June 2017 • Volume 105 • Number 6 • Page 44
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At the End of the Day
Here are tips for leaving the office more satisfied with the work you've done today and more likely to succeed tomorrow.
"The only thing that really occurs
'at the end of the day' is nightfall."
- Martin Cutts, Oxford Guide to Plain English
In the opening credits of "The Flintstones," Fred Flintstone is at work, using his bronto-crane to move some rock at the Slate Rock and Gravel Company. The foreman checks his watch, yanks the tail of a raptor to operate the "quitting time" whistle, and Fred comes to jubilant life. Hollering "Yabba-Dabba-Doo!" he hops out of the operator's cab, slides down the brontosaurus' tail, launches into his car, and beats feet to get home for a movie-and-Bronto-Burger night with Wilma, Pebbles, and the Rubbles.
As a kid, I was convinced that all working adults ended their day at a fixed quitting time, at which point they would down tools, make a joyful noise, and scram out of the jobsite to go have fun with family and friends. I have been sadly disappointed in this regard. I end many days frazzled, fleeing with a silent (and sometimes not-silent) scream, thoughts deeply mired in what I have done and left undone, fretting about what tomorrow holds. And I don't think I'm the only one.
How can we bring the work day to a better conclusion? Let's look at some ideas for concluding our daily labors in a way that leaves us more satisfied with the work we have done, more likely to be successful at tomorrow's projects, and less likely to forget important ideas and tasks.
Do a brain dump
"This? It is called a Pensieve. I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind."
- Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
There is a proverb about a student who pays a visit to a Zen master. The master offers the student a cup of tea, and pours until the cup is overflowing. "Stop!" exclaims the student, privately questioning the abilities of a master who can't even pour a cup of tea without making a mess.
The Zen master explains that the student's mind is like the overflowing teacup - so full of ideas that it cannot absorb any more. The student, says the master, must come back with an "empty cup" mind.
At the end of the work day, our heads can be full of half-done tasks, to-dos that got away, and stray thoughts about ongoing projects or important things to do. Clear up this mental clutter by performing what some experts call a brain dump: "Write down everything that's on your mind that you need to do. Personal to-dos, family to-dos, and work to-dos. It can be as random as necessary."1 Capturing these tasks helps prevent you from forgetting them, in the hustle and bustle of tomorrow morning, and also keeps you from worrying about forgetting them.
Take this idea a step further and capture stray ideas before they skitter away, never to be seen again. Stray thoughts about the article you're writing, quick reminders about people you've been meaning to call, wild plans that you may or may not execute in the cold light of morning can all be securely corralled on a piece of paper, ready for consideration tomorrow.
Providing safe storage for precious mental cargo will free up some mental space for whatever the evening holds, and for ideas and flashes of legal brilliance that arrive overnight.
Get the dead coyotes off the runway
"Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate and a fresh opportunity."
- Gretchen Rubin,
The Happiness Project
When I fly out of The Eastern Iowa Airport, I try to catch the first flight of the day in the hope that this will maximize the likelihood of finding a functional aircraft at the gate and ready to go at or near the planned time of departure. It will not surprise frequent flyers that this plan often comes to grief, and the delay (or outright cancellation) is often due to something that could have been fixed the night before or at least well before boarding time, e.g. -
- Cargo door broke when unloading last night's luggage and we need a part (Seriously? Did anyone consider having one FedExed to the airport overnight?).
- No potable water (Really? There's a water fountain in the gate area, or, alternatively, I'd be happy to purchase and donate a few bottles of Dasani from the gift shop).
- Dead coyote on runway (You can't make this stuff up).
Before you jet out of the jobsite for the night, do what you can to make tomorrow's flight plan smooth and successful. Gather up the by-products of today's labors and file or recycle as appropriate, adding any outstanding tasks to the "brain dump" page. Prepare your next project for an orderly takeoff by collecting all the materials you'll need into a flight-ready pile.
This practice is similar to the chef's mise-en-place - the process of gathering and arranging all the necessary tools and ingredients before beginning to cook a dish. As one chef puts it: "It's like a very... Zen-like thing…. All my knives are clean. Clean cutting board. Clear space to work. Clear mind."2 Think of it as an empty cup mind for your desktop, eliminating distractions and setting the stage for tomorrow's success.
Write a good ending to today's story
"Baby, I feel good
From the moment I arise
Feel good from morning
Till the end of the day"
- Till the End of the Day, The Kinks3
When the work day has been stressful or worse, it's natural to want to run out the door, hair on fire, at the earliest opportunity. Resist the temptation, and find a way to leave the office feeling reasonably good about your day's labors.
There are many ways to do this - one expert suggests creating rituals at work that help us "go home feeling reenergized and inspired, instead of fried and dead tired," like saying a "friendly and proper goodbye" to co-workers.4
Another might be to take a moment to remember and reflect upon the day's accomplishments. Not every day can end with a joyful "Yabba-Dabba-Doo!" but every day has something in which we can take pride, even if that thing is simply getting through the day.
Lawyer, go home
"Kindly walk - do not run -
to the nearest exit."
- Edward "Ned" Seton, Holiday5
The final step in bringing a good end to the working day is to leave the workplace. It is easy to get sucked into answering just one more email, websurfing, or ruminating about today's problems and tomorrow's responsibilities. Heed the "quitting time" whistle - whenever it blows - and take steps to end the day satisfied and better equipped to face tomorrow's challenges.
Karen Erger is vice president and director of practice risk management at Lockton Companies.
- Daniel Threlfall, Do These 5 Things at the End of Every Day, and You Will Become More Productive, HuffingtonPost.com (Mar. 9, 2016; updated Mar. 10, 2017), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-threlfall/do-these-5-things-at-the-end-of-every-day-and-you-will-become-more-productive_b_9411526.html.
- Dan Charnas, For a More Ordered Life, Organize Like a Chef, npr.org (Aug. 11, 2014) (quoting sous-chef Greg Barr), http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/08/11/338850091/for-a-more-ordered-life-organize-like-a-chef.
- Written, of course, by Sir Raymond Douglas "Ray" Davies, who was knighted by Prince Charles in March 2017 for his service to British music.
- Jacquelyn Smith, 16 Things You Should Do at the End of Every Work Day, Inc.com (Aug. 26, 2013) (quoting Michael Kerr), https://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/08/26/16-things-you-sho....
- This charming, utterly beguiling 1938 film featuring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and directed by George Cukor has been overshadowed by Grant/Hepburn classics Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story, but in my opinion, is much the best of the four films they made together.