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How to maximize the last 10 minutes of your working day

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For many people, being ambitious means identifying a point to hit and then aiming for it. For a select few, however, being smart and ambitious means aiming not just for the finishing line, but thinking laterally along the way. The heroic model of success is good for Hollywood movies and ancient myths, but if you want quality of life and quality of success then it is worth thinking of the way you use your time qualitatively, and not just quantitatively.

In short, sometimes it’s wiser to take the occasional step backwards or sideways before advancing. And at no point in your daily routine is that more appropriate than in the last few minutes before you quit the office and hit your chosen path of rest and recreation.

The final ten minutes of the day can be a real no-woman’s-land when it comes to tasks and achievements. It’s an odd nook or corner of the day: you finish one task and don’t have time to start another, yet you can’t just walk away from your desk early (unless discipline means nothing to you!). You have time to think, but you’ve been working hard all day and your imagination is hardly at its most fertile. You could fit in a quick meeting, but heck – your colleagues are just as tired as you, and already dreaming of getting home to their SO.

Instead of trying to squeeze a bit more value out of your day, consider instead slowing down, getting some perspective, and putting your affairs in order. If you have a meeting planned for those last moments, consider moving it to a more appropriate time the following day. Your colleagues will understand. They don’t want to be stuck in the office staring at the clock while some irresolvable point is discussed to death with no end point in sight. They, too, will have better energy to contribute at an earlier point tomorrow.

You might instead just make a point of saying goodbye to them properly. We spend half our waking lives with the people at work, so it can become easy to take them for granted. Instead of sending an email to postpone the meeting, logging off, and waving as you escape through the door, take the time to speak to your co-workers in person: explain the change of plan, let them know why, and perhaps flag up a couple of key points you want to concentrate on in tomorrow’s meeting.

So now you’ve got those ten minutes back, what to do with them? This may differ from character to character or from day to day, but it’s worth thinking about in advance so you don’t waste them altogether.

One particularly Zen way to make use of this time is reflect on the day gone by. Make a list of achievements and ideas or just think through your processes and imagine how you could improve your workflow in future. Take this moment to recapture all those half-thoughts, worries and ideas for which you didn’t have time to slow down during the day, and try to figure out what you might do with them. Don’t forget to think positively – what was your greatest achievement today? – because you don’t want to leave on a downer.

If this still sounds a bit brain-intensive for ten-to-six in the evening, forget about it and clear up your desk instead. The act of getting your work environment in order has three great effects that raise it above the level of basic chore. On the most practical level, it can save you time hunting around for stuff when you need it later. On the intellectual side, it can help you to clear your mind and get those same reflections in order without consciously thinking about your worries and achievements. And on a spiritual note, it can help you find closure on the day gone by; putting it to bed, so to speak, so you can switch on Evening You. Switch off your notifications and you will grant yourself a more peaceful evening ahead. Show respect for your immediate work environment, and you will find a greater level of self-respect while working there.

During periods of heavy workloads and high stress levels, slowing down to reflect on the day gone by or to tidy up may feel counterintuitive (although it’s honestly worth it, even – especially – in trying times). If you can’t bring yourself to look backwards at this point of the day, instead try to look forwards with a little more perspective.

Separate yourself from the tasks at hand and the minute details in which you’ve been caught up all day, and look at the bigger picture. Make yourself a to-do list to get those vague worries down on paper as concrete tasks to be dealt with. Make yourself a chart, use Google Calendar, or a different scheduling app such as todoist, and arrange your unresolved tasks into a schedule that works for you.

Don’t forget to allow for the everyday tasks that need to be completed regardless of workload. Things like keeping up with your emails, updating figures, and attending regular meetings can creep up on you if you become too caught up in the fog of irregular deadlines or unexpected workloads. Set aside an hour in the morning and in the afternoon to check and sort your email, but other than that try to leave your inbox alone.

This scheduling process brings us right back to the start. Managing your ambitions means managing your energy, and nobody knows how you work better than you. Perhaps you tend to arrive at work in a daze and struggle through the morning leaping from coffee to coffee – in which case, try to schedule straightforward tasks for the morning. Others find that they are most creative in the morning, but tend to get derailed by the post-lunch slump. If this is the case for you, try to save those simple, mechanical tasks for the early afternoon.

Don’t forget to leave a bit of a buffer zone at the end of the day, in case you should be running over – and to think about what you’ll do with that spare ten minutes if you happen to be finished on time. For another look at some ideas on how you might spend, check out this new infographic from STL.

How to maximize the last 10 minutes of your working day

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About John Cole

John Cole is a digital nomad and freelance writer. Specialising in leadership, digital media and personal growth, his passions include world cinema and biscuits. A native Englishman, he is always on the move, but can most commonly be spotted in Norway, the UK and the Balkans. Gravatar: https://en.gravatar.com/gjohncole

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