Life Advice

How to leave work on time, every time

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Three career coaches give us their expert advice on how to tear yourself away from your desk and enjoy more of your post-work day

Every morning I make the same resolution: I’ll be out of the office as soon as the clock strikes six, and use the full amount of mid-week free time I have to take up French classes, or try out that new cocktail bar. But every evening as the clock creeps closer to six, that resolution wavers. There’s always another email to answer, another tweet to write, another interview to plan. As the second hand ticks steadily on past the vertical point, I stay stubbornly fixed at my desk.

I imagine I’m not alone in this. As good as our intentions are, it’s nigh on impossible to leave work on time day in and day out. Workload is one factor in this; the pressure to stay and look busy for the benefit of more senior members of the team is probably a bigger one. That, mixed with the current social pressure to be ‘always on’, is a recipe for increased stress and anxiety, and the resulting health problems they bring. Studies also show that working over 40 hours a week is not only tiring, but makes you increasingly unproductive. So by staying late we’re tired, stressed and, even worse, only making ourselves less good at our jobs.

In an effort to keep my resolution to get out the door at six, I spoke to three established career coaches for their expert tips on how to ensure you leave work on time every day. Here’s nine ways to transform your working week for good.

1. The first two hours of your day are golden

How you start your day will have a big impact on how you finish it. Career and executive coach Elizabeth Sullivan recommends asking yourself: ‘“what is the most important thing I need to do today?” And get started on it straight away. Save meetings for after lunch.

2. Schedule your time wisely

‘Try and block out time at the end of the day for unexpected urgent tasks,’ recommends career coach Hannah Salton. ‘You can also add a blank appointment in your calendar to discourage people requesting meetings at the time.’

3. Start with your leaving time in mind

Planning your day in advance will help you to get through your workload in good time. ‘Many people stay late because they don’t expect that they will leave on time,’ explains Sullivan. ‘They don’t block time on their calendar for key priorities and instead they go with the flow of the workday, working on whatever comes their way. Instead, as soon as you get to work, decide the time you want to leave that evening, set an alarm and plan accordingly.’

4. Give yourself a reason to leave

‘Book in a PT session, a yoga class –anything that you need to pay for beforehand that starts at a set time, to ensure you have to leave and will stick to your guns regardless of what comes up,’ advises Evelyn Cotter, founder of Seven Career Coaching. ‘If you don’t have something booked in and paid for, the draw to stay later will always be there.’

5. Communicate your plans

Good communication with your colleagues is essential, especially if leaving on time is a non-negotiable – if you have a child to pick up or a train to catch, for example. ‘If there’s a certain time you absolutely need to leave by, discuss with your manager to create a clear boundary,’ says Salton. ‘Explain that productivity is important to you and you want to ensure you’re focused and efficient when you are in the office. Also, manage key stakeholders expectations about your availability so they know when is and isn’t a good time for you.’

6. Complete similar tasks together to save time

Sullivan advises that work can be divided into three main areas: critical assignments, relationship building (talking to boss, clients and colleagues) and admin (filing and emails). ‘To be more efficient, complete similar tasks together as much as possible throughout the day, as switching tasks frequently can waste time.’

7. Set yourself boundaries

If your workload requires a couple of late nights a week in the office, factor them into your schedule. And then make sure you leave on time on the other days. ‘Give yourself a set of rules,’ advises Cotter. ‘For example, two nights a week, you’re happy to stay one hour later, but on the other nights I will leave on time. If the start of the week is usually more demanding and busier, give yourself an extra hour on Mondays and then know that Tuesday you will always go to yoga.’

8. Allow a 20-minute transition time at the end of the day

Use this time to close off the day: saving files, filing paperwork and getting your desk organised,’ says Sullivan. ‘Write down the most important thing that needs to be done the following day. Make this 20 minutes non-negotiable, so you can get out the office on time.’

9. Finally, own your work ethic

It’s all about being comfortable with yourself, and your position in the company – and knowing staying late for no reason isn’t productive. ‘Mindset is key,’ explains Cotter. ‘If you are delivering efficiently and with impact in your day-to-day work, start to cultivate the attitude of not needing to stay back to show you’re committed. Own the fact you do your job well, you deliver on your role’s objectives ,and you’re comfortable with doing that efficiently and effectively in the given time.’