Work & Career
The 18 Best Things You Can Do for a Stress-Free, Productive Start to Your Workday
Why you should sip green tea and only check emails for 15 minutes.
Shift your hours back
Arriving at the office before your coworkers will give you a chance to focus before you’re flooded with emails and phone calls. If your boss is OK with it, start your day an hour early (and leave an hour earlier too). Here are effortless ways to become a morning person.
Take just 15 minutes to get settled
You probably need to settle in before buckling down at work, but you’re at your freshest in the morning, so try to get to the harder stuff quickly. Limit yourself to 15 minutes reading emails, getting coffee, and catching up on the news. Here are tips to be more productive in your first hour of work.
Write two to-do lists
Write down one ongoing to-do list with all your upcoming tasks, broken into short-, medium-, and long-term projects. Use this one for reference and planning, and adjust it throughout the day. Keep another list of everything you think you can realistically finish today. Record how long each task should reasonably take, keeping in mind interruptions like phone calls, meetings, and emails. If you break your work down into reasonable chunks, you’ll be more likely to actually get through all your daily goals.
Plan the end of your day
At the start of your day, block off half an hour before you plan to leave the office. Use that time to finish answering emails, clean off your desk, and update your to-do list, and plan the rest of your day accordingly. Here’s what successful people do after work.
Make a list of obstacles
iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Emotional challenges like tough phone calls, monotonous work, and long meetings are inevitable, so mentally prepare before they happen by thinking about them in advance. Accepting the frustrations ahead will make it easier to get through them with patience. When obstacles do arise, here are productive alternatives to complaining.
Pencil in time to socialize
Not only does chatting with coworkers make your job more enjoyable, but teams who know each other on an emotional level tend to be more productive. After you’ve pumped out some constructive work, take a few moments to catch up with your colleagues. Walk over to their desks instead of picking up the phone—calls tend to last longer than expected. But … don’t miss these tips to stop procrastinating.
Bring your charger
Make sure your phone is charged at all times so that you’re prepared in case you need to run out of the office in an emergency. Plus, your coworkers will appreciate that they don’t need to sacrifice their own when you hit that stressful 20 percent mark.
Sip green tea
Make a mug of green tea your go-to morning drink to reap its brain-boosting benefits while you work. A 2012 study found that mice that were given one of the key chemicals in green tea had better spatial learning and memories.
Take 10 or 20 seconds to close your eyes and picture how you’d like your day to play out. Let yourself feel the relief of finishing a big project, or the happiness of positive feedback from a customer. You’ll be better primed to make that imaginary experience a reality.
Do some creative research
Pick a random word like “quark” or “aquamarine” and spend five minutes searching the Web for information on it. The creative exercise will clear out cobwebs, prep you to take in new information, and teach you a bit about an interesting topic. Or try one of these weird brain exercises that make you smarter.
Stay up to date
iStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros
To keep on top of news and trends, set aside 15 minutes to catch up on some reading. It could be economic news, industry magazines, company memos, or tomato prices. Your knowledge of your industry will help you anticipate your job’s needs better.
Keep your desk stocked
Fill your desk with the little things you might need throughout the day so you don’t waste time dashing to a convenience store. Stash shelf-stable snacks like granola bars for a healthy energy boost, mints, or candy to keep from mindless snacking, several family photos to life your spirits, and a box of tissues in case of the sniffles. But these are 9 items you should never keep on your desk.
Pick health-boosting office gear
Spending the day sitting in front of a computer does a number on your health, but the right equipment can make it take less of a toll on your body. Use a wrist rest so there’s less pressure on your nerves, which could help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome. If you’re making a long phone call, use headphones instead of straining your neck while you rest the receiver against your shoulder. If you’ll be on your feet all day, invest in supportive shoes, and leave your pockets empty to encourage good posture and easy movement.
Get up every hour
Set an alarm to remind you to give your mind and body a break at least once an hour. Even a quick walk to the water cooler or a small stretch to reset your posture could ward off the damage from staring at a screen all day. These are clear signs you need to get moving more often.
Work on your posture
Slumping at your desk could lead to back pain, carpal tunnel, or fatigue. Double your alarm to get up as a reminder to straighten your back, lift your neck, and keep your shoulders back.
Personalize your voicemail message
Change the message on your voicemail every day so that anyone trying to call has reasonable expectations of you. Specify if you’re in the office but in meetings most of the day, or need to focus on an important project and will only check your voicemail at certain times.
Remind yourself of compliments
Find an email with praise from a boss, coworker, or client. Print it out and tape it inside a drawer. If you’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, peek at the note to remind yourself of the strengths other people see in you. Here’s how successful people criticize without offending others.
Make your desk setup work for you
The tidiness of your desk could affect how you think. A study from the journal Psychological Science found that people who filled out a questionnaire at an organized desk were more likely to make the traditionally “right” choices—donating more money to charity and picking an apple over chocolate—than those who sat at a workspace cluttered with papers and office supplies. On the other hand, another experiment in the study found that when asked to think up new uses for a Ping-Pong ball, those who sat in a messier spot had more creative ideas. Consider your goals for your type of work, and set your desk up to channel that way of thinking. Here are the morning habits of highly organized people.