How to Avoid Staying Late at the Office

Michele Warg
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Whether you're trying to get ahead at the office or have trouble managing your workload, it can be a challenge to maintain a healthy work–life balance. By finding ways to manage time and stay focused during the day, you can get out the door at 5:00 p.m. without letting the quality of your work slide.

Professionals who find themselves staying late at the office often do so because of a lack of focus. In fact, according to Time magazine, half of Americans work just 15 minutes before becoming distracted, and an even greater number waste up to an hour each day on various distractions. With social media, email, phone calls and other disruptions, it can be difficult to focus on a project for long. Constant distractions kill productivity, forcing you to stay late and damaging your work–life balance.

When you want to stop working late and achieve a better work–life balance, the first step is to identify your biggest distractions. Do you find yourself wasting time on Facebook? Do you jump each time your email notification beeps? Consider each of your top offenders and find ways to mitigate the distraction. You can't avoid your email or text messages, for example, but you can silence your phone and computer. Even a vibrating alert can pull your focus, so turn it off to improve concentration. This simple step can help you stay on task during the day, get out on time and build a better work–life balance.

For many professionals, the Internet is a serious distraction. Even if you take just five minutes each hour to browse your social media sites or read an interesting article, that adds up to 40 minutes of wasted time each day. If you're like many professionals, you spend even more time online. Control your urge to browse with a simple time management app like RescueTime or Freedom. Or, if you are seriously distracted, use SelfControl, which allows you to add distracting sites to a blacklist and set specific periods of time for restricted access. The app won't let you load blacklisted sites, even when you restart the computer.

Poor time management is also a contributor to an unsatisfactory worklife balance. If you find yourself overwhelmed by tasks or a lengthy to-do list, make an effort to get organized. Prioritize your to-do list and break each entry down into specific action steps. Tackle the biggest projects early in the morning as well. Studies show that workers are more productive at the beginning of the day. Cross off each item as it is completed to create a sense of accomplishment and to show progress.

When you're trying to stop working late, a schedule is crucial. At the end of each work day, block out your time for the following day. Fill in meetings first, allowing time for travel. Then, fill in your projects in order of importance. Often, knowing the beginning and end point of each task can help you stay focused.

For modern professionals, it is not uncommon to work 60-hour weeks. By working more efficiently, however, you can improve productivity, get out of the office on time and develop a healthy work–life balance.

(Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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  • Roberta B.
    Roberta B.

    Hmm..the Roberta B. below is different than me. Anyhow, I did all this above at previous job, and they frowned on it, thinking I made things "too hard". They just wanted me to jump in without thinking..I have a problem working that way. I am a "planner" not a "winger", and know that is the best way I function. Any job that discourages that, is not the job for me.

  • Gina D.
    Gina D.

    On the flip side, I've had a lot of friends who always seemed to be working late. I used to think it was because they had ultra-important, demanding jobs - but then I realized that while that may be the case, the real reason for their hours was either lack of efficiency throughout the day or a tendency to come in late and stay late. I've fallen into the same cycle at certain points in my career, but now I feel like if I can't get to it in the course of an 8-9 hour work day, it must not be the most important thing. And it will still be there when I come in tomorrow!

  • George Jacob
    George Jacob

    This makes me think of a friend I used to work with. He was fantastic at fitting everything into an 8-hour day. He was ultra-efficient and extremely good at his work (as a marketing director). I learned a lot from him about how to manage my time.

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