In my freshman year of high school, I was on the cross-country team. My coach always used to say that the most important thing to remember about running was that the end of the race held as much importance as the beginning.
And it’s the same in the workplace. You could be having an incredibly productive streak, but if you don’t end your day by reviewing what you need to work on tomorrow, you’re preventing yourself from taking advantage of your most productive days.
Closing rituals ensure that you'll be motivated in the mornings because you'll know exactly what you have to work at the beginning of each day when you walk in the door. The five-step routine below is a great way to make sure you start every day on track.
1) Do a stand-up.
When: Three hours before the end of your day
A stand-up is an extremely short meeting that originated in engineering departments to ensure daily alignment among team members, but the process can be adapted to any job. I actually run two stand-ups a day, but only the afternoon stand-up will affect your day tomorrow.
Every afternoon, ask yourself the following questions:
What has to be finished today?
What’s left that can be pushed to tomorrow?
What should you pull from tomorrow’s list to today (only if you’ve completed today’s to-do items)?
2) Triage your to-do list for the rest of the day.
When: After your stand-up
After you’ve evaluated what can realistically be completed today and what needs to be pushed, adjust your to-do list. (Todoist, a free to-do list app that allows you to assign one of four priority levels to unfinished tasks, is incredibly helpful for me here.) Any item that’s non-essential can be turfed to later in the week or removed entirely, if you can delegate or forgo completing it.
3) Review tomorrow’s calendar.
When: Two hours before the end of the day
On busy days, it’s natural to be completely focused on what you have to get done now. But checking your calendar a few hours before you intend to head out mitigates the possibility of forgetting about a commitment that requires prep work.
If your prep is a large commitment (use your judgment on this one), start on it today. Otherwise, make a note to prep for your meetings first thing in the morning.
4) Check your email drafts.
When: At the end of the day
It’s inevitable -- at the end of the day, I’ll usually have at least one or two emails I started and abandoned halfway ... then forgot about.
Unless you need to write a magnum opus or a very lengthy recap email that requires more than 10 minutes of your attention, it’s a good idea to finish off these straggling emails so you can eliminate email distractions.
5) Update tomorrow’s to-do list.
When: At the end of the day
When you’ve finished everything you need to for the day, take two minutes to review tomorrow’s to-do list. Ask yourself the following questions:
Do tasks need to be completed in a certain order?
What items do you absolutely need to finish tomorrow? (Rank these high priority.)
What items can you tackle later in the week? (Rank these low priority.)
Do certain items need to be completed by a certain time of day, and have you made note of this (instead of relying on your memory)?
Once you know the answers to these questions, you’re done! Your to-do list is ready to go, and you can walk into work tomorrow knowing exactly what you’re slated to work on and get started instead of spending precious time getting organized.
Originally published Jan 11, 2016 12:00:00 PM, updated June 15 2021