Felling overworked, undervalued and underpaid? It’s no great secret that the job market is more competitive now than it ever has been. Not only are there fewer jobs to go around, but there are more skilled project leaders with degrees, ambition and experience waiting in the wings to manage projects.

Our 9-to-5 grind has produced a cult of workaholics. And, regrettably, the eight to twelve hour workday hasn’t shifted in years.

Most project managers, raised in this era of information overload, have the incorrect idea that working longer hours will make them more productive. I have learned that this work habit is erroneous, unhelpful, and unhealthy. Yet we keep labouring away: We get on the train, bus or in a car every morning and clog up the trains, buses and freeways, then do it again at night. Mondays are an object of dread for most. Wednesdays are “dip days and Friday mornings bring relief only because it’s the final push before the weekend. Drive by some buildings at 5 p.m. on a Friday and you’ll see people streaming out the doors like the floodgates have burst open and every employee has finally been set free. When a national newspaper polled 1,000 people on their work habits and routines, the results showed just how far we’ve tilted the scales:

  • 60% take 20 minutes or less for lunch.
  • 25% never leave their desk.
  • 66% fail to take their allotted vacation
  • 25% leave at least a week’s worth of vacation unused each year
  • 33 percent spend less than half an hour a day completely disconnected from email.

This isn’t a sustainable work life-style. And the overall idea that project managers are expected to endure 70 percent of their week so they can enjoy the other 30 percent? Well, that’s cooperative insanity.

Arriving at 8AM and leaving at 8PM every day might indeed look good and will go a long way towards showing your commitment to the company, but be careful not to make it a daily occurrence. An important part of time management includes leaving time for our lives outside of work.

To achieve the high’s of both professional and personal life you need to ‘leave the office on time’, but what does this really mean in practice?

1. Projects can be completed; however, there will always be another waiting for you to start.

It’s fact, so get used to it. While working 15 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour extra each day might not seem like much in isolation, when you add this little bit of time up over a year, it’s a enormous percentage of our time. Rather than treat an unforeseen project that gets dumped in your lap late in the day as an invasion, view it as something else. You got the project because you were trustworthy, talented, or in some cases, simply available. Unless you work for the armed forces, no one genuinely expects you to pick up the ball at 4:00pm, and have it all wrapped up by 8:00pm. To be most productive, you need to leave work on time. After all, if Barack Obama manages to get home in time for dinner, then surely, you can. Plan to leave earlier than you need. If you really want to be out of the door by 6pm, set 5.30pm as your deadline to get everything done – something will always crop up last minute to delay you.

To sustain the habit of leaving work on time, start with a small step. Decide that every Tuesday you will stop working on time, without taking extra work home with you. Remember working extra hours is a thankless task if nobody who matters is acknowledging the extra hours you’re putting in.

Warning: “A study found that overworked employees are found to have a 13% increased risk of coronary heart disease.”

2. The Interest of a Client Is Important, but So Is Your Family

Many project managers and leaders live by the motto, “Family First” but their actions show something different. Spending 2 hours with your love ones every evening is really not enough. If you fall in life, neither your boss nor client will offer you a helping hand; however, your family and friends will. Your family will always enrich your life more than a client ever can so give them the time they deserve. Relationships are the most important thing in life, and of those, people’s relationships with deities and families are polled to be the most valued.

3. Life Is Not Only About Work, Office and Client. There Is More to Life

It’s about clearing away space in your life to make time for people, play, and rest. A career in project management should be a long-term fruitful living that concludes in a central purpose in life. It is one’s life work. It should be the definitive source of value creation as it represents the work you are most passionate about pursuing. Family, on the other hand, is where you celebrate your triumphs and cling to in times of project failure and deep sadness. Cherish your moments with family/friends and experience new adventures with them as well. You need time to socialize, entertain, relax and exercise. Don’t let life be meaningless. If required schedule time for your loved ones.

Recommendation: “Love what you do. If you’re spending 40-80 hours a week doing something you don’t love, you are probably going to be miserable.”

4. A Person Who Stays Late at the Office Is Not a Hardworking Person

“The number of people working more than 48 hours a week in Briton has increased, highlighting the “national disgrace” of Britain’s long-hours culture, and Management professionals are working the longest hours, according a TUC report.”

A lot of project managers in our society try to be hyper-productive. You know — the project managers who dash from task to task, always checking e-mail, organizing something, making a call, running an errand etc. The project leaders who do this often subscribe to the idea that “staying busy” means you’re working hard and are going to be more successful.

The truth is that this behaviour often leads to mindless “productivity” and late nights in the office. Work smarter, not harder! Successful project managers enjoy a great work life balance. Working smarter requires a combination of critical thinking, discipline, and techniques that you can employ for making continual progress. There is a saying that 80% of our accomplishments come from 20% of our efforts. So recognize what 20% of your work is the most valuable? Look at what you are trying achieve and question whether you are genuinely adding benefit. Plan your day before you start your day, don’t do it at 8am or 8.30am when your day has started as your already chasing your tail. Don’t be a fool.

5. You Did Not Study Hard and Struggle in Life to Become a Living Machine. 

Nail on the head. Just because you’re at your desk for eight hours doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Even the best project managers only accomplish two to three hours at most of actual work a day. This is stating the obvious, but the obvious hasn’t sunk in for most. We are human beings, not machines. We have feelings, a conscience, hopes and dreams. We need to be respected, to be recognized for our contributions, to feel a sense of belonging, and we need autonomy, personal growth and meaning in our project work. When these needs are met, it is life-giving. When they are not met, it drains the life out of us. Machines can operate 24 hours a day, you cannot, so balance your life, remember you have 24 hours a day, 8 hours to sleep, 8 hours to work, 8 hours of your own! Don’t allow unimportant details to drag you down. We often allow projects to take much, much longer than they could by getting too hung up on small details. I’m guilty of this.

I’ve always been a perfectionist. Slow down, notice what needs to be done, and concentrate on those things. Do less things that create more value, rather than more things that are mostly empty and offer no value. And do remember that you may not be a student anymore, but the learning never stops.

6. If Your Project Sponsor Forces You to Work Burn out Hours, He or She May Be Ineffective and Have a Meaningless Life

Ever had one of those days when you know by 10 a.m. that you won’t be making it home for dinner? Whether it’s due to a busy schedule, serious workload or simply the expectations of your employer, working late is one of the top factors in the ongoing conflict between work and the rest of your life. But should you stay or should you go? Generally, you should try to be flexible and accommodating when you’re asked to take on something at work outside of your normal work schedule, particularly when it’s temporary, but there’s a point beyond which it’s reasonable to push back. Don’t over promise; if you’re asked to do a task just before leaving the office, clarify whether it can wait until morning. Don’t jump to stay late, or offer to do it later that evening from home, unless it’s clearly time critical. Instead wake up early. Morning hours are often the most productive.

“Waking up early will also allow you to work out in the morning, so you don’t have to disrupt your day by exercising in the middle of it.” — Stephen Steinberg

Leaving Office on Time:

• Efficient
• Good Social Life
• Quality Family Life

Leaving Office Late:

• Inefficient and Incompetent
• No Social Life
• Less Family Life

Let this post be a catalyst to help you get your life in order and refine your own practices. And remember, there are countless hacks and tricks to manage your time effectively. These are some tips that I find helpful, but everyone is different. I promise you — there really are enough hours in a day for everything you’d like to do, but it may take a bit of rearranging and re-imagining to find them.

You know what I am a project leader and to date have only asked team members to work late on rare occasions. This request should be an exception to the norm. You’ll need practice what you preach.

Over to you now, what do you think is the best structure of work days? For some reason leaving on time seems to be frowned upon (in a jokey way at the moment) What are your opinions on leaving work at your finish time? I’d love your insights on this topic.

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