Madness and Mondays — How I Start My Work Day with Focus

Disengaging, Reengaging, and Prioritizing Life Balance.

Emily Hokett
6 min readApr 28, 2024

Mondays have been somewhat of a struggle for me. I try start my work day before 8 AM, but that sometimes feels impossible. I sit at my desk, stare at my notebooks, open my laptop, and sort of just sit there for a minute (or ten). To better handle these feelings, I refined my method for starting my work day and reengaging with focus.

By my standards, I’ve perfected the art of disengaging from work. I routinely end work at a reasonable time (before 7 PM as a hard stop, but often before 4 PM). I haven’t always been this way. As an undergraduate student, I remember sitting in the library at the campus computers with my physiology textbook studying for an upcoming exam. With my study guide for reference, I reviewed online lab assignments. I enjoyed the course and felt motivated. I had been in the library for several hours and didn’t get back to my apartment until around 11:00 PM.

These days, that kind of behavior is unheard of from me. Granted, when I was an undergraduate student, my life was quieter. I lived in a college town. I was younger, and getting healthy sleep was simple.

I was under a lot of pressure, though. I really wanted to get into graduate school, and to me, that meant I had to excel in every research-related area to be a competitive graduate school applicant. I had no structured disengagement process to end my day nor one to start it.

My post-graduate school life has grown complex and somewhat more serious. The choices I make now seem to hold more weight. I try to carefully consider the balance I need to enjoy life while satisfying my professional responsibilities. How much time should I willingly give to any one aspect of my life? How much time is reasonable? To bear the weight of these decisions, I impose structure to keep the various areas of my life intact.

During undergraduate and graduate school, my time was biased toward academics. It was normal for me to spend over 10 hours each day with coursework, research, or volunteer work related to my academic interests. These days, I am more mindful about my time. I take advantage of vacation days to spend time with my family and sick days to get regular checkups because I now realize the value my social relationships and overall health hold in my life. Without stepping back and learning to disengage, it may have taken me much longer to realize the importance of prioritizing time for other areas of my life. One disadvantage of maintaining a strong disengagement routine with my professional responsibilities is that it sometimes feels incredibly difficult to reengage (e.g., Mondays).

A few Sundays ago, I reflected on why reengaging feels difficult, especially after a weekend and even more so after a long weekend or vacation time. Why does working on Mondays feel like madness? For me, it’s a general sense of feeling overwhelmed (many tasks), indecisive (which task?), and uncertain (why do any task?) that leaves me sitting at my desk, contemplating the perpetual question: where do I start?

How I Start Again, Reengage, and Focus

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

I identified three barriers to starting my work day: overwhelm, indecision, and uncertainty. We’ll discuss each of these below.

Overwhelm. The first barrier to starting is feeling I have too much to do, and there is always too much to do. Oliver Burkeman reminds us of this in Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortalswe will always have more to do than we have time. Our interests may be infinite, but our time is finite. As such, we must prioritize. I often use time blocking to work with the time available to me. There are very few professional projects I can complete in a single day. For example, I cannot write a grant proposal in one day, but I can set aside a few hours in the morning to write the first draft of the background section. Then, I could spend two hours focusing on revising an article to submit to an academic journal. The rest of my time might be spent in meetings, talks, and handling admin tasks (e.g., training modules, emails, messaging, planning). Time blocking encourages me to break down tasks into manageable steps and makes me feel more in control of my work day.

Indecision. Before I can time block my tasks, though, I must decide what to do. To make this decision, I often refer to my weekly plan. At the end of each week, I review and loosely plan for the week ahead. This helps me know what is important to focus on in advance. A problem I’ve been experiencing is that I sometimes forget to reference my weekly plan (or, rather, I avoid looking at it). I’m learning to incorporate analog systems to help with planning, and with paper, I can just keep an overview of the plan on my desk and in view. Overall, I use a pre-specified weekly plan to guide focus areas for time blocking.

Uncertainty. Why do we need to focus at all? This is a more philosophical question that is highly individual. Children often ask why. As adults, we don’t exactly stop asking this question. It’s just more muted. Most of us need to focus to work effectively, maintain our livelihoods, and provide for ourselves and our families. For some of us, that reason is enough. Others need more from work than income. In addition to supporting myself, the deeper meaning behind my work is that I believe people should have equal access to living healthy lives. I want to discover and broadly communicate ways we can do that.

Simplified Steps to Reengage and Prepare for a New Day

I am trying a new strategy to reengage with my work day and get myself in a focused mindset. Below is a list of my current steps.

  1. Read. I typically read a few abstracts in my field. I review foundational publications, look over recent research, and save articles to annotate later on. I enjoy reading and note-taking, so I like to start with this light task.
  2. Review. I look over the weekly plan with my notebook, note-taking app, and task manager. I scan what I have planned for the week, tasks for the current day, time blocks I focused on recently, and time block tasks for the current day.
  3. Focus. I feel better when my workday starts with individual, deep work. Generally, I try to complete at least an hour of important work in the morning (e.g., writing, data interpretation). It’s a good feeling to accomplish something early in the day.

I’m looking forward to better work days ahead. Have you made any recent changes to your work routine?


  • The writing above is a reflection on trying to improve focus during work. But we make similar attempts for improvement in other areas of our lives. I’ve been reading a lot of Devin Kelly’s work lately, and he reminds us to find joy in the act of trying. I recommend reading his essay on Peter Cole’s poem, “Can You Hear Me?”
  • I better understood the importance of focused work and the utility of time blocking after reading Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
  • I also recommend reading the book, Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky. I read this book cover to cover in one day. It’s full of useful tips on how to meaningfully prioritize what matters to you.
  • If you struggle with other aspects of work, I suggest taking a look at No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Emotions at Work by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy. They have several helpful strategies for improving the work experience in a simple and fun format.
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Take care. Talk soon.

Originally published at on April 28, 2024.



Emily Hokett

healthy sleep advocate | writer, runner, doodler | learning time management skills to live a balanced, meaningful life