The guardrails for a successful day

Last June, I almost burned out, again. I noticed how my brain tried to juggle too many tasks of different topics at the same time. And then, it felt like my brain shut down. After that terrifying experience, I found my personal guardrails that will ensure my personal well-being.

I took advice from a lot of great people on how you can have a fulfilling and yet stressless day. Thanks to Simon Sinek, Scott Hanselman, Russell Foster, Jeff Hadan, Belle Beth Cooper, and Dwight D. Eisenhower for sharing their experience. Of course, I don’t always keep all guardrails but I give my best to remind me what is good for me.

Rise early. Go home early

Even for those that like to sleep in late. The sooner we begin the earlier we could go home again. When have you gone home from work at 4 pm? Do you dare?

Be enthusiastic about the upcoming day

This is a trick from mental training and from self-fulfilling prophecies: if you see the day as it will be a great day, then it will most likely be one.

Select your Most Important Tasks (MIT)

Decide which of the tasks you want to do today. Then, select the tasks that you absolutely have to do today. These are those that would keep you longer at work or up all night.

Concentrate on your MIT

It’s your day! No one except you owns your day! You are the most creative before 10 or 11 am. If you are being paid to be creative, then why do you schedule or accept uncreative meetings during your most creative time? This is a total misuse of your time. Instead, plan and do your MITs of the day at the beginning of your day. Once your MITs are done, you can enjoy the rest of the day.

Focus on one topic only

Never mix project tasks and daily, operational tasks. These two types of tasks require completely different approaches. They don’t really get along well in your brain. Operational tasks require short bursts, while project tasks usually require longer thinking.

Reward yourself with short breaks

Start a task and set a goal for how long you want to work on it. Usually, this is between 20 to 45 minutes. Work on the subject, don’t let yourself be distracted or interrupted. When the time is up, have a short break and do something else. If you are easily distracted or interrupted, note down why this happens and analyze the reasons to improve constantly.

Walk around

We are sitting way too much. Walk around the desk, the office, the building, or even better outside of the office. The sunlight and the fresh air will replenish your energy and creativity quickly. Use your iPhone to count your steps taken during the day. Get at least 5,000 per day.

Triage your mail only 3 times a day down to Inbox Zero

Unless you are working on a hotline or in customer service, shut off all distractions from incoming messages and plan to check your inbox only 3 times a day. I suggest to not read your mail before you got your MITs done. When you check your mails, read each mail only once and decide what to do about it. Use the Eisenhower Method to decide whether it is urgent and important or whether it can be dealt with later on. If later create a task or reminder but move the mail out of the inbox. I wish I could rename the ‚inbox’ to ‚triage box’ because that’s what it is. Keep your inbox clean.

Write less mails to receive less

Ever wanted less mails? Then send less mails with less addressees. If you send a mail then the receiver will most likely send another mail to which you will have to reply again. It’s as simple as that. Pick up the phone, walk over and talk. But don’t send that mail!

Give a “thank you” in person

A ‚thank you‘ is emotional. Mails are impersonal. If you want to thank someone, then do it in person, either by walking over or by phone. You won’t believe how positive the reaction will be when you give a “thank you” in person.

Write only short mails

Why invest hours to answer a mail to a single person or small group? Try to limit yourself to only 3 to 4 sentences. Think about generalizing the content, write a blog entry, and send the link. This way more people may use your advise.

Plan for your time off-work

Look forward to going home. Plan something special to do. Delight yourself about the upcoming evening. If you plan on going home to something special you might actually do it.

Plan the next day

Before you go home, write down all good ideas you have, all tasks that have to be done later. This way, everything that reminds you about your work and may keep you up at night is off your mind.

Self-reflect at the end of the work day

Keep a diary about the good things that you did or that happened today. Write it down. Has anyone congratulated you for your work? Write it down. What did you do successfully? Write it down. It will help you on days that didn’t go as planned. Because then, you can check your diary and find lots of success stories.

Don’t take everything too seriously

Seriously, life is what happens outside of the office.

Go home

Going home is actually the most difficult task each day. Don’t wait until you finish something that doesn’t have to be finished today. Stop in the middle of the text. This way, you can use the momentum and just keep on going the next day. If you had finished it or the paragraph, you have to start without momentum and possibly writer’s block the next day.

Find a wind-down procedure

Find a wind-down procedure that lets you forget about the job either on the way home or right when you get home. Winding down allows you to concentrate on your personal life. You don’t ever want to take business topics to bed.

Use low or soft light before sleeping

Light keeps you awake. Once you get tired and want to go to bed, don’t turn on the light, definitely not the computer or TV. Don’t turn on the light in the bathroom to brush your teeth. Do that before you start to get tired or in the dark.

Regenerate

Our body and especially our brain needs sleep to function properly. During sleep everything learned today is moved from the short-term memory to the log-term memory. If you don’t sleep, then you can’t learn. Find out how many hours of sleep you need. Usually, you should get between 7 and 8 hours, 8 being better. If you miss your planned bedtime, then have yourself be reminded. If you are still wide awake at bedtime, go to bed and read a non-thrilling book. That should put you right to sleep.