Working From Home Doesn’t Mean You Have to Work All the Time

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The dream of working from home—no commute! No one heating up fish in the microwave!—has given way to a reality of early logins, evening signoffs, and frequent weekend hours. But what if we could reframe remote employment as an opportunity to strategically shorten your work days? Here are the smartest techniques for finishing up early:

Embrace your inner morning person or night owl. Because you’re no longer so dependent on the in-person workflows of your team, ask yourself, When do I work best? 9 a.m.? 9 p.m.? Bang out your work when you’re freshest or most able to focus. “I get all mission-critical stuff done within the first three hours of walking into my office, and then I can call it an early day if needed,” says Shane Dutka, a blogging business expert.

Avoid individual errands. Longtime work-from-homers know this hazard well. “Nothing chews up a day like a couple errands,” says career adviser Joanne Cleaver, author of The Career Lattice: Combat Brain Drain, Improve Company Culture, and Attract Top Talent, who’s worked at home for almost 40 years. “Clump errands into one chunk of time, especially time-consuming ones like the DMV.”

Condense your communication channels. Stop relinquishing 30 to 60 minutes a day to the extra online communication that comes with remote work. “On Slack alone, you can spend half your day perusing through all the channels,” says Kieran McGoldrick, senior sales executive at contract management software company Outlaw. “To clock out at 5 p.m. with peace of mind, pick one platform as your single source.” For example, you might choose email as your primary channel and set Slack to email you notifications. Keep all other channels closed; if needed, check them two to three times a day for five to 10 minutes total.

Schedule leisure activities. “The social pressure of not letting people down is effective,” says Everett Harper, chief executive officer of software engineering firm Truss, who suggests socially distanced bike rides, runs, or a virtual exercise class. You could also try a call with a friend or cooking dinner with someone.

Ban tech outside the home office. “I have designated all the other areas in my house tech-free,” says Reuben Yonatan, CEO of IT company GetVoIP. “No more quick calls or emails at 9 p.m.” Other remote workers take less drastic measures, such as removing work email from phones. ”My wife and I put a box in the kitchen called Phone Jail, and we put our phones in it every day from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m.,” says Jayson DeMers, CEO of email visualization tool company EmailAnalytics. “Physical separation from tech is what we need to truly disconnect.”

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