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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Finishing a Day's Work in Advance

In this section, you will learn how to lay out your day in advance, from wake up to lights out.

Getting Up to Go to Sleep

Nothing in life is perfect, and no day works completely the way we expect. There are just too many factors that we can't control. Even in the world of business, planning consultants recognize that their projects will not happen exactly as written.

But plans exist to give direction—and sufficient resources—to respond appropriately to the unplanned. That is called organization.

The same can be said for how we plan each day of the workweek.


The very nature of organization is to anticipate and prepare for change.

No one individual will have a day exactly like that of the next person. However, we can define certain tasks and determine how they are to be accomplished. We set them in motion.

What Time Is It?

What may be the most important task of the day is deciding when to rise and meet the day. That's very simple. You will perform certain functions to prepare your body for the whole day, interact with other members of the home, and leave the house with sufficient time to promptly arrive at work. That is the hour for setting your alarm.

Morning Routine

Conduct a morning exercise to generate the body into action and to stay trim and fit. It may require getting up earlier, but it can set the tone for the whole day. For instance, you could get up at 5 a.m. daily to spend 45 minutes following an exercise video before the rest of the family awakes. The feeling of having accomplished something for your own good is invaluable.

The benefits of exercise in battling stress are well documented. Regular physical exercise can help reduce anxiety and mild depression, and can help fight disease. You don't have to undertake a heavy workout to benefit; a brisk 20- to 30-minute walk daily can be enough. Other types of exercise, such as yoga or tai chi, can also help revitalize your spirit along with your body.


Don't forget to eat—it's often said that breakfast can be the most important meal of the day. The body needs nourishment to begin the day.

E-Mail, Anyone?

The incredible onslaught of the computer age has made this machine a common sight in most homes. Be careful—don't make the mistake of getting caught up to the point that you leave late for work or get frustrated before you even leave home.

Office e-mail should remain there—in the office. If you're waiting for an important document, however, you may want to use an e-mail forwarding system, such as hotmail.com or desktop.com. (See "Managing Your Computer," on page 183 for more details.) This allows you to access important messages from home, while leaving a copy on the office server so that you'll be able to view it again at work.


Leave personal e-mail review for the evening when you have the leisure time to read and respond to it.

Dress for Success

Have your clothes ready the night before, and round up the dry cleaning for drop-off the next day. Paralyzed over what to wear? You're not alone, especially because 90 percent of all companies in America have adopted a casual dress policy. In fact, one third of those companies allows dressing down every day. But how casual can you go?

Mary Lou Andre, fashion consultant and president of Organization by Design in Needham, Massachusetts, has created a booklet titled Making Casual Day Work. She says the best bet is to aim for a classic look; this booklet is available at http://www.dressingwell.com. Some other fashion do's and don'ts include the following:

  • Leave your printed T-shirts at home.

  • Save sweats for the gym, and save beachwear for the beach.

  • Keep shoes shined and scuff-free.

  • Combine items from your business wardrobe with casual attire.

  • Wear a vest instead of a blazer.

  • Match your belt to your shoes for a polished, coordinated look.

Andre notes that a relaxed dress code has many benefits, including improved productivity, increased morale, and greater loyalty. So if you're a manager, you may want to institute a casual dress policy. If you're an employee, you still need to draw the line between casual and sloppy.

Off to the Races!

For most of us, driving to and from work can be the most stressful beginning to any day. There are ways to avoid the stress:

  • Turn on the radio. Soft, soothing music or a humorous talk radio show is certainly more relaxing than the latest disaster news. Or find audio books at your library or bookstore.

  • Get a head start. Leaving a little earlier and giving you more time to arrive greatly reduces that stress.

  • Discover new ways. Why not get up a little earlier and take a less congested route? A change of scenery will make you feel less like a robot on its daily programmed mission.


Why not enhance your value to the company and boost your self-esteem by learning a new language during drive time?

You've arrived on time, nourished, rested, and relaxed. That's the way it should be. If you develop a well-organized routine as exemplified in the previous sections "Easy Organizing Basics," on page 156, your mind and body should be ready to take on the day.

Going Home

The time between the office and home may quite often be the only time alone you'll have in the day. Take your mind off the job now. Put that soothing music back on, or practice your foreign language verbs. Why jump back on the expressway? Don't take that stress home to the family. Take that quieter route.

It's fairly easy today to find out the traffic report before you leave the office. Even Web sites—including the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state regional traffic site, http://www.metrocommute.com, or the San Francisco Bay Area's http://www.travinfo.org—offer in-depth details.

Etak, a publisher of digital maps, has created a demonstration Web site called http://www.etaktraffic.com that will provide live, real-time traffic information online for metropolitan areas in the United States. The system eventually will be able to send e-mail and pages to commuters to let them know about problems in advance.


If you've planned it well, you may have something to pick up on the way home, such as dry cleaning, or you may have a workout appointment at the gym. Make the most of your drive time.

No Surprise

If you have planned this day beginning this morning, or the night before, there shouldn't be any surprises when you get home.


Make sure to greet each family member individually when you come home—it reestablishes personal contact.

When you arrive, everybody should be going about the job of fulfilling obligations of dressing down, going through the mail, preparing meals, doing homework, and then getting together at the dinner table. Eat, relax, and share your day with the rest of the members of your household.


Surf the Internet if that relaxes and entertains you, but don't get caught in a time warp. The idea is to relax.

Lights Out

The notion of a full night's sleep should not seem like a luxury. Go to bed at a time that allows you to get sufficient rest and sleep. And don't worry about the job or tomorrow's challenges. You can't do anything about tomorrow until it arrives. Remember, you are getting your life organized. You should begin to feel in control of your life.

Plan Ahead to Save Time

One of the best ways to succeed in getting organized is to be ready for what comes your way. By planning ahead, you avoid the panic and anxiety that can overcome you when the unexpected comes up. One of the first steps in planning is to identify your problem areas.

Tackle the Time-Wasters

Take a look at the results of the following survey, conducted by Pace Produc-tivity, Inc., of Toronto, Canada. Pace surveyed more than 600 employees and entrepreneurs in North America to find out what they considered to be the top time-wasters in terms of their productivity.

These were the top 15 responses to the question of what things outside the respondents' control got in the way of productivity. We feel certain that you'll recognize them yourself:


Number of Responses

Paperwork/administrative tasks


Customer requests


Phone calls/phone interruptions


Computer/system/equipment problems


No internal support/other department inefficiencies


Unspecified interruptions




Meetings—too many/too long/unnecessary


Volume of work/not enough time


Staffing issues/people absent


Requests from peers/other departments


Changing priorities/unplanned projects


Fire fighting/emergencies


Doing other people's jobs


Handling customers without appointments


How can you stop wasting time? Two words: Be ready. Let's use the top problem on the previous list as an example—paperwork.

Taking Steps

The most common time-waster is paperwork or administrative tasks. Although these tasks may seem like a waste of time, they are essential to keeping order and records of your business. Let's tackle them:

  1. First, determine when your energy level is at its highest, and use that time to tackle those tasks that tap your brain the most. Put all those seemingly Herculean tasks on your to-do list at your peak energy times.

  2. Second, call ahead. If you know that you have a weekly report to do, for example, gather the facts a few days before. A few minutes spent on the phone or sending e-mails to the right parties to assemble data could save you an hour. Place your notes in a file folder labeled "In Progress." When you're at your peak productivity time, you want to have the details at your fingertips.

  3. Finally, streamline your process. Clutter creates stress. Select the tools that you use most often, and toss the rest. Don't waste precious time digging through desk drawers of files, scissors, pennies, and paperclips. According to Michael Fortino, a time management expert with the Efficiency Index, the average American spends a full year searching for misplaced objects in a lifetime. You can avoid some of that by having fresh pads of paper and several working pens ready, and also having your favorite word processing application shortcut ready on your computer screen desktop.

Self-Determination, Your Power Tool

In the section "Easy Organizing Basics" we created a task matrix. This is one of the best tools you can use to plan the week ahead. When you get into the task list habit, you'll become a better time manager, simply by trial and error. Here are some other time-planning techniques to add to your toolbox:

  • Own your own time. You wouldn't let someone help himself to your cash, would you? Why let that person dig into your time? You can control interruptions by having a ready response, such as, "I'd like to help you with that problem. If you send me an e-mail/note/ memo, I can give it the attention that it deserves when I'm through here."

  • Just say "no." It's not easy to do, so we don't often say it. Here's an exercise to help you learn to be positive while delivering the negative. At the end of each week for four weeks, write down the requests that you should have turned down. Now write down why it didn't work out, or why you felt burdened by it. That's the reason that you'll give next time you get a similar request.

  • Prioritize and protect. Ask yourself if you're working on the most important project. Have you scheduled enough time to do it? When you have created the time blocks outlined in the section "Easy Organizing Basics" on page 156, guard them. You can't make time go faster or slower, but you can keep a to-do list, freeing up your mind to tackle the work.

You can't manage every minute of your day, and no one is saying that you should. What's important is to plan ahead for the big chunks of time to get the work done. It's also important to give yourself a few breaks. Scheduling in 15 minutes for quiet reflection or a walk around the building can provide just the change in mental attitude that you need to be efficient in business and to continue to enjoy life.

The 30-Second Recap

  • Organized living allows flexibility in dealing with life's surprises.
  • Planning your day in advance can give you control of your life.
  • Rise early enough to perform a morning routine.
  • Exercise and diet ensure good mental and physical health.
  • Ease yourself to and from work to limit stress.

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