Resolve to Leave the Office Earlier

Staying late started innocently enough: “If I just stay a little later today, I can ‘catch up’ on this work I’ve not been able to get to.” Eight hours went to nine. It became a habit. Then: “If I just take this reading home with me, I can ‘catch up’ after the kids go to bed.” Nine hours went to ten. You did this on a regular basis; 60-hour weeks became the norm. Sure, if you’re starting a new business or have an important short-term project, you’ll have to put in some extra hours. But if years later you’re still working those hours, it’s now a habit. You have forgotten what it’s like to have a free weeknight or weekend.

By Laura Stack

Where do we draw the line when it comes to work/life balance? Is the worker the one who draws it? Does that task belong to our companies or to society? It’s difficult to define where personal responsibility ends and companies’ responsibility begins. I think both share it. In the final analysis, responsibility for your life is yours alone. You must draw the line and insist on leaving work on time to create the balance for yourself. If you don’t, you will perpetually chase the clock.

I’ve studied many successful people and discovered they place a high priority on not working extreme hours and of striking a healthy balance between work and home. Here are some strategies to help you draw the line and leave work on time:

  • Stop participating in the cultural rules.Commit to getting out the door on time. Who decided that you should work until 7.00 pm? Are you getting paid for 40 hours or 60 hours? How much is the time “you’re devoting because you’re a salaried employee and obligated to do what it takes to get the job done” worth?
  • Start meetings before 4.00 pm. If you have some say or control regarding meeting times, schedule them to end by 4.30. Preferably, start meetings right after lunch. Block out your calendar from 4.00 pm every day, so people can’t schedule with you after this time. Set a good example and encourage others to do the same. If you have an assistant or a team that reports to you, don’t ask people to begin projects at 4.45 pm. Respect their right to a life, too.
  • Be assertive. Don’t be afraid to tell others, “I leave work at 5.00, on time, every day. I have a 5:30 commitment I must adhere to.” It’s none of their business that your commitment is with yourself or your family. People tend to support others when their goals are made public.
  • Schedule fixed office hours. If you have an assistant, block off certain hours a few days a week to accept appointments. Perhaps Monday, Wednesday and Friday you take appointments from 9.00 to 10.30 and 2.00 to 3.30. This way, you don’t have interruptions overlapping the time you’re trying to leave the office.
  • Make preparations to leave. Gather up your coat and put it in a visible spot so others can see you’re closing shop. Close your door a few minutes before quitting time so people will think you’re busy or already gone. Whatever they want, it can wait until tomorrow.
  • Challenge your assumptions. Long hours aren’t “the way it is”. To reduce the time pressure you feel, decide to reclaim your day… not by working longer, but to finish your work within the workday. Don’t focus on “catching up”. You will never catch up. There will always be more things to do than there is time to do them. People have a tendency to create work to fill up any amount of time they have. They’ll accomplish the same amount of work in a 45-minute meeting as a 90-minute meeting. When working late is a habit, you tend to slack off a little. By being more productive during the day, you’ll get the same amount of work done… and leave earlier.
  • Start small. Think about how productive you are right before you go on holiday. Everything inside of you supports your desire to leave! The unimportant things magically disappear, and you focus on higher-value activities. Similarly, you can pick a single day, perhaps Thursdays, to be “the” day you leave work on time. To support this decision, you will automatically begin to be more productive on Thursdays and work your day more carefully. Even though you work a normal workday on Thursday, you don’t get any less work done. After you sense what it’s like to have Thursday nights to yourself, you benefit from a system of self-reinforcement, because you enjoy the rewards you created. Then add another day, like Monday, and do the same thing. Keep working on productivity skills and adding more days, until you’re working your 40-hour week again and accomplishing even better results.

Keep in it mind that the problem is not a shortage of time. The problem is your habits, which collectively create decreased productivity. Don’t unwittingly fall into the trap of throwing more time at problems.

Remember: Work isn’t life! You are working to live, not living to work. Yes, you want to be productive. You want to enjoy your work and get pay-rises and promotions. But you need to have a worthwhile life in the process. Become a role model for others to seek equilibrium and find a life of their own… something worth leaving the office earlier for.

Make it a productive day!

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity Pro"® and author of Leave the Office Earlier. She presents keynote speeches and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Visit for more information.

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