Clear your email. Merlin Mann, who runs the productivity website 43folders.com, says you can empty any email inbox in 20 minutes. Every message, he advises, can quickly be resolved by one of five actions: "Delete," "Delegate," "Respond," "Defer," and "Do." Be ruthless. Be efficient.
Nothing jump-starts a weekend adventure like hitting the trailhead before Friday rush hour. But first comes the midafternoon gut check: Can you really walk away from the office in time to beat the evening commute? Productivity guru David Allen, author of the best seller Getting Things Done, has made a career out of refining time-management concepts like productivity and prioritization. He offers this foolproof plan for an early getaway.
Take inventory Allen recommends taking stock of your work challenges a full week before your trip. "Look at your week's to-do list the previous Friday. Whatever can't wait should move to the top," he says. Start Monday morning with a game plan, so you know exactly which tasks will become weekend killers if left undone.
Divide To succeed at time management, says Allen, you must identify work demands that are actionable. Check your list: Any items that you can't immediately act on (such as paperwork that requires a response from HR) should be filed away as "waiting for follow-up," which lightens your load–and psyche. If any of the remaining items require less than two minutes of your time, do them. What's left are what Allen calls "actions."
Prioritize Ask yourself: Which actions must be completed before my noon departure on Friday? Be realistic about what you can personally accomplish. "Most people grossly underestimate how long actions will take," warns Allen. To avoid end-of-week overload, break up your tasks into those that can be handled by others and those that you must address. Do the latter; enlist help with the former. But don't just hand off existing work. Strike a deal with a peer: Cover for me now and I'll cover for you later.
Conquer What's left is the actual work–the actions you must complete before leaving. Allen suggests that you take on tasks based on their energy requirements. Dive into the big jobs, like a budget report or sales plan, when you're fresh. Churn out thank-you notes to clients when you have less mental fuel–or if you have idle time before a meeting starts.
Dress for success Do casual Fridays fly at the office? Wear your trail clothes to work. Not only will you be in the right frame of mind, but your colleagues will be aware of your plan and help you get out on time: "Hey Joe, where are you going hiking this weekend? How far is the trailhead? Shouldn't you get on the road?"