If you’re tired of always being the last parent to pick up your child from daycare, consider this: are you working as smart as you can? Clocking in extra hours doesn’t always mean you’re working harder. While it’s no secret that workplace pressure continues to rise, it’s nearly impossible to leave the office on time if you’re not working efficiently from 9 to 5, regardless of what’s on your plate.
If you’re ready to rid your child’s status of the last one standing (at daycare), here are 7 habits to get you working smarter so you can leave work on time, guilt-free.
Do the Hard Stuff First
For many, the most productive time of your workday is the morning. Instead of responding to emails or doing other low value work, use the peak time to get the hard tasks done first. Just as getting stuck on a roadblock has the ability to affect your mood for the entire day, checking off a notable item on your to-do list has the ability to set a positive and productive tone for the rest of your workday.
(Mentally) Prepare for 5PM
I don’t mean packing up and getting ready to leave. Second to starting off your day with a punch by knocking off some major items from your task list, set the expectation with yourself to leave at 5PM. For me, one of the major reasons my productivity wanes after lunch is because I don’t own my afternoons. I get thrown a lot of ad hoc requests and even meetings sometimes, and before I know it, it’s 4:59PM and I’ve yet to finish my priority work.
Instead of going with the flow of the day, and working on whatever gets thrown your way, identify your key priorities and block time in your calendar for it. Then, identify the time you want to leave the office and aim to get your priority work done before that time.
Take More Breaks (To Avoid Burnout)
It might sound counterproductive but you’re a human, not a robot. Working too long is actually the killer of productivity – according to science, you can only focus for 90 minutes at a time. It’s called the ultradian rhythm: a recurrent period or cycle repeated throughout a 24-hour circadian day. Just like your sleep cycle has highs and lows, so does your brain’s ability to focus throughout the day.
If you’ve noticed that the longer you stare at your computer, the less focus you have, its 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.
Let’s face it – humans are notoriously bad at multitasking. We’re just not meant to focus on more than one thing at a time. When you’re constantly switching gears, you lose momentum. You might feel like you’re accomplishing a lot but you’re actually spinning your wheels.
Not only that, but multitasking reduces the quality of of your work, and (surprise!) hinders your efficiency too. The biggest instigator of multitasking mayhem? Your inbox. Just because an email arrives, it doesn’t mean you need to respond. Set times for checking your email and you’ll be surprised at how effectively you pummel through projects when you’re not switching from screen to screen.
Protect Your Priorities
No one will respect your 5PM check out time, if you don’t first. Be assertive by communicating when you have to leave, so you can set boundaries around your time. If your co-workers need something, let them know to speak up by a certain time, in order to avoid last minute assignments or meetings.
When you communicate your goals, you’re more likely to follow through and people tend to be supportive when goals are made public knowledge.
Give Yourself Transition Time
I never seem to do this, so I’m always scrambling to get out the door but giving yourself time to wind down from your workday is important too. Make sure you’ve cleared out any essential email, organized your files or workspace for the next day, and tied up any loose ends before you head out for the night.
Block out 10 to 15 minutes before your planned departure to get yourself sorted, so you don’t revert to checking work emails during critical family time in the evening.
Know That Work Will Be There Tomorrow, And the Day After
Be honest: will there always be a to-do list? Yes. Will there always be fires to put out? Probably. The thing with time is once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. And while there will always be work that needs to be done, you don’t have to be a slave to it.
It’s a hard concept to grasp, no doubt, but the harsh reality is that there will always be more to do – so at the end of the day, you have to decide how much time to invest in your work each day.
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