My Secret to Leaving Work at 5 pm Almost Every Day

My Secret to Leaving Work at 5 pm Almost Every Day

My Secret to Leaving Work at 5 pm Almost Every Day

Will you accept the 5pm challenge?

What?!?!? Your boss may be cursing me right now. You may be cursing me right now.

How can I possibly leave at 5 pm when there is a ton of work to get done?

But Lindsay, I don’t want to get fired. I will get fired if I miss my proposal deadline.

Yes. That is all true. I am not telling you to NOT complete your work. I am just telling you to complete your assignments and leave at 5 pm. I am insistent on deciding a hard stop, specific time to leave each day and then leave. If that time for you is 5 pm, then make it at 5 pm. If it’s 5:30 pm or 6 pm, then leave at that time.

Why am I asking you to do this?

First, if you don’t have a set time in your mind that you are going to leave each day, then you will just keep working. You will approach your work with no sense of urgency. Your mindset will be that you have to stay late so you work speed and concentration will conform to staying late.

However, if you have a hard deadline like 5 pm. You will start prioritizing your tasks, eliminating unnecessary items, and focusing on the key items that need to get completed that day.

Let’s share some examples. Think about which example you relate most with.

Marketing Coordinator Sue

Sue is a marketing coordinator juggling several proposals and presentations with varying deadlines. She likes to give 110% and produces high-quality deliverables. She is a marketing rock star that the firm could not live without.

She doesn’t set a hard stop to the end of her working. Having the mindset that she will be working late and on the weekends anyway, she doesn’t put any thought into how she manages her tasks throughout the day. This results in her working well into the evenings 2-3 days a week and often from her laptop at home after her kids go to bed. She is tired. She is drained. She often questions if she is in the right job and/or industry.

Marketing Coordinator Jane

Jane is a marketing coordinator juggling several proposals and presentations with varying deadlines. She likes to give 110% and produces high-quality deliverables. She is a marketing rock star that the firm could not live without.

Similar to Sue, Jane is married with kids at home. Jane leaves work most days at 5 pm. Sometimes she has to work late for specific deadlines but nearly 90% of the time she leaves at 5 pm. She has to. She has to get to the daycare to pick up her kids.

How does Jane get to leave every day at 5 pm and still get her assignments completed?

It’s a secret, ninja-like time management trick…..

Parkinson’s Law – Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

Have you ever had a proposal that was due in only a week and you still got it completed? How about a proposal due six weeks out and the effort dragged and dragged? This is Parkinson’s Law in practice. Another way to put it is:

The amount of time that one has to perform a task is the amount of time it will take to complete the task. Click To Tweet

Back to Jane.

Knowing that she has to leave at 5 pm, Jane approaches her day very differently than Sue. She has a finite amount of time to get her work completed, so organizes and approaches her work in that finite amount of time.

Here’s my secret-I am Jane.

When I started in this industry, I had to leave my desk at 5:15 pm every day to make it to my son’s daycare by 6 pm. If I didn’t, I was charged $1/minute for every minute late. There is nothing more motivating than paying extra money!

I still worked late and an occasional weekend. I just had to plan ahead to make other arrangements when I had deadlines or events. Read more about some of my techniques here.

Leverage Parkinson’s Law to Leave at 5 pm

Going back to Parkinson’s Law, if you give yourself more time (or no defined time) to complete a task, you will overcomplicate it and it will become more overwhelming to you. You might even create more stress and pressure on yourself for that given task. By identifying a certain amount of time appropriate for that task, you gain confidence in completing and reduce your stress level. This will naturally speed up your work.

For each task, identify the amount of time it will take you. Break this down into small chunks. For example, if today you need to edit and lay out a proposal approach section, estimate it will take you 3 hours to complete. If it’s 2 pm, then you should be done by 5 pm.

Here’s the real ninja-move—cut that initial time in half. Challenge yourself to get that section done in 1.5 hours. Work in a “beat the clock” mentality. Remove all distractions (email, phone, etc.) and focus on that one task. Don’t think about the other tasks that you need to finish, just that one project approach section. You may even want to set an alarm on your phone for 3:30 pm just to check where you are.

It’s Simple, but Not Easy

This sounds really simple on paper (or the screen) but in reality, it’s much harder to implement. There will be distractions. People will come by your desk and interrupt you. There will be emergencies (work and personal). I am not here to say it’s all rainbows and sunshine.

However, if you can start shifting your mindset to set a finite end to your day, you will slowly adapt your work style to leverage Parkinson’s Law. Your time will work with you, not against you.

Will you take 5 pm Challenge?

I dare you to take the 5 pm Challenge.

Leave the office at 5 pm every day for the next two weeks.

Use the Parkinson’s Law to identify and set time goals to complete each task on your to-do list. Then slice those time goals in half and work against the clock.

Observe your work style during these two weeks.

  • Did you complete any tasks faster than anticipated?
  • How was your stress level when approaching new tasks?
  •  Did you seem more or less overwhelmed?
  • Did your work habits change?

Share any changes or A-Ha moments in the comments below.

Accept the Challenge

If you accept the 5 pm Challenge, comment below with the words CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Then, report back in two weeks on any changes to your work style or a-ha moments.

6 thoughts on “My Secret to Leaving Work at 5 pm Almost Every Day

  1. Jodi Espinoza

    I have been leaving by 5:00 pm 99% of the time for the last 5-8 years, however, not at the beginning of my career. I used to scramble and stress out when I had numerous submittals due, but I have learned if you work diligently and don’t waste a lot of time on the nonessential stuff, then everything will get done. Stressing out takes a lot of time and energy. The world will not come to an end, and usually, everything gets done. Don’t stress; pace yourself. Oh yeah, if there are others on your team that can help out, ask for help.

    1. Lindsay Post author

      Hi Jodi,

      I completely agree. Without a focused task list and intent work, you can become easily distracted and end up working well into the night. Also, yes – ask for help. We don’t get extra points or bonuses if we take on too much work by ourselves. We just burn ourselves out.

      Thanks for your comment!

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