The last 15 minutes of your working day could be the most important

ThinkerLast month I shared a general overview of an average working day, and how I incorporate social media and technology into my daily routine to maximise efficiency and increase productivity.

Today I will focus on what I consider to be the single most significant part of a working day: the last 15 minutes before I leave the office. Those 15 minutes are essential for successfully capping off the day, but also for setting the right tone for the next day.

I have a reoccurring ‘End of day wrap up’ appointment in my calendar, blocking out the last 15 minutes of each day. These 15 minutes are a critical efficiency and productivity tool.

Stay sharp

Most importantly, stay sharp to the end. Serious mistakes can occur towards the end of the day, when focus may drift from work tasks to upcoming after-hours activities.

Clear your Inbox

As an adherent of the ‘Inbox Zero’ principle, I will set aside a moment for a final review of any outstanding emails. Since I actively manage my Inbox throughout the day, there never will be more than a dozen or so emails to attend to by this time of the day, other than in some exceptional circumstances, such as the emergence of an urgent matter late in the day. As usual, any outstanding email with be:

  1. read and deleted/archived, if no further action is required from me;
  2. read and forwarded to action by the appropriate person;
  3. read and actioned/replied to immediately, provided it’s possible to do so in under a minute or so; or
  4. read and turned into a task and scheduled to be attended to on a specific date.

Reflect on your day

With ‘Inbox Zero’ achieved, it is very important to spare a minute or two to reflect on your day: on what went well, and what may have gone wrong, and what you can take away and learn from those experiences. This is also a good time to evaluate and adjust your schedule for the following day, in light of the progress you have made and new matters that have emerged.

Plan the next day

It’s nice to finish the day with a sense of accomplishment. But equally, priorities of various tasks and projects change all the time. Unanticipated new projects often emerge. Therefore, you must find time for considering any such changes, and adjusting your schedule and planning to accommodate them in coming days, weeks or months.

Pausing for a moment at the end of the day and reviewing the next day’s schedule will help you hit the ground running the next morning, with a clear vision of what you need to attend to and what you need to achieve. Admittedly, plans can never be set in stone and priorities may change in the course of any day, but you will be able to manage such changes much smoother if you always have a very clear view of your tasks and priorities.

Don’t leave your office in a mess

Always leave your desk and your desktop/laptop tidy at the end of the day. Make sure that hardcopy documents are filed or archived, and that emails, document and files are deleted, filed or archived on your desktop/laptop, as appropriate. Arriving to a messy desk or an out of control desktop/laptop in the morning, will set you back immediately and will prevent you from performing at your best.

Leave

Finally, make sure you actually leave the office. Yes, leave!

Nothing will affect your productivity more negatively than the lack of sufficient rest and sleep. Manage your workload actively, to make sure you don’t have to spend excessive times at the office over prolonged periods. Of course there will always be times when urgent and complex matters require your devotion, and even pulling an all-nighter from time-to-time. But these occasions should be the exception rather than the norm.

Say ‘thank you’ and ‘goodnight’

And on your way out, make sure you say ‘thank you’ and ‘goodnight’ to your team.

Thank them for the work they have done that day and the support they have provided. You will find that this will make you feel good and will put a smile on their faces too. And they are more likely to arrive with a spring in their steps the next morning.

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