How to leave work on time

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Working late at the office takes up that precious time you’d planned to use for a gym trip or a trip to the supermarket to stock up on healthy food. If you regularly find yourself staying well beyond your contracted hours, it’s time to think about some strategies for getting out of work on time.

Focus during the day

Be honest; when you end up staying late to finish something off, is it because you spent half the day chatting at the water cooler, reading non-work-related blogs and watching funny clips on You Tube?

It’s very easy to procrastinate over work – I found that it helps to tackle the big, tricky tasks in the morning and get them out of the way for the day. The big advantage to this is that you tend to end up “on a roll” – once you’ve finished that hard section of the annual report, you’ll find yourself blitzing through your emails.

Don’t feel guilty about leaving on time

Some workplaces have a culture of late hours; I was lucky in my last office that pretty much everyone left on time. Yes, perhaps your colleagues are working late because they’re dedicated and committed to the job. Or perhaps they’re working late because they’re inefficient, or they have an unexciting life outside work!

If you’ve worked efficiently during the day, you shouldn’t feel at all guilty about sticking to your contracted hours. If you do find that you have more work than you can fit into the day, the problem probably isn’t with you…

Talk to your line manager

When your workload is so heavy that you have to put in overtime just to keep up, you should alert your line manager. It may well be the case that some of your tasks can be passed on to other members of staff (who might even be bored because they don’t have enough to do) – or, alternatively, the company may want to hire someone new to take on part of your role.

“Dr Work” at the Guardian wrote this (and much more) in response to a reader who was constantly working late:

Get yourself a notebook and start keeping a note of how many hours you’re doing and what particular tasks are very time-consuming. Think about what you could delegate, and identify anything you’re struggling with. … Then make an appointment to see your line manager and raise your concerns.

There’s nothing wimpy about saying that you’re being given too much work, so don’t be afraid to be honest. Your line manager would far rather know about problems early on than leave you to struggle with an impossible workload for months.

Make plans with colleagues

Some of us end up working late day after day just because we’re used to it. A good way to break this habit is to schedule something immediately after work. If you feel bad about dashing off, it helps to involve colleagues: they’ll remind you to pack up and go!

How about getting together with a few friends at work, and playing a couple of games of badminton or tennis one evening a week? Or maybe you could find an exercise class at a nearby gym that you could all go to?


If your work is eating into your personal time, don’t just assume that this has to be the norm. Seize back your own hours, by making sure you can get through your workload in the day, and by planning an “exit strategy” to leave on time every night.

Further reading:
Claim back your lunch hour: 5 health reasons why, 6 ways to do it
Race through your work – and enjoy it! (an article I wrote for Dumb Little Man).

(Image above by gregturner.)


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