Mondays used to be THE most stressful day of my week by far. After a weekend trying to ignore (usually unsuccessfully) anything to do with work, I would come back to work and immediately face a colossal mountain of seemingly impossible tasks.
It seemed like I was stuck in a Monday trap - the mountain of work seemed to big and scary to know where to start dismantling it, but I couldn't really start to address anything meaningful unless I broke down the tasks into smaller chunks.
After a couple of years of trying to carry on, with what essentially was both hands tied, I decided to take a good look at my Monday routine and really try to address the issues which were causing me to stress out and consequently do nothing!
Here are some of the strategies I now use to streamline the start of my week, which enabled me to have stress free and productive Mondays again!
1. Plan the night before
The idea behind this is that you want to arrive at your place of work, whether this is home or away, and be able to dive headfirst into productive task. I failed to do this for song long and as a consequence, spent the first part of my Monday morning fretting about what I was supposed to be doing and as a result, doing nothing!
Now every Sunday I make two different plans. I start off with a mind map of all the things I would like to achieve in the next week, e.g. get new website updates live, order more stock etc. Usually I do this on a big sheet of A3 paper, which ends up looking very chaotic! After I have brain dumped onto this first sheet, I then try to create a priority list on a second page out of everything I have on the sheet. Once I have ranked everything in order of importance, I then know where to start in planning my week!
I then move on to create a very specific action based plan for Monday, which usually breaks down all the tasks I need to do into clear and discreet actions, e.g. send X an email about X. I then plan my actions around my day, making sure that I mark out specific times for breaks.
The most important part of this action is to write everything down and make sure it is the first thing you see on your desk. That way you can start your day from the get go with a clear and defined action plan, which will greatly help to reduce Monday morning paralysis!
2. Exercise. Even if you only have 10 minutes to spare.
This is another blindingly obvious tip and something which you will see repeated a million times in most self help/productivity articles.
The reason why we all rave on about it? It works.
Exercises isn't just good for the body, it also works wonders on the mind. Exercise has been cited in a number of studies as an effective way to improve mental cognitive function, reduce stress and combat depression.
If you want to shake of that sluggish Monday feeling, go for a walk, even if you only have a very short amount of time. Even if you are skeptical about the reported benefits, you will gain something from getting some distance from your work and coming back to it with a fresh(ish!) pair of eyes.
I personally plan an hour gym session around lunchtime, as this is usually when I start to flag. Whilst this big break at midday does mean I work a bit later into my evening, it breaks up the monotony of my day and resets my mind for the afternoon.
3. Do the hardest thing first (and ask yourself why is it so hard?)
This might seem a bit counterproductive, if reducing Monday stress is our game, but it's something that really breaks a negative mindset and helps set you on track for a productive day.
See once you've done the hardest thing, whether that's send a difficult email or talk to a intimidating customer on the phone, everything else seems easy. You don't have to spend the rest of the day procrastinating and trying to put off the hardest task.
The trick here is to also ask yourself why you find a task so hard and challenge that assumption objectively.
Personally, emails are my "hard task." I am constantly worried that my response won't be good enough, or that I won't say the right thing etc. Basically I worry that if my email isn't perfect, people will think I'm stupid and then they won't want to work with me. I have even been known not to respond to something in the past, because I didn't think my reply would be good enough.
This is pretty ridiculous logic if you think about it - of course not sending the reply at all is even worse than a substandard email. Also when I think about it further, people are not expecting a literary masterpiece every time I press send. As long as I get my point across politely and with a decent standard of spelling and grammar, anything I write will be fine.
So many of the things we find difficult can be traced back to irrational assumptions about our abilities and the standards expected of us. It's important to challenge these assumptions and really ask ourselves - does it need to be that hard?