Beat the Monday Blues

Monday 21 July 2014

We all know that feeling. The alarm goes off, rudely clamouring you out of pleasant dreams, and suddenly, its Monday again. Very few people actually like Mondays (if you do, I applaud you. Now please leave.)

Even if you usually like your job, its that feeling that all your liberty is over for another week, or just a general sensation of dread at dealing with the overflowing inbox and insane demands that are a standard part of modern working life.

Despite its stresses, I’m generally happy with my job. I’ve had bad experiences in the past at work that have taught me the immense value of having a job and colleagues that you’re pleased with. But Mondays can still be challenge.

I lay in bed last Monday, waiting for my alarm to go off, and I just felt so flat, so worn out already by the prospect of the week ahead. No one wants to start a busy week off like that, so how do you get over the Monday blues and pep yourself up?

I began to think about all the little things that were in my power to control, and how I could use those to give the ‘worst day of the week’ a little lift.

NOTE: Think about why you hate Mondays. There could well be seriously underlying issues with your job or wellbeing. These tips are not meant for use in those more serious situations (which I have been in myself on previous jobs). The following is just for those of us who are generally happy, but sometimes need a boost to get going after the weekend.

Do your Prep

One of the most effective ways to take the sting out of that alarm call is to know that half your morning chores are already done. Getting out of bed isn’t half as hard if you take a few simple steps on a Sunday evening to ease yourself into the working week. The more ‘automatic’ everything is, the less pain in starting your day.

So, on a Sunday night, I make a little ritual of getting everything ready for the battle ahead.

I pick out an outfit and shoes and hang them up on my mirror in the bedroom, ready to slip on without having to worry about matching things, or finding a belt that works with that skirt.

I lay out all my stuff in the shower – facewash, shower gel, body lotion- so I can just turn the dial and go.

I prepare and pack a lunch – something that aims to be both healthy and tasty, so I can look forward to it.

I fill a mug with my choice of morning drink, usually lemon and cayenne pepper – so I just have to add the hot water.

Simples, right?

Even if you can’t manage to keep up this level of organisation all through the week (I usually flag by Wednesday), doing it for Mondays at least helps start the week off on the right note. The less I have to think on a Monday morning, the easier it is!

But prep begins even earlier than that.

I have a recurring reminder in my work diary for a Friday evening that simply reads ‘personal admin’.

We are all insanely busy and doing more for less, but even managing to spare 15 minutes at the end of the week will make such an impact on the following dreaded Monday.

I use that time to make sure my inbox is clear (more on that in a minute), check what appointments I have booked in for the following week, clear out any unneeded papers from my files, and update my task list for the following week.

I think about what went well during the week and what I’d like to tackle for the next week. And it really does help to eliminate the mental chatter of ‘oh god, what haven’t I done?’.

This means you can just relax and enjoy the weekend instead of feeling like you have to carry the ongoing to do list around in your head.

Beat Black Cloud Tasks

We all have them. Those items on the to-do list that, well, we really don’t want to do. That awkward phone call. The email requiring lots of research. The big piece of work that’s looming over you, dominating your headspace even though you’re putting off doing it.

I call them my black cloud tasks, and believe it or not, I actually draw a little cloud symbol next to them on my to-do list!

Each day, as soon as I get into the office, before I even check my emails, I tackle one of those tasks. I like to get in early, before the madness properly kicks off, so I can dedicate a crucial half hour to slaying one of these to-do demons.

Promise yourself half an hour, and you’ll usually find that they weren’t so bad when you got into them. Plus you start the day on an ass-kicking high -  it’s a great feeling when you clear something that’s been hanging over you. Just one (or two if you’re on a roll) per day, and your whole working life becomes much easier.

Go In Early

I made this point above, but even though you may be thinking that the secret to feeling better about Monday mornings can’t be starting them even earlier, I’d beg to differ.

When you go in early, you are ahead of the game. There’s time to think, grab a coffee, set up your desk, check your week ahead and slay a few ‘black clouds’ of that list before the phone starts ringing and the requests start pouring in.

Its that crucial bit of headspace that allows you to free yourself of the anxiety and overwhelming need to respond that happens once the floodgates open.

You know you’ve got the basics under control, so you can take whatever else comes up in your stride.

I often struggle with the sheer cognitive dissonance of my work environment – I like to concentrate on one thing at a time and complete it, but the reality is more like a constant stream of interruption and requests for assistance that can easily throw off the flow of my day. At least this little space of time – from 8:15 when I arrive, to 9:00 when the working world gets going – is all mine. And if I start the day off on that note, its always a hundred times easier to cope with what comes later.

Get a Zen Inbox

Email is often described as both the scourge and the saviour of the modern office. Its made communications and working life a lot easier, but there’s also a lot of bad etiquette.

You know the kind of thing. That one person who copies you in on everything. The person who makes a long chain of queries (all needing responses) instead of just picking up the phone to talk it through. In fact, we’re probably guilty of a lot of those ourselves.

Managing your inbox can almost become a full-time occupation itself, we get hundreds a day, all calling for our attention. And with pop up alerts, if you’re anything like me, the latest arrival can shatter your concentration and send you off on a wild goose chase, which will never be productive.

Lately, I really feel like I’ve managed to get good with email management, and that has made such a difference to my Mondays -  and every other working day. There are tonnes of detailed articles out there for the Googling, but I like to keep my life (and my inbox) simple, so I just operate by the following rules:

Inbox as in-tray – Your inbox should not be a wasteground of email. The only items that should be in there are unread ones. Literally. As soon as you’ve read it, you need to file it.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll do it later. You won’t, and they’ll mount up and then it’s a whole heap of work.

I use the ‘two second rule’. If you can read it, understand and respond to it in two seconds, then do. Right that minute. If you can’t, it gets filed until you’re dealing with it.

What should you have in your email inbox at the end of the day? Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zip. All your emails need to be filed someplace else.

I know this seems scary, but a blank inbox is a state of zen in working life, and feels wonderfully freeing. So make that your main goal with email.

File It Away

The key to a clear inbox is a good folder system. Now, you’re going to have to find one that works for your job and works for you. But the basics are the same no matter what you do.

You need one folder for ‘ACTION’ items. That’s all the stuff that needs your attention, but that you couldn’t get rid of using the ‘two second rule’. But you need to make sure you are reviewing this folder regularly – this is essentially your to-do list on email and forms the basis of tasks.

I used to just ‘red flag’ items I needed to deal with, but that doesn’t work -  you just end up with pretty much everything red flagged and then you never look at it again. The folder approach is far more viable of you deal with large volumes of incoming mail.

The ‘WAITING’ folder is for those items where you need input or information from someone else to progress them.

The ‘INFO’ folder is for those random items like how to work the photocopier that get circulated in every office, that you’ll need to keep for reference.

And the ‘PROJECT’ folders are for each project you’re working on. Anything that’s related to a certain project that’s been dealt with, goes from the ‘ACTION’ folder to the relevant ‘PROJECT’ folder (you’ll probably have quite a few). This way, everything is so much easier to find and you can achieve a clear inbox without reams of unsorted emails.

Often times, if you are faced with something more complex that needs your attention, its good practice to fire off a quick reply along the lines of ‘Thanks for your email. I’m looking into it and will get back to you as soon as possible.’

It sounds a little silly, but those two seconds can save you a whole string of further emails chasing you up from people who haven’t heard back. Let them know you got the message and you’ll be working on it, and you cut out a whole heap of back and forth, even if you aren’t ready to deal with whatever it is right that minute.

Chunk It Up

This works in harmony with the above. Don’t check your email every five minutes, even if there’s stuff constantly coming it. It wastes time and shatters your precious concentration (if you’re anything like me that can be in short supply on a Monday).

Have set times to check your email, say, every half an hour, and stick to them. I know this is against your instinct. But I promise you the world will not fall in.

If people need you that urgently, they will call, they will turn up your desk – they will find you. Explain to your colleagues that you check email at set times, and that if something can’t wait, to call you.

Then you use the allotted time to respond to emails in a batch, rather than coming at them piecemeal. You’ll get a lot more done if you answer ten emails all at once than doing them as they come in.

Also – don’t make checking your email the first thing you do.

First thing in the morning is your freshest, most productive period. Use it for creative thinking, writing documents, planning and tacking those black cloud tasks.

Don’t fritter it away on a dozen little things – you can do that once you’ve ticked a big job off the list for the day. This is a hard one to get into, because it’s the opposite of what most of us are conditioned to do, but it works so much better for your sanity! Give it a try and you soon get used to that mode of working

Sleeping Beauty, Early Bird

Trying to prolong your weekend by wringing every last waking hour out of Sunday and putting off going to bed is a bad idea.

I know it can feel like admitting the cold, hard truth – the fun is over. I know it can be tempting to keep on enjoying your weekend by watching another episode of your favourite show before shutting off the fun valve and trudging to bed. But enough sleep can make the difference to getting a good start to the week.

I like to try and wake up a bit earlier than usual on a Monday. I see it as an opportunity to create a little pocket of ‘me time’ ahead of a busy day. Its awful when the alarm goes off like a starter’s gun and you jump out of bed and hurtle on into your day at the usual frenzied pace.

How much better to wake up slowly, take the time to enjoy the morning sun, check the headlines, listen to some music, perhaps even do some stretching out, before jumping into your day?

It’s a little pain for a lot of gain. Getting up at any time on Monday morning sucks, but if you don’t have to race straight out of bed and into the daily grind, it sucks a little less.

Free Your Monday

Avoid scheduling meetings on a Monday at all costs. Facing the week ahead is so much easier when the first day of it is relatively clear and you can get ahead with project work.

If you tie yourself up all day, you’ll be on the back foot playing catch-up for the rest of the week. A clear Monday (morning at least if you can’t manage all day) eases you into the week and allows you to clear a big item or two off your list right off the bat.

It’s not always possible, but it is good to aim for. Combine a clear Monday with your zen inbox and your Friday night ‘handover’ to-do list and you’ll have a good week ahead.

Be positive

I can hear you laughing from here, but the simple act of turning that feeling of dread into one of gratitude and acceptance can be so powerful.

But how to make the switch when you get that creeping knot of dread in your stomach late Sunday night?

Well, first of all music can be a strong mood lifter. That tune that makes you want to go out and party on a Friday night? Crank it up on your headphones on Monday morning on the way into work and you might just tap in to some of that feelgood factor.

Think about all the things you are excited for during the week. The weekdays shouldn’t be a ‘fun desert’. Scatter little mood lifters and treats throughout the week and make your own little rituals. For example, Tuesdays are the day that I get Grazia and other essential fashion magazines.

Plan a nice lunch out of the office with co-workers on a Wednesday. Make Monday the day you habitually: treat yourself to a frappuchino/ have a deluxe dinner after work/go for drink/make it movie night at home, and suddenly the day becomes about more than just returning to the office.

And ban yourself from complaining about Mondays to co-workers. No one likes them, but collective moaning is just going to bring the mood down further.

Be nice to someone

One of the best ways to scoop yourself out of a bad mood is to help someone else – studies show this time and again.

So make your first action on a Monday a kindness to another. Get the coffees in. Pay a compliment. Ask nicely about someone’s weekend.

These small actions can have big ripples and make the atmosphere around you much nicer.

Even if you aren’t feeling all sweetness and light to begin with and you fake it, the glow you get from giving someone else’s day a boost will make that feeling real.

Dress for success

Perhaps this would only work for someone addicted to fashion, but for me, having a great outfit sorted for Monday makes the day much more bearable.

Monday is the day to debut that new bag or show off those killer shoes. Wearing something quirky, colourful or standout on a Monday will put a spring in your step.

Make Monday your personal catwalk. Show up to the week looking fabulous and you set the tone. I always use Sunday nights to have a bubble bath, and pop on a face mask and some deep conditioner.

Coming into the week feeling fresh, combined with a bright outfit is essential.Its much easier to feel ‘together’ when you look the part also. Who knows, you might just get a few compliments and then the day becomes even better!

So those are my tips for tacking the Monday blues. Do you have any you use? If so, I’d love you to share them below.

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