It is also important for productivity to end your day in the right way, and to be sure that you do end your work day.
The first step is to decide when to stop your day
We are not machines, and we cannot work 24 hours a day. At some point, we have to end our days. It is much less exhausting to consciously end your day and decide ahead of time to stop working than to try to keep working, but find your mind, eyes, and fingers diverting you to other tasks.
Personally, I end my day in steps. I stop writing before lunch. I stop answering work emails and doing administrative tasks after 6pm. I stop all Internet activity at 8pm. And, I stop reading when I get sleepy.
It might sound counterintuitive, but deciding when to stop working (and to actually stop working) can make you more productive.
Stop working so you can be more productive?Yes! I stop writing before lunch because my ability to write clearly and quickly after lunch is extremely reduced. If I try and write after lunch, I am only half (or perhaps even less) productive than I am in the morning. Since I have lots of other tasks I need to attend to, it is much more productive for me to do those tasks and get back to my writing the next morning.
I stop answering work emails and doing administrative work after 6pm for two reasons. The first reason is that, by that time, I am tired. This means I am prone to making mistakes. Making a mistake over email usually means I have to either rewrite the email later or, even worse, spend two or three times the amount of time cleaning up the mess I made. So, it is not productive for me to respond to work-related emails in the evening. The second reason is that I need to consciously end my day so that I can take stock of what’s done and what is not done so that I can plan and prepare for the next day.
Each day, at (or around) 6pm, I look over my to-do list for the day. I cross off what I have done. Then, I make a new list for the next day that includes the items from my weekly plan for the following day as well as anything that either didn’t get completed that day or that came up during the day. That way, even if I didn’t complete all I intended to complete in a day, I don’t have to let my unfinished tasks take up mental space. Instead, my tasks are written down on a piece of paper and I know I will attend to them the next day.
David Allen writes about the importance of getting things out of your head and onto paper to clear up mental space, and I find this to be true. Once I write down what I need to do the next day, I don’t need to worry about forgetting to do it or making a plan for when I will do it. I know I will attend to the task the following day. And, if not, it will just get bumped to the next day. And, so, life goes on.
I also try to enforce an “all screens off” policy in my house at 8pm. Since I start writing early in the morning, most days, I am on the computer nearly all day, and I need plenty of time to recuperate. Thus, even though I might think I find it entertaining to read the news or the blogosphere, shop on Amazon, or mess around on Facebook or Twitter, the truth is that these activities are not actually relaxing. Instead, turning off all of the screens is beneficial both for me and for my kids.
After the screens are off, my kids and I can talk, finish up homework, make art, or read. The only work I will do in the evenings is reading – there is always more to be read. I try to treat myself to a novel when I can, but academic work is so much better at putting me to sleep!