How to stop working outside office hours

In one of the Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf cartoons, the two main characters come in to work in the morning, punch in their time cards and begin cartoon antics. At the end of the day, they punch out their cards (and are humorously replaced by an identical looking Night shift pair).

In those days, it was easy. Everyone knew how many hours they were paid to work. They came to work and left by the clock. At the end of the day, work could be left in the office and picked up the next day. There was no need to discuss work-life balance because work and life were two different spheres that almost never intersected.

Work-life balance
Is not just a concept

Today’s hustle culture coupled with mobile internet access is making it more difficult for people to stop working after office hours. A lot more people made the transition to working from home during the pandemic. Suddenly, the boundaries between work and home were no longer possible to demarcate. Many people have complained about working longer hours because home became the new office.

While it is often difficult to have the clear-cut boundary between work and life that pre-internet workers had, there are some steps you can take to limit the number of hours you work in a day.

Make your to-do list for the next day

At 5pm every day, I fill in my daily log. Any pending to-do list items related to work are shifted to the next day. This simple action is my substitute for the punch card system. It’s how I tell my brain that even though I am working from home, the work day is over. Go read a book, play a game or watch anime.

To-do list
Call it a day

Turn off email notifications

If you also receive work emails on your phone, you may consider turning them off between 5:30pm and 5:30am. Any email that comes in after that time is coming in after office hours and should not be handled by you until the next day. Not receiving notification removes the temptation to take a peek at an email you receive during dinner. Before you know it, you are working and it’s past midnight. Where did the hours go?

Talk to your boss

If you find yourself working on too many projects that are making it impossible for you to close from work at a decent hour, it may be necessary to have a conversation with your boss to see if your workload can be lightened. Schedule a one hour appointment and come with proof of the number of tasks you have been working on and the number of hours you have been working. A good supervisor knows to prioritise the health of their subordinates. If they don’t, they will soon lose all their good workers.

Come with data, not excuses

There are times when it might be necessary to put in an extra hour or work on a weekend but these times should be the exceptions and not the norm. If you are working 18 hours or more each day, it’s a sign that you need to rethink the way you work.

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