You know how it goes.
You come down from the greatest weekend of your life consisting of a scuba dive through the Great Barrier Reef, a two-hour swim with bottle-nosed dolphins, and a sunset cruise on a private yacht.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t as exciting as your desktop backgrounds, but it certainly showed the whole 9-5 grind who’s boss.
But now you must return, after a grueling commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic no less, to a dimly-lit, cramped office and an inbox of 578 emails that all needed to be addressed yesterday. And to top it all off, someone stole your stapler. Again.
But before you drop everything and decide to walk right back out the door, stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and slow down. The best way to get everything done and keep your head on straight is by taking it all one step at a time.
Step 1: Empty Your Inbox
Oh, the dreaded inbox. The thing we inevitably end up obsessing over every weekend when we should really be “unplugging.” It always seems that no matter how descriptive your away message is or how adequately you prepare before leaving the office for a long weekend, it haunts you when you return.
And although the temptation may be to minimize the tab and deal with it later, you should really make a point of tackling your inbox first thing. (Or at least directly after you figure out who took your stapler this time).
But where to start when every email is equally important?
Ah, but they’re not. They only seem that way. The key is to prioritize.
As you start to comb through the dreaded box of doom, you’ll likely come to find that only a few emails actually need to be addressed immediately. File everything that needs immediate attention into a special folder and label it “Important” or “Address First.” Psychologically, it’ll be much easier to handle these emails when they’re all in one place, and it will be much less overwhelming than wading through an endless sea of newsletters and promotions.
On the flip slide, anything that is spam or junk should be immediately deleted. It’s not serving any other purpose than to take up space, so cleanse yourself of it and move on with your life.
Step 2: Prioritize Your To-Do List
After you’ve successfully tackled your inbox, prioritize with a to-do list for the day. This is a great way to keep yourself organized and make sure nothing important falls through the cracks.
This can sometimes be challenging, and just like with your emails, it can often feel like all your tasks are equally important. But an easy way to determine what should be done first versus what can wait is to organize tasks by what’s due first. Any “nice-to-haves” without specific due dates can get prioritized at the end of your list, or perhaps even saved for another day entirely, depending on what needs to take precedent.
A great way to prioritize your to-do list is via a calendar app where you can literally map out each and every hour of your day.
Take into consideration which projects will take you longer than others, and account for that on the calendar. Be sure to also build in some cushion time to deal with anything unexpected that may arise throughout the day that requires your immediate attention.
Step 3: Stick to a Routine
Now that you’ve mapped out your day, make sure to stick to it, and get in the habit of keeping to a routine everyday. Sure, there will always be unforeseen things that pop up throughout the day, but having a set routine will ensure that everything is getting addressed even when you do inevitably get sidetracked, and you’ll know that you can always return to the established routine and get back on track with your goals.
Routines can also provide a sense of comfort and keep you from feeling overwhelmed by all there is to do on a given day. Because the truth is, you’re not a robot, and it’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to accomplish everything in a day’s time. It’s much easier to say: “Now is the time for me to send these memos, and then I will be stopping for lunch” as opposed to “Oh my God, I need to send these memos, make three phone calls, and send a fax, so there won’t be time for lunch today.”
Step 4: Take a Break
Which brings me to my next point. Take a break. A lunch break is ideal, but if that’s not possible, at least allow yourself a decent pause in the day (and I don’t just mean to look out the window for ten seconds instead of at your computer monitor). Make a real effort to step away from your desk and get some air and sunlight. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
If possible, get a little exercise by taking a walk. Studies have shown that “lunchtime strolls can perceptibly – and immediately – buoy people’s moods and ability to handle stress at work.”
Those who scoff at the idea of lunch tend to be the same people who also believe sleep is for the weak, and it’s no coincidence that they’re also the ones calling out sick.
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and in the same way, you’re not going to be more productive if you work through your lunch hour. In fact, you’ll probably end up less so. According to a workplace psychologist, "from a productivity standpoint, there are diminishing marginal returns when you ask your brain to exert constant effort through an eight-hour day.”
So do yourself a favor, and take a break. It should be the easiest thing not to do any work for a bit. And then you’ll come back feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your day.
Even though getting back into the swing of things at work can be a challenge after a long weekend, by simply getting yourself organized, staying on top of priorities, and giving yourself some breathing room, you’ll be back in productivity mode before you know it.
And remember, another fun weekend is just around the corner.