“Tell me about your best day at work” is an interview question that I like to throw out to candidates. I leave it open ended because I know that so much can happen in a day and they all fall on a wide spectrum. Some of my best days can include three great phone calls, extending an offer, catching up with a colleague over coffee, or even celebrating a team win. After being with my company for over a year and a half now, I’m starting to get into a rhythm with my best days so much that it occurs often. I think I’ve figured out the formula to making sure that every day feels a little bit more balanced. Here are some of my tricks:
Don’t hit snooze
On average, I wake up at 6:45AM every morning if not a little bit earlier naturally. This is my usual alarm, but I always check my calendar the night before and adjust the time if I need to. If I know ahead of time I can sleep in, then I’ll change it. Hitting the snooze on your alarm may sound nice because you’re getting a few extra minutes, but it can actually make you more tired and more delayed in starting your day.
Give your body what it needs
Since I’m in the office usually by 8:45-9AM, I find that it’s a little bit too early for me to be putting food into my body. As much as I love breakfast and weekend brunch, I can’t be consuming that much food on a daily basis for work. My usual latte at Starbucks does the trick, but I recognize that everyone is different and has different needs. For special days where I want to treat myself, I’ll get a breakfast burrito or a breakfast sandwich, but usually half a bagel with cream cheese or nothing works too.
Pick your top 3
I’ve been trying out something new in 2020. I am now the proud owner of a notebook that I write in daily and each page starts with the three priorities I need to tackle that day. If I have more than three, I categorize them as “other” and write the list below. Everyone has a to-do-list, but I’ve read a few articles now that have honed in on the sweet spot being three items that you can truly accomplish. The key here is to select your focus.
Ditch your phone
In the office, I often find myself schlepping a handful of things – laptop, water, snack, phone. Solution? Leave your phone behind. Most notifications that you’d receive will already go through your laptop anyways. Not only is it another item to carry with you, but it can be the worst distraction. I’ve now conditioned myself to leave my phone at my desk for meetings and only taking it with me for lunch so I don’t miss a meeting or lose track of time!
Take a walk
I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had in the office where I haven’t even left the building. Some of that can be tied to having lunch provided in the office, but often times, it’s getting so wrapped up in your work that you feel like you can’t leave. Whether it’s picking up something at Walgreens, lunch, an extra coffee, or a snack, I find these reasons for myself pretty often these days. Errands are an easy way to step out, but even if you just need to clear your head or get some fresh air, I find that doing so before coming back to work makes me more productive.
Find a time for catchups
You may believe that thirty minutes of catch up time with a colleague can be unproductive, but sometimes it is absolutely necessary. My best days are the ones that are broken up between calls, meetings, project time, and a little bit of time for you to share with someone else during the work day. Now that my office is spread out amongst several floors, I don’t see my colleagues on a daily basis like I used to. Find a time and space where you can catch up with those you don’t often see. It can be a lunch, a walk, or something else! I try to do this several times a week for just 30-45 minutes each.
Where you work matters
Behind my desk is the most beautiful view of the city. I’m lucky to have a prime spot in the office with such natural light! However, I wouldn’t consider myself a desk person. At home, I’m always working from my couch even though my desk is next to me and it’s when I’m most productive. It didn’t take me long to find a comfy couch in the office that I could consider my spot. So I found out my exact location of my desk where the prime view and sunlight are six floors down. This time, I get to face out to the view instead of having my back to it.
Minimize social distractions
This may sound contradictory as I encouraged catch ups above, but the difference between the two is that the first is scheduled. I love spending time with my team and could chat with them forever. I allow myself a little time for that, but at the end of the day, there is work to be done. Being in an open office environment means that people can come up to your desk at any time and frequently. This is the fastest way to answer questions or resolve issues, but not always effective for my time. If I’m in the middle of something, I will let my colleague know that now is not a good time, but follow up with a) when I can get back to them or b) if I can follow up with them at their desk after I finish my task.
Too often, saying “no” is frowned upon in a work space. In my opinion, I think it’s necessary! It doesn’t mean that you won’t do it or you won’t get back to someone. You’re just being honest about your time and what you need.
Another way to signal to colleagues that you are deep into your work is setting your Slack icon to “do not disturb” or having your headphones on.
Block your calendar
I live and breathe by my calendar. It’s so much a part of my life that I even put everything that’s going on in my personal life into my work calendar so that it lives in one place. Lately, I’ve been working on a couple of projects for work for which I need a dedicated period of time. While I control my own calendar, there’s a part of it that allows my colleagues to schedule things whenever they see an open block. For project work or focus time, I will mark that off on my calendar so that I can get sometimes an hour or two hours to work on one thing consistently. This also works for even smaller tasks that I know I won’t forget if I just write it down!
Opt out of meetings
Some days it can feel like I’m in meetings all day long. Very rarely do I find that it was necessary for me to attend all of these. Naturally, I do an audit of my calendar the night before, but this is something that I could work on. There is such a thing that people have called “meeting FOMO,” but in reality every person invited should play a key role to each meeting. If you feel your presence isn’t necessary, you should speak up and let the organizer know. Your time is so valuable and you can’t be productive if you are in meetings all day. Along these lines, every time you set a meeting, ask yourself if it can be resolved with an email or a quick ping instead.
Track your time
This may seem like a tedious task, but you’ll be better off for doing it. A few times a month, I feel so busy that I completely lose track of my day. Everything that I was supposed to do doesn’t get done and instead I accomplish many little things that aren’t prioritized. This happened a couple of times with a former manager that even she was unclear where my time was going or how long certain tasks took. For a week, I had a spreadsheet with every day and every hour that I worked detailing what I did for each hour. The biggest finding from this was actually seeing how long tasks took and if they could be shortened and how many distractions came up from external factors.
How productive you are at work isn’t a “one size fits all.” I’ve learned a lot about what helps me best over the last few years, but it took a lot of trial and error on my part to get here. Hopefully these tips can be helpful for you, but over time you’ll also find your own way.