For many of us it’s not uncommon to work late—until 7 p.m.—most nights of the week.  However, we would really love to be able to walk away from our desks at 5 p.m., without our work suffering.  The secret was revealed in a Fast Company story, where they discussed the topic, saying that if you’re at the office after 6 p.m., you might not be working efficiently. “It’s extremely difficult if not impossible to get out of the office by 5 p.m. if you’re disorganised,” says Laura Stack, the author of Doing the Right Things Right. “People are working far too long and far too hard because they are inefficient, disorganised, and waste time during the day.” While part of the problem is that boundaries around work hours have become blurred, you can put some new practices in place that will help you get home in time for dinner. Here’s how to leave the office at 5 p.m., guilt-free.

1. Begin the day with the end in mind. According to career coach Lea McLeod, “Many people don’t leave work on time simply because they don’t set the expectation that they will.” When you get to work in the morning, identify what time you want to leave that night. Commit to that time by setting your alarm or putting it on your calendar. Another idea is to join a class or social group that has meetings at a set time after work. This will give you extra incentive to manage your time better.

2. Tell people when you have to leave. Let your boss and colleagues know what time you plan on leaving. Tell your co-workers that they should give you as much notice as possible for any requests. “Be assertive,” says Stack. “Don’t be afraid to tell others, ‘I leave work at 5 p.m., on time, every day. I have a 5:30 commitment I must adhere to.’ It’s none of their business that your commitment is with yourself or your family. People tend to support others when their goals are made public.”

3. Do you most important work first. Don’t waste time answering emails and scheduling meetings until you have completed your critical work.

4. Start meetings before 4 p.m. If you control meeting times, don’t schedule any late in the day. Respect other people’s time by not asking them to start a project or meet at 4:45 p.m.

5. Realise that work will still be there tomorrow. There will always be things on your to-do list; that is why it’s called work. You don’t have to be a slave to it.

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