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How to Always Leave Work on Time Every Day (No Matter What)

Are you regularly staying late at the office? You might think it’s the productive, and career-advancing thing to do. But in reality, you don’t have to sacrifice your personal life to be a productive employee.

Gallup’s 2014 survey
of more than 1000 U.S. employees revealed that 4 in 10 of them worked more than
50 hours a week. Lots of employees also answer emails and calls after hours.

Always at work
If it seems like you’re always at work, statistics show you’re not alone. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

But busyness doesn’t always equal to productivity. In fact,
The Economist’s study
of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries
revealed that countries that put in more hours at work are less productive.

While flexible work schedules and location-independent jobs
allowed more employees to control where and when they worked, it’s the same
flexibility that stops many employees from disconnecting or logging off at
work. 

Unchecked, this always-connected attitude chips at the time you need for
activities that feed your physical and mental being. Social gatherings,
exercise, your personal me-time, and even the time you need to take care of
your family and run errands are often, though not intentionally, pushed aside because it’s hard for many of us to quit
work on time.

In this tutorial, you’ll discover how to always leave the office on time and still get your job done. Leaving work on time makes time for those important personal tasks. 

The Mindset and Habits of a Well-Balanced Employee

This guide will show you how you can accomplish more with
less, and why working 40+ hours a week isn’t going to increase your
productivity.

Reading this will also help you develop the right mindset
about the hours you work, and how that relates to your productivity and
well-being. With practice, you’ll no longer feel pressured to take work at
home with you or feel guilty for leaving
work on time.

1. Start and End of Day Routines

Have you ever had a whole day go by without accomplishing
anything of importance? Life, much like work, just happens to you when you
don’t have a routine.

A routine gives you control over your day, so you don’t get
tangled up in your inbox, busywork, and the needs of everyone around you.

Example Start of the
Day Routine

1. Plan your day. Sit down with your organizer or calendar and decide
on the tasks you’ll complete to make this day successful. Prioritize
important tasks that will further your goals, but be realistic in what you can
accomplish given the limited time you’ve got each day.

2. Exercise. Get your heart racing. Exercising before you go to work
lowers your stress level and gives you an energy boost, so you won’t feel
sluggish at the start of your day.

3. Take care of distractions. Avoid the “known distractions” in your office before they actually disturb
you. If you’ve got chatty co-workers, invest in a good headset that subtly tells
them you’re busy. You can also find another place to sit in if your desk buddy insists on chatting. 

Internal distractions, such as
needing a coffee break, checking Facebook, or using your phone can be used as a
reward for the time you spend working. For instance, you can make a deal with
yourself that you can run to the vending machine for a quick snack if you finish a task before 10 AM. This “if-then” reward system conditions your
brain to look at internal distractions as something that’s within your control,
instead of accepting them as unavoidable time wasters.

4. Evaluate meeting invites and decline when possible. Read the
meeting’s agenda to see if your presence is required, or if you’re an observer
invited for the sake of not leaving anyone out. Politely decline the meeting if
the topic isn’t related to your tasks, or recommend a co-worker who can better
contribute to the conversation. If you must, cite a task that needs to be
completed within a certain deadline.

Some meetings are done weekly and
comprised of different groups, so if that’s the case, you can just attend part
of the meeting that’s relevant to you then excuse yourself once the
conversation has moved outside your scope.

End of Day Routine

Think of this as a wind-down
routine that signals to yourself and your co-workers that you’re about to leave
work in a few minutes.

  • Save all the documents you’ve been
    working on and close all the tabs on your browser.
  • Review the tasks you completed and
    take note of pending items that need to be included in tomorrow’s agenda.
  • Review what went well and what
    went wrong, and what could be done to avoid the same problem in the future.
  • Do you have one task that you’ve
    been avoiding for a few days? Break it down into manageable chunks.
  • Optional: create an easy win task
    for tomorrow.
  • Turn off your computer and tidy up
    your desk.

2. Set a Non-Negotiable Quitting Time

It’s hard to leave the office on time when your co-workers
are still hard at work. Your employer’s company culture may make you feel that
going home on time may affect your career.

Leaving work on time isn’t a sin or a privilege. Unless your
job contract states you’re required to work overtime regularly, no one can stop
you from going home. Leaving early from work doesn’t mean you worked less than your
peers. It’s just a matter of perception.

Re-frame what you think or feel about quitting time. Instead
of thinking you’re “leaving work,”
think of what you’re going to do next to shift your focus to other tasks just as important as your job.

Examples:

  • “I’m going to an event with my friends.”
  • “I’m going home to cook and eat dinner with my family.”
  • “I’m going to the gym because exercising keeps me fit and healthy.”

Better yet, schedule an appointment immediately after your
quitting time to force yourself out of the door.

Get Important Tasks Done So You’re Not Forced
to Work Late Hours

Of course, all of the strategies above won’t be effective if
you don’t get any of your important tasks done. Your manager won’t allow you to
leave work early if the report you’re supposed
to deliver isn’t finished. If you’re wasting time that can keep you from completing your work. The strategies below will help you prioritize and
focus on what matters, instead of wasting time on non-essential tasks.

3. Prioritize

Below is an easy way to prioritize your tasks:

1. List all of your tasks for the day. Don’t worry about the number of items on the list or the order it will get done
as that will be decided later.

2. Identify urgent, important, and
urgent AND important tasks
. Urgent tasks are those that need your immediate
attention, such as items due at the end of the day or those already overdue.
Important tasks are those that contribute to your career goals or will have serious consequences for
you, your boss or the company if not completed.

Tasks that aren’t urgent may be
left off for the next day or delegated to someone else. Focus only on
completing urgent and important tasks then move on to urgent tasks afterward.

3. Assess the task’s value for your
career and employer
. Sometimes all of your tasks will be urgent or urgent and
important, making it hard for you to pick one task over another. That’s when it
helps to assign a value or weight for a particular project.

In most cases, tasks for clients are more important than internal work because those clients paid your employer and have certain
expectations. In general, high-value
tasks affect more people, the company’s revenue, and reputation.

4. Cut unimportant tasks. Either do
them later, find a way to automate them, or delegate them to someone else.

Itemize
your list according to the system above, then focus only on the high stakes and
urgent items and work your way from there. Leave the busywork from when you’ve got extra time or on days when it’s easier to start with a warm-up task before
diving into deeper, more complicated
work.

4. Refocus

Set
your alarm to ring every 90 minutes. When it does, stand up and take a deep
cleansing breath, or walk around the office for a few minutes to clear your
head. Do this for three to five minutes.

Use
this time to evaluate how you’ve been doing your work so far. Did you spend the
last hour productively, or did an email from your boss distract you? Either
way, use this short break to mentally re-calibrate your to-do list and commit to
focus on what you’re going to do during the next 90 minutes.

Stopping
from work every 90 minutes isn’t a waste of time. Done properly, this quick five-minute break will prevent you from
daydreaming or spacing out, which sometimes happen even if you’re working on
something. It can also help you take a step back and focus on what’s important
after you got distracted. 

5. Just Start

Getting
started is the hardest thing to do, but when you do, it gets easier from there.
Stanford University Researcher B.J.Fogg created his Tiny Habits program around this concept. According to his
program, starting a habit (or any task at work) doesn’t need to be a battle of
wills, if you just focus on the baby steps. Setting the bar low is the easiest
way to remove any friction you feel against working.

For
instance, instead of pressuring yourself to read the whole creative briefing
for a video shoot, tell yourself it’s okay to just read one paragraph—or one
sentence if you like. Fogg’s experiment shows you’re more likely to keep going
once you get started.

6. Stop Trying to Multitask

Your brain isn’t good at multitasking, despite
what you think. A study from the University of California Irvine found that it takes an average of 23 minutes for a person to regain
focus after switching tasks. Multitasking might make you feel productive, but
the context switching what you’re doing is slowing you down and affecting the
quality of your work.

Not
all distractions or task switching is bad though. The study notes that if a
distraction takes only a few minutes, and isn’t something you’ve got to carefully
think about, like signing a paper or going to the bathroom, it won’t cause a
major disruption in your thought process. 

You’ll
save more time (and brain power) if you focus on one task at a time. You’ll
also produce better quality work and avoid the risk of ideas getting all mixed
up in your head.

7. Block Distracting Sites and Apps

Use
website or app blockers if you’ve got trouble staying off distracting sites.
Extensions like StayFocused and SelfControl
to limit or block use entertaining but time-wasting sites during work hours.
Turn off notifications for apps you can’t uninstall, or put them on silent at
least so they don’t disturb you.

Still
getting distracted? Put a “distraction
pad”
beside your computer, so you can jot down thoughts, ideas, events, or
anything that distracts you as they come. Doing this offloads the distraction
from your brain and into the paper, so it’s not weighing at the back of your
mind like a random thought that keeps popping up when you’re busy with
important tasks.

8. Check Your Email Only a Few Times a Day

Did
you know the average employee checks their inbox a whopping 36 times an hour? Whether you
believe that or not, I’m sure you check your inbox more than is necessary. You
might even do this out of habit because your
email account is always open in your browser.

Check
your email only at specific times to save time and avoid distractions. When
possible, check your email only after you’ve finished at least one important
task that day, so your attention doesn’t get diverted to non-essential tasks.

Fight
the urge to respond immediately to emails that don’t require your immediate
attention. You can also prevent back and forth email discussions by providing
choices or as much information about the topic of your conversation up front. For example, when setting
appointments, give two to three schedule options instead of just one date and
time, so your correspondent can easily choose a time that also fits the
schedule. The same logic applies when choosing a meeting venue. When talking
about any type of task, including the
who, what, when, where, how, and every relevant information you can think of,
before the recipient asks for them.

4 Tips for Setting Expectations about the Time You Leave Work

The strategies listed below will be helpful if
your office culture pressures you to stay late regardless of how much work you
finished.

1. Tell People When You Plan to Leave Work

Casually tell your co-workers and
manager when you intend to leave hours ahead of your quitting time. Subtly
steer the conversation towards your departure time as you talk about the day’s work,
like 

“I have to leave work by 5 PM today, so if there’s
anything else I need to finish ASAP, let me know by 2 PM.”

The script above accomplishes three
goals:

  • It sets the expectation that you’ll
    leave work on time, so co-workers won’t feel that you left without notifying them.
  • Forces your manager or coworkers to
    prioritize the tasks that they’ll hand over to you
  • Prevents last-minute tasks and gives
    you a valid excuse to decline such requests

You might be anxious about what your peers will think of you leaving
early from work. If that’s the case, mention the important tasks that you’ve accomplished
for the day while announcing your intent to leave work early, to ward off potential allegations that you’re
lazy or not a team player for leaving early.

2. Start Meetings at Least One Hour Before the Official End of
Day

This will only work if you’ve got a
say in meeting schedules, of course. But if you do, take this opportunity to
start meetings at least one hour before you go home. Starting the meeting time
at 4 PM is a good idea if your meetings are only 30 minutes long and if you
intend to go home at 5 PM. Move the meeting time 30 minutes earlier if you
think it’s going to last at least an hour.

3. Ask Your Manager for
their Priorities

Some managers aren’t good at
prioritizing that’s why they just hand you tasks as they’re requested or
needed. So, it’s up to you to ask them to rank all of your pending tasks from
most to least important. If your manager is having trouble prioritizing the tasks, ask
for the deadline of each task instead or
use the prioritization method described above.

4. Say “No”

Decline requests for help or any
task that doesn’t require your expertise if your plate is already full. Don’t
immediately agree when someone asks you to do something. Think about all your
pending, recurring, and future tasks first to avoid regrets later. 

You’ll Still Have Work to do Tomorrow

No matter how
hard you work, there will always be emails to answer, fires to put out, and
items on your to-do list. It doesn’t stop whether you’re at the office or at
home, so you might as well leave work on time and recharge yourself.