You keep telling yourself that you’re going to leave work on time, but there you are, sitting at your desk instead of eating dinner with your family. Why are you logging so many extra hours, and what’s happening to your life balance?
You may already be familiar with studies that show that productivity declines when employees put in more than 40 hours a week on a regular basis. Still, many of us remain chained to our desks. More than 40% of American workers spend more than 50 hours a week on the job.
If that sounds like you, maybe you’re trying to complete your to do list, or you’re hoping to impress your boss with your dedication. Either way, there are strategies that are more effective and sustainable than working long hours.
Consider these options for shortening your work day without setting back your career.
- Set priorities. Do you put off essential tasks until the end of the week? Determine the most urgent and important things you need to do each day.
- Plan your time. Once you know your priorities, you can allocate your time. Schedule your most demanding tasks for the hours when you’re at your peak. Batch similar projects together so you can complete them in less time.
- Manage meetings. The average middle manager spends about 35% of their time in meetings. Avoid attending non-essential meetings when possible. Hand out an agenda to make your own sessions quicker and more useful.
- Reduce distractions. How much time do you waste checking email or browsing online? Set a limit on such activities. Check your email once a day. Turn instant messaging off when you’re working on a project that requires your full attention.
- Use technology. If you have trouble regulating yourself, there are apps that will do it for you. For example, a program named Freedom will block the websites and apps that you find hard to resist, or even the entire internet, for up to 8 hours.
- Create a transition. Develop rituals for the end of your work day that prepare you for going home. You might use the last 20 minutes to wrap up whatever you’re doing, clear off your desk, and write notes for the next day.
- Take breaks. While powering through the day without any rest sounds like a timesaver, that’s a tactic that’s likely to backfire. You’ll accomplish more by giving yourself a chance to recharge, even if you spend less time working.
- Share your schedule. Maybe you’re on top of your responsibilities, but you’re afraid of being the first one out the door. If you’re in a workplace that tends to value long hours over performance, give them a heads up. Talk with your boss about the hours you’re able to work.
- Provide updates. Your boss might be more open to cutting back on overtime if you reassure them that you’re delivering the results they want. Set up a weekly status meeting to review outstanding and upcoming projects.
- Give a reason. Many studies have proved that it’s easier to persuade others if you provide a reason for your actions. Tell your boss that you need to leave on time to pick up your children from daycare or get to your spin class.
Working smarter and making your personal life a top priority will help you to leave work on time. As you achieve greater balance, you’ll have more time to spend with family and friends. You’ll also lower your risk for many stress-related health conditions. And you’ll give yourself the opportunity to find greater enjoyment in life.