Let’s face it, we all dream of those days when we wake up early, put on our best outfit, head into the office and just crush it at work. But for most of us, the typical day at work feels like we’re a hamster on a wheel, stuck going to back-to-back meetings that only end in more meetings and tasks, trying desperately to keep the inbox under control between those meetings. 

Here are a few simple ways you can stop the madness and start making some sense out of your day.


Work Smart

According to Daniel Pink’s new book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, we all go through three periods in our day: peak, trough and recovery. While these phases may occur at different times for each of us, most will fall into the pattern below:

  • Peak: This peak of awesomeness occurs in the morning for the vast majority of us. Schedule your analytical work for this time (think: spreadsheets, financials, report writing and anything requiring significant focus and attention). 

  • Trough: Based on what I see in most organizations, I agree with Daniel Pink that the trough (aka sluggish) period occurs early- to mid-afternoon. This is a great time to focus on administrative work like emails, expense reports and filing.

  • Recovery: We come out of that trough in the late afternoon and early evening, meaning it's a great time to focus on more creative tasks like brainstorming and new product design (think: anything requiring fewer rules and more creative, uninhibited flow). 

When you make your to-do list, Pink suggests you note each task as a peak, trough or recovery task — that way you work on it at the most effective time for you. Want to be a super smarty-pants for yourself and others? Schedule your team brainstorming meetings during the recovery time period to get the best ideas possible, or at least the most uninhibited, free-flowing ideas. 


Take Back the Meeting

On any given workday, there are 55 million meetings happening in U.S. workplaces (Rogelberg, 2019). And most of us would probably choose to pull out our own fingernails instead of sitting through the vast majority of the ones we attend daily. Here are some game-changing ways to help you make those pointless meetings into something productive. 

  • Give your coworkers homework. Meetings are best when people come prepared. Send out pre-work that you might typically do in the meeting (reviewing a report, brainstorming ideas, etc.) and ask people to come prepared. Don’t have a company culture that works that way yet? Instead of group discussion, try starting with a question/topic/idea and having everyone write down their responses before they share out loud. It will help spur better ideas and will pull in your more introverted coworkers.

  • Agendas can be good… or bad. If you’re just recycling the same agenda each week, toss it out the window. Newsflash: It’s not helping. Start by writing down your meeting goal, then add your agenda items underneath. Want to make the best agenda ever? Pose the agenda items as questions that you want answered in the meeting. If you can answer the question as a group, then it’s time to move on to the next agenda topic.

  • Make it exclusive. The bigger the meeting, the less effective it will be. Make sure you are really limiting the people who are in the room (three to eight is most effective). Don’t want to leave anyone out? Send meeting notes and summaries to those who don’t necessarily need to be there, but should be kept in the loop. Trust me when I say everyone will appreciate the extra time you gave back to them.

  • You are a facilitator. If you are leading the meeting, your job is to be the facilitator, not the main speaker. If you find that you’re just sharing updates with others, consider switching it from a meeting to an informative email. If you’re truly leading a meeting like a boss, then you’re pulling ideas from each person, being cognizant of others' time and ensuring everyone leaves the room feeling like it was productive, they were needed and the outcome is clear.


Stop Powering Through and Take a Break

Studies show that we are far less productive when we try to just “power through” the work despite being tired or unfocused (Pink, 2019). Breaks are like a refreshing shower for your mind — they help you reset your focus, boost your energy and everyone will like you better afterward.  

Schedule two 15-minute breaks in your day to help you get refocused. Here’s how to win at the break-taking game:

  1. Break with a co-worker or two you like.

  2. Don’t talk about work on your break.

  3. Go outside and get going. Moving breaks are always better than sitting.

  4. Don’t take your phone. No Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or anything else from the World Wide Web. Just focus on you, your friends and the whole wide world.


Kara Albert is an independent consultant who is passionate about helping people succeed and who has spent more than 15 years helping people and organizations be their very best. She currently resides in Chicago and is an avid foodie and traveler.