A start and an end – everything has one. Our day has one – we get up, we go to bed. We start work, we stop work. And in between the start and the stop there are countless details that compete for our attention. How we deal with these details has an effect on how productive we are during the day.
For many years I’ve tried to use an ‘open and close’ practice to my workday to stay on track with what needs accomplished. This simple approach can be applied to our entire day, or just our work day. Here’s how it works:
Open your day by simply creating a to-do list. I use a notebook and a pen. I’ve used a day planner in the past. And I’ve tried a computer based note taking program – like Microsoft’s OneNote – but for me, a piece of paper at arm’s reach is easier to reference repeatedly during the day. And isn’t there something satisfying about putting a line through an item to signify that it’s been taken care of?
I open my day by reviewing my current ‘to do list’ before I try to do anything else, including checking e-mail. Now that I have fresh eyes (and coffee) I may want to re-prioritize my list. I can get easily overwhelmed when I realize the amount of things that need my attention in a day. But the exercise of arranging them in priority removes some of that stress.
This page stays with me all day, so I can add to it as things pop up – and you know they will. By jotting it down I don’t have to commit another thing to memory. A productive day finds me both crossing items out, and adding items to my list.
Close your day by reviewing the page you opened your day with, and note what items were completed and which were not. Then decide which of those tasks need to be carried into tomorrow. And from that information compile your to do list for the next day. It works best to give thought to the priority of each entry, rather than just adding random items. That's one of the greater benefits of intentionally opening and closing your day. Now you're better prepared to start tomorrow.
There are items on my list that will need done now (yesterday would have been better) such as sending a specific proposal to a specific editor. And there are tasks that do not absolutely need to be addressed today, but would still make for a productive work day if I did. Such as tackling that 100,000 word manuscript. You will always find tasks that you did not complete or resolve, and that’s ok. Things will always present themselves at the end of the day and there may not be time to deal with them. Use that information when you close your day to make you productive when starting again tomorrow.
The practice of opening and closing your day becomes circular and perpetual. Each day you can start exactly where you left off the previous day. At the end of closing my day on Friday I find it comforting to know that I already have a plan for Monday morning. This jump starts my Monday morning and keeps me on track for the rest of the week.
I’ve found three great benefits from the open and close exercise:
1. I don’t have to rely on my memory alone to keep track of details.
2. I can see the progress I’ve made during the day.
3. I start the next day with a plan already in place.
This practice is a very simple way to manage the details of both life and work, and it takes just a few minutes each day. Try it out and let me know what you think!