How to Have a Good Day

Start your workday on the right note to maximize your happiness and efficiency at the office. What you do when you first get in sets the tone for the rest of the day, so try these tips to get off to a healthy and productive start.

1. Be an Early Bird

That precious hour of calm—before the e-mails start pouring in, the phone starts ringing, and the problems start piling up—is more valuable than diamonds in terms of your overall work performance and accomplishments. An added bonus: You’ll get to leave early.

2. Limit Your Work-Starting Routine

Don’t spend more than 15 minutes getting coffee, settling in, reading e-mails, checking messages, or looking at newspapers. You are often at your freshest and most productive at the beginning of the day. A prolonged morning routine takes the positive edge off you and makes your afternoon more stressful. Better that you jump into the important work quickly, and read the nonessential e-mails after you’ve covered lots of ground.

3. Write Two To-Do Lists

The first should contain everything that you need to get done soon. It should be a comprehensive list of short-, medium-, and long-term projects and work, and you should constantly adjust it. The second to-do list should be what you can reasonably expect to get done today, and today only. Be fair to yourself. Factor in the disruptions, meetings, phone calls, and travel hassles that are interwoven in our days. Make the tasks as specific as possible and assign a time you plan to devote to it. Print the list out on brightly coloured paper; this keeps it from getting lost on your desk. By prioritizing your work and slicing it down to small, achievable pieces, you greatly increase the chances that you will be satisfied with your day’s accomplishments.  

4. Schedule Some Social Time

Most likely, you work with people whom you like and know rather intimately. In fact, camaraderie is what makes many jobs great. So build into each morning a ritual in which you can spend a few moments of social time with colleagues. Make it short, at an appropriate time, and don’t let a day go by without getting to it. Avoid phone calls if you can; they can unexpectedly turn into big time-eaters.

5. Book Reading Time

There’s not a job that doesn’t require at least some reading, be it about the company, the industry, the marketplace, the economy, the price of tomatoes. Create a ritual that gives you 15 minutes or so to review newspapers, electronic newsletters, industry magazines, company memos, and other reading. Be disciplined—this is not the time to read the funnies or do online shopping! You’ll find that being up-to-date on your business has many advantages, just one of them being a sense of control about your own situation.

6. Sit Up Straight

One common cause of fatigue, carpal tunnel syndrome, and back pain is our tendency to slump while we’re typing or sitting. Every time your alarm beeps or your phone rings, consider it a reminder to straighten that back, throw back those shoulders, and lift up that neck.

7. Get Your Creative Juices Flowing

Here’s a good way if you have a computer. Each morning, pick a random word or name. It could be “Eduardo,” or “shad roe,” or “aquamarine.” Spend five minutes exploring the word on the Internet. Don’t have a computer? Then pick up a dictionary, open it to a random page, and look for interesting words. Creative exercises like these blow the night’s cobwebs from your mind and set your brain up to embrace new information—even in a job you’ve been doing for years.

8. Record a Daily Message

Effective use of voice mail “can eliminate much inefficiency concerning business communications,” says Marilyn Chalupa, a business education and office administration professor at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. Her advice: Change your message each day, and make it specific and useful. For instance, you might leave a message saying that you’re in the office, but in meetings most of the day, and so won’t be returning calls until the next morning. Or you could leave a message saying that you’re in the office, but working on a major project all day, and will only be checking messages at lunch and 4 p.m. You can even leave a voice mail for one person if you know someone is calling for specific information. Some phone mail systems enable you to leave this information in a separate place on your voice mail.

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