How to leave work on time

A recent viral Reddit post gave everyone a collective kick in the chest:

PSA: 20 years from now, the only people who will remember that you worked late are your kids

It’s brutal because it’s true. And yet, society still stigmatises people who leave work on time.

Screw society.

Your family won’t thank you for obeying norms instead of being effective and organised. It’s possible to leave work on time and still outperform your colleagues. It’s all about being ruthless with your time.

Here are 5 tips for doing exactly that.

1. Don’t check email in the last hour of work

You won’t leave on time if you check your email at 5.25pm.

Email is a never-ending firehose of other people’s problems. A quick “last check” of your email will become a whack-a-mole game that never ends. Suddenly, it’s 6.30pm and you have no idea where the last hour went.

Avoid this by adopting email batching, and scheduling your second (and final) email check at 4pm. It will take less than 30 minutes, giving you an hour to address any raging fires that emerge. Book a recurring appointment at 4pm to ensure you always have time for this.

Remember: email can wait, but your family can’t.

2. Tackle your most important task in the morning

A successful day can be two hours spent focused on an important task.

Imagine getting that done by lunchtime. There would be no need to stay late into the evening if you’ve already succeeded before noon. To make this possible, architect your day to front-load the important tasks.

Create a recurring appointment in your calendar to block out 9.30-11.30am. Use this slot to complete your highest leverage task, while minimising distractions. Spend the thirty minutes before this block reviewing your task list, so you know what to focus on.

This subtle change will double the work you get done each week while getting you home in time for dinner.

3. Prune the non-essential from your day

The secret to leaving on time, while outperforming others, is a maniacal focus on what matters.

Look at your calendar for last week. Calculate how many hours you wasted on trivial meetings or non-critical tasks. Don’t give me that “But last week was different!” nonsense – every week counts. Whatever the answer was, your job is to reduce that amount next week:

Every hour you reclaim is an hour you don’t need to spend in the evening.

4. Create a shutdown routine

If you want to get better at leaving on time, follow a shutdown routine each evening.

A shutdown routine helps you switch from work mode to home mode. It’s a short sequence of tasks that you follow before ending the day. This might include:

It doesn’t matter what goes into your routine. The key is to have a repeatable system that gives you the confidence you can close the laptop and head home. Try it next week – schedule 15 minutes a day to complete this ritual and see if you get out the door on time.

The more mechanical you can make the act of leaving work, the more likely it is to happen.

5. Find something worth leaving work for

I saved my own chest punch until last.

If you work late most evenings – why haven’t you solved this already?

I have friends who’ve changed jobs five times, and every job “requires” them to work late. This is nonsense. They are deriving some benefit from staying late. Otherwise, they’d find a way to avoid it.

There could be many root causes:

I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t tell you how to solve this. But if reading this made you uncomfortable, it might be time for some self-reflection. Or some therapy.

There’s no reason anyone needs to work late on a regular basis. By following the tips in this article, you can stack the deck in your favour. And it won’t impact your performance at all. In fact, it will increase it.

But most importantly, your family will remember they came first.