Contrary to widespread belief, staying late in the office is not some sort of symbolic stamp that signifies the person working late is a dedicated, committed worker. And any boss with half a brain recognises that. If someone’s staying late, it probably means they’re starting late. Or wasting time during actual work hours. Or being slow or incompetent in some way. The best workers show up on time. Do the work they have in the timespan allotted to them. Prepare for the next day. And still get home in time to actually be able to do things. Here’s how you can be one of them.
Pay attention to time
Time is your boss, co-worker, client and everything in between. If you can’t manage it correctly, you’re screwed. If you can, you’re a success. Time tends to intimidate most people (“I can’t do this in the next four hours, I caaaaan’t!”) but it’s easy enough to control if you follow some basic steps.
- The first step to leaving early is arriving on time. If you do this, no one will be able to accuse you of being a slacker. And people higher up on the ladder than you – your boss and even your boss’s boss – notice. If you turn up late, it doesn’t matter how late you stay. Your unpunctuality will be noted and held against you.
- The second thing you should do is figure out how much time you’re going to spend on any given task. And not spending more time than necessary on it. (We’ll discuss that a little more later on.) A great time-saving tip is to do the hard stuff first – when you’re more alert. Save the easier tasks for later, halfway through the day. Make that schedule. Allot each task a specific timeframe. And start with the hardest ones.
- Take short breaks. This is super important because unless you do, your eyes will be glazed over and your brain will work slower before you’re even halfway through your second task of the day. A minimum five minute break between tasks will help you accomplish them quicker and more effectively.
- Turn key tasks into habits. For example, if you manage a large team, make sure you set aside time to meet with them regularly. This allows you to create any mistakes they might make, before they make it. If you’re a writer, write those 4000 words everyday. Whether it’s required or not. (It will help you on the day you’re suddenly required to write 8000.)
Use productivity tools
The truth is, though life is more fast-paced than ever, human ingenuity has devised ways to make it more convenient than ever. Basic productivity tools can help you speed up your work process. Some of them don’t even need to be tech. For example, a basic to-do list is probably the most important tool you’ll have. You can find (or even create) tools that will help you do the following:
- Eliminate distractions and increase focus. This can range from a 5 minute meditation session before you start your day to an app that blocks all non-work related notifications.
- Keep track of time. A simple clock on your desk or a watch on your wrist can help you. (Avoid looking at your phone to know what time it is.)
- Coordinate multiple jobs at once. You can make your own personalised calendar or download apps that help you keep track of all your different tasks so you know where you stand at a glance.
- Be better. It doesn’t matter what your job is – there is probably a slew of literature out there that provides enough information on how to deal with problems that usually come your way or inspire you to think differently, to crack that strategy or solve a complication. Read. Research. And study. The more you know, the better you’ll become. And the better you become, the easier it is to complete your job.
(If you’re interested about the best tools to increase work productivity, we’ve written about them here. )
Only do what’s necessary.
(But understand what ‘necessary’ entails.)
There’s one thing nearly everyone is good at: wasting time without making it seem obvious. Maybe it’s through unnecessary meetings. Or spending hours on a job that requires only minutes. Here are some important questions to ask yourself when you’re deciding how much time to spend on a given task –
- How important is the task? If it’s just about communicating a concept, do you really need to spend hours on an in-depth presentation? And does it really require four meetings or will one suffice?
- If it’s not due the same night, is it better to leave work and tackle it the next day with a fresh eyes?
At the same time, while it’s important to only do what’s necessary, understand that being proactive falls under that category – especially if you’re in the first half of your career. For example, if you have a free afternoon, instead of spending unnecessary time on a given task (just because you can), sketch out any work-related ideas you may have had (but haven’t yet spent time on). Share them with your boss. It’ll probably be appreciated. And it will help him or her realize that you’re passionate about what you do – even if you don’t burn the midnight oil.
Create a personal organizing system.
Being organized saves a lot of time. And even if you’re the sort of person who forgets what you ate for breakfast and spends an hour looking for a pair of glasses that have been perched on your nose all along, you can still find a system that will work for you. They aren’t complicated at all.
- Create a filing system for all your documents – label everything clearly and update it regularly. This will let you know where any given piece of work or reference is, in an instant.
- Make it easier to check email. Unsubscribe from junk mail or mails that clutter your inbox. Highlight important emails so you can find them quickly. Streamline.
- Block out time for activities ahead of time. Before you leave work, make sure you know what’s in store for you the next day.
Keep your energy levels up
No matter how much you get done before lunch, if you’re dead tired all afternoon, you’re going to have to pay the price by staying back late. There are several things you can do to avoid this though.
- Avoid eating a heavy lunch. You’ll either be thinking longingly of a nap while you’re supposed to be working – or you’ll give in, which means saying goodbye to all your deadlines.
- Keep healthy snacks to battle the afternoon slump. Almonds, bananas, raisins – even a tablespoon of peanut butter or some string cheese are great pick-me-ups.
- Stretch your legs every half an hour. Your body was not designed to sit at a desk for hours on end. It was designed to walk, to jump, to run. Granted, this is no longer possible but do it the courtesy of taking a short stroll at regular intervals.
- Practice exercises at your desk – there are plenty available online. They range from gentle stretches to ease your muscles to posture correction to prevent back pain.