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How to Make Your Mondays More Productive (and Less Stressful)

Monday. It’s the day we all love to dread. Garfield famously hates Mondays, and if you want to have some fun with Urban Dictionary definitions, Monday is either “the biggest waste of exactly one-seventh of your life” or “the reason Sundays suck.”

But what if I told you that you have the power to make your Mondays calmer, more productive… even happier?

For a Calmer Monday, Start with a Deep Breath

photo by Ashley Batz

Your alarm goes off Monday morning. Instantly, your head is filled with thoughts of everything you have to do this week. You try to remember your meetings and commitments (both inside and outside the office), maybe even wonder how you can possibly squeeze it all into one week.

Kicking off your week with this mental whirlwind is a surefire path to a bad day. Stop the stress-spiral before it begins with just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation.

Meditation has gained popularity in recent years, but don’t write it off as a fad. Over the last decade, studies like this one have shown that meditation and mindfulness help decrease stress and anxiety. A large part of this is because meditation helps you become a third-party observer of your emotions, which gives you you the control you need to experience negative feelings, allow them to pass, and return yourself to your main focus.

Meditation also increases your willpower and ability to focus — after all, if you can sit in silence and focus on something as simple as your breath, you can much more easily focus on your work despite the world of distractions around you.

The best part is, it hardly takes any time in order to make a big difference in your day. Even if you have a long commute or kids to get to school, all you have to do is force yourself to forgo the snooze button and get up 10 minutes earlier.

Best Meditation Apps

The Internet is full of wonderful resources for meditation. Here are a few of the Zapier team’s favorites to get you started.

Stop, Breathe & Think (iOS, Android, Web) tailors guided meditation sessions to your emotions and moods. Features a Slack bot and Facebook messenger bot. Free; upgrades for purchase.

Headspace (iOS, Android, Web) features meditation sessions based on different goals, moods, and lifestyles. Free 10-lesson app; from $7.99/mo.

Calm (iOS, Android, Web) features nature ambiences and guided meditations especially for improving sleep and reducing stress 7 free meditations; from $4.99/mo.

You should also check out Spotify’s Guided Meditation Playlist features a wide selection of guided meditation tracks, from 10 minute breathing exercises to themed meditations to 40 minute sitting sessions. Apple Music includes several similar meditation playlists.

For a More Productive Monday, Plan Ahead

screenshot from Plan (getplan.co)

The Monday that starts with the blaring alarm and anxious thoughts speeds along into the dread of Friday’s unfinished work.

By the time you get caught up on emails and finally figure out your priorities for the day — let alone the week — the better part of your day is spent without even thinking through your whole week’s work. It seems overly simple to suggest planning ahead as your solution, but hear me out. The magic of planning is in the how, what, and when.

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”Dwight D. Eisenhower

How Should I Plan?

The sheer volume of planning, to-do, and general productivity tools can easily cause analysis paralysis. So I’ll make this answer simple: You should plan in whatever format comes most naturally to you. Paying attention to what feels natural will narrow your search considerably.

Maybe you’re a pen and paper person. Great! Treat yourself to a fresh pack of Post-It notes, or check out our favorite pen and paper productivity systems.

Maybe you need the big picture of your week — work, hobbies, family, community — in order to feel on top of things. Week Plan excels at organizing your whole life in one place.

On the quest to find the Holy Grail of to-do apps? Here’s a tip: first figure out which of the 5 Types of To-Do Apps works best for you. Then browse the best to-do list apps in each type!

What Should I Plan?

No matter how good of a planner you become, you’ll never be able to plan for all the contingencies and possibilities you’ll face in a day, let alone a week. Trying to plan every minute of your week is a good way to become discouraged.

Instead, remember the advice in the classic analogy of the rocks, pebbles, and sand — start your plan with your top priorities, and you will have room for them. When planning your week, limit yourself to 3 priorities for your week. This limit will force you to really think about what’s important, and help you say no to the non-essentials .

Day-by-day, set yourself an MIT (Most Important Task). This will be the one thing you must get done today. Once you’ve set this task, you can prioritize the rest of your task list — be ruthless!

If you need more help with this concept, you’ll want to read Stress-Free Productivity: How to Make To-do Lists Work For You.

When Should I Plan?

So if this “planning ahead” thing is so great, why don’t more people do it? We all know why — there is no magical bubble of spare time to focus on planning. You’ll have to carve the time out of a packed schedule, and that’s difficult. There are really only 3 good options:

Friday Afternoon
 The best time to plan for the week ahead is Friday afternoon. Wrap up your core work by 4pm, and spend the last hour of your week decompressing and making your plan for following week.

According to research from Accountemps, most employees have mentally checked out by 4pm anyways, so this is likely the most productive thing you’ll be able to do with your Friday afternoon.

But beyond that, it will help you end your week with a sense of completion, and free your mind to relax and enjoy the weekend without worrying about the coming week.

The Weekend
 The weekend is an important time to rest and recharge, but if you can’t fit in some planning time on Friday afternoon, it’ll be well worth your time to set a “power hour” on Saturday or Sunday.

This hour will reduce anxiety about the coming week, and prepare you to glide into your Monday morning feeling prepared and confident.

Monday Morning
 If neither of these times works for you, that’s okay! You know what else is okay? Dedicating the first 30 minutes to 1 hour of your workday to planning out your week. Here’s how you can do it without derailing your morning:

  • Wait until you start your workday. Use your time at home to meditate, center yourself, and take care of your family. Don’t try to fit a planning session in-between walking the dog and packing school lunches.
  • Set a timer. Whether you use a Pomodoro timer or just set an alarm on your phone, a time limit will help you focus on the priorities, and say “no” to your inbox or eager coworkers. Let them know you’ll be available within the hour, then get back to work.
  • Don’t open your inbox. Seriously, don’t. You may be thinking “but what if I plan my week, then check my email and find an emergency task or project?” Problem is, our inboxes have a way of making us think they’re more urgent than they really are. You should be proactive in setting your priorities. Don’t let your plans become a reaction to your inbox.

This dedicated, protected hour on Monday mornings will give you confidence going into the rest of the day and set you up for a successful week.

For a Happier Monday, Practice Thankfulness

photo by Cathryn Lavery

Sloppy puppy kisses, the constant beauty of nature, the taste of coffee, the support of loved ones — these are usually the last things on our mind heading into a hectic week. That’s a shame, since science tells us gratitude reduces stress.

Even the best planning will go astray. Sometimes all it takes to throw off your whole week is a surprise email or task that hits you on a Monday. That’s why planning isn’t enough for a great Monday — you also need to cultivate thankfulness.

In the beginning of his book The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor makes a bold claim:

Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay.

The Happiness Advantage details several exercises that will help you become more positive in your thinking. One of the most profound is the Gratitude Exercise.

Every day, write down three things you are grateful for. They can be simple or profound, detailed or just one sentence — it doesn’t make a difference. Do this daily for at least 21 days in a row (the minimum time for a new habit to form]. Studies on gratitude show that practicing daily thankfulness creates a lasting positive impact.

Once you start gratitude journaling, you’ll have the added benefit of a log of positive experiences that you can read on difficult days and weeks.

While making your Mondays more productive can seem like a lot of extra work, these steps are very simple and quick (with the exception of your planning hour). The return on this time investment, however, is profound.

So take a breath. Carve out some time for yourself. And experience the difference you can make in your Mondays.

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