Never Leave Work on Time? Here's How to Change That

Though the 9-to-5 schedule isn't necessarily dead, it's certainly become less popular over time. These days, it's not uncommon for workers to come in early, stay late, and power through lunch in an effort to get their jobs done. In fact, 40% of U.S. employees regularly work more than 50 hours per week, while 20% put in more than 60 hours.

It's not surprising, then, that so many employees struggle to maintain a decent work-life balance -- particularly those who consistently fail to leave work on time. If you've been working late on the regular, it's time to make it easier to physically remove yourself from your desk at what's supposed to be the end of your workday. Here are a few tips that'll help you do just that.

1. Stop feeling guilty about leaving on time

Back when I worked for a financial firm, one of my biggest pet peeves was when I'd arrive at 8 a.m., attempt to leave at 5 p.m., and have my coworkers mockingly chide "half day?" as I exited the building. One thing I realized back then was that if I wanted to leave work on time, I'd have to ignore their comments, but just as importantly, ignore the voices inside my own head warning me that I was doing the wrong thing.

In reality, there's nothing wrong with leaving the office on time when you've gotten your work done or when there's someplace pressing you need to be, so if you want to get into the habit of doing that, you'll need to train yourself to stop feeling guilty about it. Rather, remind yourself that you've put in a full day and are entitled to leave at your scheduled time.

2. Forget about face time

One reason why so many workers struggle to leave the office on time is that they're afraid it will look bad. So decide that instead of worrying about putting in that face time, you're going to instead focus on doing the best work possible while you are at your desk. Any reasonable manager will realize that your output is far more important than hours spent in a chair, and if you keep up your great performance, the fact that you tend to leave on time shouldn't be held against you.

3. Plan out your days in advance

Another reason why so many of us tend to work late is that we procrastinate on important tasks and save them until the very end of the day. So if you make a point of knocking out those key assignments earlier on, it'll be easier to pick up and leave once 5 p.m. rolls around. To this end, map out each day when you arrive at work so that you know you'll have time to accomplish the most critical items on your list. You might even plan out your time on a weekly basis if that works better for you.

4. Block off your calendar strategically

You're going to have a hard time leaving the office at 5 p.m. if you're regularly invited to meetings that first start around then. Similarly, your chances of leaving at that time are pretty slim if you keep getting meeting invites from 4 p.m.-5 p.m. If you're really intent on leaving on time, you'll need to arrange your calendar strategically so that people don't try to book you for those hours. For example, if you want to leave at 5 p.m. twice a week, block yourself off as busy beginning at 4 p.m.

5. Verbalize your desire to start leaving on time

Sometimes, you need to be up front about your wish to leave on time for others to actually get the message. If you're tired of working late, sit down with your manager and state that going forward, you'd like to start leaving on time at least some days during the week. Explain that you're taking steps to manage your workflow to make this possible, but that you'd like his or her support in maintaining what you deem to be a more reasonable schedule.

It also pays to let your colleagues know about your quest to start leaving on time. This way, they'll not only be more mindful of your schedule, but perhaps take steps to follow in your footsteps, thus perpetuating a positive office-wide trend.

You work hard all day, so there comes a point when enough is enough. If you're tired of feeling like you're chained to your desk, it's time to take steps to start leaving the office on time. And who knows? You may come to find that your performance improves once you're no longer resentful of your formerly exhausting schedule.

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