It’s no secret that most Americans work more than 40 hours a week, but are those extra hours necessary? "So many people say, ‘I have to do this,’ but they might just be putting those expectations on themselves," says Maura Thomas, productivity expert, author, and founder of RegainYourTime.com. Many people make assumptions about what their boss wants without ever testing the waters to find out if it’s true.
"You shouldn’t need to work more than 40 hours a week consistently," says Tracey Gritz, productivity expert and owner of The Efficient Office. If you’re getting ready to go on vacation or you’re working on a big project, you might need to clock more than 40 hours a week, but as a general rule, 40 hours a week should be sufficient to get your job done, Gritz says.
Productivity experts offer six practical tips that will help you to consistently work a 40-hour week in 2017.
Most employees have no idea what all their tasks, assignments, and deadlines are because most people keep the things they need to do scattered everywhere—in email, their calendar, a notebook, and on lists. "It’s like trying to do a puzzle with all the pieces in different rooms," Thomas says. It’s much harder to step away from work when you don’t know all your assignments and deadlines, she says.
Thomas recommends spending 30 minutes to an hour compiling every task and deadline into a single list that is either available as an electronic document that can be reordered, sorted, or divided, or entered into a task app like Todoist or Wunderlist that allows you to set categories and due dates, and create reminders and alerts. "Most people will make this long list on paper, but then the only choice we have is to add a task to the bottom of list," she says. "Sometimes that’s not the best place for it."
Defining your goals and priorities will help you work less and will have the greatest impact on your workload, Gritz says. Limit your goals to no more than three, she recommends, because when someone sets 12 goals, it’s impossible to accomplish anything. Then set your priorities, which are typically more personal, such as not reading email during dinner, using all your vacation time each year, or spending Friday nights with your family. "Everything you do has to align 100% with your goals and priorities," she says.
When a colleague asks for help on a project, it’s hard to say no, and it’s even more difficult to turn down your boss, but, says Gritz, it’s important to say no to any task that doesn’t align with your goals and priorities. The next time a coworker asks for help, she says, simply respond: "Thanks for thinking of me for this project, but right now I have full plate with my current workload." And if your boss asks for assistance, gently push back by saying, "If I do this today, of these three tasks, which one can I push to a new deadline? What would work for you?"
Each morning, identify one to three tasks you will accomplish that day, and don’t feel like you have to pick three, Gritz says. Some days you can only accomplish one task, and that’s okay, she says. Rather then making "reading email" your first task, Gritz suggests diving into a more creative assignment first. "When we check email first thing in the morning, we get sucked into everyone else’s goals and priorities, and we end up meeting theirs, not ours," she says. Also, beware of checking social media in the morning. If you see an email or a social media post that upsets or annoys you, it will lower your creativity and energy, Gritz says.
The simplest way to leave work on time is to turn off your computer’s email notifications and shut off your smartphone while you’re working on a project, Gritz says. It’s common to receive a distracting email that takes you away from your goal for the day, she says. "If you took out interruptions, you could work an eight-hour day," she says.
Set an alert on your calendar 30 minutes before quitting time to remind yourself to wrap up your work and get ready to leave, says Paige Lichens, a licensed yoga and meditation teacher and independent consultant. Before you walk out the door, reflect on everything you’ve accomplished and review your tasks for the next day, says LinkedIn Career Expert Catherine Fisher. "This will ensure that when you come in the next day, you are always one step ahead," Fisher says. "Feeling organized will help you maintain peace of mind so you’re less inclined to check your work email or tackle tasks after hours."