There are many reasons for us to try and end our work day comfortably at 5pm; we have children and families to care for, we want to fit regular work outs into our schedules, we are working on perfecting our skills at outside activities, the need for relaxation. Although there are studies that highlight the benefits of not continuously working overtime and of leaving work each day on time, the struggle for most of us rests in trying to make it happen.
We may want to leave at 5, we may promise to leave on time but the day often gets away from us, preventing our wishes from materializing. It seems that merely setting the intention to leave at 5 is not enough. We need to consciously develop systems that help us make it happen. The good news though is that these 'systems' can become habits over time, helping us to work unconsciously toward ending our work day at a reasonable hour.
The following tips are all designed to help you manage your work and your day to allow you to leave work at 5pm guilt-free. Sure, we may duck out at 5 now, but we are often walking out the door carrying the stress of the work left behind on our desks. The trick is to not just set an alarm and race out the door at a set time at the end of the day, but to leave feeling in control of our workload and good about what we accomplished that day.
Tip #1 Start with the End in Mind. You must start each day with the clear expectation of when you intend to finish that day. This isn't a wish, hope or prayer, it is a clear fact. It is absolute. Creating this expectation before you start your day establishes the target that you are working toward. It will influence you unconsciously, even in small ways, throughout your day. You won`t make choices that might negatively impact its possibility, you will focus better and waste far less time... often without even knowing or realizing it.
Tip #2 Know Your Why. Why is it important to you to leave at 5? Family? Fitness? Education? Fun? Whatever your reason, the stronger your reasons and the more they align with your personal values, the more likely it is to happen. If it is really critical to you to get ahead and advance your career and your organizational culture is such that leaving at 5pm will make you appear less committed... know you are never going to be leaving at 5pm. You may create all kinds of reasons 'why' you just can't make it out the door on time but know that it is simply because leaving on time conflicts with your top 'why' - of building your career. Your needs and values shift over time though. What your valued last year may not be what you value today. Become clear about what is important to you now - and why. This is the key to walking out the door at 5 guilt-free.
Tip #3 Important Stuff First. Always start your day getting the most important things done first. This is how the most successful folks start their day. If the rest of the day goes sideways, odds are you have already achieved what you really needed to get done, eliminating the need for you to stay late to finish things off. Whatever is on your list that is a 'must get done today item' should be the first thing you tackle.
Tip #4 Have a Plan. As a corollary to the tip above, you need to have a plan for what needs to get done each day. An Action list, a To-do list... it doesn't matter what you call it, but it is important that you are clear about how you are looking to spend the day. Separate the must-get-done items from the if-there-is-time items. Knowing the difference between the two is what helps you leave without guilt. If all of the to-do items are jumbled together, anything undone at the end of the day weighs on your mind. However, separating the two means that as long as the must-get-dones are crossed off you're good to go at the end of day, feeling good about any of the items on the if-there-is-time list you managed to also accomplish!
Tip #5 Set the Expectation. One of the biggest challenges that people working from home often face is the need to 'train' those around them to understand and respect the parameters of their work day. However, those working within corporations also need to 'train' their coworkers. Your behaviour drives their expectations. If they always seem to come to you with issues at 5 minutes to 5pm, and you always stay to resolve them, then you are training them to believe that your time is flexible. Letting people know you have a hard stop to your day, and then leaving on time, establishes your boundaries. Others will start to adjust their behaviour around the expectation of your availabilty.
Tip #6 Schedule Transition Time. Always allow for 15 to 20 minutes at the end of your day to transition your departure. You might set at alarm on your computer at 30 minutes before leaving to remind you to begin to transition your exit. This allows you time to wrap up what you are working on, to record and schedule activities for the following day, to send any final messages and reminders. This means that you don't schedule meetings that would end after 4:30, you don't place a final call at 10 minutes to, you don't take a 'quick' question with 5 minutes left to your day. You want to engage in behaviours that help you reach your target, not work against them.
Continuously working overtime is one of the most common complaints of workers today and one of the biggest sources of frustration and stress. However, there is often more that we can do to alleviate some of that stress than we may believe.
As much as I have used 5pm as a target, note that your target may be 6 or perhaps 7pm. Think about when you are typically calling it quits each day and whether there is a personal advantage to you (a 'why') to leave sooner. Set that target. If managing it each work day seems impossible then start with one or two days a week. Whatever the case, make it an absolute for those days.
Using the tips above you may just find that it isn't as impossible as it once seemed. As you reap the benefits of reclaiming some time for yourself and other activities, you just might begin to see an increase in your productivity while at work! At the end of the (work) day, it's not about the hours you put in, but what you put into the hours.