The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to re-set an old pattern, practice or usual way of doing things that might be holding you back from your best work. In fact, studies show that just mentally allowing yourself to start something with a clean slate mindset can make it more likely that you will actually take concrete steps towards your goals.
So, as a kick-off to this new year, I’m sharing great tips from renowned executive coach, leadership innovator and best-selling author, David Rock, (and a few suggestions of my own) on ways you can adjust your daily habits to get the most out of your workday and re-set the way you look at your calendar this year.
Tip # 1 – Get your work done first! In today’s more virtual world, many of us are easily sidetracked by constant emails, Slack messages, unexpected remote chats and back-to-back video meetings. Dr. Rock advises finding a way to prioritize getting your own work done before getting involved in collaborative projects or team meetings where you’ll be working with others, and possibly be pulled away from your own priorities. “For many people that tends to be first thing in the morning, before your brain gets overwhelmed by all the meetings and emails.”
When possible, try to block off some time at the beginning of each day to tackle your important to-dos. For me, this means carving out 30-40 minutes when I first get up, and before I open any emails. I notice if I open new emails first thing in the morning, I can easily get caught up in responding to messages and other distractions before I’ve even crossed one thing off my to-do list. Staying away from email first thing in the morning makes me more effective for the day.
Tip # 2 – Find the Creative Spark. Many of us fall victim to the mindset that the harder we work, the more we will get accomplished, when in fact, the opposite is more often true. The brain does its best work when it is well-rested and refreshed. That means, we are more innovative and more effective if we approach important work when we are fresh off a rest rather than in the middle of a marathon workday.
Rock’s article suggests one technique is to avoid meetings on Mondays to give yourself the best chance to tackle important work tasks after a restful weekend. This may work for you, although I’ve also found that any morning of the week can be your best time to get work done if you protect that time. In other words, yes, studies show that your energy and creativity are often best in the morning after a good night’s rest but, you can decide what day works best for you. Fridays are often lighter days for client work for me, so I’ve found myself using Friday mornings to work on new training curriculum or completing a project task when I’m fresh for the day. I also block out this time on my calendar for a “meeting with myself” to reduce the chance that I will give that time away to a meeting or simply forget the importance of that creative time I need to do my best work. Whatever time you choose, schedule it and protect that time as you would a meeting with anyone else on your calendar.
Tip # 3 – Pace Yourself. This is my favorite tip! Our brains and our attention spans need regular rest. There is just no way to do your best work or be most productive when you are exhausted, zoned out and just plain overworked. Although we can’t always take a day off or escape to an island getaway to recharge, below are two simple ways to better pace yourself and your workday.
- Change your calendar’s default meeting setting down from one hour to 45 minutes or from 30 minutes to 15 minutes. It may seem silly, but you’d be surprised how much time you can save by putting small parameters on your meeting schedule.
One of the biggest problems I had when so many of us went to remote work environments in 2020, was virtual meetings that seemed to go on forever! So many times, these long meetings would bump into another meeting on my schedule, leaving little to no time for a restroom break much less a needed brain break in between tasks. Do yourself (and others!) a favor and plan for shorter meetings!
- Move More! Movement sends oxygen and blood – much needed resources for growth and development – to the muscles in our body and to the brain. Simply put, moving your body helps your brain to perform better. Try stretching at your desk, stand up and pace in place, or take a quick walk outside and remind yourself that movement is part of being a more effective worker!
After a difficult and stressful 2020, I wish you all the patience and energy to try re-setting one of your past patterns or practices that have led you astray from your best work. May 2021 bring us all a brighter future!
Tara B. Taylor, MPA