Careers advice

6 ways to make sure you always leave work on time

Want to stop working late?

It’s getting towards 5.30, the office is starting to thin out, but you know you’re in for the long haul.

We’ve all been told the benefits of working hard, but like everything, a healthy work ethic involves moderation. If you’re finding that you’re consistently putting in long hours at the office, or opening up the laptop again once you get home, you’re most likely damaging the quality of the work you do, your relationships with friends and family, and potentially even your health.

But what can you do about it? Ultimately, the amount of work you’ve got is the amount of work you’ve got, and it can be hard to work out a strategy to improve your work-life balance on your own.

With this in mind, we’re going to share a few tactics you can employ to help ensure that you’re able to leave work on time and make space for the things that matter to you.

How to stop working late: 6 actionable tips

1. Prioritise, then prioritise again

On a Monday morning, after you’ve got your morning caffeine fix, you need to plan your week. This is a theme we’ll keep coming back to, but leaving the office on time involves a constant cycle of planning and prioritising.

At the start of the week, this means taking an overview look at everything you’ve got to do, and deciding what are the must-achieves, and what are the nice-to-achieves.

However, you need to go beyond the idealistic, and look at the component parts that need to fall into place for a given task to be completed. For example, let’s say you need to launch a new page on your company website, but you know the graphics won’t be complete until next week. This might mean that your part in the project can slip down the priority list for this week, even if it’s technically more important to get this done than some of the things lower down.

As well as creating a weekly priority list, we advise you reassess every morning to keep stock of where you’ve got to. When you’re busy, it can be tempting to dive straight into the day’s tasks, but taking a minute to breathe and review where you’re at can often save you time in the long run. Remember, working smart is better than working hard.

Each morning, take the time to assess where you're at, and what needs to be done.

2. Learn to say no

Ideally, you’ll be working with a team of awesome humans, some of whom will be among your best mates. While this is great, it can make it even harder to say no to someone dropping a late-in-the-day favour on your desk. We’re not saying you should routinely say no to any request that falls outside of your weekly priority list, but it’s totally okay to not say yes to everything – especially if it’s going to result in you pulling another late one in the office.

Similarly, learn to ruthlessly prioritise which meetings you attend. Some people just love to throw out an all encompassing invite to meetings, when half the participants don’t really need to be there, and end up sitting and twiddling their thumbs. This can be particularly true with recurring meetings, so take a forensic look at your diary, and talk to colleagues about dropping out of meetings, or attending recurring meetings less regularly as a way to give yourself back some time.

3. Set yourself up for the next day

As it gets close to the end of the day, instead of planning how much overtime you’re going to do, start setting yourself up for success the following day.

Take stock of what you’ve gotten done today, anything that didn’t quite get ticked off, and form a plan for how this will impact tomorrow. This type of forward planning will stop things temporarily slipping through the cracks and building up at a later date to overwhelm you.

4. Schedule your breaks

One of the first things that happens when you feel constantly under the pump is that you stop taking breaks. Not only is this likely to leave you with a bad back from all that sitting down, it’s also going to be detrimental to your productivity.

It may seem counterintuitive, but not taking breaks is likely to raise your stress levels, which in turn results in getting less done.

There are no hard and fast rules for what kind of break is going to be best for you. Some people like going for a walk, others use their lunch break to catch up with friends, and others take the time to fit in a quick run or workout. Whatever you go with, we reckon you’ll end up returning to your desk feeling a whole lot more energised when you’re done.

Taking regular breaks is key to keeping your stress levels down.

5. Get out of bad habits

A big part of good time management is being honest with yourself. And, sometimes, this means being strict about kicking bad habits that are sucking too much of your time.

However, if you’re constantly tabbing to your email or checking social media, you’re contributing to your own problem. With emails, this is simply about catching yourself in the act of doing it, and then breaking the pattern. When it comes to social media, did you know you can lock yourself out of your accounts for a set amount of time? So, if you find it too hard to tear yourself away from the ‘Gram, this could be the way forward.

6. Talk to your manager

Ultimately, if you’ve been trying for a while and you still aren’t leaving work on time, it may be time to have a frank chat with your manager.

We get that these conversations can be daunting, but if you aren’t able to get all your work done during office hours, it could well be because your workload is simply too much. The thing is, if you don’t speak up, your manager might simply never know that you’re struggling to keep your head above water – it’s all about managing expectations.

By at least opening up this dialogue, you get the problem on your manager’s radar, and they can work with you to find an effective solution. This could be anything from helping you to prioritise to pushing back some tasks to a later date.

Whatever the solution you come to, your wellbeing should be important to your manager, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed to show your vulnerability.