Start and Stop Your Work Day With a List
I've developed a habit that's at the heart of my personal operating system: I start and stop my work day with a list. Let's talk about what this means and how it's improved my work life.
What Does This Even Mean?
It means that when I sit down at my desk to start working the first thing I do is open Todoist and find a recurring item called "run start list". When I find it, I click on it and see a bunch of subtasks:
- add times to Forty
- drill master passwords
- prepare stop list
- start standup notes
- open dashboards
- add meetings here
- say hello in Slack
- read through Slack
- process email
- review GH notifications
- review pulls
- review Jira
This list is what I follow to begin my day and it goes from quick, routine tasks to ones that are more complicated. By the time I finish this list I'm ready to dive into deep work. I have ensured that I'm aware of whatever might need to interrupt me and need my attention right away. I've also taken care of myself by doing things that set me up for an effective day.
I Don't Know What Some of These Items Mean
Yeah, some of these are probably a bit opaque but it doesn't really matter - the key here is that I have a list where I can put things that I want to do every day, what those things are can change over time!
What I like to recommend to people is that you have this type of habit and list, not that you match my items - that's not what's important.
Ok What About the Stop List
The end of my day is almost always right around 5:00 and I have a notification that fires at 5 minutes before that time. That is my trigger to wrap up what I'm doing and switch back over to Todoist and find the recurring item called "run stop list". Here's how that one looks:
- say goodbye in Slack
- quit Slack and Mail
- verify times in Forty
- review Todoist for completed items
- prepare start list
- check time of first meeting tomorrow
- close dashboards
- mute computer
- plug in mouse
And You Really do This Every Day?
Ok you got me, there are days I don't follow this habit. Some days I dive into Slack before doing the routine. Other days maybe I'm running late and head out before even opening my stop list. That's ok, habits are not all or none - I get tons of value out of striving for this habit regardless of how perfect I am about it. What I've noticed is that my best days probably began with my start list and I do a better job of transitioning away from work when I run my stop list.
On a typical day the start list might take me 20 minutes to run through (especially on Mondays) and the stop list is about 5 minutes.
Is There an MVP of This Habit?
If you want to start building a habit like the one I've just described, here's what I'd recommend you start with:
- review calendar: look at the meetings on your calendar - are you prepared for them? Can you cancel any of them?
- open chat app: wait to open chat until you're ready.
- process email: go through email, reply to and archive messages that take 1 minute or less to deal with, anything else going on your todo list.
- quit chat app and email: begin winding down by quitting the most distracting things in ones life. Don't let them be the first thing you see when you sit down tomorrow morning.
- check time of first meeting tomorrow: avoid being surprised by checking tomorrow's agenda for the time of your first meeting.
What Else Should I Add?
My start and stop lists have evolved over time to include hints, prompts, and nudges that I find useful - you should be on the look out for these too! An item on these lists can be anything but incorporating this basic flow into your life is what sets you up to build upon it and that's where the real power comes from.