How to Get out of Work on Time

We all need money, and for those not constantly snowboarding or sipping mojitos in Havana while living off an inheritance/trust funds/lottery winnings, most of us are going to have to get a job.

Obviously, we should love our jobs so much, that we would be at our happiest in the office, not want any work life balance, and spend every hour of the day immersed in our work.

Surprisingly, most people I know, (especially lawyers), do not fall into this category.

So, let’s concentrate on doing what we have to do in the office in the least possible time:

1. Leave work on time

Make a commitment to get out of work on time. You will feel better – about everything.

You get more personal time, and on bad days, you feel less of a slave to the business you’re working for.

Have a flight for a long weekend in Paris booked for 6.30pm?  Most people will get what they need to done,  and be out of the office by 4pm.  Miraculously, they also get more than three times what they usually get done in an average work day too.

I’ve worked in lots of places where people who leave on time are looked down upon, even if you’re in an hour earlier, and everyone else in the office turns up half an hour late and spends 45 minutes having breakfast and looking at Facebook.  I can understand the pressure to stay – I spent years being the last one to leave the office, constantly cancelling plans, sleeping very little, and eating even less, (at least I lost weight, I was a size 6 back then…sigh).

If you’re working late, that’s cool, but that’s your decision.  It’s your life.  If you choose to work in places where you feel compelled to waste your life – I mean, work late, that’s fine. Try and recognise the benefits of doing so.  You’re aiming for promotion, pay rise, a permanent position, whatever.  Just don’t bore your friends and family complaining about why you have to stay. You don’t. It’s your decision to work there.

You always have a choice. Want to work late rather than put your children to bed. That’s cool, but realise that you’re putting your work first, that you’re deciding that your work and colleagues are more important than your children at that point in time.  And, maybe it is, someone’s got to put food on the table, pay for holidays/bills/school fees, buy presents, right?

When you really have to leave the office by a certain time, most people manage to get their head down, complete what they have to, and leave without any major dramas.  It can work. Try it.

2. Don’t use your work e-mail for personal stuff

Forget the “I’m at work for 60 hours a week so I have to do all my personal life at work” mentality.

Keep work and your personal life separate. I know it’s tempting to give out your work email address to everyone, especially if you practically live your life in the office, or if your employer blocks personal email sites like Gmail and Yahoo.  But since most people have mobile phones on which they can check e-mail, or call you if something is really urgent, nowadays there is no real reason to have to use your work email address.

If you use your work e-mail address for everything, you will also have to change all your e-mail addresses when you leave. Trust me – that can take a while!

3. Cut down on personal stuff at work

Twitter, personal e-mail, FB, mobile phones, news, office chit chat, gossip, bitching, complaining, they are all distracting.  Leave them until lunch time or the end of the day.  Check your personal e-mail or your Twitter account at the beginning of the day and your mind will be distracted with whatever it is you’ve just read. Don’t do it!

Keep out these distractions and I guarantee you will get more done.

4. Prioritise 

I know it sounds so basic right, but SO many people don’t prioritise.  They don’t have a system. They waste time reacting to unimportant emails they’ve just received so that they can feel busy. Sometimes those tasks are useful to build up momentum, easy wins to get your warmed up for the working day. But simple unimportant tasks should be left for when you’re hungover or had two hours sleep the night before.

Effectiveness depends on you figuring out what your important tasks are, and doing them. Don’t forget to make time for the tasks which are important but not yet urgent too.

5. Plan Your Day

Make time for your most important work.

Before you leave the office, figure out the 1-2 items you would need to complete the next day for it to be productive and execute. Your day will get off to a quicker start if you’ve worked out your priorities beforehand.

Figure out when you do your best work, and schedule your most difficult tasks for then.

If you’re more productive in the mornings, do your most important work when you get to the office, before your day fills up with “emergencies” or last minute appointments.

If you start checking e-mail/voicemail as soon as you get to the office, chances are you’re going to be compelled to react to things. Constantly being reactive and “fighting fires” is not productive.

“Either you run the day or the day runs you” – Jim Rohn.

6. Check e-mail once or twice a day

If you’re paid mainly to respond to incoming e-mails, like in a customer complaints department, then fine, check your e-mail every five minutes.

Most people though, are paid to produce far more important items than an e-mail.

“Efficiently” responding to every e-mail that comes through is not usually important.  Sure, it makes people feel good, and it’s a gratifying distraction to read and respond to an email straight away. But, most people get so distracted by incoming e-mail, they never finish half of what they were aiming for in the first place.

You don’t need to know everything that is in your e-mail or voicemail, and certainly not as soon as they roll in.  If it’s that important, trust me, someone will call you.  Have a number that people can call you for REAL emergencies, or get an assistant to check your e-mail and to tell you of any business critical things that can’t wait an hour or two.

There are rare occasions where you have to be on regular e-mail watch, but most people seldom HAVE to check e-mail as often as they do.

The world is not going to fall apart if you only check e-mail once or twice a day, or week.

I get that people are resistant to this.  People would often come over to my desk asking about e-mails they’d sent to me ten minutes beforehand, and gasp in horror when they would see me opening Outlook.

Checking e-mail seems to the be the number one thing that people do to keep themselves “busy” and to make themselves feel important.  You see it in meetings or at lunch when people constantly check their Blackberries.

There is rarely a true business case for immediately opening and responding to every e-mail that comes in.

Do yourself a favour.  Switch off alerts that keep telling you that you’ve received an e-mail. Close down your Outlook or web browser and only check it after you’ve done some meaningful work for the day.

Manage your time.  If you don’t, then your time will be managed by others, and others rarely have the same targets or priorities that you have.

7. Work offline

Outlook has an offline mode as does Gmail.  This allows you to read and draft replies without being distracted by incoming mail.

Disabling your web browser can also make you more productive.  I occasionally had to work on a laptop which could manage e-mail but had no web browser.   On those days – I often got more done than I did during the rest of the week.

Keep it simple.  Focus on one thing at a time. You’ll get more done and have more free time.

8. Minimise meetings

I get that some meetings are important, I negotiate deals for a living, and on the bigger deals, a meeting or conference call will sometimes help agree points much faster than on e-mail.

Most other meetings are pointless.  They cut into your day, and kill productivity.

There are not many things that cannot be decided or resolved by e-mail.  It might take a bit longer, but the amount of time you get back in terms of productivity is far more important. It’s not about whether you can afford the extra time that something will take on e-mail, it’s about whether you can afford the distraction of trying to resolve something another way.

If you really, really, really, have to go to a meeting, come up with, or ask for an agenda.

Setting meetings at times when you’re often at your least productive also helps.

Don’t waste time with chit chat unless you really get on with your colleagues and enjoy spending time with them.  Get to the point. Make sure that decisions are taken and action points are made.  If a meeting’s set for an hour, then make sure you finish before then, and don’t feel obliged to spend the whole hour unless you have to.  If you can pop in and excuse yourself after your part is done, do so.  Get in and get out.

9. Get proper sleep and exercise regularly

You will feel rested, have more energy, be better able to concentrate, and get more things done in less time.  For me, decent sleep and exercising in the mornings, correlates with higher levels and quality of output during the day.  These need to be prioritised.

10. Meditate

Meditation has been shown to increase concentration and focus. You can read more about why I highly recommend meditation here.

Do you have any decent productivity tips? Let me know.

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