It's entirely possible to do your job well--and leave at a reasonable hour. It all comes down to how well you take control of your time.
In a recent survey of more than 4,000 business executives conducted by Accenture, work-life balance was the key factor for more than half of men and women in determining a successful career. Work-life balance came out ahead of money, recognition, and autonomy.
Now, I firmly believe in breaking the time clock to get rid of the traditional "9-to-5." But even I can admit that spending every evening knocking out work can be hazardous. Finishing your work during designated business hours is not only possible, but also crucial to staying on top of your career.
Having trouble leaving work at work? Try these tips:
1. Critique yourself. If your 40-hour week has edged closer to a 60- or 70-hour week, it's time to review your efforts. How do you spend the majority of your time during your work day? If you find yourself wasting a significant amount of time managing your inbox or in meetings, it may be time for some restructuring.
2. Start with the big tasks. Rearrange your schedule to ensure you hit the ground running every day by knocking out bigger projects as soon as you get to work. While it might seem like a challenge to take on harder tasks in the wee hours of the morning, you're actually at peak performance earlier in the day. Save your less important tasks for the afternoon to make your day more manageable.
3. Schedule your workday. Rather than simply putting together a half-hearted to-do list, go a step further and establish a schedule for your workday. If you're planning on working for eight hours, allot an estimated time for each project or task--yes, even the big projects--you've got on your docket.
It's easy to waste time replying to emails and returning phone calls. Instead, allot 30 minutes a day to take care of all of your follow-ups instead of waiting for emails to come in or your phone to ring.
4. Dodge unnecessary interruptions. Make your workspace as distraction-free as possible. Close out all of unnecessary tabs on your browser, silence your phone, and put your headphones in if that's how you like to work. It's easy to let daily work distractions like watercooler chatter pull you away from getting things done.
5. Avoid autopilot. When you're racing to finish your daily tasks, it's easy to let yourself go on autopilot until you complete your pile of work. But you'll work more efficiently and effectively if you take a few breaks. After you finish up one of your larger morning tasks, go grab some water or take a trip to the bathroom to refresh your brain and prepare for your next task.
6. Learn to say no. You know you have a busy day ahead of you, but you still accepted that conference call invitation. Just say "no," rather than trying to stuff unnecessary meetings and tasks into an already jam-packed day. While it isn't always possible to turn down every meeting invitation, try your best to make a case when you're especially busy. Consider asking to leave early or have someone share the meeting notes with you.
7. Take things into perspective. Don't turn a molehill into a mountain. While your to-do list might feel overwhelming at a glance, focus on meeting the deadlines and don't stress over the little things. If you find yourself sweating the next day or week ahead of you--which may be a reason you work late--lay out your project, tasks, and schedule to get a better perspective of what needs to be accomplished and establish a tight timeframe.
8. Know when you're done. Stop spending your evenings in the office reworking things until they're perfect. It's easy to waste countless hours working on something that's already complete. Establish a clear definition of the end result. When you've reached it, call it a day.
Eliminating late nights in the office often comes down to taking control of the way you manage your time on the clock.
How do you ensure you're not taking work home with you?
ILYA POZIN is the founder of Open Me, a social greeting card company. He founded his first company, Ciplex, a digital marketing and creative agency catering to small businesses and start-ups, at age 17. @ilyaNeverSleeps