Being Productive Starts The Night Before - Techniques to Help You Be More Productive Part 1

Posted by Amy Wallace Amy Wallace on .

There are many tips and tricks that can help you increase your productivity and each one might work better for you than others. One thing that's sure to affect us all as we aim to be productive in our everyday lives is that things always get in the way. No matter how much we plan, there's always that unexpected meeting, the urgent task, or the email that changes the whole direction of your work for the day.

It's also difficult, even without all these interruptions, to feel that you're achieving everything you wanted to. It's sometimes more difficult than other times to focus and with all the flurry of activity, making sure you don't forget to do one thing or another is a task in and of itself.

Always being productive is difficult. It's difficult to get into the habit of increasing your productivity and difficult to keep those good habits in place. Are there things then, that we could each do that might help us compensate for the unexpected in our workdays? Is there a way to be more organized so that we can get into the zone more and more frequently, meaning that we're able to work better and faster, taking each interruption in our stride like productivity pros?

Well, the following list of ideas might not be new or earth-shattering, but thinking about the way we structure our days and the way we approach our work as well as the work we actually achieve each day can help us understand our own habits better. This in turn means that we're better able to plan our work schedules and, hopefully, become more focused and productive.

In this first part of this post, I'll go over what you can do the night before and in part two, we'll take a look at ways to stay productive during the day, all of which is influenced by the foundation we create at the end of the work day. 

The Evening Review & The Done List

In a flurry of work, each day can seem to vanish and it can be difficult to see quite how much you achieved. Whether it was finally getting through a full to-do list or completing a large number of unexpected tasks, it's not always immediately obvious exactly how you've spent your day. Getting into the habit of doing an evening review is one way to counteract this feeling and wind down from a busy day's activity.

An evening review is simply that: a review of your day done in the evening. You can start by setting aside even just 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the day to go over that day's to-do list and see how much of it (and what particular items) you managed to complete, which are no longer needed, and which you might have to do tomorrow. Going through your to-do list like this can really make a difference to keeping your to-do list up to date and removing items that are becoming less and less, or more and more important.

As well as reviewing your to-do list, it can be really helpful to create a 'Done List'. The Done List is exactly what it sounds like: the opposite of a to-do list. It's a list of what you've accomplished rather than what's left for you to do. In her article for 99U, Janet Choi, Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, explains why it can be so useful to create your Done List each evening.

"The simple act of pausing to reflect and acknowledge your efforts providesvaluable boosts of motivation, focus, and insight that would otherwise be lost amidst your busy day. Your done list acts as a signpost, a manifestation of all that day’s hard work. This flips an overwhelmed mindset into action mode to correct course, learn from mistakes, and ultimately make better progress."

Using the Updatey Activity Feed is a great way to share your 'dones' with your team, keeping it within a project as a whole or you can use something like iDoneThis. Janet Choi explains that:

"Making [a Done List] is simple:
When you do anything you consider useful, however small a win it may be, write it down on your done list. Alternatively, wait until the end of the day to make your list.
At the end of the day, look over your list. Reflect on and celebrate everything you finished and shipped.
Review regularly — in the mornings to kickstart your day, or every week, month, year, or simply whenever you need a dose of perspective."

Taking that time to see how your day really went can really help clarify what you might need to do the next day and, over time, can really help you feel calmer and more relaxed in the evening. I find that it does sometimes make me feel tense to know how little of my original to-do list I accomplished, but taking a look at what I did in place of those tasks can help calm the nerves and the voice in the back of the head that said I didn't get anything concrete done.

As part of the evening review ritual, it can also help to clear up your desk and workspace slightly. If you work with a lot of papers (or accumulate large numbers of mugs) it's easy for things to pile up during the day. Taking a moment at the end of the day to clear your desk means that you're providing yourself with a calmer, more distraction-free environment for the morning and don't have to worry about filing papers or re-shelving books first thing.

It also provides a nice way to begin relaxing after work. If you're slowly putting your papers and pens, books and reports away, you can pick up on anything that you've forgotten to do, flag anything that might be important for the next day and give yourself a period to gradually pull yourself away from your work. This can make it a lot easier to switch off and relax for the evening because you're being productive (even if you aren't writing emails) but not focusing on completing another to-do. 

You could also add some journaling at the end of the day. This has recently been found to be particularly good at increasing productivity, motivation, and creativity. For some people, writing these thoughts out by hand is more effective than typing and some studies have shown benefits of the first over the second. As a whole, it seems that the act of reflecting and being mindful itself is more important than the medium of that reflection. If you find that either using pen and paper or typing helps the process, then that's all the matters.

Is there any one perfect answer?

In the title of this blog post, I say that being productive begins the night before but of course, there's an arguable chicken and egg situation here. Starting at the end of the day is beneficial because it can give you something to analyze without worrying about having a plan in place to start with. You have to have somewhere to start and since you don't have to have a plan to get things done, it makes sense to me to start with looking back at the day. This way, you learn about what you've done that day, can plan for the nexy, and will gradually see your habits change as you learn more about yourself.

I find it's also very beneficial to go to bed knowing that I have everything written down, that I'll forget less, and that I've decided on a manageable amount of work for the next day. Of course, this can't plan for those interruptions that arise so frequently, but that's something that's easier to take in one's stride with a more reliable system. Getting into the habit of doing this evening review is not easy and I won't pretend that it's something I manage every day. It's good to have goals, though, isn't it? 

And while you might find that it heightens stress to think about all the work you have for the next day, I also find that the act of thinking everything through, breaking it down in to manageable chunks and writing everything down means that at least if I'm thinking about it while trying to fall asleep, I'm not worrying about getting up every 5 minutes to add something to my list. Not all of these will work for you but it helps to experiment with different techniques to see which works best for you. 

Do you find that productivity begins at the end of the workday? Do you have any other tips and tricks, or do you do your own evening review and find it very helpful? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Image Credit: Justin See