Past the 2 p.m. slump, but not quite yet 5 p.m.? Here’s how to capitalize on your last hour at work, according to experts.
Question: How do you end your workday?
The importance of ending your workday with purpose
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Let’s face it: The last hour of anyone’s workday is not always fruitful. As the hours of peak productivity start to wane, most of us begin watching the clock, itching to ditch our desks. But ending the workday with purpose can boost success both inside and outside of the office, experts say. “How positively you end your professional day influences your ability to get things done effectively and efficiently the next workday, and also impacts the quality of your personal life,” says Randi Levin, a transitional life strategist.
They reflect on their accomplishments
While many of us spend our last hour of work making a to-do list for tomorrow, successful people review the day they just had, instead. “The last hour of a day should be spent on reflection—the failures and successes, however large or small,” says Grant Schreiber, founding editor of Real Leaders, a business and leadership magazine. He typically chooses one positive thing that happened and considers what led to that success. Similarly, Levin recommends writing down the day’s wins rather than failures or to-dos, as well as reviewing your list of successes once a month. “Documenting your accomplishments will validate your professional growth and bring more joy into your job,” she says.
They bring their inbox down to zero
Believe it or not, the average person spends more than three hours a day checking their work-related email, according to a 2015 online survey. And if you leave unopened emails for the next day, you might spend your entire morning replying to messages. Bite the bullet and take care of that one email you’ve avoided before packing up, Schreiber says. The last hour of the workday is also a great time to declutter your inbox by unsubscribing from newsletters and organizing old emails into separate folders. After all, there is nothing better than leaving the office with a clear inbox—and a clear mind.
They create an action list
Forget the dreaded “to-do” list. Rather than detailing the tasks that need to get done, action lists encourage you to focus on finding solutions and effectively accomplishing your projects, Levin says. Before heading to happy hour, write down three to five goals you have for the next 24 hours. “This list is your promise to yourself,” according to Levin. “This will provide you with not only a concrete and positive way to begin tomorrow, but it will also allow you to manifest possibilities that you did not see before.” Re-read your action list first thing the next morning, along with these things successful people do on their morning commute to get ahead.
They knock out the low-hanging fruit
Odds are, a long day of meetings and decision-making leaves you feeling completely fried by four or five o’clock. To make sure your last hour of work is still effective (and efficient!), Levin suggests knocking out small, easy projects like answering emails or tidying up your desk. These tasks won’t demand much brainpower or effort, but research shows they could make a big difference for your overall productivity. A 2011 study by Princeton University found that clutter can make it harder to focus, multitask, and process information.
They brainstorm solutions for today’s setbacks
Successful people never bring the day’s failures or setbacks home with them. Instead, they end their day on a high note by taking stock of the problems they encountered, brainstorming possible solutions, and then leaving it for tomorrow, according to Schreiber. “Waking up with a purposeful goal in mind always makes me feel more proactive and less reactive to the first item that happens to come across my desk,” he says. Levin agrees: “How you end one aspect of your life will greatly influence how you begin the next,” she says. In the end, you will tackle those problems with renewed energy after a good night’s sleep.
They embrace curiosity
Experts say incorporating curiosity into the last hour of work is key to professional success, regardless of your field or industry. “Caught up in the pace of the day, curiosity can easily be forgotten,” Levin says. “Curiosity is an essential tool of strong leaders. Curiosity grounds you in the moment, allows in fresh ideas, reduces fear, and drives creativity.” As you wrap up for the day, she recommends asking yourself: Where can I be curious about a project I have been procrastinating on? Where can I switch perspectives to generate and curate new and different ideas? If you hit a mental roadblock, try these proven ways to boost creative thinking.
They schedule a daily meeting with themselves
Like regular check-ins with your boss or teammates, scheduling a daily meeting with yourself is the perfect chance to take stock of where you stand professionally. If your day often winds down by four or five o’clock, Levin recommends taking advantage of the quiet time by checking in with yourself. This personal meeting may look different each day, but it can include planning and prioritizing your next tasks, getting up to speed on the latest content in your field, or making a timetable for any upcoming projects.
They take notes on their coworkers’ moods
Reflecting on personal dynamics at the office, rather than completing tasks, might be a more effective way to spend that last hour of your workday, Schreiber says. He recommends making a short note in your calendar that documents the mood among colleagues that day. This “can make a huge difference the next day when you acknowledge to them that you noticed,” according to Schreiber. “Demonstrating that you’re acutely aware of your work surroundings creates greater respect and shows you truly care.”
They build their professional network
Have an empty to-do list and an hour to spare before heading home? Sending a short message to a handful of contacts, stakeholders, or mentors in your field could “be a goldmine of opportunity” for your career prospects, Schreiber says. From firing off a quick ‘hello’ via email, to writing a thank you note by hand, to working on your LinkedIn connections, spending just ten minutes a day on building your network can reap long-term professional rewards.