The Importance of Leaving Work On Time
Unless there's a very valid reason, most of us only ever hang around after work has finished to perform the act of working, without actually doing much of it at all. Feeling guilty about going home, or needing to prove you're hard-working outside of the 8+ hours you've just put in is toxic and out of date, so it's about time we all learned how not to feel guilty about leaving work on time.
Working late makes most of us very unhappy. No matter how much we love what we do, everybody needs a break, some time to unwind, and a moment for our minds and bodies to rest. Not only is working late bad for our mental wellbeing, but our physical health can also suffer greatly if we push ourselves to work into the night. Working late increases risk of cardiovascular disease, fatigue, and a tonne of other nasties that could easily be avoided if we learned to stop feeling guilty about wanting some down time, and drew a line when it's time to go home.
There are some misconceptions about leaving work on time that need to be broken; the idea that we're lazier than our colleagues, that we don't care about our job, or that we simply hate being in the office. It doesn't help if there's a culture of singling out those who respect their own free time - like pointing when someone takes their full lunch break, and don't work well into the night. So, what can we do to get over the fear of judgement?
Actually Start Leaving On Time
The first step is the hardest, but by actually leaving work on time regularly, you'll overcome any worries around judgement that might arise at the thought of clocking out on the dot. When both you and your colleagues realise that your work is still getting done, that there has been no change to your output, and that there have been zero negative consequences to leaving work on time, then suddenly you realise there's nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps you'll even become a trailblazer, giving other people the courage to leave when they need to leave too.
Set a Hard Stop
If you work from home, this can be a little trickier because there's no train to catch to remind you when exactly you need to leave. Making sure that you have a regular routine, even if you work remotely or have flexi-hours, means that there's no grey area when it comes to starting, and more importantly finishing, work. By setting a hard stop time, your body will learn to start winding down on auto-pilot, just as it learns to wake up a few minutes before your morning alarm, and just as it knows when it's lunchtime.
Remind Yourself That Productivity Slips
If you're telling yourself there's a project that need to be finished tonight, remind yourself it's far more likely that you'll finish your work to a higher standard in the morning, when you're refreshed, and on the clock. Studies have shown that each hour we put in to work is on average less productive than the last, so staying beyond the time you're meant to clock out doesn't help anyone - not you, not your boss, and not your team mates. Everybody wins if you hand in a quality piece of work the next morning, rather than a mistake-riddled email at midnight.
Create an End-Of-Day Routine
We've talked about bedtime routines, morning routines, and how important these are to organise our minds outside of work - so it shouldn't be any different for the winding down in the last few moments of the working day either. 30 - 15 minutes before you're supposed to go home:
Make sure that your final bits of admin are done
Tidy your desk
Write a to-do list for tomorrow
Close down all your tabs bar the ones that you want to work on in the morning
Plan Your Days Well
We've said it before and we'll say it again. Calendars are your best friend. Make a to-do list and allocate your time for each task realistically. By using a calendar you can visualise the time it will take you to complete a task, meaning that you don't need to beat yourself up if you only manage to do 3 of the 15 things you thought you could. If you're expecting to only complete three things today, then you can't feel bad about it at home time.
Redefine Your Relationship With Going Home
Instead of believing 'people think I'm lazy', or 'everyone else must be working on so much more than me', start saying 'I want to spend time with my loved ones now,' or 'I need to look after my health,' or even, 'I'm going to watch my favourite show because I need to look after my mental wellbeing.' Giving yourself a reason to leave will help ease your guilt - and if anyone calls you out on it it's hard to argue with someone who wants to be there for their kid/spouse/friend/pet/themselves.
At the end of the day, none of us want work to overtake our lives, leaving little room for anything else. Talk to your boss if you're really worried about how leaving on time will look, and you'll find that once you've heard from the horses mouth that they also want to leave on time whenever they can, you'll start feeling much less guilty about it too. And if you're a manager, make sure to remind your employees that their free time is important, and set a good example yourself.