Jeff Davidson's book, Simpler Living, was Amazon Kindle #1 in its category, first quarter, 2012. Jeff is featured in the NY Times, Forbes, Chicago Tribune, Businessweek, Fortune, Organized Executive, and Success.

Leaving Work On Time and Feeling Good About It

Many career professionals, raised in the era of information and communication overload, have the false idea that staying at work for longer hours will make you more productive. However, there are ways to leave work on time and still accomplish all you wish to get done.

The notion of staying longer after work to be more productive is a fallacy that will keep you chasing the clock. To be most productive, you need to leave work on time. To sustain the habit of leaving work on time, start with a small step. Decide that every Tuesday you will stop working on time, without taking extra work home with you. After freeing up Tuesdays for an entire month, add Thursdays. In another month, add Mondays, and in the fourth month, add Wednesdays. I won’t mention Fridays because I’m assuming that there’s no way you work late on Friday (or do you?)!

In the first month, after you decide that each Tuesday will be a normal eight or nine hour workday, you automatically begin to be more focused on Tuesday’s work. You begin to more judiciously parcel out your time during the day. Stop and assess what you’ve done by midday, and what else you’d like to get done. Near the end of the day, assess what other tasks you can complete, and what needs to be left for subsequent days.

For some reason only the gods of Mount Olympus can explain, once you’ve solidly made the decision to leave work on time on Tuesdays, every cell in your body works in unison to help you accomplish your goal. A natural, internal alignment starts in motion. Your internal cylinders fire in harmony. You will have a buoyant, productive work day on Tuesday — and leave on time.

Anticipating the Unexpected, While Establishing Boundaries

You may be thinking that though these perspectives may look good on paper, what about when the boss comes in and hands you a four-inch stack at 3:45 p.m.? Or when you get a fax, an email message, or a notice that upsets the apple cart? These things do happen. In taking a real-world approach to your time, your life, and what you’re likely to face during the typical work day, there are ways to approach predictable impediments to leaving on time.

Rather than treat an unexpected project that gets dumped in your lap late in the day as an intrusion, view it as something else. You got the project because you were trusted, accomplished, or in some cases, simply there. Unless you work for a cretin, no one realistically expects you to pick up the ball at 3:45, and have it all wrapped up by 5:00. This is ESPECIALLY true when it’s known that you always leave the office on time.

Many government workers have no trouble establishing their work-time boundaries. They leave on time because their government policy manual reads — in clause 92-513-aK7-1, subclause 8-PD 601-00 07, paragraph 6.12, line 8 — no overtime, pal! If you’re in the private sector, you may not have such regulations on your side. Nevertheless, you can begin to establish a personal policy that others will acknowledge.

What About Those Sly Devils at Places Like Microsoft?

On the way to developing Microsoft Vista and getting it out the door on time, the elite Seattle corps found themselves working progressively longer hours each day. For some, it became unbearable. Some went into a robot phase — work, work, work, work… Others quit. All of them chilled out afterward. Yes, there are excruciatingly tough campaigns, but they are of finite duration. In the short run, anyone can be a victim, but in the long run, there are no victims; only willing participants. Crunch times come and go. You don’t want to get into the habit of treating the typical work day like crunch time, or you will start to do foolish things. You will throw your time at challenges instead of devise less time-consuming ways of handling them, and, again, find yourself not leaving on time next Thursday.

Striking A Dynamic Bargain With Yourself

A master stroke for winning back your time at any point in your day, is by continually striking a dynamic bargain with yourself. Throughout the day, assess what you’ve accomplished and what more you want to accomplish. Then, strike a bargain. Suppose it’s 2:15, and there are three more items you’d like to accomplish before the day is over. Ask this magic question: “What would it take for me to feel good about ending work on time today?” This phrase gives you the freedom to feel good about leaving the office on time, because in that dynamic bargain you said exactly what you needed to accomplish to feel good about leaving on time that day.

Suppose you have three items on your plate that you want to finish before you can feel good about leaving on time, when the boss drops a bomb on your desk. You automatically get to strike a new dynamic bargain with yourself. Your new bargain may include making sufficient headway on the new project, or accomplishing two of your previous tasks and X percent of this new project. Regardless of the projects, e-mail, faxes, or other intrusions into your perfect world, continually strike a dynamic bargain with yourself so that you leave the work place on time and are feeling good about what you have accomplished.

Ending the Work Week Feeling Good About What You’ve Done

The same principle holds true for leaving the office on Friday, and feeling good about what you accomplished during the work week. Here is the question to ask yourself (at midday on Friday, but often as early as Thursday): “By the end of work on Friday, what do I want to have accomplished so I can feel good about the weekend?”

By employing such questions, and striking these dynamic bargains with yourself, you avoid what too many career professionals in society still confront: leaving most workdays not feeling good about what they’ve accomplished, not having a sense of completion, and bringing work home. If you’re like most career professionals, you want to be more productive. You want to get raises and promotions, but you don’t want to have a lousy life in the process!

Rather than striking dynamic bargains with themselves, most people frequently do the opposite. When they have several things they want to accomplish in a day, and do accomplish some of them, they cross them off their lists. Then, to make sure they left their offices feeling beat up about what they had yet to do, they added several more items to their list.

On top of impediments imposed by others, you have the prescription for leaving the work place everyday not feeling good about what you’ve accomplished; always having a lengthy running list of “stuff” you have to do never gives you any sense of being in control of your time.

Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 65 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 886 presentations to clients such as Lockheed Martin, Eckerd, Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • Dial It Down--Live it Up (Sourcebooks)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (CreateSpace)
  • Accomplishing Your Goals (Smart Guide Publications)
Jeff is the premier thought leader on work-life balance issues and has been widely quoted in the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, USA Today, Businessweek, Forbes, and Fortune. Cited by Sharing Ideas Magazine as a "Consummate Speaker," Jeff believes that career professionals today in all industries have a responsibility to achieve their own sense of work-life balance, and he supports that quest through his website

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