Last week, I wrote my first installment on working late and received a powerful uproar from my readers (massive page views and comments on my site, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook!). To finish out my thoughts on this subject, I promised to give tangible tips to help people go home at a reasonable time. So here goes:

Work hard when you’re at work.

Right off the bat, I’ve probably insulted you. But to be honest, most people don’t work that HARD while they’re at work. On the contrary, they fill up time. Be honest, we all do it.

There’s a great book by Tim Ferriss called the 4-Hour Workweek, where he targets those behaviors which allow you to elongate your performance to fill up time. He uses the 80/20 rule to uncover what activities really deliver true performance and which ones don’t.

What do I mean by work hard?

  • When you get to work . . . WORK. Don’t schmooze. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t wander around. Don’t daydream.
  • Set up a daily to-do sheet (here’s a great one I modified from GTD guru, David Allen).
  • Stay on top of all your voicemails.
  • Don’t take frequent breaks (to get coffee, walk around, etc.).
  • Don’t surf. No personal calls. Don’t text. You’re at work.

Work smart when you’re at work.

I know, you’re smart, I’m smart, everyone is smart. Most of the time. But we all do some stupid things. Here are key tips to work more efficiently and effectively:

  • Don’t go to every meeting you’re invited to. Kill (at least) one meeting every week — tell them you either can’t make it or you don’t really need to be there. Trust me, you don’t. (1 hour per week). Kill more as you get good at it.
  • Don’t read EVERY email you receive. Don’t read EVERY email when you get it. Set aside certain times of the day to read your email — read this.
  • Set aside a certain part of the day to return phone calls. I use the Nine/Noon/Five technique — three times during the day, I return calls – at 9 AM, Noon, and 5 PM. You’re not a heart surgeon — no one is going to die on the operating table if you don’t return the phone call within minutes.
  • When you answer the phone or return a phone call, give the person on the other line a deadline. Say, “Tom, I only have 4-5 minutes to talk, can we cover this now with a quick decision, or later?” — most calls need a quick decision from you.

Have an open/closed door policy at work.

Most managers live at the fringes of the ‘door’ spectrum — come on in anytime or don’t bother me. Try to gravitate to the center of the spectrum and do both:

  • When the door is open — your people should see it as a sign to quickly ask you a question, get your thoughts, or just talk (for a VERY short time). To get your team to leave quickly, ask them about taking on more work — they will scatter.
  • When the door is closed — your people should understand not to bother you unless it’s an emergency. Most things can wait until the door opens again.

Run VERY short meetings.

Why do meetings have to be one hour? Or 30 minutes? Why can’t you have 5 minute meetings? It’s because of MS Outlook. It makes it difficult for you to schedule a 5 minute meeting — 30 and 60 minute meetings look nicer and are easier to schedule.

Be honest with yourself — how many meetings have you attended where you walked out thinking, “that could’ve been handled in five minutes”. You currently have to power to schedule 5 minute meetings.

  • Ensure everyone arrives on time.
  • Start exactly at the top of the hour.
  • Get everyone to stand, not sit. This is not a seminar.
  • Huddle around a whiteboard and use it to illustrate your points.
  • Shut long-talkers down — get to the point.
  • If you do go down a rabbit hole, everyone doesn’t have to be there. Schedule it for later.
  • Close the meeting ASAP and get out of there. Your people will LOVE you.

Develop clear communication policies with everyone.

Colleague or client — set specific boundaries. There are too many people in the workplace who goof off all day and then get serious about work at around 4 PM.

  • Don’t let people drop in. There must be a purpose for the meeting.
  • Let people know you leave at 5 PM — don’t let them abuse it.
  • If they try to catch you when you’re leaving, tell them you’ll pick it up when your come back in the morning.
  • Promise to return all calls within 24 hours.
The more YOU value your time, the more THEY value your time.

Try just one of these — you will be surprised how much work you accomplish.

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P.S. If you liked these two posts, let me know – Let’s talk. I love working with people who want to excel in their career — call or email me to schedule a complimentary session.