Working Smarter, Not Harder: 7 Habits for Leaving Work on Time
Working parents often struggle to balance the demands of their career with the responsibilities of raising a family. It can be especially challenging when you’re always the last one to pick up your child from daycare. But instead of automatically putting in more hours, it’s time to start reassessing how you’re working. Clocking in extra hours doesn’t necessarily equate to working harder, especially if you’re not working efficiently during the traditional workday. If you’re ready to rid your child’s status of being the last one standing, here are seven habits to help you work smarter and leave work on time, guilt-free.
1. Do the Hard Stuff First
According to research, the morning is the most productive time of the workday for most people. Instead of squandering this valuable time responding to emails or doing other low-value work, use this period to tackle the hard tasks on your to-do list. Accomplishing a notable item early in the day can set a positive and productive tone for the rest of your day. Focusing on the most challenging tasks first helps build momentum, which can carry you through the day.
2. (Mentally) Prepare for 5PM
Just as it’s important to start your day with a punch, it’s equally as important to end it with intention. Set your personal expectation to leave the office at 5 PM. Identify your key priorities and block time on your calendar for them. Then, aim to finish these priorities before hitting that end-of-day marker. Don’t wait to see if there’ll be time left over after working on other tasks; prioritize your critical work and let others know that you’re working to a set schedule. The more you own your afternoons, the less likely it is that ad hoc requests and last-minute meetings will derail your plans.
3. Take More Breaks (To Avoid Burnout)
Working too long can lead to burnout and affect your productivity. According to science, humans can only focus for 90 minutes at a time; your brain can only take so much concentration without a break. This is called the ultradian rhythm, which is a recurrent period or cycle repeated throughout a 24-hour circadian day. Your brain’s ability to focus changes throughout the day, just like your sleep cycle has highs and lows.
If you find yourself staring blankly at your computer, it’s nature’s way of telling you it’s break time. Even a five-minute bathroom break and water refill can help you get back on track, so don’t be afraid to take more breaks.
4. Don’t Multitask
Humans are not good at multitasking. We’re not meant to focus on more than one thing at a time. When you’re constantly switching between tasks, you lose momentum and focus. It might feel like you’re accomplishing a lot, but you’re actually spinning your wheels. Multitasking can also reduce the quality of your work and hinder your efficiency. The culprits of multitasking mayhem often start with an overflowing inbox. Remember that receiving an email does not always mean you have to respond immediately. Set specific times for checking and responding to emails, and you may find that you’re more productive and efficient when not constantly switching between screens.
5. Protect Your Priorities
Respect is earned, and that includes respect for your time. If you want others to respect your 5 PM check-out time, you need to respect it first. Communicate your departure time with your colleagues and let them know what is expected of them by a certain time to avoid last-minute requests or meetings. When you communicate your goals, you’re more likely to stick to them, and others tend to be supportive when goals are made public knowledge.
6. Give Yourself Transition Time
It’s easy to focus solely on finishing work and getting out the door, but you need to give yourself time to wind down from your workday. Make sure all essential emails have been handled, files are organized or the workspace is set up for the next day, and any loose ends are tied up before you leave. Give yourself 10-15 minutes before heading out of the office to wrap up loose ends so you can fully transition from work to family time.
7. Know That Work Will Be There Tomorrow, and the Day After
There will always be more work to do, but it’s essential to recognize that once time is gone, it’s gone forever. While it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of always having a to-do list and putting out fires, you don’t have to be a slave to them. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide how much time you want to invest in your work each day.
In conclusion, working parents can balance work and family life by working smarter, not harder. Prioritize your most challenging tasks first, set a personal expectation to leave at 5 PM, take more breaks, avoid multitasking, communicate your goals and departure times with colleagues, give yourself transition time, and recognize that work will always be there tomorrow. By working efficiently during the day, you can maximize your productivity without sacrificing your family time.