Sunday nights in this house are a buzz of activity. For me. Everyone else seems chilled out after the weekend.
On a typical Sunday I spend the evening making sure my outfit is planned for the morning, packing my laptop bag, preparing snacks, and finding my train ticket. That’s just work related tasks to get ready for next week.
Then there’s the other getting-ready-for-the-week stuff like meal planning for the week ahead, online shopping and checking whose birthday we have forgotten so I can apologize. I’m really not on top of all this stuff.
That’s a lot of chores to do, but they aren’t truly to do with getting my head straight for work. I’ve done all that on Friday afternoon. Good planning on a Friday or a Sunday for the week ahead makes Monday morning much less stressful. And as Mondays always seem to be really busy days, I can hit the ground running and get straight to my To Do list.
If I organize the things to do on Sunday to prepare for the week I feel more on top of everything. Here are my top 5 tips for facing Mondays ready for action.
1. Update your To Do list
This is essential. I review what I have achieved and make sure my To Do list is up-to-date. If I know Monday is going to be particularly stressful I’ll write my top three priorities on a sticky note and stick it to my laptop keyboard, then it’s there as a reminder when I open my machine.
A To Do list helps keep me structured and focused on what is important, but it’s only as good as the last time it was updated. Do it Friday afternoon when it will take you all of five minutes. On Monday morning I guarantee it will take three times as long.
I tend to put time aside for this as part of my Sunday preparation, because I have an organized work notebook that is a paper To Do list.
If you prefer to use a bullet journal for work , then make time to check you’ve got what you need in there.
2. File all the things
Tidy your desk. Mostly for me that means putting paperwork in the confidential waste bin or the shredder. It can also mean taking my expenses to the post room or zapping my holiday form to my manager.
If I’m working from home I’ll tidy up my receipts and put them in an envelope ready to claim. I’ll also throw away all the sticky notes that I’ve acquired (and actioned) throughout the previous week. If I didn’t do anything about the tasks written on them they’ll get to stick around until they’re completed.
Starting work in a new week with a pile of unidentifiable papers and notes will not be much fun, so sort it before the weekend. Trust me, this is one of the top things I’ve learned in my personal journey improving how to get ready for Monday.
3. Clear your inbox
OK, I never do this! Inbox Zero is beyond me. But I do keep my inbox to under 100 messages always and on a good Friday it’s down to one screen’s worth with no scrolling, so that’s about 35. It makes me happy to have filed, deleted or actioned messages.
It also makes it easy to see on Monday what has come in over the weekend and what needs working on straight away.
Emails are one of my biggest causes of stress so if I can get ready for next week by clearing out everything that’s been dealt with, I know I’ll be starting afresh.
I never have plenty of time for emails, so my goal is to at least make my inbox look less scary. Doing a little bit each week is one way to stay on top of messages.
4. Book travel tickets
Look ahead at your diary and check you’ve got everything you need to get to the meetings you are attending. While I do most of my work from home, I still find that nearly every week I have some requirement to travel, so I sort out my tickets in advance. I can either have them posted to the house so they are ready, or I collect at the station (it’s trains for me – I don’t fly much anymore).
Equally, if you have hotels to reserve that you haven’t done yet, make that a Friday job. It’s cheaper and more relaxing to know that you have these arrangements already made than trying to do it the day before.
Part of learning how to prepare for a busy week is doing that look-ahead and checking what’s coming up so you can be ready for it. It’s all about eliminating surprises.
Don’t forget: This goes for car parking spaces too. If your office car park now has a booking system like mine, make sure you’ve got a spot reserved.
5. Check meeting room reservations (or links to Teams calls)
I’ve lost count of the times I have booked a meeting during a busy work week and put in the invite ‘location TBC’. Then I forget to arrange the room, let alone to confirm it with the attendees.
The same goes for sharing a link to the Teams meeting or Zoom call. I have often booked a quick call in the diary while I think about it, planning to add a conference call link and agenda later, and then — boom — the meeting day arrives and I have done neither.
To avoid that, I go through my meetings and make sure that if I need a meeting room that I have remembered to book one. If I have booked one, I’ll normally ring or pop round to the person who controls the room bookings (e.g. in the case of using the Chairman’s office, I’ll check it’s still OK with his Exec Assistant).
Ever been bounced out of a room for someone else and not been told? Embarrassing.
Apparently this happens a lot in our government buildings in Westminster. I watched the documentary Inside the Commons recently and it was really interesting. One of the little facts I picked up about our government is that they have a full-time staff of people sorting out meeting room bookings, and a strict hierarchy of who gets to pull rank if they need a room.
More tips for a productive week
Book some quality time
When you’re going over your work calendar, try and block out some ‘quality time’ for you, like an actual lunch break or coffee time with a colleague.
Also, you can use the Book Focus Time suggestions in Microsoft Outlook so you have a few hours blocked out for doing work. Given that we all have limited time, putting enough time aside for catch up and report writing etc is really important.
Schedule for your high energy times
Think about your activity levels: are you full of energy in the mornings? That might be the best time to schedule meetings. Keep your afternoons for lower energy activities.
If you find yourself sluggish in the mornings but flying in the afternoon, focus your high energy activities around that. You’ll find it easier to work when your body is in ‘work mode’ and you aren’t fighting your natural rhythms.
OK, this is not strictly speaking a ‘work’ prep activity, but meal planning is crucial to my sanity during a busy work week.
I have a planner on the fridge and I note down what we are having for dinner (less so on the lunches unless there is something specific we have to eat that I don’t want to forget about — our effort to reduce food waste). Then we can shop accordingly, we get a food delivery from the supermarket. And I don’t have to think about what to serve each night.
Meal prep is based on what I’m doing in the week. If we’ve got a busy day, the food on the planner will be something easy and fast. I sometimes batch cook on the weekends too, for items like cakes for lunchboxes during the week.
I can’t guarantee that these tips will result in a super productive work week, but they definitely help me! In my experience, it’s normal for my weeks to not go exactly as planned, but at least I’ve got clarity about what I should be doing.
Bonus Tip: What’s going to stop you next week?
Finally, think about what is going to stop you achieving your goals next week. You’ve been through your diary and your To Do list; you know what is coming up.
Check who is on holiday. While you can’t predict sickness, if you know someone is already off ill then think about how not having them around is going to affect your ability to complete your work. Is it a holiday week, where everyone is supposed to be off? A few bank holidays have crept up on me!
There might be other things that could stop you: strike action on public transport, weather warnings, an important board meeting being rescheduled…anything. If you can prepare, do so. It will take the stress out of Monday (and it’s good risk management, on a small scale).
Here is my 30 minute miracle for for the end of the day at work that will make it easier for you to transition to home each evening. Doing that every night and streamlining your approach to get ready for next week will help you manage stress and be more productive at work.
This article first appeared at Rebel’s Guide to Project Management