Weekly roundup: 3 productive ways to spend the last hour of your workday

The way you feel when you get to your desk in the morning can make a big difference to how you feel for the rest of the day—and how productive you are. Studies have found employees who start their workday in a bad mood tend to stay that way, and they take more breaks throughout the day just to make it through until home time.

Putting in place productive habits for the last hour of your workday can help you start the following day in a good mood, feeling calm and in-control of your schedule. And a good start will give you a better chance of being happy and productive all day long.

Try these tips to use your last hour to prepare for a productive day tomorrow.

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1. Plan tomorrow’s to-do list today

As writer Jocelyn K. Glei explains, having your to-do list pre-written means you know exactly what to do when you get to your desk in the morning:

The easiest way to avoid distraction is to hit the ground running.

The easiest way to avoid distraction is to hit the ground running — @jkglei

Taking an hour at the end of your day to plan for tomorrow can mean the difference between a productive start to the next day, where you’re in control, and a reactive start, where you’re simply acting on whatever (or whoever) happens to draw your attention.

I find that if I wake up with a clear picture of my key priorities for the day already in mind, I am infinitely more productive—not to mention more relaxed. By contrast, kicking off the day without a plan opens you up to the dangers of reactive work, letting other people’s demands dictate what you do with your day via incoming emails, co-worker interruptions, etc.

Glei also points out that it’s important to look over your calendar when planning out your to-do list for the next day. Too many of us, says Glei, plan a to-do list that would take a full workday to complete, ignoring how much time will be taken up by meetings and other events.

… make sure to write every commitment on your calendar down on your daily to-do list. This has a few effects: a) you get to cross off more stuff at the end of the day, which is great, b) you quickly realize if your list is over-ambitious and can adjust accordingly, and c) you might be encouraged to re-take control over your calendar…

It may not take you a full hour, but set yourself a reminder an hour before you’re due to finish work and use that time to plan for tomorrow. Doing this regularly will help you go home with a clear mind, relaxing in the knowledge that tomorrow will start the way you intend.

2. Leave something unfinished

Though you might have a to-do list waiting for you at your desk every morning, that doesn’t mean you won’t have to stare into the face of procrastination when it comes to getting stuck in.

To help you get over that hurdle of getting started on your first task, try leaving something half-finished in your last hour of the day. For instance, stop half-way through a sentence or paragraph in an email or a blog post draft where you know exactly what comes next.

According to the psychology principle the Zeigarnik effect, our brains won’t let something go if we leave it unfinished. Our brains want closure—they want us to complete things that we’ve started.

Starting a task and not finishing it is like a cliffhanger for your brain.

This can work in our favor, because leaving something unfinished when we know exactly what comes next makes our brain yearn to finish that task. Which means when you start work the next day, you’ll be rearing to go. You’ll jump in, finish off what you were working on, and build up some positive momentum without even trying.

3. Use a magic phrase to end your workday

To combine the two suggestions above, try creating a ritual or checklist to go through in the last hour of your workday. Author and productivity expert Cal Newport does this nearly every single day to help him stay organized and shut down from work mode before going home.

For Newport, his ritual includes:

  • Transferring any notes and tasks collected throughout the day to his master task list
  • Reading through his entire master task list to check if anything is urgent or timely—those tasks get scheduled so they won’t be overlooked in future
  • Checking through upcoming events on his calendar to make sure he’s aware of—and prepared for—what’s coming up
  • Saying a magic phrase

The magic phrase is Newport’s way of “signing off” on his shutdown ritual. Saying this phrase out loud is a signal to his brain that he’s completed his full shutdown checklist. This is important, because anytime a work-related worry enters Newport’s mind after his shutdown ritual, he can confidently push it aside until he gets to work the next day.

Remembering that he heard himself say the magic phrase out loud helps Newport trust himself to have completed the full checklist, which means no task or appointment will fall through the cracks, and any work-related worries don’t need to be dealt with immediately.

(In case you’re wondering, Newport’s magic phrase is “Schedule shutdown, complete.”)

Whether you want to use a magic phrase to help yourself switch off outside work hours or not, a shutdown ritual can help you make sure nothing falls through the cracks, and your first workday hour is always carefully planned.


When creating your shutdown ritual, include leaving something half-finished and preparing tomorrow’s to-do list. You’ll not only ensure any upcoming appointments or tasks are taken care of, you’ll ensure you’re prepared for a calm, productive start to the following day.

What does your last workday hour look like? Let us know in the comments.

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Belle B. Cooper

Belle is an iOS developer, writer, and co-founder of Melbourne-based software company Hello Code. She writes about productivity, lifehacks, and finding ways to do more meaningful work.

One comment

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