Everyone knows working long hours is directly linked to serious health issues like stress and heart disease. Yet we still put in longer and longer hours at our jobs, both on-site and during what used to be called “our own time” – now occupied with answering work-related emails and returning work-related phone calls.
But, says Lea McLeod, founder of The Job Success Lab, working longer hours doesn’t equate to higher productivity. “In fact,” she writes in an article appearing on Business Insider, “consistently working more than 40 hours a week can make you less productive.” Here’s how McLeod suggests you achieve this elusive goal:
Start your day by planning your departure time: Many (or most) people “simply go with the flow of the workday, working on whatever comes their way and neglecting to block time on their calendar for priority work.” When the end of the day rolls around, a pile of work still remains to be done – “…all because they didn’t plan for 5 p.m.”
Before you start your day, McLeod says, “identify the time you want to leave that night.” Mark it on your calendar or set an alarm on your smartphone to remind you. Another motivational tip: Join a class or social group that meets after work, offering an additional reason to leave on time.
Tell people you’re leaving: By announcing to people you intend to leave at a specific time, you’re much more likely to do so. Let others know if they need something from you, they have to submit their requests ahead of time, not at the end of the day.
Letting people know you’re not available after a set time helps “avoid unnecessarily last-minute assignments or meetings.”
Plan a 20-minute transition period: As your appointed departure time nears, give yourself a 20-minute block of time to attend to the last details of the day. “This is a priority time-slot that’s non-negotiable,” McLeod says.
Get your A-priority work done first: It’s often easier to focus on a C-priority project which demands less effort and focus, “but it doesn’t help you finish the monthly report that’s due or the agenda for the big meeting next week.”
McLeod suggests creating a list with two columns. In the left-hand column, list 3-5 of the highest-priority tasks facing you that day. In the right-hand column, list all the things you actually do during the day. When you match up the lists before leaving, you’ll see how much of what you achieved on the right side directly supported key priorities on the left.
“Getting your most important priorities done will not only make it easier to leave on time, but will also help you feel more satisfied about the work you accomplished.”
Stop wasting time! Every minute spent checking your email or replying to a text is time lost on more important things. These distractions “can seriously undermine your productivity and focus, and all of these habits can work against you to keep you at work longer.”
Make a promise to yourself to check email “only at a few designated times during the day” and block out time to work solely on your A-priority tasks.
Try using the phone: When your inbox gets jammed up with long email threads describing issues that never get resolved, try something different. Pick up the phone and call the person involved. “With a simple call, you’ll save hours of email reading, sorting and responding,” McLeod notes.
Nothing is more important than your time. By setting the right expectations, prioritizing your work and eliminating distractions, you can be productive and leave work on time—and enjoy more of your life away from the office.
What keeps you from leaving work on time?