Closing down at the end of the day is more complicated – and important – than it seems. Done without thought, it can keep the mind churning and distract you from family and other pursuits.
Executive coach Deborah Bright encourages her clients to use five end-of-day routines to create a psychological barrier between their two worlds. In a Harvard Business Review blog, she suggests that before leaving the office, you should:
- Do one more small task: This seems counter-intuitive. But if you make a short phone call, sign a document, or respond to an e-mail you’ll experience gratification that you pushed yourself that extra bit and lightened your load for the next day. Small wins can enhance your mood.
- Write a to-do list: Make a record of all the tasks you need to accomplish, ideally in order of importance. Working with 1,000 workers in a medical centre, Bright’s survey found this practice was considered among the top three most effective skills for enhancing work performance and redirecting stress.
- Clean up your work area: Putting things away and organizing the piles of paper positions you to start off fresh the next day. “In that same collaborative study, managers and non-managers reported that when they instead left their desks or stations cluttered, the frustration and pressure they’d felt that day was rekindled the next morning. So there may be some truth to the idea that having a tidy desk equates to having a fresh mind,” she writes.
- Choose a specific action that symbolizes the end of thinking about work: This might be simply locking your door, turning off your monitor or calling home. But instead of doing it on autopilot, invest symbolism in it, making it what she calls your “anchor quick charge.” Research shows consistent use of this designated anchor helps to take control of your emotions and shift your mental state.
- Start the evening on a positive note: Most of us begin our time at home with an aimless, “How was your day?” Instead, Bright urges you to ask what good or exciting things happened to the other person that day, then engage in a conversation about it. This takes the focus off you. If someone asks, “How was your day?”, resist lengthy explanations unless you think they can help resolve a hanging concern.
This five-step strategy takes about 10 to 15 minutes per day. When used in sequence and combination, she says they can greatly reduce stress and improve work-life balance.
Your career catapult
As a youngster, Roopa Unnikrishnan's discipline and eyes carried her a long way in her chosen sport of rifle shooting. She started at age 13 and continued for another 15 years, representing India and winning gold medals and setting Commonwealth Game records. It took immense discipline, concentration and, obviously, clear sight.
These days, the former Rhodes Scholar hangs her hat in Stamford, Conn., where she is vice-president, strategy, for Harman, a subsidiary of Samsung, but she has also worked as an innovation consultant and executive coach, building ideas that can help you catapult ahead in your career. Again, it requires discipline.
Although her recent book is titled The Career Catapult, seeming to promise some near-magical boost ahead, progress comes down to making a disciplined assessment of your situation and abilities, building and keeping momentum, and as with her strategy work, having the ability to plan for a better future. Eyesight is also critical, not so much for what you see but what you don't.
Begin by focusing on three spheres of yourself: Core capabilities, black holes, and motivating passions.
- Your core capabilities are things you are very strong at that can help you be successful in various jobs. Perhaps you can look at a spreadsheet and quickly find meaning.
- Black holes are commonly called weaknesses, but she gives them a more colourful label because they are activities, functions or challenges that you just disappear into without a trace. They are blind spots – toxic behaviours you resort to and hold you back. Unnikrishnan says that 50 per cent of her clients have trouble accepting that they have weaknesses that play a role in their inability to move forward.
She found two black holes common to her millennial clients. First, they are not shy to state their own opinions. That can prevent them from helping colleagues because they can’t get outside themselves to understand what the other person needs. The other blind spot flows from their orientation to money: If something seems worthwhile to them, they could care less whether it makes financial sense. Instead, they need to pay more attention to financial impact and other metrics, whether in companies or non-profits.
These days, she says many of us subscribe to Popeye’s catchphrase: “I am what I am.” But we need to take responsibility to improve, letting go of ego and changing.
- Motivating passions are the things that you want to do when you wake up in the morning. A clue could come from what section of the newspaper you look at first, or what you loved to do as a child, or what Unnikrishnan calls “brain worms,” ideas that gnaw away at you and you wish you could follow. One of her clients thought she was motivated by money and was indeed adept as a financial analyst. But when reading a newspaper or on social media, it was solar energy and sustainability that drew her attention. So now she has taken her financial skills into the solar energy arena.
You want to link your capabilities and passions, while acknowledging your blind spots and solving or avoiding them. Your network can contribute to your career catapult. But don't just add people on LinkedIn willy-nilly and think you are moving ahead. Be disciplined. Be strategic. Assess your network and then build it to help you in those three spheres. For example, with your core capabilities, what are the areas you need to build, and who can you connect with for assistance, either because that person has useful advice or is a conduit to someone else you need? List your capability gaps, blind spots, and motivating passions on a sheet of paper and then figure out where your networks can help.
Be disciplined. Be focused. And keep a rifle eye on those blind spots.
Questions to ask in an interview
Here are five questions recruiter Jenny Foss suggests asking in an interview to reveal a lot about the company:
- Is this a vacancy or a new position (and if it’s a vacancy, what’s up)?
- What is the turnover rate on this team (or at this organization)?
- Do team members typically go out for lunch or do they eat at their desk?
- How is the company doing financially?
- After this conversation, do you have any hesitations about my qualifications?
- BuzzFeed reporter Katie Notopoulous tried e-mailing as if she was a CEO – with terse one- or two-word replies, like “yes,” or “thank you” – and found her productivity rose. Interestingly, the technique was even more effective with personal e-mails than work missives.
- Make sure everyone’s ideas get captured and displayed in a brainstorming session. That helps team members feel they were a contributor to the session, so their ideas won’t be lost, says innovation consultant Robert B. Tucker.
- We get more work done on Mondays than any other day, according to data from the task and project management platform Redbooth.
- Distractions can be helpful. Consultant Mike Kerr says one of his clients has a “walk-it-off meeting”: When tensions rise in a meeting, they take a 10-minute time out for everyone to go out for a walk, alone with their thoughts. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin hops into the shower when facing writer’s block. Distraction can stimulate creativity.
- In a new job, immediately start demonstrating the skills you promised in the interview, advises recruiter Gerald Walsh. If you said one of your strengths is motivating staff, start holding regular staff meetings or communicating better.