No expression gets under my skin lately more than “at the end of the day”. Over the past few months, I’ve been challenging to get myself through a day without hearing it, but inevitably, it rears its ugly head. I believe this expression is one of the most over used phrases in modern business. While it doesn’t hold a nebulous meaning like “paradigm shift” or other corporate speak, it does have connotations associated with it, even if you haven’t realized it.

For this article, I’m mostly going to use this acronym ATEOTD because I don’t want to overwhelm you. Like me, you probably here it too much.

The Literal
I will concede one point. It is perfectly acceptable to use this expression as a reflection of actual time. ATEOTD could mean 5PM when the traditional work day ends. One could argue that your day ends when you put down your smart phone for the last time, but we’re not here to debate work/life balance. If a particular activity needs to be completed by the end of day, feel free to say as much. Usually, ATEOTD comes at the end of a sentence when used literally.

“I need to see you at the end of the day.”

Eep! That doesn’t sound good!

A Lazy Wrap Up
It is possible to use this expression out of pure laziness. Sometimes after a lengthy discussion or meeting, someone will throw out ATEOTD to wrap up.

“At the end of the day, we need this (project) to be done.”

If you have a manager that uses a sentence like this to conclude the meeting, their team may be underperforming. After a meeting, a statement like this enforces importance, but gives no direction and offers no consensus. Post meeting side conversations will crop up and be rife with confusion and floundering. Before proceeding on this critical project, the team will likely follow up with the manager that made that statement for clarification, wasting everyone’s time.

A better wrap-up would be to recap the discussion points and come to a consensus on next steps before closing the meeting with particular assignments for individuals.

That’s My Final Word
People sometimes want something so bad or believe in something so much, they will throw ATEOTD out to end the conversation and try to sway you to their point of view.

“At the end of the day, this is how we’re doing this.”

Don’t be fooled by this ploy. If you hear this and you don’t agree with the assessment or don’t understand something, question it. Someone may throw this out if they feel threatened and want to avoid conflict, but that doesn’t do justice to the issue at hand. Chances are there might just be a miscommunication that requires additional exploration.

A Life Changing Decision
We all have to make decisions in our career. Most day to day decisions are innocuous enough to have a short term impact, but some can be life changing. The latter choices come up rarely. You might hear ATEOTD being used to exaggerate the importance of a decision you are faced with to get you to hastily arrive to that decision.

“At the end of the day, this (solution, car, house) is the one you want.”

There’s some solace and comfort being offered for how you will feel when you look back on this decision and see that you have reaped some reward. Another possible translation here is “at the end of your career” you will look back and realize you made the right decision.

It should come as no surprise that this is a tactic used in Sales to get you to come to the conclusion quicker. The problem is that it offers no alignment to your goals. For the Sales folks out there, you will solicit more engagement if you restate the customer’s wants and align them to your offer.

A Question of Philosophy
This one could also be called The Inspirational Quote for the Masses. You might find it on FaceBook or in the title of some dubious articles on the internet. Come on, you know you’ve seen it (or worse, shared it).

“At the end of the day, you need to be able to live with yourself.”
-Some successful guy with experience

Unfortunately, these quotes are little more than Hallmark Card sentiment. They are typically obvious and still point to an undetermined timeframe in the future. Either the end of your life or at some crossroads.

The complexities of life simply cannot be summed up in a single quote. Your decisions will likely ebb an flow over the course of your life depending on your circumstances. If your mentor happens to talk like this, they aren’t really looking at the big picture, but they might think they are.

Why Does This Matter?
I hear ATEOTD quite a bit in a week. Sometimes, the intention is a combination of several of these examples and not just one. I challenge you to do two things.

  1. Listen to people when they talk and identify which ATEOTD they are using. Strike back and challenge them with questions to get to their intentions. The interesting thing about it is once you realize the motivation behind people using the expression, you can’t stop analyzing it.
  2. Make a conscious effort to speak more thoughtfully when you are talking and eliminate ATEOTD from your vocabulary. Strive to communicate more effectively and see where it gets you.

Now that you’ve read this article, you will hear ATEOTD being said by everyone (almost guaranteed). Remember to try these two things and see where it gets you!