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Remotely Interesting

Remotely Interesting: How to know when to end your workday

publishedover 1 year ago
5 min read

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In the office, knowing when to end your workday was probably something you didn't give a second thought to. You most likely arrived around 9am and went home around 5pm. Yet, when working remotely, the question behind when to end your workday is now front and center.

Are you required to spend 8 uninterrupted hours in front of the computer? Should break times be excluded? What if you're now using alternative work schedules? How do you know what is "enough"?

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In the office, peer pressure and rigid rules are used to define your actions. You don’t arrive late or leave early because you would be judged by everyone else in the office. There’s also the risk of getting fired if you don’t abide to the schedule the office instructs.

If you’re in a healthy remote work environment, peer pressure is close to zero and the company rules around schedule are a lot more flexible. While some offices worry that this freedom will be taken advantage of, what we actually see is that this freedom leads to overwork. Instead of ending the day at a reasonable hour, remote employees will continue answering work communications at all hours and keep working late because they don’t have a clear daily definition of done for the day.

So how do you know when to end your workday?

The answer will be different for everyone, but here are a couple of options to get you thinking what could work best for you:

Option A: Keep the Standard Schedule

If the 9-5 life works for you, then keep it! However, remember that in the office, you weren’t keeping count of the breaks you took to go to the bathroom, grab coffee, or stretch, and you should do the same while working remotely. You still deserve breaks and you still deserve to take a lunch. Attempting to only consider actively working hours toward your 8-hour workday total is a quick way to burn out, lower your work quality, and create issues like eye strain and back pain. Breaks both big and small are an important part of work.

Also, if you use this schedule, it’s important that you fully disconnect at 5 pm. Work conversations included. Make sure you’ve properly set up your end-of-day ritual and virtual boundaries so you’re not sucked back in by work notifications. The clock hitting 5 pm is your daily exit criteria.

Option B: Define Set "On" and "Off" Hours

This can be done in a number of ways. It’s actually most similar to the traditional work schedule because it is also a time-based approach, however, it’s more flexible in when you work those hours. In this option, you’re defining time blocks where you are working and then everything outside those hours is completely off work.

An example of this would be, setting 3 two-hour blocks of time to do deep work, and creating 1 two-hour block of time for communications like meetings and email. Again, breaks are still acceptable in this option. Also, it’s incredibly important that you have rigid boundaries and fully disconnect outside of those work blocks. The timer going off after your last time block is your daily exit criteria.

Option C: Set Specific Daily Task Goals

In this option, you define specific tasks to complete and don’t end your workday until they are done, whether that’s at 12 pm or 7 pm. How many tasks do you define? For me and many others, that lucky number is 3. However, that’s really a personal question around how big you define your tasks and how many you can get done without mental fatigue hindering tomorrow’s performance.

Setting reasonable expectations is incredibly important for this option. Make sure the tasks you define are one-step, prioritized in the appropriate order, and you leave room for recurring responsibilities. For example, on meeting days, your sole task should be getting through those meetings, since you will not have the time for deep work. Ticking off your last task is your daily exit criteria.

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Make sure you understand the risks of each approach before using them. With a time-based approach (like the first 2 examples) you run the risk of completing what you need to and using unnecessary busywork to fill the rest of your time. With a task-based approach, you run the risk of overworking if you don’t know how to set reasonable objectives or underworking if you don’t take pride in your work (this second one is much less common).

Personally, I like to combat these risks by taking a hybrid approach. I set both an end of work time, and define 3 tasks I’ll do that day. Whichever happens first is when I end my workday. For example: The end of my workday is either at 4 pm OR when I finish these 3 specific tasks.

You might be thinking, “What if you finish the 3 tasks at 2 pm? Shouldn’t you add important tasks and continue working until 4 pm for more productivity?”. However, I’ve tested that in the past, and have found it’s lowered my productivity. First, because I’m breaking a promise to myself which negatively impacts my self-discipline. Second, because even if I get more tasks done today, I get minimal tasks done tomorrow due to being more mentally fatigued. I’ve found that 3 specific one-step tasks is my lucky number for maintaining consistent, high-quality work.

This approach allows me to combat my common pitfall of overworking myself, plus eliminates busywork from my day. I don’t leave it up to a feeling of being done for the day, because that is a moving goalpost that leads me straight to burnout. Also, my method does not solve for underworking because that’s never been a problem of mine.

While this is my exit criteria for a remote workday, it might not work for you, and that’s okay. The main benefit of remote work is being able to customize how you work to you and not to everyone else. Start with the list of options and test to find what works for you.

Remember:

  1. Don’t start a work day without a clear exit criteria
  2. Create virtual boundaries so off-time is actually off
  3. Have an end of day ritual to create clear separation between work and life

By taking these 3 steps, you will make your end of work day be just as automatic as it was in office with the added benefit of being completely customized to how you work best.

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TLDR

Don’t leave when to end your workday up to a “feeling” of being done for the day. This moving goalpost leads you straight to burnout. Instead, never start a workday without clear exit criteria.

You are not a robot. You deserve breaks and a life outside of work.
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Quote of the Week

"For the first time—literally—substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.”
-
Peter Drucker

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I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. Hope you have a lovely day!

Marissa

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