Feel overwhelmed by all the tasks on your work’s to-do list? (And the other hundred tasks from your personal life and passion projects?)
Follow these tips to bring more peace and order to your work life.
Before you read this article, you need to know that this article isn’t about getting everything done all at once at work.
This article’s about making changes to your workday that will help you tackle the most important items of every day—without feeling overwhelmed, losing your sleep, or spiraling into burnout. And then getting to those other tasks in due time.
After all, we’re people. Not robots. Not hamsters in a wheel.
Let’s go over some tips, and get started on a more mentally healthy, emotionally happy workday.
1. Take 15 minutes at the end of your workday to reflect on the day and plot what to do tomorrow.
Reflecting on the day’s work helps you feel more satisfied, more accomplished. Especially after one of those days that seem to have produced very little actual work, you’ll want to take a breather, reflect on your tasks, and write down the good things you did that day.
“Participants in a recent Harvard Business School study tasked with a daily reflection did 22.8% better in their work performance.”Harvard Business School, “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection in Individual Learning”
My small pink notebook is specifically for this. (It’s small because if it were bigger, I’d overwrite and overcommit to tasks.) I jot down the date, write down my biggest accomplishments, then I take out my daily planner and write the top three tasks for tomorrow at the top.
Having these notes help you in:
- Staying on top of current projects
- Seeing your workday’s productivity and feeling more accomplished
- Giving your day a hard stop, so you have boundaries between work and off-hours
- Tracking progress, so you can share it with your boss and team if needed
2. Take 15 minutes every morning to review your top three tasks.
Every morning, I pour myself a cup of something hot, fire up the computer, and consult my daily planner. I review my “Must Get Done” top three.
Are my top three tasks still relevant? Has anything else come up? Do I need to rearrange anything?
I also have my to-do list, but I will get to those only when I finish the day’s top three.
That may not be on the same day, but that’s all right. By knocking off the day’s top three, you’ve made room for the other items on your to-do list to move up into the next day’s top three.
You also can have a better handle on the day. Is it full of meetings? Then, focus just on the three tasks for the day; the to-do list can wait for tomorrow. Have so many meetings you can’t do anything? All right, move those three important tasks to tomorrow.
Doing this before the day helps you set realistic expectations for yourself and your workday.
And yes. Some days, you get a Slack message or email from a higher-up, and your day ends up looking very different. (That’s why you’ll need to reflect on the day when you’re done.)
3. Focus on what’s before you
You can only do what’s right before you.
Even if you have a hundred things before you, you can’t do them all at once. So, choose, and then tackle the thing before you.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”Anne Lamott: “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life“
When you commit to the task before you, you give yourself that permission to just focus on it and everything else can wait. And you’ll find your concentration and focus to level up.
As the full-time content manager at Agorapulse, the mother of four children, homeschooler, passion project owner, a budding podcaster, painter, and parish volunteer, I get a lot of things done.
Just not everything all the time in one day.
4. Plan when you can
Stressed-out people usually say they feel “out of control.” And it’s a terrible feeling like you’re on an inflatable raft in the middle of the open sea, at the mercy of whatever storms, creatures, and weather.
Having some structure to your day can help you feel more at calm and less out to open sea. And it also allows for some spontaneity and fun—because the open sea can also be a beautiful, wild, and wonderful thing.
For work, however, you need some structure. So, plan when you can.
What to plan for more peace
- Blocked time for deep work. Work better without so many interruptions. (A fun tool to use is Tomato Timers for the Pomodoro Technique.)
- Social media time. Be purposeful in your social media time rather than mindlessly scrolling by doing everything from one dashboard. (A powerful tool to use is Agorapulse for scheduling, queueing, and posting all your social media content.)
- Movement at work. Get up and stretch, move that body to improve your circulation and mental health. (Tech Republic’s fantastic shortlist offers five free apps to remind you to move.)
5. Set boundaries
Just because technology can keep you always in touch with work … you don’t have to always be in touch with work.
So, what are boundaries?
“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom … Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not “own” my life, my choices and options become very limited.”Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, “What Do You Mean ‘Boundaries’?“
Boundaries at work can include …
- Not answering work emails/messages on the weekend
- Honoring your work hours and keeping them reasonable
- Focusing on your responsibilities first
- Use your allotted time off for vacations, holidays, and mental health days
- Delegating work when it’s not your responsibility
- Not jumping to answer everyone’s question/issues immediately—especially if you’re in the middle of deep work
Consider reading Dr. Henry Cloud’s Boundaries at Work: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Work Life.
6. Listen to music
Headphones are an absolute must for many people at work, especially when most are now working from home.
“Music or other moderate, continuous background noise may be more motivating, both for creative work (brainstorming or visual design), and routine, monotonous tasks (invoicing or drafting mundane emails).”Psychology Today
As a writer, I tend to listen to instrumental music while I work. (Can’t have all those words streaming through my brain when I’m crafting my own phrases!)
But that doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
Consider listening to:
- Classical playlists
- Lo-fi instrumental music
- Electric violin and piano
- Music in a language you don’t speak (The words won’t distract you.)
- Work playlists on Spotify
My current obsession is YouTube ambient sounds like library environments and rainy coffee shops:
7. Go look up at the sky
Need perspective on a busy day?
Step outside onto your front stoop or back porch or balcony. Now, breathe. And look up.
Notice the weather, notice the life outside of work.
Taking just a few minutes to pull yourself from work can help you to regain your calm, refocus your thoughts, and remember why you work and why you also have time off.
If it’s dark out, you might want to use an app to familiarize yourself with the night sky. I like the SkyView Lite app and will stand in my driveway and stare up at the sky with it sometimes. Everything’s not perfectly in view in a city … but I like to picture what’s beyond it and deep in space.
8. Chat with a friend
Make time in your workday to talk to someone, even if just for 15 minutes, about something unrelated to work.
Because it’ll remind you of your connections outside of work, of the good friendships with people who love you and you love back, of your overall purpose, of other things you’re good at.
You’ll laugh more, relax more, and enjoy your day more if you make time to chat with a friend, even if it’s just a quick chat. (Actually, make it just a quick chat. If it’s too long, you’ll stress about missing work, and that defeats the whole purpose.)
You’ll also find yourself loving work more when you keep it in perspective.
Work can be a beautiful, enjoyable thing … when you have the right mindset and don’t let it be the absolute only thing in your life.
9. Keep learning
Work can feel stressful when we feel like we’re spinning our wheels.
But keeping work fresh can help stay motivated and stay excited about work.
In college, I had a World Literature professor who would reread books he assigned for his course. Even if he had read a certain story a dozen times, he’d reread it for the upcoming course. He said it gave him a new perspective on the story and kept everything fresh.
His classes were the most riveting, the most conversational (so many discussions!), and most educational.
By comparison, I had some teachers who only read materials once and jsut stayed stagnant.
Their classes remained stagnant, too.
To keep work fresh and satisfying, make time to learn a little more. (This is why blocked time in a schedule is so important. You need to carve a little time for learning.)
Ways of leveling up your work education
- YouTube tutorials
- Good conversations with knowledgeable people
10. Ask an expert for advice
If you’re struggling to find calm in your work day, you might have to branch out and talk to someone who can give you personal advice. You may be able to walk through your workday with this person and get very personalized advice about what you need to cut from your day, include in your routine, or do monthly rather than daily and vice versa.
People to consider asking for help
- A friend who is well-balanced with work tasks (Don’t ask a workaholic!)
- Your company’s HR person for ideas/courses/tips on handling stress
- A therapist online or offline who can offer solid work advice with stress
Calm at work isn’t a one-time thing. Mental health is something that’s always being assessed and re-evaluated … So you need to keep tabs on your mental health and do something about your findings.
If you’re stressed out, consider these tips and others, too. But make your mental health a priority.
You don’t have to do all these things but may they be good stepping stones to regaining calm in your work day.