“How you end the day is critical, as it has much to do with how you start the next day,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant; How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job. It’s half of the puzzle of being productive. Both pieces are like bookends that carry extra weight relative to what happens in between. They’re like first and last impressions that hold tremendous impact on your view of your work, attitude and productivity level. The end of your day sets the stage for tomorrow, and the start of your day sets the stage for today.”
Ending your day on a good note will also ensure that you look back on it with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment, making it easier to get up and go to work the next morning, adds Alexandra Levit, the author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can’t Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success.
Another reason to end your day the right way: Michael Kerr, an international business speaker, author and president of Humor at Work, says it has a huge effect on the level of stress and happiness you carry home, “which in turn can impact your health, your marriage and family life, your ability to sleep and your overall level of happiness.”
With the help of career and workplace experts Lynn Taylor, David Shindler, Michael Kerr, Anita Attridge, Alexandra Levit and Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, I compiled a list of 14 things all workers should do at the end of every work day.
“Just as it’s never a good idea to hard crash your computer, you shouldn’t hard crash your day,” advises Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD, organizational psychologist and author of The YOU Plan. “Closing out your day in an orderly and positive way is critical to making that clean psychological transition into the personal side of life.
Nobody likes that feeling of unfinished business hanging over their head while playing with the kids or dining with the family, so it’s important that you do what you can to make as clean a break as possible when walking out the office door.”
Here’s how you should end your work day:
Evaluate your to-do list.
Make sure you are where you need to be on these activities and that you’ve accomplished as much as you could, says Anita Attridge, a career and executive coach with the Five O’Clock Club, a career coaching organization. “If you aren’t satisfied with where you are, plan what you need to do and when you will do it so you don’t get further behind.” If you could quickly get something done before you leave, do it. This will save you time the next morning.
Review your schedule for the next day.
Make sure you’re aware of any meetings or calls for the following day. You can also use this opportunity to schedule time on your calendar to accomplish any remaining items from today’s to-do list.
“Some people like to visualize, make a mental or physical note of what is on their schedule first thing the next day,” says David Shindler, founder of The Employability Hub and author of Learning to Leap. “Think about one thing you are most looking forward to tomorrow. It will help you leave behind what’s happened today, enrich your current mood and help to put a full stop to your working day.”
Check in with your boss and colleagues.
Depending on how hands-on your boss is, you may want to visit with him or her to discuss the status of any projects you’re working on, Taylor suggests. You’ll also want to get end-of-day updates from co-workers.
This is also a great opportunity to double-check deadlines and confirm that everyone is on the same page.
Nobody likes the feeling of walking into a mess, especially when you are under the gun, Woodward says. Before walking out the door take a few minutes to toss any trash, organize your paperwork and straighten up your desk. This will give that feeling of a fresh start when you arrive the next morning.
You should also clean out your in-box. “Block off at least 15 minutes at the end of your day to sort through those unnecessary CCs, happy hour invitations, and random solicitations,” he says. “E-mails can stack-up fast and it’s easy to miss those critical ones when your in-box gets too backed-up.”
Complete non-peak hour work.
The end of the day is the best time to handle paperwork and tasks that don’t require phone contact. “E-mails, reports, status memos and thinking projects are best handled when phone calls, texts and other distractions have subsided,” Taylor says. Hopefully, you’ve maximized the peak hours to contact the people you need so that you can complete the administrative side of your job armed with their input. The end of the day is the time to determine who you need to reach first thing in the morning.
Be sure to tie up any loose ends so that you can truly disconnect when you walk out the door, Woodward says. Be sure not to leave anything hanging that can quickly be taken care of. “There is nothing worse than having that feeling of something hanging over your head,” he says. Attridge agrees. She suggests you take a few minutes to send that e-mail you’ve been meaning to send, respond to that request that you can quickly answer, or touch base with a colleague you been meaning to see.
Make a new to-do list.
Determine what you must accomplish the next day and have a plan of how you will use your time to manage your priorities, Attridge says. You’ll probably update or expand your to-do list the following morning, but it doesn’t hurt to compile a preliminary list the night before.
“Based on the day’s events and input, reflect those changes on your master to-do list so that when you start your day, you’re that much further ahead of the game,” Taylor says. “Anything you can do to have a head start in the morning will help you achieve more productive days and a more productive career.”
Reflect on the day.
Unfortunately most people don’t do this. They’ll run out the door the second they’re done with their work. But if you can make time to reflect on your best achievement or success that day, you could end up walking out with a spring in your step, Shindler says.
Write down your accomplishments. “Happiness researchers suggest that writing down three positive things that happened during our day is one of the most effective ways to boost long term happiness levels,” Kerr says. “It’s not enough to simply reflect, you need to put them down on paper. The end of the work day is a perfect time to do this.”
Say good bye.
Kerr says it’s important to create routines and rituals at work that will helps us feel more fulfilled and happy in the long run, “so that we go home feeling reenergized and inspired, instead of fried and dead tired.” One simple routine that falls into this category is saying a proper good bye to your colleagues. “We tend to think about the importance of checking in and saying good morning to kick off the day, but we forget that it can be just as important, and make us feel good as well, to say a friendly and proper good bye to everyone rather than just silently drift off into the night. This is triply important if you are the supervisor.”
Resist last minute, low priority e-mail and calls.
As you prepare to head home, try not to be drawn in by last minute, non-essential emails or calls, Taylor says. “Despite your best intentions to start the next morning with a clean slate, you may get mired into a long-winded late day project or dialog of low priority. Just because they appeared after you cleared your Inbox at 6pm, doesn’t make them more urgent. Consider that these late emails may be arriving because others know you’re finally undistracted; they may finally be getting to their own non-peak hour work; or they may seek greater recognition working long hours.”
Leave on a positive note.
Take note of something that went well, compliment a co-worker on an accomplishment, or drop a thank you note to a client, Woodward says. “The idea is to find something positive that makes you feel good about your job and make sure that moment is the last thing on your mind before walking out the door.”
“If you have people reporting to you, say a few words of encouragement before you head for the door,” she says. “Most workers want to feel appreciated and know they’re making a difference in the big picture.”
Disconnect. Don’t be afraid to shut down your smartphone or at least shut off the e-mail alerts, Woodward says. Let people know about it. When you walk out that door be sure to tell your colleagues the period of time you will be unavailable and stick to it. “It’s important to be present for your family and friends,” he says.
Have a plan for your commute home.
Commuting is a huge source of stress for people, but if you create a plan to either use the time more efficiently (such as learning a new language on the train) or make it less stressful by listening to your favorite comedy or speaker podcasts on the drive home, you can look forward to the commute rather than dread it, Kerr says. “Planning a different mental activity also builds in a buffer between your work and personal life.”
Leave your stress at the door.
When you walk out that door commit to leaving your stress behind. “Leaving the office at the end of the day can be tough, but carrying your stress home with you won’t serve any good,” Woodward says. “Your family needs you to be present, so do what you can to make sure your stress stays at the office.”
Turn off your lights and equipment, and go home, Levit suggests.
Don’t aim to be the last to leave for the sake of face time, Taylor adds. You’ll wear yourself out and your productivity will slip. It’s one thing to be a hard worker, another to hang around for Brownie points, achieving nothing. Better to plan for the next day, get rest and be clear-headed in the morning. “If more than one person has labeled you a ‘workaholic’ or you’ve forgotten the name of your pet golden retriever, it may be time to do ’80%’ and not give 110%,” Taylor says. “Then you may normalize your work patterns more effectively.”
Shindler adds: “Don’t stay just to keep up with the boss. Don’t leave just because you can. Your colleagues may depend on you. Do the right things and do things right.”