcony. But you can kick back with your favorite beverage in hand only if you aren’t at the office. And unfortunately for your sunset-watching desires, your to-do list may have other plans.
Hold on, and don’t wheel the grill back into the garage just yet. Here are some work-smarter ideas to help you get home at a reasonable hour so that you can enjoy those warm summer nights.
Get big things done before 9:00 a.m. Ever notice how your morning sets the tone for your whole day? As Sir Isaac Newton famously says, “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” So if an object (you) gets a groggy, frustrating start, you’ll probably feel sluggish and behind the eight-ball all day long. However, if you start your day with positive and productive ideas, actions, thoughts, and feelings, you’re likely to gain momentum throughout the day.
Own up to your junk hours. “Junk hours” are a little like junk food: While they provide short-term pleasure, they contribute to long-term imbalance and exhaustion. For instance, junk hours might include chasing rabbit trails on the Internet, shooting the breeze with colleagues at the water cooler, checking email in order to avoid doing other work, or even attending an unnecessary meeting.
Instead of adding to your to-do list, build a new pattern. Maybe you’re thinking, Sure, I’d like to change the way my days look, but wouldn’t that involve doing more than I already am? The thought of adding anything else to my already out-of-control to-do list makes me want to crawl back into bed. I can’t handle any more tasks and responsibilities! If that sounds familiar, take a deep breath. The changes that build momentum are rooted in decisions, not additional tasks.
Make a big-box checklist. It’s a given that you have a to-do list. Maybe it’s on paper, on your smartphone, or just in your head…but you have one. It’s also highly likely that your list isn’t as useful as it could be. Too often, you get stuck doing the urgent instead of the important. Make an actual, on-paper checklist each afternoon for the following day or each morning. Put a box by each task—the more important that task is for you to complete that day, the bigger its box should be.
Think about it so you don’t have to think about it. We all have “those” tasks and obligations that eat up a lot of our time, that we find difficult and frustrating, or both. Figure out where these areas are for you and commit to learning a new pattern.
Fill up your energy bank account so you can make withdrawals when you need them. Throughout life, circumstances arise that are beyond our control. You may experience a major illness, lose a loved one, or be forced to relocate. You may have to occasionally work long days and go without sleep. The list goes on. It’s because of these out-of-our-hands circumstances that we must all focus on controlling what we can.
Forgive yesterday so you can work on today. Most successful, hardworking people are often hard on themselves to an unproductive level. They are their own worst critics and spend valuable time lingering on mistakes and slip-ups. Long after the event—whatever it was—is over, they beat themselves up relentlessly instead of spending their time in a more productive state. Treat yourself with the same compassion and generosity you’d extend to another person who’d messed up or fallen short of a goal.
So, how will your tomorrow look different from your today? What is one small change you can make right now to start rewiring the patterns that define your life? It has been a long, cold winter. Let this summer be the fresh start you’ve been waiting for!