AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
The Last 15 Minutes of Your Work Day Can Boost Tomorrow’s Productivity By 50%

Worrying about what you have to do tomorrow slashes productivity. Competing priorities are a daily occurrence. We can’t avoid it; that’s just life. The catch – no matter how you prioritize everything, at the end of the day, certain things just have to get done.

Easier said than done? Not really. Doing one simple action at the end of every day (except Saturday, since Sunday is, after all, a day of rest for most of us!) can get your productivity on track and keep it there.

Before becoming a copywriter, I was Project Manager on several large projects. I have learned a thing or two about getting a seemingly insurmountable amount of work done, within a specific period of time, with as little stress as possible.

In what I call my “before life,” I spent several years working for a large oil field equipment manufacturer. One of my project management responsibilities involved planning and implementation of logistically complicated office merges. One project involved merging a large branch office into the head office building. Very briefly, the scope of work involved:

  • Relocation of approximately 200 employees
  • Planning and implementation of required head office renovations
  • Keeping both branch office and head office employees calm and cooperative as their work space and daily work lives were being disrupted
  • Planning and implementation of an employee orientation for move-in day
  • Readying the vacated branch office for its new occupants
  • Deadline – approximately 6 weeks

The end result? The project was so well-planned and managed that I received a letter of praise directly from corporate head office (very rare indeed!). Also, my husband and I were treated to a wonderful, all-expenses-paid, 3-day weekend at a beautiful mountain retreat.

With a deadline that tight, how did I ensure that each and every day was productive? At the end of each day, I just stopped “doing” for 15 minutes.

The world did not come to an end … honest!

I used what I call my “Day Book” (just an ordinary, 9½” tall x 6” wide, ruled, Hilroy notebook – no need to get fancy here).

You can start your own Day Book immediately – here’s how:

Before shutting the office down for the day, take those last 15 minutes, grab your Day Book, and write tomorrow’s date at the top of a blank page. Now, write down everything that you must attend to tomorrow.

For example:

  • ABC Co. – complete project questionnaire
  • Schedule a meeting with BCD Co.
  • Spend 1 hour researching ABC Co. competitors
  • Follow up on last week’s self-promo mail-out contacts
  • Fido – to the vet for shots

You get the idea.

Note: We are not talking about your meeting schedule – meetings should already be recorded in your CRM program, Blackberry, or DayTimer.

There is something very therapeutic about writing things down on a piece of paper. When you “see” it in writing, you can truly forget about it until tomorrow morning. You can actually enjoy your family time without worrying about what you may have forgotten you have to do tomorrow.

You will be amazed at how “in control” you feel when you leave your desk at the end of your work day. Tomorrow morning, when you sit down to work, you’ll be relaxed. There will be no brain-draining “OK – where do I start?”

Just glance down at your Day Book and prioritize the day’s tasks!

One last tip: Use your Day Book to record incoming/outgoing phone conversations, meeting notes, etc. You can record those conversations in whatever CRM program you use, at your convenience later.

Bonus – If you don’t get around to recording the conversation to your CRM program immediately, you always know where to find those notes – in your Day Book. No more searching for pieces of paper or yellow stickies!

This is a system most very effective executives and managers use. It has been working for me for more years than I’m willing to admit to.

Try it – see if it doesn’t improve your productivity and give you a sense of peace and tranquility.

[Ed. Note: The above essay by Shirley Martin is the winning entry in the AWAI Writing Challenge for May 7, 2009. Theme: In 1,000 words or less, tell us your best productivity tip. Shirley will receive a $100 American Express gift card.]

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Published: May 14, 2009

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