Nobody sets out to have an unproductive day. Despite your best intentions, though, it can seem impossible to get things done, especially with constant distractions like email notifications and last-minute meetings.
But there are things you can do to give yourself an advantage once tomorrow begins. The key is to prepare the night before, taking steps to give yourself the best head start possible tomorrow.
Here are eight small things you can do tonight to help improve your productivity tomorrow.
1. Assess today's achievements.
It can be easy to feel frustrated that you weren't as productive as you'd hoped to be. Maybe you aren't as far along on that big project as you wanted. Perhaps you've transferred far too many items from today's to-do list to tomorrow's.
Whatever the case, chances are you at least accomplished a few things. Make a list of the tasks you completed that day, even if they weren't planned, and take a moment to celebrate those achievements. That can leave you with an empowering feeling of thankfulness moving forward.
2. Write a goal list.
You've probably heard for years that you should make a to-do list to boost productivity. But it's far more important to translate those items into goals that detail what you hope to accomplish each day.
If you're working on bigger projects, the small tasks you complete each day put you a step closer toward completing the larger goal. Each night, make a list of things you hope to accomplish the next day and leave it open on your desktop to ensure you see it first thing the next morning.
—Dan Kiely, CEO, Voxpro
“I think about my top three priorities for the following day, before ironing those out with my assistant the next morning," says Sasha Orloff, CEO and co-founder of LendUp, a financial tech and lending company. “That way we can adjust and make sure the day's really intentional. Otherwise you just get caught up with meeting after meeting, and you haven't accomplished anything. Or, priorities change and we reschedule meetings that don't concern those top priorities."
3. Set out clothing.
It may not seem like it, but choosing what you're going to wear takes time each morning. You'll get a better start on your day if you can get from bed to work with as few obstacles as possible.
Even if you consider clothing an inconsequential part of your day, set out everything you're going to wear the night before, including shoes, socks and underwear. This will help minimize the decisions you have to make in the morning, when you're already rushed for time.
4. Clean out your inbox.
If your inbox is a mess, you aren't alone. It's a source of constant frustration for even the most successful professionals. Even if you don't have time to do a thorough cleaning of your inbox at the moment, you can gradually make a dent in the chaos by organizing your messages at the end of each day.
Create folders to hold messages that need a follow-up or should be saved for informational purposes and other reasons. Discard as much of the rest as possible.
Dan Kiely, CEO of Voxpro, a business process outsourcing company, says this is highly important because a CEO's workday often never really comes to a hard end.
“You have to willingly choose to disconnect yourself at some point, after typical work hours, to enjoy time for yourself and with your family," he says. "I make a point to answer any pressing emails I receive by 6 p.m., and will resort to calling and face time communication during after-hours."
5. Set yourself up to work.
If your email inbox or your personal social media page is the first thing you see when you sit down at your computer in the morning, you're setting yourself up for failure. Instead, make sure your desktop displays your list of goals or your latest project, inviting you to jump in. Try to accomplish at least one thing before you open your email, especially if doing so is likely to take you away from your work for hours.
6. Plan something fun.
One thing that can easily be forgotten in the daily grind is enjoyment. Try to put at least one thing on your daily schedule that you can look forward to doing. Maybe it's lunch with a friend or a class you've been wanting to take. This will give you something to look forward to when you wake up, serving as a reward for hours of hard work.
7. Live healthy.
Waking up feeling under the weather will make it difficult to focus on your work.
Try to keep your overall lifestyle as healthy as possible but at the very least, avoid too much alcohol and try to remain hydrated to give yourself the best start. Consider working out or meditating in the evening.
“I personally find that I'm performing my best and executing with the most productivity when I log off email for a couple hours, and enjoy a good workout at night," Kiely says. “That helps me wind down and get the necessary amount of sleep I need to take on the office the next day."
8. Go to bed early.
It can be tempting to skimp on sleep when you need an extra hour or two to get things done. However, doing so can severely hamper your productivity throughout the day. Instead set a goal to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep you need to wake up refreshed and ready to work. Making a goal list can also help you set your work aside and go to bed early, since you'll have the confidence of knowing you'll tackle things tomorrow.
It can be difficult to complete a long list of tasks in the space of a day. However, by setting a few minutes aside each night to prepare, you can give yourself an advantage the next morning. You'll also be able to go to bed feeling organized and productive, which may be just what you need to help you get a good night's sleep.