11/07/2016 9:52 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:57 PM AEST

How To (Realistically) Get Out Of Work On Time

Leave your desk on the dot.

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Make this face a thing of the past.

Anyone who works in a deadline-driven environment will tell you working back late occasionally is part of the job.

However, if you're constantly finding yourself at the office long after everyone else has left for the day, it might be time to reassess your work practices.

Are you continually staying back late because you legitimately have too much on? Or are you wasting valuable time during the day on tasks which weren't really necessary, could have been left until later, or even delegated to someone else entirely?

The Huffington Post Australia spoke to Deb Hann of Fun @ Work to find out how to get out of the office on time, every time.


"For me, it comes back to finding out why you do the work you do," Hann told HuffPost Australia.

"We all have an intrinsic need to add value and be purposeful, and so one of the main reasons people so often struggle to get out of work on time (or get away from the office at all) is due to this feeling of 'I'm needed here, I'm adding value here, I'm contributing here'.

"This can actually become a convenient excuse and a kind of martyrdom routine, especially if we feel we don't have something as valuable [outside of work] to take us away.

"I think it's important to get really clear around that and to prioritise our values."

Hann points out in the case of an emergency, most people wouldn't think twice about leaving the office in order to deal with it. And despite what you might think, the entire business doesn't actually collapse into pieces while you're gone.

"What's really interesting is, those who struggle to get away from the office on time -- or at any time -- will drop everything without a second thought if it was a situation where there was a sick child or sick parent or another type of emergency," Hann said.

"That critical call to action is something that really challenges our core values. In those moments it's a no-brainer. And what's surprising is the world doesn't stop, just because you had to go. Things still happen. It's really about becoming clear on those pieces for ourselves."

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Left the office and it's still daylight? GO YOU GOOD THING

In terms of how to maximise your productivity during the day, Hann said it's all a matter of prioritising.

"When it comes to avoiding that trap of being caught up with the hamster wheel of work, it comes back to really looking at what you do and how you do it," Hann Said.

"We are all engaged in a role to carry out specific functions. In the beginning, that's what you were hired to do. Then, as we become more and more entrenched in a role, we take on more things, because it helps to build our sense of feeling needed and our sense of importance.

"Sometimes, what we need to do is sit back and recognise, 'hang on a sec, I'm staying back at night and doing these tasks which, truthfully, I could be delegating to others'. Often it's these tasks that are getting in the way of the things you're actually hired to do in the first place."

It's a matter of getting real about your prioritisation and real about your time.

"To get started, I would recommend building a daily or weekly 'to do' list," Hann continued. "What are the most important things you need to do?

"Group them into 'imperative' and 'important'; 'imperative' being those tasks with deadlines that cannot be moved. If you can, do those first, and do them in a timely fashion.

"While the 'important' things are still priorities, perhaps you don't need to have them done that day. Your schedule should reflect that. For instance, it's Monday now, and you have a list of things you need to do this week. Does everything need to be done today? Maybe some of the 'important' tasks have to be done by Wednesday instead.

"It's a matter of getting real about your prioritisation and real about your time. It's not about beating your chest saying 'I'm really important, look at me'. You'l find as you become more and more productive and efficient, you actually free yourself up to do more important things, and part of that efficiency will be the ability to let go of things that could be done by others."

In a surprise to absolutely no one, Hann says social media can be a real time-waster at work.

But what if you're 100 percent certain there's absolutely nothing you could do to boost your productivity, and it's actually a case of having far too much on your plate?

"This scenario is actually about identifying why you were hired to do a certain role originally," Hann said. "You've done it for such a long time and have become so good at it, in some ways you've made a rod for your own back.

"It's crucial to identify what your tasks actually are and to rank them in levels of importance before communicating the issue to management. Then you can say to them, 'this is what you hired me to do and what I continue to do. This is what I also do now'.

"Put forward a business case of how you use your time, complete with a time analysis, to demonstrate you're not just having a whinge. Show them how you use your time and build a case on how to prioritise efficiency.

"It's also important to identify on that list what [tasks] you would like to get rid of. So, if management did actually offer you 10 hours of extra support per week, what would you do with that? What would you delegate? How would someone else support you in that? Build a case and take it to your manager."

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Overworked? Build your case before talking to your manager.

For those who suspect they may, in fact, have a slight issue with productivity levels, Hann said there are a bunch of common 'time wasters' often guilty of gobbling up people's time without them even realising. She also says that by doing some time analysis, you might be more successful in identifying exactly what those time wasters are.

"Social media platforms are obviously a big one," Hann told HuffPost Australia. "While we use them to communicate with each other, they're just huge for time wasting.

"My advice would be to do your 'to do' list for the day first, and organise your priorities. Then look at your communication stream. It's so easy to get caught up in what you thought would be a two-second communication, but ends up being a huge email chain or something which just takes up an unnecessary amount of time."

Interestingly, Hann also lists meetings as being big time wasters, and advises sticking to a strict agenda in order to stop them from running overtime.

"No agenda, no meeting," she said. "And honour the agenda. If it's meant to be a 30-minute meeting, make sure it's a 30-minute meeting."

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Make sure meetings are kept to their proposed running times.

"Also keep an eye out for interruptions generally," Hann advised. "Identify and recognise if you are constantly being tapped on the shoulder and being asked 'have you got a sec?' to answer where something is or how to do something.

"Such requests are actually little time invaders and could signal the need for a training opportunity."

While socialising is no doubt a big part of any workplace, Hann also points out too much of it could be one of the reasons you find yourself staying back each day.

"Work is where people connect and of course it creates opportunities for a bit of a social download," Hann said. "But be mindful of how much time you spend socialising in work hours.

"There are really powerful ways to create team building connections that can take place outside of the office."

Is it time to go home yet?

Finally, Hann emphasises a 'productive day' does not equal a day where you're stressed out of your mind and don't leave your desk.

"We need to take breaks. It is not sustainable to work continuously," Hann said. "We need to schedule breaks for our eye health, to give us a break from looking at screens all the time, as well as our mental health. Our brains are not designed to focus on things constantly.

"It's important to have a lunch break routine that sees you get away from your desk, and preferably outside getting some fresh air. Get out from where you're actually working."

And as for the next time an important call comes through just as you're about to leave for the day?

"I can assure you, any kind of goal you set yourself -- such as getting out of the office on time three days a week -- the moment you declare that, you will be tested," Hann said. "Five minutes before you are scheduled to leave, you will just have to take this call or attend that meeting.

"Ask yourself: just how much do you value getting away on time? The truth is, those are the moments where you actually declare to yourself and to others that you are serious about your goal."