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Stopping Time

How choosing a stopping time for work each day can improve productivity and help you enjoy life more.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash

How often do you stay late at the office? How about logging back in to work after dinner or after the kids are in bed? Too often?

I bet it feels like there’s just no other option. This work has to get completed, right?

What if I told you there was a simple way to instantly increase your productivity, so you can get more done during the workday, and not feel like you have to work late or take work home?

But before we get there, here’s a secret.

The work will never be done. There will still be more work tomorrow. Now, I hope that doesn’t sound depressing to you, because it sure isn’t meant that way. I mean this in a 100%-objective-fact sort of way. But what it also means is that there won’t magically be a time for us to relax at some point in the future when the work is “done”. We have to build in that balance for ourselves so that we can enjoy our lives now.

Put another way, wouldn’t it be boring if we got everything done? What would we be striving for? Where would we put all that mental energy, that intellect, that creativity, that problem solving ability that drives us?

Remember when you were a kid and on those long summer days you would complain about how bored you were? How there was just “nothing to do”? Now, we can’t imagine what it would feel like to be bored, to have nothing to do, so we romanticize what “being done” feels like. And would it feel great for awhile? Sure, I could read on a beach for a month or 2. But then what?

So, if the work will never be done, then what’s this simple trick I’m about to tell you?

It’s simply this: every day choose a ‘“stopping time”.

Choose a time at which you’ll be done with work, whether the work is “done” or not. (Because remember, it will never be “done”. You could go on answering “just one last email” literally forever.)

And I know, I know, every day isn’t the same. And your daily stopping time doesn’t have to be at the same time every day either. We live in the real world where schedules (and workloads) change. But, it is important to know at the beginning of the day what your stopping time for that day is. This will keep you focused and allow you to Tetris your workload into your workday and be relentless in your prioritization. If you know, with certainty, when your work day will end, then you have to prioritize those must-do deliverables first, as there won’t be time to catch up on them later if you take that non-essential impromptu meeting you were just invited to.

A stopping time also provides something to look forward to. It’s a mini-goal (and an achievable one) to reach, every day. When you get there, you can feel good about what you’ve accomplished for the day. And remember to end the day with a little end of day planning so that you have an executable plan for tomorrow, and can then step away ready to tackle whatever awaits you at home, or just relax.

Still not convinced?

Parkinson’s law tells us that “work expands to fill the time allotted”. So, if you don’t have a stopping time, well, the work will just keep expanding to fill the never-ending time you’ve allotted to it. If we schedule an hour for a meeting, the meeting will take an hour. But if we only schedule 45 minutes, we’ll pack in what we need to in 45 minutes. How long does it take me to write and publish one of these blog posts? Well, it could take a whole day if I allowed for that; but I only allot myself 90 minutes a week to write and publish these posts. And you know what, it gets done in 90 minutes.

How’d I figure this one out? Well, it was forced upon me.

When I became a mom, over a decade ago, and went back to work after maternity leave, I, for the first time in my life, had a stopping time enforced upon me. I had to leave at 5pm sharp if I was to pick up my kid from daycare on time (and not be charged a dollar a minute for being late!). And you know what I found out? When I knew that 5pm was coming, and there was no way I could answer that one last email, I got really good, really fast, at prioritizing the “must dos” of the day first, so that the only things left at the end of the day were the “nice-to-dos” that could be reprioritized if need be.

So, what time will you stop working today?

Take a quick look at your workload. Decide on a time. Put it on a sticky note on your monitor or somewhere else to remind you, and prioritize your day so that the must dos are done before that time.

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