8 tips to help you leave work on time (today!)

By Robert Half on 23 December 2019

Work, work, work. It's the reason you've gone AWOL from the gym, missed your dental appointment, and find yourself living off ready meals.

You've had to cancel a date, there's an empty seat at the kids' school play, and your pub quiz team is a member short.

While life carries on for everyone else, you're stuck at work yet again, as another evening slowly ebbs away and you wonder 'how can I leave work on time'?

And it isn’t just you – even as the clock strikes nine, there’s still a queue forming at the coffee machine. Hours after knocking-off time, the office remains a hive of activity, as employees strive to get their jobs done and your time management plan goes out the window. You might love your role and the challenges it brings, but have you managed to find the right work-life balance? Are you able to leave work on time?

Easier said than done, you say. Well maybe so, particularly at busy times of the year. But we’re not talking about work-to-rule more a general commitment to operate more intelligently. By managing your workload and planning your day effectively, you should be able to escape work by 6pm most evenings.

Here are our top tips for doing just that:

1. Give yourself a to-do list

When you arrive at work in the morning, think about what you need to do as a priority on this day.

Ensure urgent tasks that have a deadline are completed first, with discretionary ones left until later. If time runs out to get them done, there is always tomorrow… or even the day after.

2. Assess your workload

If you are being given an unrealistic amount of work, by objective standards, for your number of salaried hours, take this up with management. It should be possible for you to complete assigned tasks to the required level within the hours stipulated under your contract.

Where this in not the case, your workload needs reducing.

3. Schedule earlier meetings

Starting meetings earlier in the day can help reduce the risk of them dragging on into the evening.

When meetings overrun, it pushes everybody's schedule back. If it commences at 10am, rather than 4pm, it's far more likely that participants will be able to leave the office on time.

4. Challenge assumptions

There may be a culture of late working within your organisation, which exists from before you joined. As a professional, you have the right to challenge this, rather than embrace it.

Ultimately, your employer will judge you on performance rather than the number of hours you work. By delivery quality work during your contracted hours, you can set a positive example for other members of the workforce.

5. Be assertive

Let your colleagues and managers know that you have somewhere to be in the evening, and need to leave work on time today.

There is no need to tell them what your commitment is - just inform them that, come what may, you need to be out the door when your shift is officially over.

6. Arrive early

If there are particular time pressures on you day, you could always try arriving early rather than staying late.

It's amazing how productive you can be in a quiet office at the start of the day. You’re fully energised at this point and, as such, are likely to be most productive.

7. Have a shorter lunch break

It's important that you take some time away from your desk at lunchtime, but it doesn’t always have to be a whole hour.

Always have a break in the middle of the day and consume some food and a drink, but get back to work when you're ready.

8. Make plans

If you make plans for the evening, there is a stronger incentive to finish your work and leave work on time, enabling you to honour them. On evenings where you have nothing specific arranged, there is not the same sort of pressure, and you may find yourself hanging around at work.

Of course, be wary of scheduling events or activities for nights when it might be essential to work late - such as at the month-end - as you don’t want to make a habit of letting people down.

Learn how to leave work on time

Without the necessary rest and recuperation - and time for family, social or leisure pursuits – you simply won’t be as productive as you need to be day-by-day. Little errors can creep in, and your enthusiasm for work may start to wane.

Realistically, what exactly can you expect to achieve after 12 hours straight staring at a computer screen? So rather than becoming the workplace zombie - stalking work from dawn to dusk without really contributing - try to focus on quality, rather than quantity, and you will improve your work-life balance.

If you've tried nearly all of the above tips and you still feel tied to your desk after 6pm, it might be time to consider a career change as being overworked is one of the first signs. Explore your options by searching our current vacancies.

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