How to Stop Working and Go Home At Night

This is a guest post from Alan Henry at Lifehacker, one of my favorite blogs:

How to Stop Working and Go Home At Night

Many of us can’t wait to pack up and head home at the end of a long workday: we count down the hours and as soon as our shift is up, we’re out the door. For others, there’s a stigma to leaving on time, or worse, we have a difficult time forcing ourselves to leave the office, whether or or not we love our work. Here are some ways to break the cycle of working late and get your evenings, and sanity, back.

You might not have the willpower to just leave on time at the end of every day, you may feel like you have to stay late, or maybe you’re on a roll or your coworkers are still there. Still, there are ways to coax yourself to leave. Photo by Evan Jackson.

Make Leaving Worth Your While

If you provide yourself an incentive (or by contrast, a punishment) to get out of the office on time, you can trick yourself into wrapping up your work every day at the same time. It may not cut to the core of why you get lost in your work, or feel like you have to work late, but it does provide you a reason to get out of the office on time. Here are a few suggestions:

How to Stop Working and Go Home At NightHave a family member call you each day. If one of your primary concerns about working late so frequently is that you’re missing out on time with your spouse, partner, friends, or children, one great way to get that jolt back to reality is to have one of them call you when it’s time for you to head home. You’ll need to sit down and talk this over with your family, and you’re explicitly telling your family to force you into coming home every night, but those are good things if they achieve the desired goal. Talk it over with them and ask for their help.

One of my colleagues at former job used to get a call from his wife or daughter when they knew he should be packing up to head home. It wasn’t enough to have dinner ready when he got home, he needed a bit more motivation to actually stop working and leave the office. Hearing his daughter’s voice at the end of the day was just enough motivation to make him want to go home and see her. Alternatively, enlist some friends to call or SMS you to remind you that it’s time to leave the office-or to meet you after work. Photo by traaf.

How to Stop Working and Go Home At NightSchedule an activity right after work, every day. If you’ve been meaning to get into shape, take a yoga class, or volunteer at a local charity, making sure you sign up for activities that will force you to leave the office at a regular time every day is a great way to stay active, do something with yourself outside of the office, and give yourself incentive to leave the office every day on time.

For some people, getting a gym membership is enough to encourage them to not waste the money they spend every month and get out of the office and to the gym every day. For others, it takes a little more: meeting a friend at the gym every day at the same time, for example, or signing up for a sports league or volunteer shift that begins at a time that requires you to pack up and leave the office at the end of your day if you want to make it to your next obligation on time. Photo by Ed Yourdon.

Set Up Your Workflow so Leaving is Easy

As much as external influences can help you, they won’t always be there to help. Your friends may need to cancel your regular appointment at the gym, and you don’t have to be doomed to working late all the time if you don’t have a spouse or family waiting at home for you. If you’d rather take control of the problem yourself, here are some tips to help.

How to Stop Working and Go Home At NightSet an alarm. For most people, it’s not really this easy, but it’s a good way to get started. If you’re the type who just gets lost in their work and forgets to look up at the clock to see when it’s time to go home, let the clock come to you. You can use one of the many break timer apps we’ve covered here, like Break Timer or Breaker, or any old alarm clock application on your phone or desktop to go off when its time for you to go home for the night. You may even want to set multiple alarms—one for when you’re supposed to pack up, another for when youreally need to pack up, another for when you should be headed to the car, and so on. Don’t give yourself just one thing to ignore, because odds are, you will.

This serves the same function as having a friend or family member call you when it’s time to go home for the day, but it doesn’t rely on someone else’s goodwill to work. Just make sure you switch up your alarm or your notification method: it’s too easy to get used to the same alarm and eventually ignore it or disable it because it’s more annoying than helpful. At my last job, I used our cleaning staff as a kind of alarm clock: they always came to clean my part of the building at the same time every night, and when they appeared I knew it was past time to pack up and leave. They eventually got the drift, and would say hello when they arrived and noting how late I was working. Even that brief conversation shook me from a “heads down” mentality and reminded me that I should be headed home. Photo by Digitpedia Com.

Schedule a daily task review for the end of the day. The concept of the daily (and weekly) review is important in the GTD productivity system. We’ve discussed various productivity techniques before, but even if you don’t embrace all of the specifics of GTD, the beauty of the review process is that it forces you to find a stopping point where you can make a break between the end of one workday and the beginning of another. That way you can stop, take note of the things you’ve finished today, and then set up the things you want to do first thing in the morning tomorrow.

On top of forcing you to close up shop at the end of the day in advance of going home, you also get the benefit of keeping a work “diary,” which you can use to track your accomplishments and tell your boss what you’ve been working on and how far along you are. Plus, you wind up being more productive in the long run, because you’ve set yourself up for an easy start the following morning. You can set right in on the tasks you left the night before.

How to Stop Working and Go Home At NightLearn to Say No. For some of us, it’s not about just working long hours, it’s about taking on too much work that requires us to work those long hours. We’ve discussed how important it is to say no, but the goal of saying no has always been to help you succeed at the things already on your plate, not just sit back with less work to do. If the reason you’re having a difficult time leaving the office at the end of the day is just because you have too much work to do, it might be time to chat with your manager about your priorities.

Most managers won’t mind having that kind of conversation with you, as long as you frame it up like you want to succeed at your core responsibilities and the things your boss considers your highest priorities. Tell them that as a result of dealing with all of the additional projects-or the new ones they want you to take on-that you’re concerned your already 12-14 hour workdays will stretch to 16, and you’re afraid something important will be left behind. They’re healthy conversations to have, and your manager will likely be happier that you’re having it now instead of after you’ve dropped the ball on something important. Photo by Horia Varlan.

Address the Psychological Issue

All of these tips will help if you’re having trouble keeping track of the time, or if your problem is that you just get so wrapped up in your work that you want to make sure it’s done properly, early, or to perfection. However, if the problem runs deeper, you may quickly fall back into old habits, or just taking the work home with you and working from there. Here are some ways you can approach the mental side of the issue, not just the functional.

How to Stop Working and Go Home At NightStart small and build up. You’re not going to go from working 7am-9pm each day to a normal 7am-3pm schedule overnight. Instead of aiming to leave at 3pm when your coworkers (or worse, your boss) may be accustomed to finding you at 5pm, try creeping your schedule back a couple of days a week to get your colleagues and your brain used to the idea. This will help you begin to register an earlier time as the “end of the day,” and it’ll make applying other tools and techniques easier.

Better yet, check with your boss to see if they’re willing to move your schedule to a time that works better for you. If you’re leaving the office at 9pm every night, maybe you should start coming to work at 11am or noon, or at least later than 7am every morning, if your job allows. Photo by Matt Seppings.

Make a pact with yourself, your family, or the world. Any meaningful change you want to make will start with you, of course, but if you’re the type of person who’s more motivated to make long-term changes if the eyes of others are on you, making a pact with people who’ll be able to see if you’re sticking to it is a good idea.

Tell your friends on Facebook that you’re trying to get out earlier and spend more time with your family or hit the gym. Tell your family what you want to do, and get their support. Don’t keep your goals to yourself. If you’re so entrenched in a bad habit, you may be willing to disappoint yourself on a regular basis, but you probably won’t be willing to disappoint your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, or family.

How to Stop Working and Go Home At NightDon’t be angry with yourself when you fail. You won’t always be successful, and this is a process that takes time. When you do slip back into your old habits and find yourself working late despite missing your friend at the gym, ditching your weekly softball game, and disabling your alarm, don’t sulk all the way home feeling sorry for yourself. Remember that tomorrow’s a different day and another chance to do it right, and redouble your efforts.

In my last job, I struggled with this on a regular basis. I started missing my daily workouts and putting on weight because I was busy at the office answering email and dealing with issues that involved people who had left for their homes hours before. Part of what helped me get back in line was knowing that if the people I was at my desk emailing at 8pm were at home with their families and thought the issue could wait until the following morning, then I could let it wait too.

That doesn’t work for everything, but it definitely helps. Combined with looking at each new workday as a new opportunity to get it right and get out in time for my workout, I started inching the end of my day back hour by hour until I was leaving at a respectable time. Photo bytup wanders.

Get professional help. Finally, if you think that the problem really does reach the point of addiction, that it’s already negatively impacting both your professional and personal life, you may be exhibiting signs of workaholism. Keep in mind that workaholics aren’t always people who enjoy their work, or people who are really good at their jobs.

Get the opinion of people you trust, talk to a professional who may be able to help, or consider reaching out to Workaholics Anonymous, who can help you understand whether you simply need help managing your work-life balance, or if you have a much more serious problem.

Understand It Takes Time

Like any behavior change, learning to get up from your desk and leave the office is something that takes time. At best, you’ll learn work smarter, not harder, so you don’t feel like you have to stay after hours to get your work done. Still, because working late is often due to so many external factors, it can be difficult to deal with all of them at once. Start with the ones you have control over—namely, yourself-and then deal with your office or manager’s perception of your work habits if you have to.

With time and a little help from the people closest to you, you’ll have more hours in your day for the things you want to do, your own pet projects, and to spend time with your friends, family, or heaven forbid have a social life. Your employer will probably be able to get along without you at all; they can definitely survive if you work a normal-length day. You, on the other hand, may not be so lucky if you don’t make time for yourself. At the end of the day, try to remember that you’re working to live-not living to work.


You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at alan@lifehacker.com, or better yet, follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Attention to Detail: 4 Tips to increase your Income

Details are the finishing touch that bring back your customers for future business.  A colleague of mine manages nearly forty commission sales people.  The “best of the best” make huge income and are revered in the top 100 of a large, multinational company. What is their secret?

Make the customer feel special – like they are the absolute best client of all

1) Remember details about the customer’s personal and business situation

– How is your husband John doing these days?   I noticed his company had a new product out last week, and I bought some to try it out.

– Would your kids enjoy this online link to a contest we are promoting at our company?  I remember that they love skateboarding, and this link might interest them!

– How did the soccer finals go last weekend?  Is your son’s team in the playoffs?

– Send a condolence card if a customer’s relative is ill or passes away

2) Send small thank you’s after closing a deal, or to update the customer during the deal

– Mail a thank you card, with a personal note and small gift enclosed (eg $10 Starbucks card)

– Send flowers to host(ess) of events or when customer’s business reaches a milestone

– Email your customer with an update (and possibly an invitation for coffee) if the sales / close process is dragging on for reasons beyond your control

3) Appreciate your customer’s business by inviting them to events (business or promotional)

– Create annual or semi-annual appreciation events that combine learning and socializing for your customers

– For top customers, invite them to join you personally at events in their area of interest (sports, arts, community)

4) Make introductions – pass on your own valuable contacts to a customer if there is a win/win proposition

  • Ask your customer if they would appreciate introductions to your contacts
  • Ask your personal contact if they would appreciate introductions to your customers
  • Where contacts and customers would both benefit from shared communication, make an email or personal coffee/lunch introduction

These tips provide strategies to always think “customer first”.

Live and breathe a mindset of “How can I continually make my relationship with my customer stronger?”   This will grow your network of contacts and ultimately create long term business income, even in downturns.

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Change management by monkeys (a parable)

This is a guest post from Freek Vermeulen

The Monkey Story

The experiment involved 5 monkeys, a cage, a banana, a ladder and, crucially, a water hose.
The 5 monkeys would be locked in a cage, after which a banana was hung from the ceiling with, fortunately for the monkeys (or so it seemed…), a ladder placed right underneath it.Of course, immediately, one of the monkeys would race towards the ladder, intending to climb it and grab the banana. However, as soon as he would start to climb, the sadist (euphemistically called “scientist”) would spray the monkey with ice-cold water. In addition, however, he would also spray the other four monkeys…When a second monkey was about to climb the ladder, the sadist would, again, spray the monkey with ice-cold water, and apply the same treatment to its four fellow inmates; likewise for the third climber and, if they were particularly persistent (or dumb), the fourth one. Then they would have learned their lesson: they were not going to climb the ladder again – banana or no banana.
In order to gain further pleasure or, I guess, prolong the experiment, the sadist outside the cage would then replace one of the monkeys with a new one. As can be expected, the new guy would spot the banana, think “why don’t these idiots go get it?!” and start climbing the ladder. Then, however, it got interesting: the other four monkeys, familiar with the cold-water treatment, would run towards the new guy – and beat him up. The new guy, blissfully unaware of the cold-water history, would get the message: no climbing up the ladder in this cage – banana or no banana.

When the beast outside the cage would replace a second monkey with a new one, the events would repeat themselves – monkey runs towards the ladder; other monkeys beat him up; new monkey does not attempt to climb again – with one notable detail: the first new monkey, who had never received the cold-water treatment himself (and didn’t even know anything about it), would, with equal vigour and enthusiasm, join in the beating of the new guy on the block.

When the researcher replaced a third monkey, the same thing happened; likewise for the fourth until, eventually, all the monkeys had been replaced and none of the ones in the cage had any experience or knowledge of the cold-water treatment.

Then, a new monkey was introduced into the cage. It ran toward the ladder only to get beaten up by the others. Yet, this monkey turned around and asked “why do you beat me up when I try to get the banana?” The other four monkeys stopped, looked at each other slightly puzzled and, finally, shrugged their shoulders: “Don’t know. But that’s the way we do things around here”…

I got this story from my colleague, the illustrious Costas Markides. It reminded him – and me – of quite a few of the organisations we have seen. Over the years, all firms develop routines, habits and practices, which we call the firm’s “organisational culture”. As I am sure you know, these cultures can be remarkably different, in terms of what sort of behaviour they value and what they don’t like to see, and what they punish. Always, these habits and conventions have been developed over the course of many years. Very often, nobody actually remembers why they were started in the first place… Quite possibly, the guy with the water hose has long gone.

Don’t just beat up the new monkey – whether it is a new employee, a recent acquisition or a partner; their questioning of “the way we do things round here” may actually be quite a valid one.

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9 Ways Leadership in Business Parallels Life!

Leadership in business often uses the same principles we apply in everyday life.   Consider the following life situations:

Puppy training:    Our family has just acquired a puppy, and our training program has interesting parallels to my past days of supervising in the office.

  • Maintain Consistent Rules – Remain firm and apply the same rules to all members, all the time.  This ensures expectations remain clear
  • Accomplish Big Goals in Smaller Steps – just as teaching a puppy tricks is done in tiny steps, developing your employee’s skills or completing a large project can also be broken down into smaller steps
  • Spend Time Monitoring Progress – potty or crate training for a puppy is just like the office and new employees; it takes time, patience and constant monitoring of progress to ensure good long-term results

Teenagers:    Parenting comes with its own unique set of challenges; I believe that parents are often the best equipped to take on new supervision duties in an office environment

  • Apply the Same Rules to Everyone – Fairness to competing siblings is just the same as fairness to employees working in the same environment
  • Use Meaningful Rewards and Natural Consequences – celebrate successes, and explain impact of mistakes or failures.  Where possible, learning happens best when children (or employees) can experience the consequences of their actions.
  • Stick to Facts, Eliminate Emotions – particularly in sensitive or disciplinary situations, children or employees can take criticism or negative situations personally.  Shifting the focus to a “behavior”, not a personal judgement can reduce the hurt and speed closure of a problem

Neighbours:   Living peacefully in a neighbourhood takes the same skills as working in groups and teams.

  • Consider the Impact of Your Actions on Others – Every behavior has a perceived impression on others.  Using your yard for a junk repository or holding loud, noisy parties can annoy your residential neighbours just as a messy desk area or playing music during office hours/holding loud personal conversations in a business area can annoy your workmates.
  • Use MRI (Most Respectful Interpretation) – When disputes or differences arise, communication can become difficult.  Take the high road and use the most respectful interpretation of whatever is being said, this can save battles, whether with family members or work colleagues.
  • Plan Ahead and Manage Expectations – if you are planning a party or renovating your home, let your neighbours know what will be happening ahead of time as a courtesy.  This same principle applies dealing with business groups or departments; set up expectations of what will be happening and when.  This will alleviate anxiety and reduce gossip or resistance to your plans from other group members.

In summary, use courtesy and common sense in all situations – these are appreciated by family, friends, neighbours and coworkers.  They are the underpinnings of basic leadership, at work and in life.

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Intriguing research: how employees solve problems faster

The following is a guest post from Daniel H Pink.

Daniel H Pink: employees are faster and more creative when solving other people’s problems

Recent research reveals that people are more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of others than for themselves. This has far-reaching practical implications at every level of business.

Recent research reveals that people are more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of others than for themselves. This has far-reaching practical implications at every level of business.

How we approach problems, and how quickly we fashion a solution, yields some surprising lessons about innovation and creativity in business.
Daniel H. Pink

By 

8:15AM BST 22 May 2011

Try to solve the following puzzle:

In a tower is a prisoner who desperately wants to escape. One day he discovers a rope in his cell. Trouble is, the rope is only half the length necessary to allow him to reach the ground safely. Yet he divides the rope in half, ties the two parts together, and escapes to his freedom.

How did the prisoner accomplish this feat?

This isn’t the sort of problem most of us face in our daily professional lives (IMF chiefs and insider traders notwithstanding.) But how we approach it, and how quickly we fashion a solution, yields some surprising lessons about innovation and creativity in business.

In a recent experiment, Evan Polman of New York University and Kyle Emich of Cornell University posed this problem to 137 undergraduate research subjects. They asked half the participants to imagine themselves as the prisoner. They asked the other half to imagine someone else as the prisoner.

This was no isolated result. Polman and Emich found the same phenomenon in two other experiments. In one, they asked participants to draw a picture of an alien that could be the basis of a science fiction story. Half were told they would later write the story themselves; half were told that someone else would write the story. The aliens that people in the second group drew for others turned out to be more creative than those the first group drew for themselves.

Likewise, in a third experiment, the researchers asked participants to come up with three gift ideas – for themselves, for someone close to them, or for someone they scarcely knew. Once again, the more remote the recipient, the more innovative the gift. (Which might explain why many of use are useless in choosing gifts for our spouses and partners.)

Polman and Emich build upon existing psychological research showing that when we think of situations or individuals that are distant – in space, time, or social connection – we think of them in the abstract. But when those things are close – near us physically, about to happen, or standing beside us – we think about them concretely.

Over the years, social scientists have found that abstract thinking leads to greater creativity. That means that if we care about innovation we need to be more abstract and therefore more distant. But in our businesses and our lives, we often do the opposite. We intensify our focus rather than widen our view. We draw closer rather than step back.

That’s a mistake, Polman and Emich suggest. “That decisions for others are more creative than decisions for the self… should prove of considerable interest to negotiators, managers, product designers, marketers and advertisers, among many others,” they write.

Indeed, their findings have practical implications at every level of business. Let me offer five suggestions to stir your thinking:

• Recruit more independent directors.

Begin with corporate governance.
If recent scandals and ethical breaches weren’t sufficient evidence, this body of research underscores the importance of having independent directors on the boards of public companies. Beyond providing watchful eyes on auditing and compensation committees, their
very distance from the quotidian concerns of incumbent managers might make them valuable sparks to corporate creativity.

• Rethink the structure of your firm.

Perhaps loose alliances of distantly connected people – think Wikipedia or a Hollywood film – can produce more creative products and services than fixed rosters of employees in traditional arrangements. And maybe those consultancies, which all of us love to malign, are offering a valuable service after all by providing distance for hire.

• Harness the power of peers.

The day-to-day crush of obligations often lures leaders closer to their challenges rather than giving them the distance that social scientists say can be more valuable. One counterweight is to assemble a small group of peers – all from different industries – and gather periodically to exchange ideas and offer solutions from new perspectives. Many such peer advisory groups in America – among them Inner Circle, CEO Clubs, and the Women Presidents Organisation – already exist and are growing in popularity.

• Find a problem-swapping partner.

If regular meetings aren’t your thing, try finding a friend or colleague with whom you can occasionally swap problems. When you’re stymied, give your problem to him or her. In exchange, when he or she is stuck, they can toss their dilemma to you.

• Disasssociate yourself.

When partners aren’t an option, establish distance yourself. Create some psychological space between you and your project by imagining you’re doing it for someone else or contemplating what advice you’d give to another person in your predicament.

Of course, there are plenty of times when getting the job done calls for concrete thinking and a close focus. But those hammers shouldn’t be the only tools in our toolbox.

And while much of our business world is ill-configured to benefit from Polman and Emich’s insights, the rise of crowd sourcing and ventures such as Innocentive (which allows companies to post problems on a web site for people around the world to solve) suggests that the moment may be right for reconfiguring the broader architecture of problem-solving.

Which leads to one final question: how exactly did the prisoner with the insufficiently long rope manage to escape? The answer: he split the rope lengthwise, tied the two halves together and shimmied to freedom.

Think about that next time you’re imprisoned in a tower. Actually, don’t. Instead, have someone else think about it for you.

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